October 17, 2018

Pelosi touts gun control in Broward visit with Parkland parents

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Democrats may be wary of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in other parts of the country, but she’s welcome in South Florida.

With the midterm elections just weeks away, Parkland students and parents convened Wednesday with Pelosi in Coral Springs to game plan for November. The round table discussion focused on gun control, moderated by U.S. Rep Ted Deutch, was equal parts emotional venting and strategizing.

Pelosi called the activists and parents a “blessing to our country,” and said because of the energy coming out of Parkland, the issue of gun control would top the Democratic Party’s agenda in the House of Representatives if they take control.

“I admire you so much,” she said. “You have the purpose, the generosity of spirit. You have the marchers — you have people who will go out there to make a difference — and you just have a relentless, persistent, dissatisfied approach.”

More here.

South Florida Democrats are betting that healthcare is their winning issue

Budget Health Care

@alextdaugherty

Miami-Dade County is home to the largest concentration of Obamacare recipients in the country, and Democrats are spending millions on TV ads, certain that healthcare is the No. 1 issue voters care about this year.

Congress’ attempt to repeal Obamacare during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency was one of the highest-profile votes that incumbent Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart had to take. They both voted to repeal Obamacare in two majority-Latino districts that have nearly 200,000 Obamacare recipients between them.

Now Democrats are convinced that reminding voters of their representatives’ attempts to repeal Obamacare is the way to flip as many as three GOP-held seats in November, along with keeping incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in office.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is spending nearly $1 million a week on ads related to healthcare in her race against Curbelo.

Donna Shalala has touted her experience running the Department of Health and Human Services under former President Bill Clinton and tried to paint her Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar as a “cheerleader of Trump” and his policy preferences like repealing Obamacare. Salazar has said she would have voted against the Obamacare repeal bill with Democrats, but expressed support for allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines, an idea that Shalala said was silly.

And Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat running against Diaz-Balart, focused on healthcare in her first television ad, noting that her father passed away when she was young.

Read more here.

October 16, 2018

Rick Scott to Verizon: Give me a plan to restore service, and waive customers' bills

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Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Wes Maul looks at Gov. Rick Scott during a hurricane briefing at the state emergency operations center Tuesday. (Miami Herald)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued another rebuke of Verizon today, telling the cell provider in a terse press release that he expects the company to give him a plan today to restore service to the areas hit by Hurricane Michael, and that all cell providers should waive bills for October.

The press release was addressed to all cell phone providers, but it singled out Verizon, which has struggled to restore service in Bay County, where Michael made landfall.

Over the last 48 hours, both Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis have criticized Verizon's slow recovery, and on Monday, Scott met with the company's senior vice president and chief network officer, Nicki Palmer.

"Verizon recently said in a press release that 98 percent of Florida has service," the governor's office press release said. "This statement, which includes customers in Florida that were hundreds of miles away from impacted areas, does not help Florida’s law enforcement in Bay County and families communicate with loved ones in Panama City and does not help those needing medicine call their pharmacy in Lynn Haven."

Scott then laid out his expectations for all cell phone and internet providers:

  • Customers in the impacted counties should be allowed to switch providers without penalty. Some cell phone contracts still penalize customers for switching before their two-year contract is up.
  • Bills for customers in affected counties should have their October bills waived.
  • "Telecommunications companies should be open and transparent with Floridians and do so with a clearly communicated plan to quickly restore service."

"Families understand that the telecommunications industry, like the power companies and other services, experienced catastrophic damage to vital infrastructure," Scott said in the press release, "but that does not change our expectation that each telecommunications company will be open and communicate a clear plan on how they intend to quickly restore service while treating families fairly."

The press release added that "The Governor expects that a plan for full telecommunications restoration will be communicated today."

Verizon has said it's suffered "unprecedented damage" to its network in Bay County.

The return of cell service has been critical to telling people where to find supplies after the storm, Scott has said. In Mexico Beach, people have been forced to stand on bridges to get any sort of cell signal.

Independent poll shows Carlos Curbelo with a slim lead over Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

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@alextdaugherty

An independent poll shows Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo with a 1 point lead over Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—and a contingent of undecided voters large enough to decide the election.

A poll conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies and Telemundo 51 from October 3 to October 9 with 625 registered voters who said they were likely to vote showed a race that is essentially a toss-up for Curbelo’s Miami to Key West congressional seat that President Donald Trump lost more than 16 percentage points two years ago. Curbelo captures 46 percent support while Mucarsel-Powell takes 45 percent. Nine percent of voters are undecided as both campaigns spend millions on TV advertising.

