October 15, 2018

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.

October 11, 2018

Rick Scott asks CNN to move debate back 2 weeks, citing Hurricane Michael

Gov Rick Scott

@alextdaugherty

Gov. Rick Scott's U.S. Senate campaign asked CNN to postpone a scheduled debate with Sen. Bill Nelson by two weeks on Thursday, saying that the governor will have "no time for campaigning" as the Florida Panhandle recovers from Hurricane Michael. 

"We appreciate CNN understanding the dire situation in North Florida," campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman said in a statement. "Floridians deserve the chance to see candidates debate so they can judge their leadership skills, experience, and differences. Governor Scott looks forward to debating, but will have no time for campaigning in the next few weeks as he focuses exclusively on recovery efforts for the foreseeable future." 

Scott has been a near constant presence on TV this week in his official capacity as governor, urging residents in evacuation zones to leave and giving updates on storm preparation by state agencies. Nelson was in Washington to vote on a massive water infrastructure bill when Michael made landfall on Wednesday but both Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio missed votes on Thursday to travel to the Panhandle. 

Moving the Oct. 16th debate back two weeks would set the nationally televised event for Oct. 30, exactly one week before Election Day and after early voting begins. 

October 08, 2018

Nelson one of seven Democrats who didn't speak on Senate floor about Kavanaugh

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was one of seven Senate Democrats who did not speak on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination in recent weeks on the Senate floor, a list that includes a host of Democrats facing competitive reelection bids. 

Nelson eventually voted against Kavauangh, who was successfully confirmed on Saturday, and announced his opposition after Kavanaugh testified about sexual assault allegations from 35 years ago in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nelson tried to set up a meeting with Kavanaugh, but was unable to do so. 

"I've had many questions about Judge Kavanaugh and in an effort to be fair, I wanted to meet with him, but he was not available," Nelson said in a statement when he announced his opposition. "Dr. Ford's testimony was compelling and raises questions about his character and, therefore, there needs to be a full FBI investigation. As stated before, I will vote no."

 

The other Democratic senators not to speak on Senate floor about Kavanaugh beginning on September 28, the day Nelson officially announced his opposition, were Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. The only senator among that group who is not up for reelection in a state won by Donald Trump in 2016 is Warner. Manchin was the only Democrat who voted for Kavanaugh, and his confirmation passed on a 50-48 vote. 

Gov. Rick Scott has criticized Nelson for failing to meet with Kavanaugh during the confirmation process, and called on his Democratic opponent to confirm him. 

"Nelson sold his vote to [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer, who funds his campaign," Scott said in a statement on Friday. "That’s why he came out as a no before Kavanaugh was even selected. Shameful. DC has turned this process into a circus. It’s a great example of why we need term limits. Senator Nelson and Senate Democrats have used Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford as pawns in their political game."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio gave a floor speech affirming his support for Kavanaugh last week. 

October 04, 2018

Rick Scott keeps calling Bill Nelson ‘confused.’ Is this a dog whistle that could bite back?

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via @scontorno

What does Gov. Rick Scott mean when he calls Sen. Bill Nelson "confused," as he did twice during Tuesday's U.S. Senate debate?

To Democrats, Scott's intentions are clear. The repeated references to Nelson's state of mind are a flagrant and unseemly attempt to draw attention to the age of a 76-year-old senator who has never been accused of poor mental fitness.

Scott's campaign said that's not the case at all.

"It's that he has become such a party-line liberal, and like most career politicians, he talks a lot but doesn't get anything done," the Republican's spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

Whether it is a dog whistle, or just a particularly cutting attack in a long line of brutish missives, Scott's campaign isn't backing away. Campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman sent reporters a post-debate recap that asserted Nelson was "losing his mind" and "barely hanging on."

"A rambling, incoherent, confused, disjointed performance," Schutz Zeckman said in the statement. It was a startling conclusion to draw from the debate, a straightforward, if not mundane clash between two seasoned politicians who went to great pains to avoid missteps by saying little, if anything, new.

Nelson's campaign said Schutz Zeckman's remarks crossed a line. And on Wednesday, the left-aligned Alliance for Retired Americans called on Scott to "stop using ageist, inflammatory language to describe Senator Nelson immediately."

