Kathy Castor Archives - Florida Politics

Several North Florida Congressional incumbents cruise to big wins

In the northern half of Florida, the races for Congressional District 6 and District 15 captured the attention of the national media as well as pundits. Some of the others were decided shortly after the polls closed, or before.

Democratic Reps. Val Demings of Orlando and Kathy Castor of Tampa are returning to Washington after receiving no opposition in this year’s election. They represent District 10 and District 14, respectively.

In District 1, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz easily defeated Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman, a Santa Rosa County pediatrician, while in District 2, Panama City Republican Dr. Neal Dunn won re-election by dispatching former Leon County Commissioner Bob Rackleff, a former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter.

Republican Rep. John Rutherford easily won a second term representing District 4 with a victory over Democrat Ges Selmont, a Ponte Vedra Beach lawyer. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee defeated Virginia Fuller, a registered nurse from Tallahassee, to win re-election to the District 5 seat.

Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville won a second term in District 3 by defeating Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a former educator and elected member of the Gainesville City Commission. In District 8, veteran GOP Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge has won another term by defeating businessman Sanjay Patel of Satellite Beach.

Republican Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont won another term representing District 11 by defeating Spring Hill educator Dana Cottrell.

Florida Democrats on GOP: Voters shouldn’t be ‘tricked’

Ahead of President Donald Trump‘s Halloween visit to Florida later in the day, Florida Democrats warned voters not to get “tricked” regarding the GOP’s record before next week’s midterm election.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch and Val Demings spoke to reporters Wednesday, highlighting what they see as flaws in Republicans’ agenda during the 115th Congress.

“President Trump and Republicans are selling out the American people at every turn,” Castor said.

“Their actions affect all of us, but especially here in Florida. And there are significant differences between Democrats and Republicans on the ballot this year on the issues most important to them.”

One area Castor hit was the issue of health care. It’s been a focus of Democrats running for Congress through this cycle, after Republicans attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.

While those efforts failed, the GOP did manage to get rid of the individual mandate in their 2017 tax bill. Republican attorneys general from several states are also suing to remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Florida is part of that lawsuit, unfortunately,” Castor noted.

She also called out Trump for attempting to argue Republicans would do more to protect those with pre-existing conditions than would Democrats.

“He had the audacity to tweet out that ‘Republicans will totally protect people with pre-existing conditions. Democrats will not.'”

Coincidentally, during Wednesday morning’s call, Trump reiterated that message in another tweet.

“Republicans will protect people with pre-existing conditions far better than the Dems!” the tweet said.

Given the ongoing lawsuit and the GOP’s efforts to repeal the ACA, which established those protections, Trump’s claims have come under fire from numerous fact-checkers.

Deutch picked up on those health care criticisms while also hammering Republicans on the tax cuts bill passed late last year.

“Florida won’t soon forget the sight of House Republicans flocking to the White House to celebrate the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and taking away health care from people with pre-existing conditions,” Deutch said.

“They won’t forget the sight of House Republicans celebrating the passage of their massive tax scam. And, frankly, that tax bill was an embarrassment.”

Deutch pointed to analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showing the law would increase the national debt by nearly $2 trillion in the next 10 years.

Deutch and Demings also noted criticism of the bill from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Back in May, after the law went into effect, Rubio argued companies that benefited from the cuts were not passing down those benefits to employees.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker,” Rubio said.

Demings did concede that Florida “has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.” But she noted such a low rate should result in higher wages as companies compete with each other over a smaller pool of workers.

Instead, she pointed to a report by the U.S. Senate’s Joint Economic Committee, showing Florida’s average wage growth since January 2017 increased by just 0.3 percent, adjusted for inflation.

In all, the Democrats argued that the GOP is selling them false hope in efforts to get its members re-elected to the House.

“Donald Trump’s coming to Florida on Halloween,” Castor said. “And we want to make sure that Florida voters aren’t tricked.”

Kathy Castor announces climate change coalition with USF

The University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design’s Florida Center for Community Design and Research (FCCDR) is teaming up with community partners to come up with resiliency strategies to deal with climate-related impacts to Florida including red tide, toxic algae blooms and hurricanes.

The groups will develop ideas on how to build and design Florida communities to combat sea level rise and flooding associated with climate change.

