Donald Trump Archives - Florida Politics

Florida’s largest teacher union backs Rick Scott school safety plan

The Florida Education Association hasn’t often championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s education proposals, but it is applauding his $500 million plan to address school safety that he announced Friday in Tallahassee.

The suite of proposals most notably does not include arming schoolteachers, an idea that President Donald Trump and other Florida Republican lawmakers have proposed in the wake of last week’s gun massacre in Parkland.

“I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun,” Scott said at a news conference unveiling his proposals. “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.”

The plan does include spending $450 million to put a law enforcement officer in every public school, and one officer for every 1,000 students by the 2018 school year. It also calls for hiring more mental health counselors to serve every student a school and funding to provide metal detectors, bulletproof glass and steel doors.

Safety plans would be required before the money would be spent.

“Our members’ primary concern right now is to ensure that our students feel safe and cared for in our schools. We are determined that our students never again experience these all too common shootings,” Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “We thank the governor and all those involved in crafting this proposal, it is very close to what the FEA has been calling for.”

Scott worked with a variety of experts in preparing his school safety plan, including educators.

An “overwhelming majority of citizens are in agreement that weapons designed for war have no place in our society,” McCall said, adding that while legislators can debate gun control regulations, the FEA will continue to focus on educating public school children and protecting students and education employees.

“We call on both sides of the gun debate to come together for our students — especially for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High,” McCall said. “The safety of our students is in the hands of our elected officials. It is time to act. No more excuses.”

In defiance of the National Rifle Association, Scott also backed raising the minimum age to buy any firearm, including semi-automatic rifles, to 21 from 18.

David Jolly: Assault weapon license should be as hard to get as White House security clearance

David Jolly says he’s not sure that a ban on assault weapons is possible in Washington, but believes a solution that could happen immediately is to make them “functionally obsolete” for the average citizen.

“Make the requirements to get an assault weapon as hard as it is to get a security clearance in this White House,” the former Republican congressman quipped to laughs while addressing the Cafe Con Tampa crowd at the Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“That would be a yearlong process,” he said, turning serious to say that it would allow authorities to get as much information about a person’s background as possible, including serious training and storage requirements that he thinks would only allow the most trained sportsman or woman to handle.

Like many Republicans, he also says that enforcing current laws on the books to a greater extent would also work, or as he says, “Enforce the gun laws as strictly as Donald Trump wants to enforce the immigration laws.”

Though not a card-carrying NRA member, Jolly did receive $9,600 in contributions from the gun rights organization in his special election against Democrat Alex Sink in 2014 and was the beneficiary of the group spending more than $100,000 against Sink in that same campaign.

He said the current background check process is relatively toothless, consisting of a criminal conviction check and little else. People’s mental health history, including counseling, is currently not part of such a check.

And with all that has been learned about Parkland confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, Jolly said it should be.

Universal and comprehensive background checks should include every transaction involved with a gun, Jolly said, so if somebody wants to sell it to a family member, it should be done at the local sheriff’s department.

Jolly said he’s now “evolved” to the point where he believes such medical background history needs to be included in such a background check.

Joining the Indian Shores Republican in the discussion was former Treasure Coast Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, who called guns like the AR-15 “weapons of war” designed to kill human beings, and said they need to go away.

Cruz used an AR-15 to kill 17 people last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

“If you need 50 rounds to kill a deer, you need a new sport. Bottom line,” he said.

Murphy said in the current climate in Washington (controlled by Republicans in both the House and Senate)  banning assault weapons isn’t a viable possibility, but says it should be the ultimate goal.

Eliminating bump stocks, addressing mental health and reinforcing school safety are “baby steps” that Murphy believes are possible to achieve now.

A joint appearance by two moderate former members of Congress (who collectively only spent six and a half years in Washington) was part of their traveling road show on ways to get Washington working better, a tour they are holding across the state and other parts of the country since the fall.

To their credit, Jolly and Murphy aren’t preaching to the crowd that they need to be as moderate politically as they are, but that it’s essential to find common ground to fix the problems that our political system is supposed to do but has been breaking down over the past few decades into increased partisan rancor.

Jolly attributes the beginning of the fissure was the mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. However, he also insists that Democrats were poised to do the same thing if they were in charge (which they were for decades in the U.S. House before 1994).

“Newt Gingrich realized not only did we take control of the House of Representatives, we’re now going to demand that K Street give us all their money that they’ve been giving to Democrats,” he said, “and then we’re going to go around the country and set up these funds to push lobbyists money into the states, so we can take over our state legislatures, and start to redistrict, start to close primaries, and put a chokehold that ensures that Republicans have a structural advantage for the next couple of decades.”

“And that’s what they did.”

After losing a re-election bid after redistricting in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2016 to Charlie Crist, Jolly has become omnipresent on CNN and MSNBC as one of the most outspoken Republican critics to President Trump. Although he’s said as recently as a month ago that he was still considering a run for office in 2018, he all but admitted on Friday that’s increasingly unlikely.

“Not only am I candidate without a party, I’m a candidate without a donor base.”

He did add that he is already involved with efforts to help out a Republican primary presidential challenge to Trump in 2020, having recently met with Republicans in both Iowa and Washington D.C.

Murphy said the teenagers who were directly affected by the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School and have been protesting this week about gun violence give him great hope.

“It’s powerful for our country,” he said.

Murphy concluded: “To get involved, to knock on doors, to get out there to vote, or at least get others to vote. That’s a powerful thing. Politicians, by and large, will care more about that than the money, or anything else, if they see that as a sustaining movement, it can’t be one week, two weeks and done.

“This has to continue for months, and unfortunately probably years to be effective, but with the passion that I see, I am optimistic that this can be a generation that does lead to results.”

Rick Scott stays in sync with the NRA as he faces a reckoning on guns

The governor is planning to roll out his legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.”

With Florida now at the epicenter of a fast-changing national gun debate, the state’s Republican governor is so far refusing to budge from his long-standing opposition to new limits on firearms.

The approach of Gov. Rick Scott, who holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and is preparing to enter what would be a hotly-contested Senate race, stands in contrast to fellow Republicans such as Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Donald Trump who in recent days have expressed openness to some new gun limits.

