Mitch Perry - SaintPetersBlog

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Organizers expect thousands at Women’s Solidarity March in St. Petersburg on Saturday

While a crowd of over 200,000 people is expected to jam the streets of Washington D.C. on Saturday to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration, similar rallies are being held around the world. The biggest event in the Tampa Bay area will take place in St. Petersburg.

The Women’s Solidarity March St. Pete is scheduled noon to 3 p.m, beginning at Demens Landing on the waterfront in downtown St. Pete (that’s at 2nd Avenue SE and Bayshore).

“Maybe we were sleeping at the switch, but no more,” says Suzanne Benton, one of the organizers of the event, says about the result of last November’s election. She says she expects as many as 15,000 people to attend the rally.

“We’re not going to let democracy slip away from us,” Benton adds.”We’re going to be a model for the world. They’re very worried for us. We have to show here in St. Petersburg – this state went for the opposition – we have to show the world that we know how to protect our democracy and we’re not going to let it slip away.”

Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points in Florida on November 8.

Marianny De Leon is a twentysomething activist and staffer with Planned Parenthood in Tampa. She’ll be participating in a similar rally in Tallahassee on Saturday (there are protests being held up and down the state on both Friday and Saturday)

“We do have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us, but this march is going to be a unified women’s movement,” she says. “We strived very hard to be as intersectional as possible and we really want to make sure that women have access to the health care that they need. We need to make sure that people who are low-income, people who don’t speak English, we just want to ensure that everybody has the same rights.”

There have been media reports this week that some women who are not pro-choice but considers themselves feminists have been banned from the major protest in D.C. this Saturday. But organizers for the rally in St. Petersburg say there’s no litmus test to participate.

“We’re proud that’s a part of our platform,” says organizer Amy Weintraub regarding the support for abortion rights. “But we can also find plenty of other things that we would agree with everyone, and that’s going to be the key to this social change movement.

“When we engage with people in our community who may have voted differently than we did during the election, we’ve got to find 51 percent that we agree on, ” Weintraub added, “and once we do, we’ll be able to talk with them, educate and potentially change their vote next time around.”

After Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis announced last weekend that he would not attend the inauguration, saying he didn’t believe believe Trump was a “legitimate” president, dozens of his colleagues now say they won’t attend on Friday, including Florida Democrats Alcee Hastings and Darren Soto. Benton said she understood why congressional Democrats would choose to attend the ceremony, but said she at least hoped they would wear black at the event.

You can get more information on Saturday’s event by going to the Facebook page. Those who do choose to attend should note that some local meteorologists have predicted that there could be a chance of rain.

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On Barack Obama’s last day in office, Ed Narain gives thanks to what he accomplished

Although Friday has been a tough and day for Democrats around the country, former Florida state representative Ed Narain says he chooses to be happy as he celebrates the end of Barack Obama‘s eight year administration. That’s because, Narain writes, after Jesse Jackson failed to win the White House during his two tries in the 1980’s, he believed that he would never see a black man attain the highest office in the land, but Obama proved him and so many others wrong.

“On this day eight years ago my friends and I stood freezing on the National Mall to witness the shattering of a ceiling we had literally been taught would never be broken and it inspired us to live up to the fullest of our potential because truly just like him, we could too,” Narain wrote in a statement he issued out on Friday. “For many, most of our children have been born during a time when the leader of the free world looked just like them. No one can tell than that they can’t or they won’t because of their skin color (though we still have ceilings to break with gender).”

Like Obama, Narain also no longer holds public office, after narrowly losing his bid for the state Senate District 19 seat to Darryl Rouson. Although sidelined for the moment, most political observers predict the 40-year-old New York city native will return again to political office.