“Hurricane Michael has shown us with its devastation to Mexico Beach, Panama City and other areas that – no matter how large or small – our communities are not immune to the effects of climate change and the extreme weather events these global changes bring,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said.

“As I continue my push in the U.S. Congress for legislation dedicated to reducing carbon pollution and building more resilient communities, we must also work together in our local communities to overcome fragmented approaches to climate change and create a more resilient economic and environmental foundation to mitigate and adapt to this global issue.”

Castor worked with USF and FCCDR to develop the collaboration. She recently met with community stakeholders and scientists from areas throughout the state and locally to discuss how climate change was affecting red tide and how community partners could work to address it.

The unanimous answers to that question were better water quality monitoring and increased wetlands to filter dirty water before it makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the rivers and tributaries that feed them.

The Florida Legislature established FCCDR in 1986 to help Floridians create more livable and sustainable communities and has since partnered with Hillsborough County to analyze vulnerabilities to sea level rise, flooding and storm events.

As part of that analysis, FCCDR will create a toolkit for counties throughout the state to reduce risk and prepare for future flooding events.

“The FCCDR at USF understands this need for action and is working with leaders in our community, including Hillsborough County Government and the Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Planning Council, to help our neighborhoods plan comprehensive ways to overcome the impacts of our changing climate, rising sea levels and extreme weather,” Castor said.

Castor, a Democrat, is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has oversight responsibilities for environmental policies and has been a champion for environmental issues.

“The Tampa Bay region is home to 4 million residents and our coastal infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events,” she said. “We must move past the politicization of climate change and come up with comprehensive answers to this global issue, and I look forward to working with the FCCDR and others dedicated to building a resilient future, instead of turning a blind eye to this crisis we are all facing.”

Prevent red tide? Start with more wetlands, experts say

Three Democratic federal lawmakers will work toward increasing water quality monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico and creating more wetlands to clean water flowing into the Gulf and other waterways.

U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson crafted a preliminary action plan Wednesday after meeting with local scientists and business leaders about the ongoing impacts of red tide.

“Even though the tourism numbers have been up … boy, this could really set us back unless we work together to address the red tide,” Castor said during a roundtable discussion in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Three scientists with varying areas of expertise all agreed: Red tide is a naturally occurring environmental phenomenon, but large blooms are likely fueled by warmer Gulf temperatures as the result of climate change and, possibly, by nutrient runoff from agriculturE.

Jacqueline Dixon, Dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, compared red tide to naturally-occurring bacteria in the human body.

“As long as those conditions are conducive to a healthy ecosystem, we’re all good,” Dixon said. “But should we change those conditions, then one bacteria can bloom and cause an infection.”

She explained red tide naturally grows at the bottom of the Gulf. It’s a plant, she said, and when you feed plants nutrients, they grow.

The explanation lends to the argument among critics of Gov. Rick Scott that environmental deregulation under his administration has increased the likelihood of a harmful red tide algal bloom.

William Mitsch, director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, said that may be the case, but scientists have yet to find steadfast evidence proving that it is the culprit. Further, he said even if it is a culprit, it’s not the only one.

Climate change is increasing water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico. That paired with increased rain and nutrient runoff from Florida agriculture creates “a toxic brew” ripe for red tide development.

“Can we change the temp of the Gulf of Mexico? Probably not,” Mitsch said.

But he said Florida legislators and federal officials can take steps to mitigate red tide occurrences by better regulating nutrient pollution and creating new wetlands that serve as a filter for water before it reaches the Gulf.

Mitsch recommends adding 100,000 acres of wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee. He said it’s crucial that water flow be directed south – its natural course – rather than east and west to the Gulf and Atlantic shorelines.

Nelson and his Republican colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, successfully included provisions for wetlands in the recent Clean Water Act that includes 6,500 acres of new wetland-like land and a 10,500-foot reservoir to tame nutrient-rich water runoff.

Mitsch cautioned that’s not enough: “If you have 100,000 acres of new wetlands, you don’t need that reservoir.”

The three federal lawmakers all lamented that politics was getting in the way of clean water. Crist said he supported federal funds for buying land to create new wetlands, but implied his hands are tied.

“Talk to me in three weeks,” he said, referring to the Nov. 6 election.

“Elections matter. If we have a governor … who does not [understand or believe in climate change], or one that won’t let people in the environmental agencies utter the words ‘climate change,’ you have a problem.”