Curbelo once had a lead in the race but Mucarsel-Powell has closed the gap in recent weeks through increased TV spending. Curbelo is better known than Mucarsel-Powell according to the poll and has a higher favorability rating, though Mucarsel-Powell has a lower unfavorable rating than Curbelo. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially a tie.

More here.

Sensing an upset, Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC attacks Donna Shalala

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

National Republicans are getting serious about trying to beat Donna Shalala

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is running a Spanish-language ad targeting Shalala starting today. The six-figure buy on TV and digital platforms is the super PAC’s first foray into retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district, a Miami-based seat where President Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points. 

The ad titled “$7” tries to portray Shalala as out of touch with working class voters in the district, noting that she lived in a mansion that eventually sold for $9 million while serving as the president of the University of Miami and led the university when its janitorial staff went on strike because their wages amounted to about $7 an hour. Shalala’s Republican opponent, former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, levied a similar attack on Shalala during a recent Telemundo debate.

“Donna Shalala is just another politician who puts herself first,” said CLF communications director Courtney Alexander. “As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a $9 million mansion, but only paid university janitors $7 an hour while denying them health insurance. Donna Shalala is out for herself, not Floridians.”

The ad includes footage of a mansion juxtaposed with Shalala giving a speech in her UM regalia while criticizing her leadership when university janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages, attacks that she also faced during the Democratic primary. 

“As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a nine-million dollar mansion,” the ad says. “But only paid university janitors seven dollars an hour while denying them health insurance.The scandal made national news and Shalala was called an enemy of the working poor.”

More here.

Hurricane Michael update: State emergency team told to focus on "human comfort"

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An American flag is displayed using sandbags in the coastal township of Mexico Beach, population 1200, which lay devastated on Friday (10/12/18) after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford, Times)

The top priority today for state officials handling Hurricane Michael's aftermath is ensuring the comfort of thousands of people staying in shelters in the Panhandle.

Wes Maul, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told the state's emergency response team in Tallahassee this morning that "human comfort" should be their focus.

"Think about what you can do today to affect that in the next 24 hours in a very big way," he told them.

More than 1,500 people are staying in 13 local shelters, and about 1,400 others are staying in shelters run by the Red Cross.

Among the priorities today is linking people with pharmacies to make sure they can get their prescription drugs, officials said. But there are also other basic needs: installing port-o-potties, making sure the shelters are clean, and having enough showering trailers and cooling tents, for example.

Officials are warning there won't be a short-term solution to getting people back to their normal lives, and the state has been telling local officials that the number of people in shelters is expected to rise as people return to the area and find their homes destroyed.

About 140,000 people were still without power this morning, and many of them will be without power for some time. 400,000 initially lost power when Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday.

Nearly $1.2 billion in food in the Panhandle was lost or destroyed by the storm, officials said today.

October 15, 2018

FDLE is investigating an officer-involved shooting in Panama City in the wake of Hurricane Michael

State police are investigating a shooting by a state fire marshal in Panama City in the wake of Hurricane Michael, according to police and media reports.

According to Pensacola-based station WEAR-TV, a Florida State Fire Marshal shot a looter who tried to steal a police car at Pinetree Road and Azalea Street.

The station quoted a Landon Swett, who was across the street and witnessed the shooting.

"He yelled at me a little bit, he said oh, I’m looting, and he opened the door, to the police officer’s SUV with the lights going got in it and shut the door," Swett told the station.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed to the Times/Herald the agency is investigating a shooting by an officer in the wake of the storm, but she did not immediately have more details.

Rick Scott and Jimmy Patronis aren't happy with Verizon's response to Hurricane Michael

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Gov. Rick Scott points out some damage caused by Hurricane Michael while flying somewhere over the panhandle of Florida Thursday. The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael the day before came into focus Thursday as rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and rescue crews began making their way into the stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who may have stayed behind. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis have been taking aim at Verizon over the last 24 hours, apparently frustrated by how slow the cell carrier has been to restore service to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.

During a Sunday press briefing, Scott mentioned Verizon's problems twice, while touting the company's chief competitor.

"There in Bay County, we’re still waiting on Verizon," Scott said, adding why it was important for cell service to be restored.