Here’s his statement in full:

While today is a sad day for some, I choose to be happy. I’m not happy because President Obama’s tenure is over. I’m happy because like a good relationship that comes to an expected end, I’m glad we had this time together.
In 1984, Jesse Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive” mantra was so inspiring to this then eight year old. Four years later, when he wasn’t chosen to be the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, I was disappointed but not discouraged that America wasn’t ready to accept an African American as one of its standard bearers.
In 1993, a teacher told my classmates and I that we would never see a Black President in our lifetime. She said that a woman would be first and eventually our grandkids would see a Black president. I don’t think she said this because she was prejudiced, I think it was because in her life experience, the country just hadn’t changed enough to accept people who looked like me in political leadership. Maybe because I was no longer a child but on that day, I stopped believing it would happen in our lifetime.
This is why President Barack Obama’s election meant so much to so many. “Yes We Can” was the fulfillment of the “hope” Jesse asked us to keep alive. For Gen Xers like me, it meant our natural sense of skepticism could finally give way to the possibility that people could be fair and America would live up to its promise of opportunity for all, regardless of how stupid, superficial factors of race and gender often divide us.
On this day eight years ago my friends and I stood freezing on the National Mall to witness the shattering of a ceiling we had literally been taught would never be broken and it inspired us to live up to the fullest of our potential because truly just like him, we could too
For many, most of our children have been born during a time when the leader of the free world looked just like them. No one can tell than that they can’t or they won’t because of their skin color (though we still have ceilings to break with gender)
So while I’m sad to see him leave I’m happy because his legacy is greater than just political accomplishments or ground breaking legislation. I’m thankful for what his time in the White House represented.
For an older generation he was the fulfillment of a “dream” that millions were unfairly locked out of participating in.For my generation, he was the inspiration that gave permission to believe in achieving the impossible.
For our children’s generation, he is not a Black President; just “The President” and that is the legacy of hope and equality we must all work hard to keep aliv
Thank you Mr. President. You have meant and still mean so much.
Today I choose to be happy.
– Ed
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At Inauguration watch party in North Tampa, great expectations for a Trump presidency

Approximately three dozen Donald Trump supporters cheered incessantly at a Beef O’Brady’s in North Tampa on Friday morning, before, during and after the longtime New York real estate mogul was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

“We did this,” exclaimed Terry Castro, a co-chair with the Trump campaign in north Hillsborough County, immediately after the swearing-in ceremony.

“These are all the people who worked in the north Hillsborough Trump office and helped us make this day come true,” added co-chair Rebecca DoBoer.

“It’s all about the people,” DoBoer continued, echoing a theme of the Republican’s inaugural address. “Whether they’re Democrats or Republicans. It’s a movement of people who want to turn back to the days when we had great jobs and everyone could succeed.”

Trump’s signature campaign theme of making America “great again,” was definitely what many in the bar believed will come true over the next four and possibly eight years.

“I’m excited for America to be wonderful again,” said Tampa resident Peggy Kienzle. When pressed about what that actually means, she harkened back to her youth.

“I think of the 50’s and 60’s when I was growing up. I remember every man going to work every day as proud Americans. Patriotism,” she recounted. “It was the 1960’s with JFK. There was so much pride in this country and what we stood for. I am still very proud to be an American and always will be, but I am really anxious to see where he can take our country.”

59-year-old Tampa citizen Charles Harris also invoked the past in discussing Trump’s appeal. “We need the leadership that we once had in the 1960’s when we had a backbone and we had a military readiness that we used to have and I think we need to be more prepared and I think we need to just get back to our goal as being the most powerful nation on the face of the earth,” he said, adding, “this country has lost respect in every other avenue on this earth. Other countries used to respect us, even the terrorists knew not to mess with us, but now that may change and we may get that respect back.”

Although some have questioned Trump’s bonafides when it comes to how spiritual he actually is, some in the audience at the family friendly sports bar said they celebrated his faith.

“I think he’s a real Christian,” said Rita Lynn. “I think that’s very important that we depend on God to tell us and guide us on what to do. ”

“The thing that I’m most impressed about actually is that he’s a Christian man and he loves America, and you can see it in everything that he does,” added Kienzle.

When pressed about what specifically they hope that Trump accomplishes in office, several people in the multiracial crowd said they wanted him to eliminate what they said were way too many regulations promulgated during the Obama administration that they claim are strangling U.S. businesses.

“This country has always been where one where people with ideas can risk and build a future for themselves and their family, and the abundance of this country has come out of people who were willing to question, challenge and create, and you have a man coming out of the private sector who knows just how devastating regulations are,” said Bill Luria, 70. A practicing physician, Luria is excited to see the Affordable Care Act wither away, saying whatever the replacement turns out will “be a massive improvement.”