Scott, who defeated Crist for Governor in 2014, came under fire during his administration after issuing a memo telling staff not to use the term “climate change.”

Scott denies that claim and points to reports from departments within his administration that have studied climate change and sea level rise. He also defends his environmental track record including allocating $300 million for flood mitigation and resiliency.

Crist supports Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for Governor over Republican Ron DeSantis. DeSantis recently acknowledged pollution might be an exacerbating factor in red tide, but said it’s not the state’s job to mitigate it. Gillum has been more direct on the issue of climate change.

Climate change is real, it is impacting Floridians directly, and we will not be silenced on the matter. When I’m Governor, we will not just talk about climate change: We will put Floridians to work to make our state more energy independent and resilient and transform our state into the Solar Capital of the United States,” Gillum wrote on Facebook last March.

Shawn Harrison

Legislative Black Caucus clarifies it has not endorsed Shawn Harrison

State Rep. Shawn Harrison’s re-election campaign has been sending out a direct mail piece showing him alongside members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, and the group said Tuesday it wants to make it clear that it has not endorsed the Tampa Republican.

Topping the bullet points on the mailer is that the HD 63 Republican “stood with the Black Caucus to take out the Marshall Program from the School Safety Bill.” The “Marshall Program” would have allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus to fend off active shooters.

The mailer also touts the Tampa lawmaker’s votes on a number of other measures supported by members of the FLBC: The Dozier School Bill, the removal of Confederate General Kirby Smith’s statue from the U.S. Capitol, the creation of the Florida Slavery Memorial and his vote in favor of a special Legislative Session to review the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Harrison was the only Republican lawmaker to vote in favor of the special session.

Despite aligning with caucus members on some issues, FLBC Chairman and state Rep. Bruce Antone, an Orlando Democrat, said the mailer could give recipients the wrong impression.

“The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is a non-partisan organization and does not endorse candidates for political office. Representative Harrison’s campaign mailer, which used a photo of members of the Black Caucus standing behind him as he presented a bill, is misleading and implies he has been endorsed by the Black Caucus,” Antone said.

“We ask Rep. Harrison to refrain from using photos of members of the Black Caucus in his mailers, television ads, and social media ads, if he has not obtained written permission prior to the use of photos. Furthermore, we also ask that Rep. Harrison inform his constituents that he has not been endorsed by the Black Caucus,” he concluded.

While Harrison doesn’t claim he’s landed an endorsement, his use of that photo is similar to other campaign communications that have been called out this cycle. In neighboring HD 62, for example, Democrat Susan Valdes received a stern warning from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor for using a photo of the two of them in a direct mail ad.

“I am disappointed that the latest communication from Susan Valdes is inconsistent with Florida law and implies my endorsement of her campaign,” Castor said. “It is imperative that candidates follow the law to ensure fairness and transparency.”

The law referenced in that instance and the one between FLBC and Harrison is found in Chapter 106.143(4) of the Florida Statutes.

It reads as follows: “It is unlawful for any candidate or person on behalf of a candidate to represent that any person or organization supports such candidate, unless the person or organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to the candidate to make such representation.”

A violation of that rule can result in civil fees.

Harrison faces Democratic nominee Fentrice Driskell in the general election for HD 63, a perennial swing seat that Harrison for two terms.

As of Sept. 28, Harrison held a strong fundraising lead with $238,150 banked between his campaign account and his affiliated PAC, Committee for an Innovative Florida. Driskell, meanwhile, had $125,000 in her campaign account six weeks out from Election Day.

HD 63 covers part of Hillsborough County, including portions of northern Tampa and the communities of Lutz, Pebble Creek, Lake Magdalene, and Carrollwood. Democrats make up about 39 percent of the swing seat’s electorate, while Republicans hold a 32 percent share.

Florida congressional delegation seeks state of emergency

Florida’s U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and 13 members of Florida’s congressional delegation have formally asked the White House to declare a pre-landfall state of emergency for Florida as Hurricane Michael looms.

The letter to President Donald Trump declares their “full support” for the emergency declaration sought by Gov. Rick Scott, stressing the need for early preparations. Such a declaration would authorize mobilization of federal resources immediately.