In the days since last week’s mass shooting at a South Florida high school re-energized gun-control activists, Scott has so far responded to questions about the issue with answers that quickly turn to mental health and the need for enhancing safety protocols in schools.

Although he initially told CNN last week “everything’s on the table,” Scott declined an invitation from the network to appear at Wednesday night’s town hall with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Rubio attended the event and said for the first time he was ready to consider some restrictions on assault weapons — while Scott’s potential opponent in the fall, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, hinted guns could be a focal point in the race by taking a swipe at the governor’s decision to skip.

″[Rubio] had guts, coming here,” Nelson said, prompting boos from the crowd of 7,000 moments later when he added: “Our governor did not come here.”

Scott could face a reckoning on the issue in the coming days, with GOP lawmakers engaged in talks with Democrats designed to produce a potentially modest gun restriction bill before the Legislature’s Session ends next week. The measure would go to Scott for his signature — or possible veto.

The governor is planning to roll out his own legislative proposal Friday that, according to a spokesman, will be “aimed at keeping Florida schools safe and keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people.” The spokesman, John Tupps, said Scott would like to see “swift action,” but he did not specify what that could be.

Scott declined to be interviewed for this story, but several associates this week told The Washington Post he has no intention of softening his views on gun rights.

“He’s committed to Second Amendment rights, and that’s not going to change,” said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida lobbyist and Scott supporter. “He’s a strong NRA supporter and knows that you have to be careful about tweaking anything that would affect someone’s right to bear arms.”

Keith Appell, a former Scott campaign adviser, said the governor is highly unlikely to embrace new gun regulations.

“He genuinely feels that you don’t solve a symptom of the problem, you solve the problem,” Appell said. “The problem is that schools aren’t safe and is eroding the Second Amendment going to make one kid safer?”

Appell added, “He’s going to be skeptical about the suggestion that banning guns will make school safer.”

Scott, 65, is a wiry and wealthy former health care executive whose anti-establishment entry into politics eight years ago foreshadowed the rise of his ally, Trump.

Known for an upbeat but scripted style, Scott has not shied away from political drama since last week’s tragedy.

He has placed blame on the FBI for failing to act on a call weeks before the shooting, calling for the resignation of the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray.

He has attended numerous funerals, and he has met with survivors of last week’s deadly rampage that killed 17 people and left scores injured. Even in private discussions, he has avoided talk of gun limits.

“He said there is no way that someone who is mentally deranged, such as [Douglas High School shooting suspect] Nikolas Cruz, should have access to a gun,” said Olivia Feller, 16, a junior at the high school who met with Scott on Wednesday along with other students.

One place for consensus could be a revision of Florida’s Baker Act, a law that determines how far law enforcement can go in restricting the activities or purchases of mentally ill people.

Sheriffs and other leaders were divided on whether a change to the scope of the law would infringe on gun rights. Some officials said it should be left alone and urged the state to concentrate on giving weapons to teachers.

Appearing Tuesday at a policy workshop, Scott steered clear of talk of gun rights and focused on “taking a hard look at security” in Florida schools.

“It’s very important we act with a sense of urgency,” Scott said, sitting with a group of sheriffs and state officials.

The deadline for Scott’s final decision on the changes he could support, if any, is fast approaching. State Republican leaders said Tuesday they are planning for a committee vote on their plans next week.

Scott’s enduring position on gun rights reflects the entrenched support for firearms in Florida, despite several of the most deadly mass shootings in U.S. history occurring in the state during his tenure.

Florida has a history of taking the lead nationally in legislating concealed-carry permits, and it has passed a “stand your ground” law, which protects citizens who use deadly force if they feel they are in imminent danger.

Scott’s stance also underscores just how careful most Republican leaders, especially those eyeing higher office, remain on the issue of guns, knowing the party’s base is wary of any push to limit the usage of guns.

Scott has become one of the NRA’s favorite elected officials. The website for the group’s annual meeting this May in Dallas lists him as a speaker earlier in the week, but his smiling photo disappeared from the website by Wednesday. A flier the NRA sent out in 2014 hailed the governor as a trusted foe of “gun control extremists.”

NRA officials made clear this week they intend to fight back against efforts to curb gun rights. The group said in a statement on Wednesday it would oppose legislation to raise the age requirement for buying rifles.

A bill authored by Florida Democrats to ban high-capacity magazines and some semiautomatic weapons failed Tuesday, as gun-control activists and students watched the vote from the state capitol. State GOP leaders said afterward they would consider more modest bills.

The slow pace of debate is a familiar replay for longtime watchers of Florida politics and its governor, although Scott has shown in the past an occasional willingness to move to the center on issues such as Medicaid expansion.

“Florida is littered with examples of people thinking it’ll be a different moment on guns, but the culture never changes,” Florida Republican consultant Rick Wilson said. “This is another one of those moments. That cold political calculus is made, and there is zero movement in Tallahassee.”

Democrats have increased their attacks. “Governor Scott, we need more than your thoughts and prayers. Stop putting the gun lobby ahead of our safety,” a narrator says in the latest ad from Giffords PAC, the political-action committee helmed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat.

Trump’s allies say presidential action, while at its early stages, could ultimately prod Scott to move further on guns.

“The president’s position goes beyond that, the White House wants stronger background checks,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump ally and the Florida-based chief executive of Newsmax Media. “The smart thing to do politically would be to require stronger background checks not only for mentally ill people but for those with criminal backgrounds and other issues. Rick is a strong conservative but he likes to be in line with the president, and Trump is the standard-bearer.”

Florida lawmakers and consultants point back to Scott’s responses to past shootings as the better way to predict his next steps.

“The Second Amendment has never shot anybody. The evil did this,” Scott told reporters two years ago following a shooting in Fort Myers, where two teenagers were killed outside of a nightclub.

___

The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer contributed reporting from Tallahassee.

Republished with permission of the Washington Post.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.23.18 — The Steamroller

On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a media event in which he and City Councilman Al Ferraro filled potholes in roads in a Northside industrial park.