Tampa resident Aaron Bergman says he personally doesn’t care about the Republican Party. He says the problem is that the U.S. government is of and for Washington and not of and for the people, and says he truly believes that the new president will “drain the swamp.”

Bergman celebrates Trump as a “once in a lifetime candidate because he’s not beholden” to anyone – special interests, the political parties, or the media.

“The media did everything in their power to destroy him, and it failed,” he says.

Many of the Trump supporters qualified their statements by acknowledging that as happy as they were on Friday, half the nation was equally unhappy, if not downright despondent about the fact that the Republican Party will control all levers of the federal government for the first time in a decade.

And while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and congressional Republicans dug in early to thwart Barack Obama in his administration,  St. Petersburg resident Tyler Prince says that Republican rank and file members did view the now former president with an open mind, and he’s asking for the same consideration for the new one.

“Just give the guy a chance,” he said. “Eight years ago I didn’t protest. It was a tough time for us. We gave Obama a chance, so we hope that everybody does the same for Trump.”

However with more than 60 congressional Democrats boycotting or simply sitting out the inauguration, and with protests planned in hundreds of cities across the country on Saturday, that idea remains uncertain at this time.

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Dana Young to unveil anti-fracking legislation next week

Tampa Republican state Senator Dana Young will announce her legislation to ban fracking next week, her office said on Friday.

During her successful campaign to win the Senate District 18 seat last fall, Young promised that she would introduce such a ban, after she was accused of actually supporting the controversial practice of extracting natural gas and oil during the 2016 legislative session.

Democrat Bob Buesing, independent candidate Joe Redner and other environmental groups all said her support of a bill sponsored by Naples Republican Garett Richter was an endorsement of fracking, but Young denied that, saying that she supported the the bill because it the best way to halt the practice, though it did not include an outright ban.

Young will not be the first member of the Senate to offer such a bill. Fort Lauderdale Democrat Gary Farmer introduced similar legislation in December.

Young intends to announce the details of her bill Tuesday morning in Tallahassee.

 

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Hillsborough County Democratic Party says they are united in holding Donald Trump accountable

Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend says that while the local party takes pride in the smooth transition of power that will take place on Friday, she says they are united in holding Donald Trump accountable for the policies and programs in plans for the American public.

In a statement released just hours before Trump succeeds Barack Obama as the leader of the free world, she says that the party will be diligent that America’s 45th president “does NO HARM TO MIDDLE AND WORKING CLASS AMERICANS.”

“Trump’s Cabinet picks are worrisome, we have already seen an assault on the Affordable Care Act, and next we fear the dissolving of policies that protect our environment, public education, a woman’s right to choose and equality,” says Townsend. “Wherever possible we will join forces and create alliances with community leaders across Hillsborough, the state, and nation to fight unfair and detrimental Trump administration policies. Our voices will be heard. We will be there for voters that bought into Trump’s illusions that he alone can solve national and world problems.”

Townsend then lists the rights that she says the Democratic party believes in, and says that they will fight any Trump administration proposals “that could decimate what Democrats have strived for and will continue to work toward achieving.”

Those rights include:

1. Health care for all

2. Expanding the middle class

3. Raising the minimum wage to $15

4. Keeping jobs in America

5. Affordable college education

6. A woman’s right to choose and make her own health care decisions

7. Ending institutional racism in our country and any other form of discrimination

8. Immigration reform with a path to citizenship

In recent presidential election years, Hillsborough County enjoyed the reputation as being one of the leading bellwether counties in the country when it came to choosing the president. That changed last year, however, as Hillary Clinton won the county by more than eight percentage points, but lost the vote overall in Florida, and of course, lost in the Electoral College to Trump.

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Activists in downtown Tampa protest Donald Trump’s inauguration

While the major Tampa Bay area protest against the inauguration of Donald Trump is scheduled to take place on Saturday in St. Petersburg, approximately three dozen activists gathered in front of the Federal Building in downtown Tampa on Friday night to express their dissent about the most powerful man in the free world.

The sentiment among some of those gathered wasn’t anger, but ambivalence. While fear felt for the most vulnerable in society was expressed by several people interviewed, there also was excitement about the possibility of how a newly formed opposition movement could manifest itself in the months and years ahead. At least that was the feeling of Tampa resident Wendy Babcox, who said she was felt “conflicted.”