“We write in full support of Florida’s request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration in anticipation of Hurricane Michael. Based on the current forecast, this hurricane has the potential to severely impact communities across northern Florida and down the coast. We urge you to immediately approve this request to ensure that all federal resources are made available,” the letter declares.

In addition to Democrat Nelson and Republican Rubio the letter was signed by Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Neal Dunn, Matt GaetzIleana Ros-Lehtinen, and Dennis Ross, and by Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, and Darren Soto.

“Since 2016, Florida has been hit by Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew, Irma, and Nate. While Floridians are still in the process of recovering from previous storms, federal resources are crucial to ensuring a successful response to Hurricane Michael,” the letter states. “Preparation has been shown to be key in reducing the potential for loss of life and destruction of property. As such, we strongly urge you to consider all of the circumstances referenced in our Governor’s request, and approve this pre-landfall emergency declaration that will provide the assistance necessary to ensure the safety of Floridians.”

Democrats hammer Ron DeSantis on five-year anniversary of federal government shutdown

Five years ago, the federal government shut down. And on Monday, three Florida Democrats reminded Florida media of Ron DeSantis‘ role in “masterminding” it.

DeSantis, now the Republican nominee for Governor, was in his first term representing Florida’s 6th Congressional District at the time. And he and his Tea Party colleagues were uniquely positioned to exact influence, the Democrats said on a media call.

DeSantis, among other things, said a shutdown wouldn’t be “the worst thing ever.”

The call included two incumbent Congresswomen and a former Congressman who made the case that, contrary to such breeziness, the shutdown impacted people in their districts.

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, who represents the Tampa area, asserted that the shutdown was driven by a desire to end Affordable Care Act coverage of preexisting conditions.

“Republicans had a majority in the House,” said Castor, “and all summer long they threatened to shut down the government and they finally went through with it at the end of the fiscal year.”

“Not even a majority of Republicans from Florida were trying to push this position, but Ron DeSantis was,” Castor said.

The shutdown impacted federal employees and contractors.

“This didn’t have to happen,” Castor said, adding that even after a compromise was reached, “Ron DeSantis voted no.”

“This demonstrates how extreme he is, how irresponsible … and what kind of governor he would be,” Castor said.

U.S. Representative Lois Frankel, whose district includes West Palm Beach, called DeSantis “one of the most extreme and irresponsible members of Congress.”

“It’s one thing to be the guy who says no to everything [in Congress],” Frankel said, but his extremism raises questions about why he wants to be Governor.

Frankel, like Castor, outlined consequences of the shutdown, before saying DeSantis “isn’t the guy we need to be governor.”

Former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy, who served at the time with DeSantis, added that DeSantis was “putting himself above people” and “trying to appeal to a small group of Tea Party members.”

“He’s a follower of a very small group of people … putting politics over policy,” Murphy said.

“The notion that you would shut down the government on a bill that isn’t going anywhere” nettled Murphy, who said it was “unacceptable … to put your politics over the people.”

Florida politicians react to the passing of John McCain

The family of U.S. Sen. John McCain, Arizona’s senior senator and the 2008 Republican nominee for president, announced his death after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Florida’s political leaders remembered the longtime Senate leader.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, elected in 2010, issued a statement mourning McCain.

“John McCain’s sacrifices to his country are immeasurable. With his passing today, America has lost more than a leader and more than a senator. We have lost a true American hero. As a colleague in the Senate and a friend, I drew personal inspiration from his leadership, intellect and moral courage. He set the standard for what we should expect from our soldiers and from our public servants of all levels. In this time of grief, I hope John’s family finds comfort in knowing that this extraordinary man touched countless lives, and his memory will continue to set the standard of leadership and moral resolve for future generations.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat elected to the Senate in 2000, called McCain a friend a hero.

“John McCain was my friend and one of my heroes. He devoted his life to duty, honor and country. He shall always be a role model for me.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running against Nelson this year, noted McCain’s military service.

“John McCain was a true American hero. As a Navy man myself, I’ve always had immense respect for Senator McCain. A lot of folks talk tough, but he was the real deal. From one Navy family to another, we extend our sincerest gratitude for his strength and perseverance. John will always be a beacon of hope and perseverance for America. He was a true fighter and fought every day for this country. We will miss him dearly but take comfort in knowing his legacy will live on forever.”

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose brother George W. defeated McCain in the Republican presidential primary in 2000, praised McCain’s lifetime of service.