"We’ve put a lot of food and water out all across the state," Scott said. "Well, if you have no internet and you have no cellphone, it’s hard to get the information out. AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not."

Scott, continuing to dig at Verizon, has also been retweeting AT&T and praising the company on Twitter.

Thanks, @ATT, for working to get communications back online quickly & helping Florida communities following Michael," Scott tweeted.

Patronis, whose hometown is Bay County's Panama City, also took aim at Verizon on Twitter, complete with the hashtag #fixitnow.

"We are on Day 6 with no @verizon service in Bay County," Patronis tweeted. "Phones are critical infrastructure for Search and Rescue and First Responder communications. We need the same response from @verizon as we have seen from our electric companies."

Verizon in a statement said it's suffered "unprecedented damage to our fiber, which is essential for our network."

"Our fiber crews are working around the clock to make repairs, and while they are making good progress, we still have work to do to get the fiber completely repaired," the company said.

But the other three carriers are apparently not having the same problem. The Wall Street Journal quoted customers and company officials with AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint saying that all three carriers were up and running in the area.

The Panhandle suffered widespread cell service outages in the wake of Hurricane Michael, with more than 70 percent of towers down in the hardest-hit areas the day after the storm came through.

And the carriers have made little progress in Bay County since the storm made landfall.

All other counties hit by the storm have at least half of their cell towers back in use, but in Bay County, more than 65 percent of cell towers were still out Monday morning — down from 78 percent the morning after the storm, according to the FCC.

Both Verizon and AT&T have been big donors to the Republican Party of Florida for years, and Verizon has given more than $50,000 to Scott's campaigns since 2013, records show.

On Monday afternoon, Scott issued a press release noting that Verizon has opened an emergency communications center at their Panama City store and was also supporting the Bay County Emergency Operations Center.

Herald/Times staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

Tallahassee sees 90% power recovery after Michael. Will it help Andrew Gillum?

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gives an update on Hurricane Michael recovery via Facebook Live on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. [Lawrence Mower | Times]

Tallahassee's electric utility said it restored power to 90 percent of its customers Sunday night, meeting its goal just four days after Hurricane Michael knocked out service to nearly everyone in the city.

Schools and universities were reopening in the city Monday morning, and the water and wastewater systems that failed during the storm are now working properly, according to the city.

Roughly 20,000 customers still didn't have power last night, however.

The city's recovery could be a boost for Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor who's been criticized for how the city recovered from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. Hermine, a Category 1 storm, knocked out power to 80 percent of city customers, and the city took four days to reach 90 percent recovery.

While Tallahassee's mayor doesn't manage the city or its utility — that's the job of its city manger — it hasn't stopped his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis from criticizing Gillum for Hermine.

The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads saying that Gillum "refused help" after that storm, which Politifact rated "mostly false."

October 13, 2018

Citing Hurricane Michael, Gillum says he will return to campaign trail Thursday, missing first debate

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Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum will remain off the campaign trail until Thursday and miss the first scheduled debate against his Republican rival Ron DeSantis, he announced Saturday night.

The Tallahassee mayor, citing the fallout in his city from the unprecedented Category 4 storm that hit the Panhandle Wednesday, said that he would remain focused on his city duties through Wednesday's city commission meeting, meaning he would not participate in the debate scheduled Tuesday in Orlando.

“In times like these, campaigning has to take a backseat to governing. My job is to keep our community safe and ensure Tallahassee recovers as quickly and fully as possible," Gillum said in a statement.

"Over the past several days I have been unable to participate in dozens of campaign events, and this week that will include our participation in the debate sponsored by Telemundo 31 Orlando. I deeply appreciate the organizers' understanding of the situation in Tallahassee. We will work diligently to ensure Telemundo and its audience are represented in the two scheduled debates and other possible forums."

The hour-long debate would have been broadcast 7 p.m. online and on Telemundo stations in Fort Myers, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Another debate is scheduled Oct. 21 on CNN, and a third is scheduled at Broward College Oct. 24.

The city of Tallahassee reported that 70 percent of customers had regained power Saturday, and that it aimed to have power restored to 90 percent by the end of the weekend. Criticism of power restoration during Hurricane Hermine, the last storm to hit the capital city in 2016, had taken center stage in the last week of the campaign.

Tuesday's gubernatorial debate is not the first to be changed because of the storm — CNN delayed the Oct. 16 debate scheduled between U.S. Senate candidates Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson Thursday.

Photo: Tampa Bay Times