Nelson turned 76 on Sept. 29, and has often dismissed questions about his age with a challenge to a pushup contest. There are 11 senators older than Nelson in a chamber where the median age is 63 — or two years younger than Scott. If elected, Scott would be 66 at his swearing-in, 19 years older than Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio.

Republican strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich said it's obvious Scott's campaign sees Nelson's age as a vulnerability to exploit — part of a plan to paint Nelson as too old and having spent too long in office. Nelson was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1972.

Stipanovich is less sure how it will play out in a state where 1 in 5 residents are retirement age.

"Those are dog whistles. Who exactly they're designed to appeal to, since such a great percentage of the voters are Nelson's age, I don't know," Stipanovich said. "I don't know if that's a great strategy or not."

Read more here.

October 01, 2018

How Parkland school massacre turned guns into a top 2018 campaign issue in Florida

Congress Gun Violence

@alextdaugherty

Gun rights have motivated portions of the Republican base in Florida for years, but the script has changed in 2018.

The National Rifle Association sued the state of Florida after Gov. Rick Scott and 67 state lawmakers with an “A” rating from the nation’s largest gun group signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. Congress passed a bill that authorizes funding for school safety measures after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, but hasn’t taken up other ideas that would limit access to firearms. Republicans running in competitive congressional races across Florida say they are open to a ban on assault weapons.

Parkland and the March For Our Lives movement started by a group of Broward County high school students have thrust gun politics into the top tier of issues ahead of the 2018 elections, where Democrats are hoping to keep Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and flip up to a half dozen congressional seats that could determine which party wins the majority in the House of Representatives.

“Even if you go back 10 years, it’s amazing how much this issue has changed,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “If you looked at the polling, people supported background checks and banning certain types of weapons, but the entire energy for voting was on the other side. A larger swath of the population is saying that if you’re not reasonable about gun safety, we’re not going to vote for you.”

Though Parkland is in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, congressional candidates in nearby Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have changed their tune on guns in the last year. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning district, called on Congress to ban devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like automatic rifles after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast cited his military experience when calling for an assault weapons ban after Parkland. Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican, said this week that she supports background checks on guns and is open to an assault-weapons ban.

All three breezed through their respective Republican primaries even though Mast drew two challengers after announcing his stance against assault weapons, and Salazar faced a host of challengers who were more conservative on guns.

“The threat that the NRA has made for years is that if you oppose us, you will lose,” Schale said, adding that zero Republican incumbents who signed the state-level gun bill or called for more gun restrictions after Parkland lost their primaries. “If you look at folks like Brian Mast who came out for an assault weapons ban... it’s hard to imagine in the past that a GOP member of Congress could come out with that position without being completely terrified of the NRA.”

Read more here.

September 20, 2018

Lawsuit filed (again) over Gov. Scott appointing justices to state supreme court

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Rick Scott [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

It's back: two groups that were previously told their case was "not ripe"filed a new lawsuit Thursday that alleges Gov. Rick Scott does not have the legal authority to appoint justices to the state supreme court, as three major vacancies loom in January 2019.

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida have asked the state supreme court to stop the Judicial Nominating Commission from nominating candidates to fill the vacancies.

Their case was previously struck down because Scott had not yet picked new justices, but last week, he directed the commission to begin seeking nominees.

"Governor Scott intends to follow this precedent and will invite the governor-elect to conduct his own interviews of the nominees following the general election," Scott's statement said at the time. "The governor's expectation is that he and the governor-elect — like Governor Chiles and then Governor-elect Bush — will agree on the selection of three justices who will serve with distinction."

READ MORERick Scott orders panel to screen nominees for Supreme Court

The lawsuit contends that Scott is acting "unquestionably beyond his authority" by intending to make nominations before the vacancies open and while Scott is still in office, which they say violates the state constitution.

In a statement, John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, hit back.

"It’s disappointing that these partisan groups filed a politically-motivated lawsuit that would create three prolonged vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, contrary to all historical practice," he wrote.

What's at stake with the next justices is the ideological makeup of the state's highest court. Because of a mandatory retirement age of 70 that's set in the state's constitution, all three justices must retire.

Two of the three justices, Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente, were appointed by Florida's last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, with the third, Peggy Quince, having been jointly appointed by Chiles and then-incoming Gov. Jeb Bush.