“John McCain’s courageous and selfless lifetime of service is a profile in American exceptionalism. Prayers this evening for the Senator, Cindy and the entire McCain family.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi sent prayers to McCain’s family.

“US Senator John McCain was a war hero, a public servant and a great American. Our country is better for his service. My heart breaks, and my prayers are with Cindy, Meghan and the entire McCain family.”

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, celebrated all stages of McCain’s service. “America lost one of her bravest defenders today. In a cockpit, an enemy prison, or the Senate chamber, John McCain fought for our nation’s values and freedoms, and sacrificed much in the journey. May God welcome him home and give comfort to his family.”

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis remembered his interaction with McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“Katie, Theo and I had the honor to meet Senator McCain during his 2008 campaign for President. My family appreciates his sacrifices for our country and pray for strength for the McCain Family.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor, spoke of the relationship between McCain and her father, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. “Dad and @SenJohnMcCain formed a friendship serving together because John McCain was one of the rare statesman who could place public service before partisanship. He was a warrior and maverick all the way to the end. May he rest in peace.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, praised McCain’s character. “We’ve lost a truly courageous leader tonight. John McCain’s integrity and love for our country was boundless. He led with a passion and purpose that we all aspire to. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends this difficult evening.”

Chris King, another Democratic candidate, posted a classic photo of McCain being honored for his service by President Richard Nixon.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democratic candidate for governor, also remembered McCain. “His patriotism is beyond measure, his heroism beyond question, and his character is a role model for a life beautifully lived.”

Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, a Democrat, also posted a picture of McCain with another president, former opponent Barack Obama.

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Baxter Troutman, a Republican, was among those mentioning McCain’s maverick reputation.

Chief Financial Officer candidate Jeremy Ring, a Democrat, called McCain a true patriot.

“So sad to hear of the passing of a true American Patriot and Hero . My prayers are with his family at this time as well as all the people he has touched throughout his eighty-one years. Senator McCain, THANK YOU for your service to the American people.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who as Florida’s Republican governor campaigned for McCain for president, remembered the senator.

“Tonight our country lost a true American hero. Honored to have called Senator McCain a friend. May God bless his loved ones during this time of loss.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, echoed the thoughts. “America loses a true patriot in Senator John McCain. Honor him with independent thinking, love of country.”

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, added his tribute to McCain. “John McCain was a true American patriot who sacrificed much for his country. He was a man of tremendous courage and will be missed.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican, released the following statement: “I am saddened at the passing of a true American hero, Senator John McCain. Senator McCain was a devoted family man, a passionate leader, and a dedicated public servant. He always put his country first, and as such he leaves behind an impressive legacy of service and sacrifice. The Bilirakis family was fortunate to call him a friend for many years. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. May his memory be eternal!”

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat, also put out a statement: “”I was so incredibly saddened to hear the news of Senator John McCain’s passing. He was a classic Patriot and served our nation with honor and distinction. May his family find the peace that they need in this difficult time, and know that his legacy will forever endure. Throughout Senator McCain’s years of distinguished service, we all saw firsthand his integrity, humility, courage and grace. My thoughts and prayers are with his entire family. Senator McCain inspired a nation and will be dearly missed.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, shared a picture of herself with McCain and a message for his family. “An American hero passed away but his legacy will endure. A fighter through and through, was a patriot and a true American hero. Dexter and I were proud to know him.”

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, said he felt honored to have served in Washington with McCain. “ was a true hero. Honored to have known him and served in Washington with him. Thinking of the McCain family and all who loved him tonight. Rest in peace Maverick.”

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford was among those celebrating McCain’s military contributions. “I am saddened by the passing of Senator John McCain and thank him for his service to our nation both in the Navy and in Congress. For decades, his dedication to his country, his family, and his principles have served as an example to us all.”

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat, said he was incredibly saddened to hear of McCain’s death. “He embodied true patriotism and was a man of unflinching integrity, who went above and beyond the call of duty in service to our country. This is a profound loss for our nation.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, recalled a diplomatic trip the two lawmakers took together to Vietnam. “Patriot. Hero. Public Servant. Maverick. Senator McCain will be missed by this nation. As a Vietnamese refugee, I will treasure the memory of visiting Vietnam with talking about our deep and mutual love for America. Rest In Peace, Senator. Your legacy lives on.”

