June 18, 2018

Hillary Clinton endorses Donna Shalala

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

Hillary Clinton made an unsurprising endorsement in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, saying former Clinton Foundation director Donna Shalala would make an excellent Congresswoman if elected. 

"I know she will be an excellent Congresswoman from Florida," Clinton told an audience of women in New York on Monday. 

It's not clear if Clinton would hop on the campaign trail for the former Health and Human Services Secretary and University of Miami President, who faces a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination. 

Shalala faces former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, former University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn and former state Rep. David Richardson in the Democratic primary. Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based district voted for Clinton over Donald Trump by 19 percentage points in the 2016 election, the most Democratic-leaning result of any congressional district currently held by the GOP. 

Miami Republicans condemn Trump policy of separating families at the border

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@alextdaugherty

Republicans from Miami-Dade on Monday condenmed the Trump administration's decision to separate families crossing the southern border, with adults being sent to detention centers while their children are housed in cages and cry for their parents.

"It is totally unacceptable, for any reason, to purposely separate minor children from their parents," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who, along with Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is leading negotiations on a compromise all-Republican immigration bill in Congress. "Any and every other option should be implemented in order to not separate minors from their parents, which I believe is unconscionable. We cannot allow for this to continue happening, and it must stop. I continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that the provision included in this week's immigration bill puts an end to this cruel practice.”

Curbelo called the separation policy "a tragedy" on Twitter over the weekend, and referenced former President Barack Obama's policy of detaining families and unaccompanied minors.

"While some tolerated it when it happened under the previous administration, I found it unacceptable then & I find it unacceptable now," Curbelo tweeted. "We’re crafting legislation to remedy this sad situation."

The White House announced the policy in April as a way to deter immigrants from entering the country illegally, and administration officials have defended it in the face of widespread criticisms from across the political spectrum.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio advocated for changing laws to allow families to stay together while being held in detention instead of separating them. Current law does not require separating families who cross the border illegally, and the compromise immigration bill includes a provision that would end the practice.

"Currently govt must either release parents & continue incentive for illegal entry with children or separate families by detaining parents," Rubio tweeted. "Neither is good. Lets change the law to allow families to be held together at family facilities & shorten detention with expedited hearings." 

Read more here.

Democrat Nikki Fried officially launches campaign for Agriculture Commissioner

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Nikki Fried, a lawyer from South Florida, speaks to the camera in a video announcing her campaign for Agriculture Commissioner. | YouTube screen capture


While it was no secret Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer Nikki Fried was going to run as a Democrat for Commissioner of Agriculture, she officially launched her campaign Monday morning with a video announcement.

Fried filed her campaign paperwork last week.

A longtime advocate for expanding patients' access to medical marijuana, her video focused largely on that issue as well as the Department of Agriculture's role in background checks for concealed carry permits.

READ MORE: Why does Florida’s agriculture department handle concealed gun permits? The NRA wants it to.

"There is no clearer example of our broken government than medical marijuana and this deadly weapon," Fried says in the video, over images of an assault rifle being fired in slow motion. "One helps sick and dying Floridians and is over-regulated and the other one is used to terrorize our schools and our communities and is barely regulated at all."

READ MORE: Adam Putnam’s office stopped reviewing concealed weapons background checks for a year because it couldn’t log in

However, many don't typically think of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services having direct authority over medical marijuana. Since voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing medical marijuana in 2016, the state Department of Health and the Legislature has crafted its rules and regulations.

A court recently struck down the Legislature's ban on smoking medical cannabis, which it had argued could be used as a "backdoor attempt" to move to recreational use.

But Fried explained that the Commissioner of Agriculture has oversight over pesticides used for growing marijuana in Florida as well as the food safety rules surrounding medical edibles. Eventually, she sees total legalization in Florida's future.

"As the state moves toward potential legalization then it just becomes a crop," she said to the Times/Herald.

"The growing of cannabis as well as industrial hemp are the next cash crops in the state of Florida," especially after Florida's issues with citrus greening, she added.

Fried will be running against two other Democrats in the Aug. 28 primary, Jeffrey Porter and R. David Walker. Her GOP opponents are Baxter Troutman, a former state House member from Winter Haven; Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring; Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers; and Plant City businessman Mike McCalister, a retired Army National Guard and Reserves colonel.

In response to the announcement, Brian Swensen, spokesperson for Caldwell’s campaign said: “We have all known Nikki Fried as a long time lobbyist and Tallahassee insider," adding that her call for increased regulations on guns "proves the importance of having the Republican nominee be an unwavering defender of the 2nd Amendment. Matt is the only candidate to consistently have an A+ NRA rating and he will not compromise."

Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for Grimsley's campaign, said the former state senator "is focused on her campaign and winning the Republican primary. We look forward to a spirited campaign with the Democratic nominee, whoever that may be.”

June 15, 2018

Nelson offered this man up for a judicial position. Now he’ll vote against him.

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson said today he will vote against a judicial nominee he offered up to the White House along with Sen. Marco Rubio, a remarkable turn that raises questions about Nelson's own vetting process as he tried to put the focus on the state's Judicial Nominating Commission

"Because of the information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will vote against the confirmation of Allen Winsor," the Florida Democrat said in a statement that provided no specifics.

His office would not elaborate on the record.

Nelson and his staff interviewed Winsor, who has opposed same-sex marriage, before his name was submitted to the White House, along with a list of other candidates. A spokesman, Ryan Brown, would not answer questions about that vetting.

Nelson's statement punts to the JNC.

"For years, Florida's two senators have relied on a bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission to select our state's judicial nominees. This system, which was designed to take politics out of the process, only works if Florida's two senators agree to respect the commission's choices and jointly send the names they choose to the White House for consideration. This is exactly what we did in the case of Allen Winsor."

Winsor, picked to succeed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle for a spot in the Northern District of Florida, was approved along partisan lines by the Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was sent to the full Senate for consideration. Democrats objected over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Winsor was among the named Nelson and Rubio offered to the White House in December.

"We received the following unranked list of finalists on November 15, 2017: Martin Fitzpatrick, Jan Shackelford, Kent Wetherell, and Allen Winsor. We have separately interviewed the finalists. Subject to further review of their records and background, we are submitting them to you for the president's consideration," a letter read.

That means the White House picked Winsor.

As Gary Fineout of the Associated Press reported, Winsor is currently a Florida appeals court judge, but before he was appointed to that job by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016, he worked as solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Winsor was in that role when he defended Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages that was eventually struck down. He was one of the lawyers who argued in a legal brief for the state that recognizing same-sex marriages from other states would "impose significant public harm" and that the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Scott, who is challenging Nelson for Senate, issued a statement through the campaign.

"Bill Nelson is so partisan that a small group of out-of-state democrats can force him to vote against a Floridian that he interviewed, recommended and supported," spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said. "Despite claiming to be independent, Bill Nelson's own actions show that when democrats like party boss Chuck Schumer say 'jump,' Nelson's only question is 'how high?'"

Rubio in 2013 held up a judicial nominee — after submitting a JNC approved name to the Obama White House –amid objections from Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

June 14, 2018

Nelson up with first Spanish-language ad

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson has released his first Spanish-language ad, which will begin today on Facebook and Twitter and other digital platforms, the campaign said.

It follows Gov. Rick Scott's latest Spanish-language ad, one tied to the World Cup. And like Scott, Nelson shows off his bilingual skills in the spot. It highlights Nelson's voyage into space.

The campaign did not say how much money is behind the ad.

Politico today reported on Nelson's struggle with name ID among Hispanics, another worry for Democrats.

Watch Nelson's ad below: 

Here's Scott's ad:

June 12, 2018

Florida Chamber polls predicts close Senate race, Putnam win and many amendments failing

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Gov. Rick Scott greets Key West city leaders on June 8, 2018. Gwen Filosa FLKEYSNEWS.COM


The Florida Chamber of Commerce released new poll results that show Republican candidates doing well in statewide elections, but many of the constitutional amendments not seeing the same success.

Gov. Rick Scott was predicted to win over incumbent Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate, but only by 3 percentage points — within the plus-or-minus 4 point margin of error. A total of 605 voters were polled via phone statewide by a company called Cherry Communications. The Chamber did not release the poll questions.

In a separate poll, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is shown to prevail over his Republican primary opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis for governor, by 17 points (32 to 15), with nearly half of Republican voters still undecided. The margin of error for that poll was 5.3 points.

It's important to note the Chamber has endorsed Putnam and Scott, has spent money on a pro-Scott ad.

More generally, voters who were polled said that jobs/the economy ranks as their top issue this election, with education following very close behind. Gun issues, immigration and health care were all ranked lower.

Of the 13 amendments to the state constitution on the ballot this year, only four showed enough support to pass so far: Amendment 1 (expands the homestead exemption in property taxes), Amendment 3 (gives voters, not the Legislature, the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in Florida), Amendment 7 (first responder and military benefits) and Amendment 8 (school board term limits and expanded state powers to establish local schools outside a school board's control).

One that doesn't show enough support is Amendment 4, a potential political game-changer which would restore the right to vote to an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons in Florida — excluding people who were convicted of murder or felony sex crimes. But a whopping 43 percent of respondents said they were "unsure" about this amendment, showing that there is still a long way to go before November.

Troutman releases six quick-hit digital ads highlighting agriculture, gun issues

Troutmanad
Screen capture from a Troutman ad | YouTube


About a year after formally entering the race to be Florida's next commissioner of agriculture, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven released six new digital ads along with a revamp of his campaign website Monday night.

The short ads each introduce Troutman and touch on an issue, including gun rightswater sustainability and citrus greening, a disease that has had detrimental effects on Florida's citrus industry. They will run on YouTube and social media, according to campaign spokesman Carlo Fassi.

"Hello, I'm Baxter Troutman, a conservative businessman and a family farmer. And I am a champion for Second Amendment rights," begins one. Troutman then goes on to say that as Commissioner of Agriculture, he will defend Floridians' right to bear arms against attacks from "the Left and the liberal media."

Troutman, a Republican whose family is in the citrus and cattle industries, has dedicated around $3 million of his own funds to his roughly $3.4 million campaign war chest.

His top opponents, both Republican, are state Sen. Denise Grimsley who has fundraised about $1.2 million and state Rep. Matt Caldwell who has raised around $2.1 million.

All three candidates have family ties to farming. However, in one of Troutman's ads, he claims he is "the only candidate who truly grew up with dirt in his toes."

June 11, 2018

Democratic super PAC reserves air time for Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson will get a "seven figure" advertising boost from Senate Majority PAC, which today announced it has reserved $80 million in air time in Florida and eight other states.

"Our record fundraising this cycle has allowed us to both be on-air in several states now and increase our strategic investments," said J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC. "We are implementing an aggressive media strategy to combat the Republicans' baseless, partisan attacks and promote our candidates that are fighting for higher wages and lower health care premiums."

The TV time is reserved from after Labor Day through Election Day in November. This reservations will total roughly $80 million and cover Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The group did not provide specifics other than each state will get at least seven figures.The super PAC in May spent $2.2 million for a bio ad about Nelson and that was followed by a $600,000 digital campaign in partnership with Priorities USA Action.

But Nelson continues to be far outpaced in advertising by Gov. Rick Scott's campaign and the pro-Scott New Republican PAC, which Monday announced another $3.5 million in spending, in the form of a negative ad about the long-serving Democrat.

In deep red Florida Panhandle, DeSantis and Gaetz campaign on Trump

Desantismotorcycle
Ron DeSantis listens to a voter after posing for a photo on a motorcycle at a campaign event in Pensacola. | Emily L. Mahoney, Times

If it wasn't clear by now, Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis  have been making it crystal that the Republican primary in the race for Florida's governor will be a test of President Trump's popularity in the nation's largest swing state.

The Freedom Caucus duo, called "warriors" by Trump, appeared in a handful of Panhandle campaign stops on Saturday as Gaetz runs for reelection and DeSantis makes his bid for governor against Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

Before introducing DeSantis, Gaetz made sure the crowd knew that Putnam was late to join Team Trump, ticking it off as "the first reason" why voters shouldn't check the box next to his name in August.

"After Ted Cruz had dropped out of the race, we needed Republicans to come together and rally behind our president," Gaetz said to the roughly 50 people in attendance in Pensacola. "So many of you were making handmade signs and going to rallies and supporting Donald Trump. Adam Putnam said, 'I'll have to wait until after the convention.'"

The two sang the president's praises constantly, telling the friendly crowd about their conversations with Trump on Air Force One to familiar shouts from the audience like "Lock her up!" and "Build the wall!" as if it were a 2016 rally.

Putnam, who has campaigned in many small towns, has criticized DeSantis in the past for  trying to "dial it in from an out-of-state TV studio," referring to his many Fox News appearances.

On Saturday, DeSantis touched on a mixture of both the federal issues that have won him his regular Fox News slot as well as some state topics, as he transitions to straddle both worlds.

On the issue of the special counsel, Trump tweeted a week ago that it is "totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!" DeSantis, speaking to reporters after the event, disagreed with the mechanics but not the sentiment.

"Less so much unconstitutional, if you look at (Deputy Attorney General Rod) Rosenstein's appointing order in May, he did not follow Justice Department guidelines," he said. "I'm not a fan of how Mueller has done it but the original sin is Rosenstein. He superimposed a criminal prosecutor on a counterintelligence investigation and basically said, 'Just find something.'"

On state issues, DeSantis and Gaetz both said they are confident that  Florida has an "exemption" from Trump's expansion of offshore oil drilling. A back-and-forth drama ensued earlier this year when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke publicly announced with Gov. Rick Scott that Florida was off the table, then later said the state was "still in the process."

"I'm not for oil drilling off Florida,"DeSantis said. "I've told the president that. He's going to give Florida the exemption from that. I have no worries about that."

On guns: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, enacted after 17 students and teachers were killed at the Parkland school in February, was a controversial package of gun rights restrictions and school safety measures that included raising the firearm purchasing age in Florida to 21, banning bump stocks and allowing police to temporarily take guns away from someone they suspect to be mentally unstable.

In recent days, the National Rifle Association has been surveying politicians, asking if they would vote to repeal parts of that new law. It sued Florida immediately after the law passed, as did a separate group of gun owners.

DeSantis offered light criticism of the statute.

"Some folks here had some concerns about when you have blanket restrictions," he said of the event attendees in Pensacola. "Some of those are caught up in the courts and I think you have some live arguments as to why some of those may not pass muster."

Finally, on medical marijuana: last week, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers gave the state until June 11 to put into action a process that will make smoke-able marijuana available to patients at marijuana dispensaries throughout the state.

DeSantis said the state needs to stop "playing games" and put in place what voters intended.

Florida voters approved medical marijuana via a ballot initiative, but the state has been locked in a legal battle after lawmakers limited its scope by only allowing oils, sprays, tinctures, vaping and edibles, arguing that smoking would lead to a "back door" for recreational use.

"I'm going to implement what the voters wanted to do faithfully and reasonably," DeSantis said.

June 09, 2018

DeSantis says Putnam's office missed background checks because Putnam was too busy campaigning

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U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters in Pensacola on June 9. | Emily L. Mahoney, Miami Herald


At a joint campaign event in Pensacola on Saturday, both Ron DeSantis and Matt Gaetz went on the offensive against the Adam Putnam campaign, DeSantis's only rival in the Republican primary for governor.

For the first time, DeSantis spoke about the Tampa Bay Times report that for more than a year, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under Putnam failed to conduct national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits because an employee couldn't log into the system.

The problem was found through a June 2017  Office of Inspector General investigation that has not been previously reported to the public, that the Times obtained through a public records request.

"Adam has spent years campaigning for governor, basically, in this position and the report was very concerning because it seemed like he wasn't minding the store when we needed him to be there," DeSantis told reporters after making a stump speech.

"I also want to know why, if this report was done a year ago, why are we just now finding out about this?" DeSantis continued. "Why weren't some of the deficiencies communicated to Gov. Scott, to FDLE, to other people who would be interested in the fact you may have people who are not eligible getting permits to concealed carry? So that's an unanswered question we need answers to."

Putnam responded to the story Friday night in a statement, saying "a criminal background investigation was completed on every single application."

"Upon discovery of this former employee's negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations," read the statement. "The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again."

 Gaetz, who is running for reelection in Congress, also criticized Putnam for that response at the Pensacola event.

"I was discouraged that Adam Putnam chose to throw his employees under the bus rather than taking some ownership over the fact that there wasn't adequate oversight and adequate redundancy over something that is so important to public safety," he said. "I think that real leaders they step forward and take responsibility when things do not go right and we did not see that from Adam Putnam."

Putnam is expected to hold a media availability Saturday afternoon to further address the story.