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April 26, 2016

Meet Florida U.S. Senate candidate Todd Wilcox, ex-CIA man


via @adamsmithtimes

TAMPA -- As far as we know, only one candidate for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat has publicly spoken of killing someone.

Only one is a trained sniper and Arabic-speaking former CIA officer.

Only one has experience commanding an elite squad of counterterrorism hostage rescuers. Raising daughters as a single father. And making tens of millions as an entrepreneur.

In an election cycle where political and government experience seems more of a liability than an asset, newcomer Todd Wilcox, 49, may be the sleeper candidate in a wide-open race to succeed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

His resume has more in common with Tony Stark of Iron Man than a typical contender, but if testosterone matters, Wilcox is a shoo-in.

“We’ve got to get back to being the America we once were,” Wilcox, in his clipped military cadence, told an enthusiastic crowd of Republican activists in north Tampa on Tuesday. “The entrepreneurial spirit. The accountability. When a man was a man. It’s time to elect a warrior.”

The winner of Florida’s Senate race could well determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate, but less than 90 days before the first ballots are mailed you would be hard pressed to find people who can name even one of the five leading Republicans running: Home builder and prolific campaign donor Carlos Beruff of Bradenton; U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach; U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores; Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; and Wilcox of Orlando.

More here.

Photo credit: David W. Doonan Special to the Tampa Bay Times

Payday loan attacks coming for another Florida member of Congress

via @learyreports

A liberal group that has run ads against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her support for payday lenders is looking for a new target.

Allied Progress says it will launch a new campaign against a Florida House member based on online voting. The “winner” will  be announced May 10.

Those up for consideration are Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Patrick Murphy, Bill Posey and Dennis Ross.

“Each has received at least $10,000 in campaign contributions from the payday industry,” according to the group, “signed a letter encouraging Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) director Richard Cordray to adopt the disastrous ‘Florida model’ of payday lending reform, and either sponsored or cosponsored H.R. 4018 which would gut the CFPB’s upcoming payday loan regulations by delaying those new rules in favor of states with Florida-style laws.”

Wasserman Schultz has faced a TV ad, billboards and negative press. Her Democratic opponent has seized the issue as well.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

After 'great ride,' insurance chief McCarty awaits successor

Florida's departing insurance commissioner received high marks Tuesday as his bosses prepared to interview four candidates to succeed him. Kevin McCarty, director of the state Office of Insurance Regulation since 2003, summarized the work of his agency over the past year and received praise from Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, one of his four bosses.

"What a great ride it's been ... A labor of love," McCarty said in farewell remarks. "I look forward to a smooth transition."

Atwater and Gov. Rick Scott must be part of a three-vote majority on the Cabinet to hire a successor to McCarty. Four finalists are under consideration: insurance executive Ray Blacklidge, expert insurance witness and arbitrator Bill Hager, who's also a state representative and former Iowa insurance commissioner; former federal terrorism risk insurance official Jeffrey Bragg; and Belinda Miller, the chief of staff in McCarty's office.

"I think Belinda Miller is an extraordinary candidate and would make an extraordinary commissioner," McCarty told reporters after his presentation.

Playoff ban for new opt-in FHSAA members sparks ire

Via the Tampa Bay Times' @_kellyparsons

TAMPA - On April 14, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an education bill that, in part, established changes to the present structure of the Florida High School Athletic Association, forcing the organization to allow schools to opt-in to membership on a per-sport basis.

Now the FHSAA - which has been in charge of high school athletics in Florida since 1920 - is fighting back with what some are calling "retaliatory" policies, and state legislators are threatening to take action.

Before the passage of House Bill 7029, schools were required to be full members of the FHSAA for all the sports in which they competed. The legislation, which goes into effect July 1, states that not only can private schools now join on a per-sport basis, but the FHSAA "may not discourage a private school from simultaneously maintaining membership in another athletic association."