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat, simply thanked McCain for his candor. “Thank you for your service to our country, for your courage and for your candor!”

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Republican, said McCain exemplified the best of the United States. “Sen. John McCain dedicated his entire life to serving our nation. As a Navy Veteran, a war hero, and later through his service in Congress, he exemplified the best this country has to offer as a statesman. My prayers are with the McCain family during this difficult time.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, issued a lengthy statement celebrating McCain’s life from the military to his Senate service. “Generations to come will benefit from his selfless dedication to duty and country.”

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, simply passed along her regrets at the news.

Florida Senate President Joe Negron celebrated McCain’s military record. “We are keeping the McCain family in our prayers as they grieve this incredible loss. Senator McCain was an American hero who served the cause of freedom throughout his entire life. He endured suffering most of us cannot imagine. We are so grateful for his service and sacrifice.”

State Rep. Jason Fischer also made note of McCain’s naval record. “Fair winds and following seas, shipmate. We have the watch.”

State Rep. Shevrin Jones demonstrated the bipartisan affection for the senator, saying McCain “was an example of what courage, strength, and civility in the process looked like. Today, let us honor him for showing the world that it can be done. To a true American legend and hero, Rest In Peace.”

Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a Democratic candidate for Congress in South Florida, released the following statement: “It is a sad day today for all Americans. I may not have always agreed with Sen. John McCain, but I always respected him. He was a true American hero who fought for what he believed in — both in war and in Washington — and was a true representative of his people, not special interests. He was a warrior, a statesman, a model for us all. His death Saturday can be mourned by both Republicans and Democrats because Sen. McCain wasn’t afraid to cross the aisle, or challenge his own party and its leaders, when he felt he had to. Twice, he refused to support GOP legislation to end the Affordable Healthcare Act. His example and his leadership will be missed.”

Jesse Phillips, Seminole County Republican state committeeman, mentioned McCain sometimes upset his base but always inspired respect. “Love him or hate him, the maverick embodied so much of what makes America great.”

Christian Whitfield, Jacksonville City Council candidate, honored McCain’s service record. “Elizabeth and I would like to send our condolences to the family and to our fellow and shipmate sleep in peace sir, we have the watch.”

Hawthorne Mayor Matt Surrency recalled a famous moment when McCain dismissed false theories about Obama even in the midst of the presidential race.

This story will be updated as more leaders release statements.

Mike Alvarez rolls out new digital ads in HD 62 primary

Tampa Democrat Mike Alvarez has launched a new digital ad campaign that contrasts his record against that of his chief rival in the Democratic primary for House District 62, School Board member Susan Valdes.

Sample ads provided by the campaign say that “District 62 has a choice,” with the one half of the ad featuring a full-color shot Alvarez and a caption saying he “hired people from our own neighborhoods,” and the opposite half featuring a red-tinted picture of Valdes and a caption saying she “fired people to protect her political career.”

The Alvarez campaign said the Valdes portion of the ad relates to a lawsuit filed by a former Hillsborough Schools employee who said she was fired after refusing to go along with an effort by Valdes’ to get one of her friends a district job. The Alvarez campaign also highlighted Valdes’ role in closing the school district’s construction department to avoid questions on shoddy work performed by campaign donors she steered contracts to.

Alvarez, by contrast, says he’s spent the past several years building up and making hires for Westfall Roofing, where he works as the director of operations.

“When I’m walking our neighborhoods and talking with voters, they want to know what I stand for and how that compares to my opponent,” said Alvarez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. “This is another way we can inform voters about our records so they can make their own choice about who represents our Democratic values.

“We’re making sure that voters know that I’m the real Democrat in the race,” he continued.

The Democratic primary for the Tampa-based seat has been contentious, not to mention odd, since Valdes entered the race shortly before the end of the candidate qualifying period.

Her paperwork to run for the seat, was of questionable legitimacy and emails show she pulled strings to have it accepted by the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office. Rather than address questions surrounding her candidacy, she went on the attack, accusing Alvarez of mudslinging.

Weeks later, her campaign was again embroiled in scandal after a video surfaced of her dodging a question about whether she would accept campaign contributions from charter schools. In the wake of that video going semi-viral, the Valdes campaign threatened to pull strings and have the man who recorded it fired from his job at the State Attorney’s office.