“On the one hand, I feel energized because I feel that are only a few people right here now, but right now around the country there are people organizing in ways that they hasn’t done for, I don’t know, maybe 30 years or so?” she said. “And I think we need to do that. We needed to do that, anyway,” agreeing with the notion that progressives have become too complacent in the Obama years.

Tampa resident Heather Henry is Muslim and wears a hijab. She says she worries less about what Donald Trump might do in office that could be deleterious to her own freedom, and is more concerned about the impact of his electoral success with his more xenophobic supporters.

“People approached me in a very negative way today,” she recalled. “People feel more emboldened, because they see that their opinions have been validated.”

While protests will dominate this weekend across the country, the question some activists are already posing is: What’s next?

“The first thing we do is to be in solidarity with the people who are also fearful, ” said Jason Lazarus.“This is the first response. I’m here. I’m visible. It’s about how we galvanize our energy to become better citizens over the next four years.”

A man who only wanted to be identified as “Glen” said it was all about awareness. Not just for the general population, but for those in power.

“Donald Trump has to know that we’re watching him all the time, that he is responsible to us and that we’re going to keep him responsible to us,” he said. Assuming that Trump’s actions in officer will be viewed as so egregious to the norms of the more of the nation, he predicted Democrats will rally in the 2018 congressional elections.

Wearing a Bernie Sanders t-shirt and acknowledging that the Vermont socialist was his candidate of choice, Glen is the embodiment of how divided the Democratic party was when it came to their candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. His face showed disgust upon the mentioning of her name, instead telling me he proudly supported Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November.

Jason Lazarus mused that if Clinton had selected Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as her running mate last summer, the combination of a centrist and more liberal Democrat on the ticket could have been the winning ticket. “That would have been a very powerful signal that she would acknowledge and open up the platform to a lot of people,” he’ said, calling her choice of Tim Kaine to being “safe and uninspired.”

Babcox espoused another sentiment that others interviewed agreed with.

“I don’ think any of us know how he’s going to do anything,” she said. “Which is very worrying. Not just for us, but for people around the world.”

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Celebrated writer George Saunders to appear in Tampa on February 18

Acclaimed writer George Saunders will be making a rare appearance in Tampa next month, just days after the publication of his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

Saunders will be at the Tampa Theatre on Saturday, February 18, at 2:30 p.m., in an appearance with 2016 National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ honoree Thomas Pierce and LA Times Book Prize finalist David James Poissant for what the Tampa Theatre’s website calls “a landmark conversation about writing, humor, and the role of fiction in contemporary life.”

The event is part of the OE Spotlight series and is being presented by the Tampa Theatre and Oxford Exchange.

 

Saunders was known in literary circles for more than a decade before the publication of his last collection of short stories, Tenth of December, was published to critical praise four years ago. The book prompted a cover story in the New York Times Magazine,  calling it the best book of the year, which was particularly noteworthy since the story was published just three days into the new year.

 

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Tampa City Council hears more about FDOT’s “reset”on TBX

Jim Boxold, the head of the Florida Department of Transportation, announced last month that he was calling for a “reset” regarding the Tampa Bay Express, acknowledging that the rollout of the controversial multi-billion dollar toll lanes project hasn’t been as smooth as the department had originally intended.

To its critics, that would be an understatement. They contend that the state agency hasn’t taken their seriously at all their concerns about what the project might do to the neighborhoods in Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor.  When the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization approved putting the TBX once again on its five-year Transportation Improvement Project (TIP) last June,  it was opposed by MPO chairman Les Miller, who said that the department had failed to provide the community outreach that they promised at the MPO’s meeting in June of 2015.

The project is intended to ultimately remake I-275, I-4 and I-75, and bring new toll lanes from Pasco County south to Manatee County and from Pinellas County east to Polk County.

On Thursday, FDOT officials appeared before the Tampa City Council to clarify that the reset is primarily focused on community engagement. Bill Jones, FDOT’s Director of Transportation Development, explained that would include “listening sessions” with community working groups.

Later on in the discussion, Councilman Mike Suarez asked a second FDOT official to explain the reset.

“The reset, in my mind sir, is for us to do better engagement with the community, to get bigger input, ” said Ed McKinney, planning and environmental administrator with FDOT.  He said that would mean looking at the transportation system “in a holistic perspective,” which included bringing in people from the city, county, transit agencies and business communities to have an “open dialogue” to address the region’s transportation needs.

“There’s never been an alternative that’s every been presented to us other than the plan concerning the TBX lanes,” complained Suarez, who like other council members, has spoken out critically about the project while acknowledging that he has little power to stop it. “I don’t know if that ‘s because you vetted every other plan and then brought that to us, because of engineering concerns, because of right-of-way concerns, because of some other issue, because that’s never been communicated to us, and that’s part of the problem.”

“Is this worth it? Will it be worth it? asked councilman Guido Maniscalco, one of four people on the MPO board to oppose putting the TBX on the MPO’s TIP last June. “Or will we look down 20 years later after it’s constructed and say we need to expand more?”

The District 6 councilman stressed that the region is begging for mass transit, but it lacked options. “I wish we could have municipal city elections to have a vote on whether to put a sales tax referendum forward to get that type of funding from FDOT to build some type of robust transit system,” he mused in vain. State law only allows counties to put such referendums on the ballot, and that could only change through a vote in the state legislature. But they have shown no inclination to do so.

McKinney said that the lack of a transit is regional problem, not just a problem for the city of Tampa or for FDOT.

Councilman Harry Cohen said that the region needs everything – buses, roads, ferries and trains – but added that FDOT needs to prepare for driverless automobiles as well.

McKinney said that FDOT is having conversations currently on how to address that, adding that ” maybe there’s an opportunity for a future dialogue on how that looks.”

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Hillsborough County GOP clubs holding inauguration watch parties

After eight long years, Republicans in Hillsborough County are ready to party with the inauguration of Donald Trump, now just a day away.

During the event, the Sun City and South Shore Republican Clubs are coming together to host a watch party at Alpha Pizza, 1312 Apollo Beach Blvd. #E in Apollo Beach.

The North Hillsborough Republican Club and the North Trump Campaign office are hosting a joint luncheon inauguration watch party from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Beef O’Brady’s, 8810 N. Times Ave. in Tampa.

And the Hillsborough County Republican Party is also hosting an event Friday at 6 p.m. at Due Amici Pizza in Ybor City.

For more information about these events (and RSVPs to them), go to the Hillsborough County Republican Party website.

 

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Jack Latvala says he’ll support legislation banning fracking again in 2017 Session

State Sen. Jack Latvala opposed a bill to regulate the use of fracking in the 2016 Session, and in the upcoming Session, he’ll support legislation that would do so again.

“I’m where I was last year,” he said when asked about the controversial practice to extract natural gas and oil out of the ground.

“I helped beat it last year, so … I’m in the same place, and I’ll support a bill to ban it,” the Clearwater Republican said while exiting Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes after a long afternoon hearing from the public at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting.

Last year, Naples Republican Garett Richter‘s bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for onshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and unique limestone bedrock, as well as pre-empt local government ordinances seeking to ban the practice.

“We saw the issue of banning fracking come up in many races in the past election,” said Michelle Allen, the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “And we believe it’s going to continue to come up until we pass a statewide ban on it.”

Allen addressed the issue Wednesday before the six-person body.

The issue was certainly hot last fall in the three-way Senate District 18 race in Hillsborough County between Republican Dana Young, Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner.

Young was dogged by environmental groups (as well as her two opponents) of being pro-fracking by supporting the Richter bill; she insisted it was, in fact, a vote to ban the practice.

Immediately after winning the race, Young announced she would be proposing a bill in the 2017 Session to ban fracking.

The number of local governments in Florida that passed resolutions or ordinances denouncing fracking in Florida is now up to 89, Allen said.

“Floridians do not want fracking,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “Over 75 percent of Floridians live in a city or county that has passed a resolution or an ordinance opposing fracking. That includes Dade City and Zephyrhills here in Pasco County, and Tampa, St. Pete and Pinellas County as a whole.”

Rubiello added that the Legislature shouldn’t vote for more studies. They were “a waste of time, money and energy, even when they’re attached to a true ban,” she said.

In a report released last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, in some circumstances, hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water.

The report came just as President-elect Donald Trump vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Latvala was chair of the Appropriations Committee last year. He did not take over those duties until this fall.)

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