Curry wanted to focus on the hard work being done, day in and day out, by city employees to maintain public infrastructure.

A laudable goal. Especially given where things have been lately.

Politics in Northeast Florida has been particularly parlous since the beginning of the year, as you will read below.

The Texas Death Match between Al Lawson and Alvin Brown. The No DQ tag match between those close to the Mayor and those on the side of the Council Resistance. The “JEA on the pole” match.

The prevailing image of the Curry event was the mayor on a steamroller.

Lenny Curry mans the steamroller.

Some quipped that it was apropos — symbolic of a political machine that overwhelms opposition as a matter of course.

Curry, the kind of Jacksonville public official who tweets from “On War” by Clausewitz, often uses these public works events as a “back to basics” reset when time or events riddle smooth narratives.

They are a reprieve from the heated narrative of February, spats with Council members, and the like.

They are what the business of running a city comes down to.

No one argues about the mechanics of filling potholes; yet, Tallahassee hasn’t figured out how to take away home rule for that local function.

The takeaway from the event: sometimes it’s nice to just get on the steamroller and smooth out the rough road.

Even if it’s hard to steer sometimes.

Blood money

More drama in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

On Monday, as has been the case for weeks, challenger Brown laid into Rep. Lawson.

Parkland cast a shadow on the congressional race this week.

The former Jacksonville Mayor noted, via a media release, that Lawson was the sole Florida Democrat to take money from the National Rifle Association.

“Despite Rep. Al Lawson’s statement last week decrying the ‘stranglehold of the gun lobby,’ Rep. Al Lawson is just another Washington politician who has taken campaign contributions from the NRA in return for inaction on gun violence. Late last year, Lawson proudly took $2,500 from the NRA — making Lawson the only member of Florida’s Democratic delegation to accept money from the gun lobby.”

However, Lawson said he had NOT taken any NRA money.

Lawson responded Monday, saying flat out that Brown was “lying” about his record.

“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, [but] I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson began.

“If Mr. Brown did some actual research, he would see that there are no contributions from the NRA on my campaign report, or any expenditures from the NRA, or their political action committees to my campaign,” Lawson added, saying that “Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career.”

Lawson has a history of being friendlier to the gun lobby than many Democrats.

Will that matter in the August primary?

Lawson pans Trump’s ‘heartless’ budget

Lawson, who Brown is doing his best to link with President Donald Trump, panned POTUS’ proposed budget this weekend in the Florida Times-Union.

Al Lawson bashed the Donald Trump budget, but will it help him shake DINO charge from Alvin Brown?

The “irresponsible and extreme budget that would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, transportation and other essential government services, all while increasing the deficit …  hits our most vulnerable citizens the hardest, reflects a terrible disdain for working families, as well as a disheartening lack of vision for a stronger society.”

This editorial includes recurrent Lawson themes, including noting the high rate of poverty in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and decrying proposed changes in the food stamps program.

The president proposed sending boxes of food to people instead of the SNAP disbursements.

Save the Date

Nancy Soderberg, a Democrat running in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, opens her campaign HQ in Daytona Sunday afternoon.

Nancy Soderberg is ramping up an impressive structure early in her congressional bid.

Soderberg recently hired a campaign manager and field director, and she is testing the theory that the seat currently held by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis can be flipped.

Soderberg, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She has $376,000 cash on hand.

While this does not give Soderberg the total cash on hand lead (Republican John Ward has $644,216 on hand), Soderberg will have the resources to be competitive.

In a quest for more resources, Soderberg has a DC fundraiser lined up for March 8. On hand: James Carville and Rep. Darren Soto.

Levine makes the scene

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a candidate for Governor, was in Jacksonville Monday evening to address Duval County Democrats.

Philip Levine was in Duval as part of his ’67-county strategy.’

Levine, on his second trip to Jacksonville in recent weeks, had a “living room” conversation earlier in the day. Even as Gwen Graham has a strong foothold in the area, what is clear is that Levine thinks Northeast Florida is in play as part of his “67 county strategy.”

“The message has been resonating … I’ve been to towns you’ve never heard of … with a message many Democrats has never heard before.”

That message: deliberately “pro-business.” Levine notes that corporate HR policies tend to be progressive.

“The only way we’re going to win a general election is to make purple … mix red and blue,” Levine said.

Read more here.

Constitutional conclave

The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.

And some that weren’t, such as Proposal 22, perceived as an affront on abortion rights, and Proposal 62, which would allow for people to vote in primaries regardless of party identification. The green cards of support outweighed the red cards by a factor of 20.

Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission visits the University of North Florida for public input.

“There are 3.4 million Floridians whose right to vote is denied,” said Jackie Bowman of St. Augustine on Proposal 62.

“To me, this looks like taxation without representation.”

Jackie Rock, a mosquito control commissioner from St. Johns County, bridged from closed primaries to consequences, noting that the Legislature did not pass an assault weapon ban, eliciting a gasp from the crowd.

The same held true for a nonexistent proposal to ban assault weapons. Anytime a speaker sounded that theme, the green cards flapped.

If there was a leitmotif to the six-hour meeting, it was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for proposals. Read more here.

Brown makes it official, challenges Gibson

The paperwork was filed Friday: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown threw down the gauntlet for a primary challenge against state Sen. Audrey Gibson.

Councilman Reggie Brown denies Mayor Lenny Curry put him up to running for Senate.

But Florida Politics readers knew already.

“I am running,” Brown said in mid-January.

And contrary to what some in Gibson’s orbit are saying, it’s Brown’s decision and his move to make.

Gibson — the Senate Democratic Leader-designate — would seem like an unlikely primary target.

She has been in elected office since the 1990s and gets donations from national corporations and political committees. Gibson carried $121,000 in her campaign account at the end of January.

Brown thinks he can bring more money to the district, however.

Gibson doesn’t want to talk about the challenge, which sets the stage for the most compelling primary race in Northeast Florida this year outside of the Brown/Lawson demolition derby for Congress.

Boys Club?

WJXT, typically a friendly outlet to Curry, postulated this week that his office may be a “boys club.”