Again, Valdes’ response to the allegations only raised further questions, as she claimed the man who made the threats — a consultant that had sent out official communications for her campaign — was not affiliated with her and was merely “a supporter who is incredibly passionate.”

And two weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor weighed in on the race by endorsing Alvarez and offering a scathing rebuke of Valdes, whom she accused of breaking the law and misleading voters by falsely claiming to have the Congresswoman’s endorsement.

She ended her endorsement by undercutting Valdes credentials on the School Board, saying that “if you support public schools, if you share our Democratic values, and if you want honesty from your elected officials, vote for Mike Alvarez.”

Alvarez and Valdes are running alongside Chris Cano in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for HD 62, currently held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is running for state Senate and has endorsed Valdes as her successor.

The district is one of five state legislative seats, including three in the Tampa Bay area, to have its primary election locked down by a write-in candidate.

One of Alvarez’ ads is below.

Joe Henderson: Andrew Learned knows about the extra mile

Andrew Learned took time off Sunday from his campaign represent Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Instead of hanging out or lounging around the house though, Learned competed in the Siesta Key Triathlon. He finished 13th overall.

Supporters shouldn’t fret though. He was back on the trail by midafternoon, tweeting his disdain for President Trump and other political matters.

I mention this because he is a Democrat and the district he wants to represent covers largely conservative parts of eastern Hillsborough and Polk counties and has generally regarded as reliably Republican.

Conventional wisdom says that a Democrat can’t win there.

If politics has shown us nothing else in the last couple of years though, that seems to matter less and less.

For the last year he has been essentially going door-to-door throughout the district, accepting every invitation to meet with civic groups, attending house parties, and building relationships the old-fashioned way — making time, listening, and when asked a question choosing direct answers over talking points.

He is personable, just 32 years old, confident, he has a compelling personal story, too.

He grew up in Valrico and graduated from the University of Tampa, and later interned for a pair of Hillsborough County Commissioners — Republican Mark Sharpe and Democrat Kevin Beckner.

“The first time I met him, I was really impressed,” Sharpe said. “He is a very sharp young man, and I’m not the least bit surprised that he is running for Congress. I’ve been really impressed with him. He has run a very smart campaign. I definitely think he can win.”

Learned was a Republican as a student majoring in economics and political science, but converted because, he said, “the Republican Party left me a long time ago” by its policies on public education, health care, women’s issues, immigration and tax policies that he says hurts the middle class and makes rich guys richer.

“All that money is flying off to the Caymans,” he said.

On his website, he addresses immigration like this:

”Besides the obvious policy of deporting Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, we need a new generation of leaders capable of adding some sanity and common sense to our country’s immigration policy.

“Ripping children from the arms of their parents as a deterrent is abhorrent. We should be striving to keep families together, welcoming our new neighbors, and helping them get on their feet so we can get them to work in our high-demand labor economy.”

That stance might make the hair stand up on the back of the necks of immigration hawks but Learned doesn’t care. If they want to accuse him of being soft on that subject, they should first understand that he is a Navy veteran who had three deployments to the Middle East.

While there, he led small teams on confrontations with Somali pirates. He was the Navy’s surface planner in Bahrain. And as he wryly notes, “It will be hard to beat me because I’m the only person with military experience in this race.”

And as he said to me with a big smile when we met recently at a Valrico Starbucks, “I got an F-rating from the NRA!”

He also has the support of several Democratic Party officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has helped him in fundraising.

Even so, winning the nomination in the Aug. 28 primary won’t be easy.

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson jumped into the race just before the filing deadline in May. She has been endorsed by EMILY’S List, a group pushing for women to be elected to Congress and state legislatures, and that helped her jump into the fundraising lead. The Cook Political Report has tabbed her as the favorite among Democrats.

And while it said the district could go blue this fall, the report said it is still leaning Republican.

But Learned is not deterred.

He talks about his army of volunteers, contacting each eligible voter in the primary to tell his story. While we were talking, people were stopping by the outdoor table where we sat to shake his hand and just say hello.

Will it be enough?

We won’t know that until Aug. 28.

Here’s what we do know though. Even in a district that has been represented by Republican Dennis Ross, skeptics better beware before jumping to conclusions and thinking things can’t change.

Learned is in this race to win, and he knows something about going the extra mile.

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