Still, in the FHSAA's application for private school membership for the 2016-17 school year, it provides a chart listing the benefits of "full membership" and "partial membership," with the latter not including the option of participating in the state playoffs. Essentially, opt-in members will be treated like independent schools, which have to join a secondary athletic association in order to participate in postseason play.

"That language has never changed going back to 1999," said Kyle Niblett, FHSAA public relations specialist. "If they're a partial member, none of their sports can compete in the state playoffs."

As far as Rep. Ross Spano is concerned, that policy is in direct violation of the new law.

Read more here


Do poor people not vote as Bernie Sanders says?

Income inequality is the core issue of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and he said it may also be why he’s behind Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.

Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked Sanders why he thought 16 of 17 states with large wealth gaps were won by Clinton.

"Well, because poor people don’t vote. I mean, that’s just a fact," Sanders said. "That’s a sad reality of American society. And that’s why we have to transform one, as you know, one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major society of Earth. We have done a good job of bringing young people. But in America today, the last election in 2014, 80 percent of poor people did not vote."

Is turnout among the poor really that low? The data shows that we’ve done slightly better at getting out the vote among low-income people than what Sanders suggests, but not by much.

See what Linda Qiu of PolitiFact found and check out Sanders' Truth-O-Meter record.

First U.S. Senate debate pits David Jolly, Alan Grayson against each other


The field to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate is a crowded one, but you wouldn't know it from the campaign's first debate Monday night.

Two of the seven candidates for the open seat — U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and David Jolly, R-Indian Shores— faced off in Orlando, debating economics, abortion, the environment and campaign finance.

Watch the debate here.

The time spent on campaign finance allowed both candidates to highlight centerpieces of their campaigns.

Jolly has been riding a wave of good publicity for 48 hours after a 60 Minutes report Sunday on legislation he proposed called the "Stop Act." It would ban federal elected officials from personally asking for money.

This weekend's broadcast showed images of members of Congress dialing for contributions in what Jolly called "sweatshop phone booths."

"Let's get members of Congress off the phone and shaking down the American people for money," he said Monday.

For his part, Grayson's campaign has repeatedly touted small-dollar-donors' support, though his campaign has also relied heavily on loans from himself.

"This is a revolution," he said, echoing presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. "It's happening right before our eyes."

The debate, sponsored by the Open Debate Coalition, included questions submitted and voted for online, part of an effort to ask the kinds of questions that really interest voters. It was moderated by Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks Network and Benny Johnson of the Independent Journal Review, both national political websites.

Jolly and Grayson announced the debate after a March poll showed them leading other candidates for the Aug. 30 primary. Yet nearly half of voters in both parties were undecided in that poll, which came before a fifth Republican candidate entered the race.

Jolly is running against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach; Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; Bradenton homebuilder Carlos Beruff and Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox. In the Democratic primary, Grayson is running against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

Read the full story here.

Marco Rubio's image in Florida took a hit after presidential race

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio’s image in Florida took a hit during his run for president and more so than any other senator who entered the race, according to a new Morning Consult survey.

Rubio's favorability dropped 6 points to 45% and his unfavorability increased 7 points to 41%, according to a news release. That’s drawn from a broad series of online questions asked across the country between Jan. 8 and April 17. (The last survey was released in November)

The results come after Rubio’s poor showing in the March 15 Florida primary in which he lost to Donald Trump in every one of the state’s 67 counties except Miami-Dade.

Bill Nelson remained in “pretty much the same spot -- favorability is 52%, unfavorability is 24%, don't know/no opinion is 24%.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Has Florida cut more than $1 billion in taxes as Gov. Rick Scott says?

Despite lawmakers virtually ignoring his budget wish list during the 2016 legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott is boasting about fulfilling a campaign promise to cut taxes by $1 billion in his second term.

Scott took credit for the fiscal feat both before and after signing the Legislature’swide-ranging tax-cut package, HB 7099. "Over the past two years, Florida has cut more than $1 billion in taxes," an April 13, 2016, press release from the governor’s office read.