They have all issued opinions in opposition to the Scott Administration.

Republicans like the GOP's nominee for governor, Ron DeSantis, have spoken often about their retirement as an opportunity to "end judicial activism" by appointing strong conservatives to the bench. His campaign has indicated he would cooperate with Scott.

But if Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum is elected, it's likely he, too, will challenge Scott for the power to appoint the justices. His campaign has said that they believe the rightful authority lies with the next governor.

September 18, 2018

Rick Scott says Kavanaugh accuser should testify before U.S. Senate

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the Senate Judiciary Committee should allow the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault decades ago to testify, potentially lengthening or derailing the confirmation process for Donald Trump's Supreme Court pick. 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward by name on Sunday after multiple outlets reported on the existence of a letter to California Rep. Anna Eshoo and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein that described a non-consensual encounter of a sexual nature between Kavanaugh and Ford when the two were in high school. Ford said that Kavanaugh groped her and tried to pull off her clothes and stopped when a friend of Kavnauagh's jumped on top of them. Kavanaugh denies the allegation and both Kavanaugh and Ford have said they will testify under oath if necessary. 

Scott accused Feinstein of sitting on the allegations to further delay the confirmation process. Feinstein says she didn't disclose the letter because Ford wanted to remain anonymous and Ford came forward only after multiple news outlets reported on the letter's existence.

"The Judiciary committee needs to seek the truth here," Scott said in a statement. "Truth is not partisan, and truth is more important than politics. These very serious allegations should have been investigated months ago. But Democrat Senator Feinstein pulled a slick Washington trick and intentionally hid this from the Senate during the hearings. Dr. Ford must receive a fair hearing; her allegations are very serious. And Judge Kavanaugh deserves to have the chance to clear his name." 

Scott is running against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who said in a statement yesterday that "there should be an investigation of the new allegations against him" and that he looks forward to meeting with him. Scott also criticized Nelson for not meeting with Kavanaugh, though scheduling conflicts for both are the reason a meeting hasn't happened yet. 

Nelson and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio are not members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so they have not been directly involved in Kavanaugh's confirmation process. 

September 12, 2018

State to deploy emergency teams, resources ahead of Hurricane Florence

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@samanthajgross

TALLAHASSEE -- Ahead of Hurricane Florence's expected landfall Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that the state will deploy resources to assist those affected in North and South Carolina.

"In Florida, we are fortunate to have the best emergency management professionals in the world to respond to disasters in our state and to help other states during times of emergency," Scott said in a statement. "As we continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Florence and make preparations, Floridians must remain vigilant."

The state has deployed two search and rescue teams, five ambulance teams, a nursing team and three teams from the state's emergency response office to help with operations and planning. More than 2,000 Florida utility workers were also sent to help restore power after the storm hits. 

Several teams of volunteers from the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Florida Baptists will also be sent to the Carolinas help. 

William Manley, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard, said the National Guard will not deploy units to assist with natural disasters unless the affected states -- the Carolinas in this case -- request help. 

The Florida National Guard has "Zodiac" boats built for high-water rescues, but states will generally request help from areas less prone to hurricanes in an effort to preserve resources. 

"We still have to be at the read to brace for impact in case we get a hurricane too," Manley said. "We can't deploy until the Governor directs."

September 11, 2018

Bill Nelson not on board with Andrew Gillum’s progressive proposals

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via @scontorno

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is excited about the energy that Andrew Gillum brings to the Democratic ticket as the party's nominee for governor.

He is less enthusiastic about some of the ideas Gillum ran on to win his primary.

Take Gillum's call to abolish the agency known as ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "in its current form." Nelson isn't on board.

"I don't want to abolish ICE. I want to abolish Trump," Nelson said in a sit-down Monday with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. "ICE is merely the administrative agency. It's the policies in that agency that is problem."

What about Gillum's support for universal healthcare, often called Medicare for all? "I've got enough trouble just trying to save Obamacare," Nelson said. "I'm into results."

A $15 minimum wage?

"I have supported a $12 minimum wage," Nelson said, "but I am certainly open to suggesting anything that will improve the lot of the average working man."