Where the boys are: WJXT story goes in on the Lenny Curry machine.

The article focused on the aftermath of a conversation between Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and Council President Anna Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, which led to Sanders saying she felt threatened.

The Office of General Counsel backed Hughes’ version of events, saying no laws were broken.

WJXT asserted that “some people” said they felt uncomfortable around Hughes after the initial charges were made.

The money quote: “One prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that he’s ‘very headstrong’ and ‘a classic bully’ who can ‘get in a person’s face and invade their personal space.’”

Council President Anna Brosche, meanwhile, offered her own thoughts on the City Hall dynamic and a Florida Times-Union article that essentially mansplained Brosche off the dais.

Brosche asserted that ”if my name was Allen Brosche, I would not be receiving the kind of feedback some are offering me: Take the high road, understand he is a competitive person, learn to bite your tongue, and (repeatedly) don’t take things so personally.”

“The questions to the community, the media and leaders who want me to be quiet, to be nice,” Brosche added, “are:  Is competition among community leaders the best thing for Jacksonville? As a man, is Mayor Curry getting the same advice I am?”

Meanwhile, a mysterious poll is probing Brosche’s appeal versus Curry, leading to claims and counterclaims in the consultant set as to who is pushing this poll and why.

GOP gun control push?

Peter Rummell is among the leading names in Jacksonville’s Republican donor class, and he made news himself this weekend as part of a New York Times article detailing prominent GOP donors who no longer will back candidates who support assault weapons sales.

Peter Rummell wants a ‘debate’ on Second Amendment prerogatives in the GOP.

Rummell, described as “a Jacksonville-based donor who gave $125,000 to Jeb Bush’s ‘super PAC’ in 2016, said he was on board with Mr. Hoffman’s plan and would only contribute to candidates supportive of banning assault weapons.”

Rummell said, per the NYT, “the Parkland shooting was a turning point: ‘It has to start somewhere,’ Mr. Rummell said, of controlling guns.”

Rummell has donated majorly to candidates and causes in the Jacksonville area also, including but not limited to the last two successful mayoral campaigns and the pension reform referendum of 2016.

“Al Hoffman has made a bold and decisive statement and his ultimate point is we need to do something major and radical-nipping at the edges isn’t working. Starting is hard and he’s taken what he considers to be an important first step. And, I totally agree that we as a nation need to focus on laws that would create a safer world for all. I am not sure that starting with just an ‘ultimatum’ is the right first step,” Rummell told Florida Politics in a statement, drawing a subtle but important distinction between his position and the rhetorical absolutism of Hoffman’s as documented by the NYT.

“We need a plan, a strategy and tactics. Starting any process is hard — especially one that is as serious, complicated and emotional as this is. Now is the time for us to have a debate that is honest, thoughtful and complete, taking into account all the important issues about how we live practically under the Second Amendment, which I fully support. The discussion needs to end with real transformation and actionable items that bring about real reform, protections and change,” Rummell said.

Keep it 100?

The National Rifle Association endorsed Curry for Jacksonville Mayor in 2015, yet when we asked Curry about NRA support, he said he wasn’t in “100 percent alignment” with donors and supporters Wednesday.

“Not issue specific. Any supporter, any donor, any endorser, you’re not going to have 100 percent alignment on,” Curry said at a media availability.

“At least I don’t. They don’t expect that. They expect independent thinking,” Curry said of donors and endorsers.

The NRA endorsed Lenny Curry in 2015.

We asked Curry where he diverged from NRA positions; he offered no answer, potentially a reflection of the balancing act Republican politicians currently face with the gun lobby.

“I’m a constitutional conservative, believe in the rule of law, and the firearm issue is regulated at the federal and state level,” Curry said. “My commitment to public safety has been demonstrated in real investments and real actions here in Jacksonville.”

When asked about the assault weapon ban that the Florida House effectively voted down Tuesday, Curry said it was another example of a state regulation and offered no comment on the Republican legislators in this region who voted to not even give the bill a hearing.

“Recognizing that we are in very sad times right now, tragic times, I’m going to do what I can in Jacksonville to keep our city safe,” Curry said, citing his reforms of children’s programs via the Kids Hope Alliance as an example of such action.

Stormy weather

Reimbursements will come sooner or later for the city of Jacksonville from the federal government for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

Flooding was a major impact of Irma, and thus far Jacksonville’s general fund remains soaked.

Until then, however, the impact of the storms will be felt in the city’s general fund budget.

The Jacksonville City Council Auditor’s quarterly report for the final three months of 2017 puts the figures in sharp relief.

“The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $45.1 million. As of Jan. 31, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.0 million related to Hurricane Matthew,” the report contends.

“87.5 percent of the total allowable expenses are subject to reimbursement, leaving the City to fund the remainder. The fiscal year 2017/18 approved budget includes an appropriation of $7.0 million from the GF/GSD to cover the City’s estimated obligation,” the report adds.

Irma is worse: the fiscal impact will be approximately $86.4 million, with no less than a $10.8 million charge to the city even if all reimbursements come through.

With slow reimbursements, one wonders if the discussion of reserve levels will be a more forceful one this summer.

The city has already been dinged by analysts for high fixed costs. These, combined with a reluctance to hike taxes, are leading influencers and policymakers to take a hard look at JEA privatization, which could net the city $3 to $6 billion.

Meanwhile, the city has worries regarding increasing interest rates and the equity market volatility of recent weeks.

Conditions to JEA sale for Curry

While on the JEA subject, Curry tells the Florida Times-Union that he’s not, contrary to opinion in some quarters, married to a JEA sale.

Lenny Curry continues to maintain public agnosticism toward utility sale.

Curry said: “There’s a whole lot of questions that would have to be answered.”

“From my perspective, I would not be supportive of anything that took a lump sum of cash in any scenario — JEA or anything else — and spent it,” Curry said. “Future generations and future taxpayers always have to be protected … people working at JEA need to be protected as well, and their families honored.”

The sale could net the city $3 billion to $6 billion, though there is a lot of salesmanship ahead between Curry and members of Council.

On Tuesday, Council President Anna Brosche took a proactive measure, setting up a special committee that will run through June looking at the issue.

She believes that if the proposal is sound it will survive scrutiny. And she, along with other skeptics, will be on the panel.

More skepticism abounds: the city’s ethics commission wants to firm up rules to avert the temptations and potential abuses of the sale process, should it go forward.

JEA straw poll bill coming, and so are ‘bounties’?

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis is introducing a bill that would force a straw poll on JEA privatization, he said this week at a meeting of the Duval Democrats.

Garrett Dennis is a marked man, he says, by the Mayor’s office.

Privatization, Dennis said, would be “bad for our city … a cover for a shortfall for a bad pension plan that we were all duped into passing.”

Also of note: Dennis claims there is a “bounty” on five Council members from the mayor’s office.

“The mayor, who we all know is a bully, has bounties on five Council members’ heads.”

Those Councilors: President Anna Brosche and Danny Becton, two Republicans, along with Democrats Dennis, Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown.

Dennis, Becton, and Brosche are all on the JEA privatization committee.

‘Senseless violence’ again on Jacksonville streets

Seven-year-old Tashawn Gallon was gunned down in Durkeeville Sunday night. Per the Florida Times-Union, he died hours after being shot in a drive-by.

Curry took to Twitter hours later.

“Last night a 7 yr old was killed in a drive-by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace.”

Durkeeville, a rough neighborhood for decades now, is on the periphery of Downtown Jacksonville.

“This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and firehouses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry continued.

“In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn’t hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone. We have to break through to these young people. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace.”

Small children being shot: a running theme in Jacksonville homicides, and something that Curry has all too routinely had to address during his two-and-a-half years in office.

Fishweir Creek to be swimmable, fishable again

A Jacksonville creek restoration project awaited by Avondale area residents for over a decade is finally on the verge of a City Council green light.

Clearing committees Tuesday and Wednesday: a bill (2018-8) to move forward on the restoration of Big Fishweir Creek.

Making Big Fishweir Creek great again.

Urbanization and development over the course of decades made the tributary inhospitable to swimming and fishing, per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The USACE outlines some benefits to the project. Included among them, making the creek “swimmable and fishable,” creating a navigable habitat for the still endangered manatee, improving water quality generally, and creation of a marsh island.

The project is estimated to cost $6,549,000; the city of Jacksonville has appropriated $2,566,375, with the USACE picking up the other 65 percent of the tab. If the federal contribution goes up, the local share will do likewise. The federal cap is $10 million.

Construction is expected in 2019.

Departures

A Jacksonville City Council candidate left the Public Service Grants Council this month, while the head of sports and entertainment also moved on.

The TaxSlayer Bowl will be someone else’s problem this year, with Dave Herrell gone.

Tameka Gaines Holly, running in District 8 to replace fellow Democrat Katrina Brown, resigned the PSG by email.

The candidate leads the money race: she posted $10,800 in January — her first month as an active candidate. Holly is the cash on hand leader, with candidates Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks and Albert Wilcox each under $2,000 on hand.

Also out the door: Dave Herrell, after almost four years handling Jacksonville sports and entertainment.

Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly raised in his term.

Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.

Herrell’s Resignation Letter indicates that, while the resignation is effective April 10, the actual departure date was Feb. 9.

Endorsement watch

Katie Dearing is unopposed in her bid for 4th Circuit judge. And every sheriff in the circuit backs her.

In addition to being supported by sheriffs, Katie Dearing’s nuclear family backs her as well.

“Katie is highly respected by her peers and the law enforcement community. She brings a wealth of experience and courtroom knowledge as well as practical wisdom. I proudly endorse her for Circuit Judge,” said Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County.

Sheriff Mike Williams called Dearing “qualified, capable, and caring and she will be an asset to the judiciary.” And Sheriff Bill Leeper of Nassau “heartily endorse[s]” the candidate.

UNF names new leader

Jacksonville’s University of North Florida has a new president.

The UNF Board of Trustees selected University of Cincinnati business-school dean David Szymanski to become the school’s sixth president.

David Szymanski is the new president of UNF.

Szymanski currently serves as dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati. The board authorized Chairman Kevin Hyde to negotiate a contract with Szymanski, whose appointment also is subject to confirmation by the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Anonymous gift brings special ed school closer to new campus

An anonymous $1.5 million gift has helped the North Florida School of Special Education get significantly closer toward a new campus.

The donation brought the school to $5 million of its $6 million goal in a three-year “Angel of the Woods” fundraising campaign. The new campus will be called The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.

A rendering of The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.

“This is a beautiful tribute,” school head Sally Hazelip told circlecharityregister.com. “The gift honors our past and helps plant the seeds for our future; we are so thankful for this donor’s generosity.”

The campaign is for the facility to build a 32,000-square-foot facility and a Therapeutic Equestrian Center on 5 acres of land bestowed to the school in 2014 by the Ida Mae Stevens Foundation and Doug Milne, trustee. One of the first donations to the campaign was a $1 million gift from Delores Barr Weaver to name the Therapeutic Equestrian Center.

The Smiths were among the first four families who founded the school in 1992. The school’s current Anderson Smith Campus is named after their son.

Groundbreaking is set for fall 2018 with a targeted completion sometime in 2019. The new buildings will join the current 9,000-square-foot classroom structure on the 3-acre campus at 223 Mill Creek Road. When finished, the school will cover 41,000 square feet over 8 acres.

Jax driverless vehicle prototype passes first on-road test

Soon, driverless vehicles will begin having a profound change on Jacksonville streets.

“This is not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” said Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford to Action News Jax.

Rosalie Simcoe was one of the riders on a prototype autonomous vehicle operated by Transdev tested on the Easy Mile this week.

“It was incredible. It was very smooth,” Simcoe told reporter Jenna Bourne. “I felt very safe.”

It was the same type of vehicle that soon will be seen Jacksonville streets and the Skyway. Ford expects the infrastructure conversion to support autonomous vehicles on the Skyway to take five about years.

“This vehicle here is the one that we currently have on our test track over by EverBank Stadium,” Ford explained. “And we’ll be running that vehicle for the next few months and then we’ll swap out, every so many other manufacturers’ vehicles.

“So, we’re in a test and learn phase.”

White the model tested can travel up to 28 miles an hour, for the demonstration – at the University of North Florida – it only traveled about 10 miles an hour.

As for safety, the demonstration had a person step in front of the vehicle, which came to a full stop until he moved away.

CNN Parkland town hall crowd expresses powerful gun-control message

If the crowd at Wednesday night’s gun discussion at the BB&T Center in Sunrise was indicative of more than just a normally Democratic community now suffering from one of the most horrific school massacres in history, then Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and staunch 2nd Amendment advocates can find little place there.

In the CNN post-Parkland massacre town hall meeting show “Stand Up,” televised live Wednesday night, students’, teachers’, family members’ and others’  anger and conviction over the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was clearly focused on gun control, on banning assault weapons, universal background checks and other gun laws.

That left Rubio, who joined Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, often in the spotlight of anger and pleading survivors, family and friends, as he defended 2nd Amendment positions opposing many of the gun restrictions the crowd was professing.

The trio of federal lawmakers found their roles well defined from the start, and found that the questioners, including teenagers, harbored no fear or intimidation whatsoever in pressing powerful members of Congress.

Deutch, the hometown congressman who has been a strong, longtime advocate of gun control, gave fiery calls for banning what he called “weapons of war,” and denouncing opposition to gun reforms. And for those he drew standing ovations.

Nelson, who’s been through all of this before, from previous horrible tragedies, sought to balm and inspire the crowd, declaring, “Your hope gives me hope. You’r determination gives me more determination…. You have been so strong. Keep it up.”

And on the other side was Rubio, who drew flat-out confrontations, and stood up to them with compassion and respect, and expressing sincere empathy and understanding, yet with convictions to positions the questioners and the crowd did not like. He took it.

“I want to like you. Here’s the problem: Your comments this week, and those of our president have been pathetically weak,” Rubio was told by Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed last week.

“Tell me guns weren’t a factor in the hunting of our kids,” Guttenberg demanded.

At another point, student Michelle Lapidot asked, rhetorically, because she said she wanted to ask someone from the National Rifle Association, but there wasn’t anyone there yet, “Was the blood of my classmates and teachers worth your blood money?”

Rubio made some news pledging some concessions on gun control stands He renewed and strengthened vows to support a ban on bump stocks, an increase the minimum age for the purchase of a rifle to 21, an expansion background checks on gun purchases. Finally, he promised a new breakthrough, to consider restrictions on ammunition magazine sizes, an issue that had been front and center in the gun debate 20 months ago, in the weeks after the Pulse massacre in Orlando, and which Rubio had then strongly opposed.

The last concession was one he said has come to him from what he had learned from law enforcement briefings about what happened inside the high school last week. He said it was evidence in politics that people can change their minds.

“I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size. … I’m reconsidering, and I’ll tell you why,” Rubio said. “While it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack. I believe there will be evidence that in a key moment in the incident, three or four people, three or four people, might be alive today because of something this deranged killer had to do.”

But Rubio’s other arguments, seeking to explain, for example, how complicated it could be to ban the kinds of guns that killed in Stoneman Douglas High School and in Pulse, fell flat, sounding as if he was nickel-and-diming the issues on technicalities. And he was doing so in front of young people who had stared down a blazing AR-15 just days ago, and in front of grieving parents and siblings.

At one point he asked Deutch if he would be so bold as to support a ban on all assault rifles, as if such was an absurdly-broad ban.

Deutch said yes. The crowed thundered.

Rubio looked surprised. He said, “Fair enough, fair enough.”

Still, Rubio fared better than Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump. CNN invited both, and they both declined. And they both suffered  numerous unanswered hits during the town hall, for not participating.

Nelson, who likely will be facing Scott later this year in the U.S. Senate race, took several opportunities to criticize the pro-2nd Amendment governor.

“My colleague and I, Marco Rubio, have a good relationship. I told him before I came out tonight he had guts coming here, when in fact there is no representative of the state of Florida here. Our governor did not come here, Gov. Scott, but Marco did,” Nelson offered.

Rubio’s empathy and connection with the crowd was not shared by his successor on the 2nd Amendment side of the issue.

In the second half of the show, CNN brought out Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Loesch started out condescending and lecturing, trying to draw distinctions between selling weapons to people she called “nuts,” and to anyone else. Almost continuously, Loesch tried to blame the school massacre, and redirect questions and arguments, to being being about the madness of charged shooter Nikolas Cruz, and how the justice system, the schools, and society had missed all warning signs that should have signaled the blood to come, and led someone to intervene.

But the students and others, and the crowd reactions sounded as if they heard her argument as offensively irrelevant, as completely tone deaf to what they wanted to discuss: the role of the guns in Cruz’s hands. She was accused of avoiding questions, and Loesch occasionally retreated into the position of the cornered righteous.

That didn’t get by Israel, who told her she had not earned the right to tell the audience, as she had, that she fought for them. He declared there was no reason for the NRA’s opposition to universal background checks and assault weapon restrictions, declaring, “We’re calling BS on that!”

Kathy Castor hopes U.S. can learn truth about diplomat injuries in Cuba

Kathy Castor was part of a six-member group of Democratic members of Congress visiting Cuba over the past few days, but the delegation shrank to five this week when meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro.

“I came back to Tampa on Tuesday, ” Castor said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon before the rest of her colleagues visited Cuban leader.

It was Castor’s fourth trip to the communist island since 2011, but she has never met with either President Castro or his brother, the late Fidel Castro, in part because she says she wants “to turn the page.”

“I’m focused on the future, and I think the Tampa area community is as well,” she says, expressing regret that she didn’t meet up with Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first vice president of the Council of the State

Diaz-Canel is expected to succeed Castro when a transfer of power takes place in April. The 56-year-old is the first official who does not belong to the revolutionary “old guard,” since he was born after the Cuban Revolution took over in the 1950s.

Castor is the first Florida member of Congress to call for the end to the now nearly 60-year-old Cuban economic boycott after visiting the island in 2013.

Although considered a bold move in comparison to previous Cuba visitors like former Mayor Dick Greco and Representative Jim Davis, the conditions in Tampa had paved by activists and later members of the business community in Tampa who have embraced strengthening relations between the two communities.

The Greater Tampa Chamber, for example, has led several delegation trips in recent years, and wholeheartedly supported the concept of bringing a Cuban consulate to Tampa, an idea that died with President Donald Trump reversing the rapprochement during the Barack Obama era.

Castor said part of her trip (she left Florida Saturday) was to learn more about the mystery that continues to surround the strange symptoms of illness experienced by at least two dozen U.S. diplomats station in Havana.

The symptoms were first reported in late 2016 but not disclosed by the State Department until August of 2017. In response, Washington expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington, and ordered most of its own diplomatic personnel from Havana back to U.S. soil and limited travel there to emergency personnel.

The Castro government condemned the purported attacks and denied any involvement but later called into question the integrity of the incidents.

A report by U.S. medical experts from the University of Pennsylvania, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., concluded the diplomatic personnel suffered brain injuries without evidence of head trauma. The Americans reported a range of symptoms including hearing loss, headaches, dizziness, nausea and loss of concentration.

Initially, the U.S. government blamed the symptoms on “sonic” or “acoustic” attacks but has since backed off those labels.

The Penn group could not determine a cause, saying that any “sensory phenomena” was of “unclear origin.”

Briefed by intelligence officials, Castor reviewed the Penn study and said it’s clear that it was no sonar or acoustic attack, but agreed something did happen to the diplomats.

Castor doesn’t believe the Cuban government had any motivation for the incident, since it has only frayed the improving relations between the two nations, which began to thaw with Obama’s diplomatic breakthrough in December 2014.

If not Cuba, though, she says it’s unclear who would have a motive.

“Some rogue element? Some other country? There simply isn’t any evidence to point in any one direction or another,” she said, adding that she hopes U.S. intelligence agencies can ultimately learn the truth.

While critics of U.S. outreach to Cuba (such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio) are continuing to criticize human rights violations of the Castro government. Obama overtures were fruitless since the Cuban government has continued such activities, they say.

But Castor has always championed the loosening of regulations that allow the Cuban people to become more entrepreneurial. However, in her recent excursion, Castor saw less growth in small business movement.

After talking to some small business owners over the past several days, Castor said: “It really appears that the economic reforms on the island have stalled.”

According to Castor, one factor hurting the Cuban people is that the government continues to sustain two separate currencies — one for everyday Cubans, and another for visitors.

Last fall, the Trump administration rescinded one of the most significant Obama-era changes regarding “people-to-people” visas for Americans to travel to Cuba.

The Obama White House had expanded those categories, allowing U.S. travelers for the first time to book a flight online to Havana, buy people-to-people visas at U.S. airport counters, then go on their trip.

Now, travelers need to be accompanied by a U.S.-based tour guide, who must ensure they engage in approved activities that help the Cuban people.

That’s put a sizable dent in the number of visitors who now travel to Cuba from the U.S., Castor said.

Jim Waurishuk elected chair of Hillsborough GOP, vows to make county party great again

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and Hillsborough County’s Republican State Committeeman Jim Waurishuk is the new Chairman of the Hillsborough Republican Executive Committee.

Waurishuk defeated political consultant April Schiff, 76-58 Tuesday night during the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

The military veteran has only been involved with local party politics since 2011 when he joined the Hillsborough County REC. He told the local Republicans in his speech that he naturally gravitated to Donald Trump during the most recent presidential election

“In May of 2015 I took a stand and stood to support Donald Trump for president and I have stood steadfast with him ever since,” he boasted. In fact, Waurishuk introduced Trump when the then Republican presidential candidate spoke at the USF SunDome in February of 2016. He also touted endorsements from not only local Republican officials, but also support from such figures as Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, high ranking officials for at least part of Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Nearly everyone in local Republican politics admits, the party is in dire need of  a transfusion of energy and excitement, following the resignation last month of Deborah Tamargo.

Tamargo was elected in 2014 but faced an inter-party battle in 2016 before stepping down after she faced a grievance filed against her by other party officers, including Waurishuk.

Waurishuk admitted that Hillsborough County is a different place than it was in 2004, the last time it went red in a presidential election.

“Through strong Republican policies and leadership, we will turn the party around and continue to grow,” he promised, adding that he would improve fundraising and grow the party’s volunteer basis. He also said that the party needed to change its message, and its messaging.

Waurishuk’s military background has made him a respected voice with national conservative media venues like Fox News, the Laura Ingraham radio show and 970 WFLA in Tampa. He served as a staff advisor at U.S. Special Operation Command (USSOCOM)  and Central Command out of MacDill Air Force base over the past 15 years.

He defeated Schiff, who in her speech said that she had ran her campaign based on three principles – unity, civility and success.

She said she believed in celebrating a diversity of views a la Ronald Reagan’s “big tent” philosophy and said it was important to respect each other’s opinions And she promised to bring back elected officials who had wandered away from the local party during the Tamargo years.

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting attended the meeting and excitedly called Pasco County Chairman Randy Evans immediately after Waurishuk was announced as the winner.

“I’m glad this guy’s in because we’re going to need him, and we’re going to help him,” Bunting said, adding that he throught that the party under Tamargo was “dysfunctional” in his opinion.

Facing uphill battle, Republican Kurt Jetta ends CD 21 bid

Republican Kurt Jetta faced an uphill battle in his bid for Florida’s 21st Congressional District, looking to unseat Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.

First, as a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, the Delray Beach businessman needed to overcome a sure-to-be difficult GOP primary.

Next, Jetta would have to prevail in a heavily Democratic district.

Jetta decided the challenge was too much, announcing Tuesday is quitting the race to work elsewhere on “public service.”

“I could keep grinding away in some hope of a breakthrough, but the odds of success are low and the opportunity cost of me not attending to my company, TABS Analytics, is high,” Jetta said in a recent email to supporters, as reported by the Palm Beach Post.

Jetta has taken in $114,000 in contributions, which he intends to refund to donors. Jetta also loaned his campaign $250,000.

“You did not invest in this campaign to see me quit so early in the process, so I will be putting in enough money to the campaign account so that you will receive your donation back by the end of the year,” Jetta said. “While I don’t regret taking a run at this office, I am very disappointed that it will end like this, and I’m sorry to disappoint you, as well. Going forward, I will be dedicating my public service efforts to organizations that are addressing the opioid epidemic, the issue that propelled me into this campaign in the first place.”

Remaining in the CD 21 race is Republican Derek Schwartz.

Currently in her third term, Frankel won re-election in 2016 with 62.7 percent over Republican Paul Spain.

Rick Kriseman to name St. Pete library after Barack Obama, some take issue

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Monday morning his administration is renaming the city’s main library after former President Barack Obama.

Not everyone was pleased.

Kriseman made the announcement on Presidents Day in front of the library at 3745 9th Avenue North. The renaming is to coincide with the library’s planned $6 million in renovations, using funds from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax recently re-upped for another decade by Pinellas County voters.

While naming public buildings after past presidents is hardly unusual, the move sparked controversy on the internet, with Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith weighing in on his Facebook page, saying Obama has nothing to do with St. Pete.

“Mayor embracing his hyper-partisan image,” Smith wrote. “What if next mayor changed the name to Donald J. Trump Library?”

Predictably, the decision set off an exchange of responses (both pro and con) on the Times website as well, with some comments hinting of racism.

Detractors complained the library should be named for a local figure; supporters noted that Martin Luther King Jr. was not a local figure either. King, of course, has a major street named after him in St. Pete.

“It’s not like anyone is going to forget about Barack Obama (whether your opinion is positive or negative),” wrote Cliff Perkins. “So why waste resources to name a local library after him? He has no connection to St Petersburg. If it needs a name, pick someone local who has contributed to literacy or scholarship in the region.”

Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath thought the decision to name the library after the nation’s 44th president makes perfect sense. One of Tampa’s main streets is named after former President John Kennedy, she noted, and McGrath often flies a few times a year into Reagan-National Airport in Washington D.C., which is named after former President Ronald Reagan.

While partisanship divides the country (as well as some quarters of St. Pete, apparently), the controversy honestly surprises McGrath.

“It’s not an issue before that we expect the legacies of presidents to be carried forth and reflected in the naming of buildings,” she said, adding the election of the first black president in the U.S. was historic and significant.

The Kriseman administration began discussing with community leaders as far back as last spring about renaming of the main library, and the enhancement of the library’s programming to include an emphasis on presidential history, civics, and the contributions of both Obama and Michelle Obama.

Obama endorsed Kriseman in his bid for re-election last August, just days before the primary. In the race against former Mayor Rick Baker, Kriseman took home the most votes in the Aug. 29 primary, going on to win re-election over Baker by two points in November.

Activists call out Donald Trump’s ‘Cover up Caucus’ on Russian investigation

For Presidents Day, activists in downtown St. Petersburg rallied to criticize congressional Republicans who they say have been silent or actively working to end special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller laid out charges Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities in a sweeping indictment describing in detail a years-long effort by Russians to interfere with the U.S. political system.

The indictments confirmed the conclusions of the country’s intelligence community but flew in the face of President Donald Trump‘s questioning of the probe.

In the eyes of some Republicans (like Marco Rubio), the indictments confirmed that Russia did attempt to disrupt the election — and are likely to do so again. Others, like Panhandle Representative Matt Gaetz, have been pushing to fire Mueller. In November, Gaetz introduced a nonbinding resolution calling for the House to endorse Mueller’s dismissal.

“These Republicans see their only role as protecting the president, and not the country,” said Andrea Hildebran Smith with the group FACT (Floridians against Corruption and Treason).

“We call them the ‘Cover-up Caucus’ … We expect members of Congress to use every tool at their disposal to protect this country.”

The liberal activists also are unhappy with Trump for announcing that he will not impose additional sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 U.S. election as well as its aggression in east Ukraine. Congress passed a law last year calling on the president to do so.

“We want protection for this special counsel to finish his investigation,” said Karen Berman with Fired Up Pinellas, who along with MoveOn.org organized Monday’s protest in front of the federal building on First Avenue North in downtown St. Pete.

“We want to see the latest Russian sanctions enforced, and we want to see the state and federal government take steps to protect our elections from any interference,” Berman added.

Over the summer, amid reports that Trump was considering firing Mueller, members of both parties were compelled to introduce legislation to prevent that from happening.

While four bills have been filed in Congress to protect Mueller’s investigation, none will likely go anywhere in the GOP-led House and Senate.

Two bills have been introduced in the Senate, both bipartisan. Sponsored by North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, the Special Counsel Integrity Act would only permit the firing of a special counsel in the event of “misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity or conflict of interest.”

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act that would require an extensive judicial process to do so.

The Act has been stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past couple of months.

There are similar bills in the House of Representatives, which have a little more support. One, introduced by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has 31 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

One Democrat who hopes to make it to Congress later this year is Chris Hunter, a former FBI agent now running in the District 12th Congressional District Democratic primary.

“Our democracy has been compromised, and it will happen again,” he predicted, “because some of our elected officials are running their same type of disinformation campaign against our own country that Russian intelligence services have run.”

Hunter served in the Department of Justice under the administrations of both Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.

Not once, Hunter said, did political officials in either of those administrations “purposely set out to destabilize our democratic institutions.”

“Not only has our current president fail to protect our country, the Republican Congress has been complicit in that failure,” he added.

The winner of the Democratic primary in CD 12 will face Republican incumbent Gus Bilirakis this November. Bilirakis has not publicly commented on the Mueller investigation, according to statements published on his congressional website over the past year.

As a former FBI agent, Florida Politics asked Hunter what he thought of Gov. Rick Scott‘s comment last week that FBI Director Christopher Wray should resign in the wake of revelations that the bureau ignored a tip last month about Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17  people after he opened fire on a Parkland school on Valentine’s Day.

“I think it’s disgraceful to politicize the massacre in Parkland,” Hunter said.

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