Scott had pledged to hit the billion-dollar mark in tax reductions during his successful 2014 re-election campaign, mostly by giving breaks to businesses and limiting property tax growth. In his March 15 press release announcing his intention to sign the Legislature’s budget, Scott said he’d kept his promise with $1.2 billion in tax cuts over the first two years of his second term.

Scott has repeated this claim several times in one form or another. But have taxes really gone down by more than $1 billion in two years, like he says? It depends on how you look at what the Legislature has done, but the changes haven’t happened the way Scott wanted.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida  and check out Scott's full Truth-O-Meter record.

April 25, 2016

Miami members of Congress return from trip to Guantánamo



Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress recently traveled to the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the office of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced Monday.

Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House subcomittee on the Middle East and North Africa, took the trip along with Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Also traveling were Reps. Ted Yoho of Gainesville and George Holding of North Carolina, both Republicans.

Here's Ros-Lehtinen's statement on the trip:

The U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay is so much more than the detention center; It is a strategically important military base and our only permanent base in Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet, since President Obama announced his changes to our Cuba policy, the administration has been seeking to play down the importance of the Naval Station. Returning GTMO to the Castro regime would be the ultimate concession to the ruthless dictator and the final stroke in the President's misguided and dangerous Cuba policy, and Congress must not allow this to happen.

"From humanitarian operations and emergency response, to drug and weapon interdiction and so much more, GTMO allows us to maintain a permanent presence in the region in order to protect and promote our national security interests.

"The President's plan to close the detention center at GTMO is naive and dangerous. We've already heard testimony from his Special Envoys on Guantanamo Closure and Guantanamo Detention Closure that some of the individuals we have released not only went back to fighting against us, but have American blood on their hands. There can simply be no justification to release these dangerous prisoners when we know that many of them will go back and join the fight. Congress must prevent the President from closing the detention center and retuning the base to the Castro regime.

Here's Curbelo's statement:

This week I visited the US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay – a critical military and national security asset serving key roles in the war on terrorism, drug and migrant interdiction, and as a strategic forward base for the Atlantic Fleet. Every day approximately 7,000 US military personnel and contractors go to work at GTMO to keep our country safe and advance our national security interests in the Americas and throughout the world. I had the privilege of meeting with Captain Culpepper, the base commander, who briefed us on the base’s preparedness to assist with major migrant events in the Caribbean. This is important considering the significant increase in Cubans fleeing from the island over the last year. I also met with Rear Admiral Clarke who serves as Commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo. The JTF is working professionally and diligently to provide safe, humane, legal, and transparent care and custody of detainees. I was able to inspect the detention facilities, and I was impressed with efforts to treat the detainees with dignity and respect. Our young men and women in uniform do an extraordinary job of representing our country, sometimes under very difficult circumstances in this theater. The men and women of Naval Air Station Guantanamo, the Joint Task Force, and the Marines who protect the base perimeter deserve the admiration, appreciation, and support of the American people and this Congress. I thank my colleague from South Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for leading our visit to GTMO, and I urge all of my colleagues to work to protect and strengthen this critical military asset.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Courtesy Rep. Carlos Curbelo's office

Bill Nelson weighs in on potential release of 9/11 report

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday wrote to President Obama and appeared to question speculation, largely coming from former Sen. Bob Graham, that the 9/11 report shows ties to Saudi Arabia.  

The letter follows high-profile media appearances by Graham, who has strongly suggested a Saudi relationship with the terrorists.

Nelson's letter:

I understand that your administration may soon decide whether to declassify part or all of the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 report that have not yet been made available to the public.

As I’m sure you are aware, there is growing speculation that information contained in these 28 pages will show that Saudi Arabia provided support to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. I have read the 28 pages, and I have also read intelligence reports that debunk them.

If you declassify these 28 pages, I strongly urge you to also declassify intelligence reports that debunk them in order to provide the American people with a complete picture of this issue. 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times