Nelson has staked his political career — and, perhaps, the Democratic Party's chances at winning the U.S. Senate — on the assumption that a purple state prefers a moderate politician with a penchant for crossing the aisle. "One of America's most independent senators," a recent ad touted.

But his party received a jolt last month when Democratic voters picked Gillum in the gubernatorial primary over a more moderate choice, Gwen Graham, and three others. Suddenly, Nelson, 75, is sharing the spotlight with a 39-year-old, African American mayor backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders who ran and won on an unapologetically progressive agenda.

After his stunning victory, Gillum declared a "political revolution" was afoot.

The coming months will determine: Is Nelson out of step with this movement?

"He's bringing a lot of new energy to the table and I think it's going to produce more African Americans, I think it's going to produce more young people," Nelson said. "And hopefully I might have some value that I bring to the ballot as well."

Gillum has advocated for many of the liberal policies en vogue among new age Democrats — some of which Nelson has tried to disassociate himself from as he battles for Florida's middle.

Gillum contends he has given Democratic voters a reason to show up on election day.

"Some of the people in this race for governor believe we've got to run as Republican flight in order to win Florida," Gillum said at an August rally with Sanders. "Our voters are going to stay home if they have choose between someone pretending to be a Republican and someone who is a real Republican."

Nelson's opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, has already tried to lump the two together. Scott, like Gillum opponent Ron DeSantis, has thrown around the word "socialist" around a lot to describe the Democratic ticket.

"This election offers Floridians a clear choice: continue the success of the last 8 years, or embrace the job-killing socialist policies of Senator Nelson and Andrew Gillum," Scott tweeted last week.

Independent fact-checking website PolitiFact deemed it False to call Gillum's agenda socialist.

For his part, Nelson has certainly embraced Gillum while maintaining his distance on contentious issues. Marijuana is one of them. Gillum wants to legalize marijuana, still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Nelson backs medical marijuana, including in smokable form. This week he unveiled a bill that allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to prescribe marijuana for its patients. But he doesn't support full legalization.

Gillum has also advocated for Trump's impeachment. Nelson won't go that far.

Nelson rightfully points out that nearly all these topics are federal in nature, meaning likely outside of the next governor's purview. When it comes to areas Gillum could affect, Nelson said he thinks they are more closely aligned.

"Look at the things that we agree on and look at the things that he has jurisdiction on that we agree," Nelson said. "Take for example, health care. Andrew certainly agrees that we ought to expand Medicaid for the 800,000 (would-be eligible Floridians)."

Though Nelson won't get behind some of Gillum's proposals, he has already shown a willingness to cede where the future of the party may be headed. At last month's post-election unity rally in Orlando, the elder statesman offered to speak first, leaving the headlining slot for the fresh face of the Democratic Party.

"I'm entirely comfortable with Andrew," Nelson said Monday. "And he with me."

August 28, 2018

After a hammering from Rick Scott, Bill Nelson going on TV with his first ad

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via @learyreports

After a continuous pounding on the airwaves from his wealthy rival, Sen. Bill Nelson is going up with his first TV ad, portraying himself to Florida voters as a voice of reason.

"I believe a public office is a public trust. You're there to serve the people, not the special interests. Just wake up every day and do what's right," the three-term incumbent Democrat says in the ad, titled "Oath," which touches on Nelson's service in the Army, his voyage to space and political office.

The statewide ad begins Wednesday, the day after the primary, and is the opening salvo in an $18 million ad buy from Nelson. Senate Majority PAC has put down another $23 million for ads to begin in October.

It's an answer to the onslaught from Gov. Rick Scott, who has been churning out ads since he entered the race in April. Scott and his allies have spent more than $47 million on ads, according to Kantar Media research reviewed by USA Today, and three-quarters of it has been negative toward Nelson.

Despite that, the race remains close, though some public polls show Scott with a slight edge.

To Nelson's campaign, that validates the conservative approach to spending, though he has benefited from millions in TV ads from outside groups, so it's not as though he's been completely dark.

The ad does not invoke Scott but by playing up the "public trust," it seems to portend a line of attack against the governor, who has faced numerous news stories about his personal wealth and decisions while governor.

Scott on Tuesday announced a new ad that highlights his humble beginnings.

Watch the ads below. 

Nelson: 

Scott: