Mitch Perry - 2/293 - 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.

Ridesharing bill advances 21-1 in House committee

A bill to create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies easily advanced in its last committee stop Tuesday in the Florida House, but not without some dissent from a handful of Democrats on the panel.

The bill (HB 221) is sponsored by Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls, and officials with Uber and Lyft are hoping that this is finally the year that such legislation is finally passed.

The bill would require transportation network companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. People would be prohibited from becoming rideshare drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

The bill also tells local governments they cannot set their own conflicting regulations, which is why the Florida League of Cities opposes it.

All told, 21 of the 22 members of the House Committee on Government Accountability supported the bill. The lone dissenter was Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson, who said she has severe concerns about safety, specifically taking issue with the fact that background checks on ride-sharing drivers will only take place every three years.

“This bill is lacking in so many ways,” she said. “So many public safety issues are brought to bear.”

Democrat Kristen Diane Jacobs said she continues to consider the fact that the bill does not mandate signage on rideshare vehicles to be “problematic.”  She stated that the problem is now acute at the Fort Lauderdale airport and seaport.

“Somewhere along the line I hope we realize that signage is not only good for the company, the company’s already doing it, it’s good for those who are calling for the service, and I also think it’s really important for those governments that are having to do with so many drivers on governmental property,” Jacobs said.

“It’s been a cluster,” Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith cracked regarding the lack of uniformity of ridesharing from city to city in Florida. “The reality is when tourists come to our state, they’re coming from around the country, they arrive in airports in our state, and they’re confused because they’re able to request Uber and Lyft rides at certain airports, but they’re not able to request them in other airports.”

Like Watson, he also expressed concerns about the safety standards on ridesharing vehicles. The Sprowls-Grant bill (sponsored in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes) does not require mandatory vehicle inspections, as happens in most local jurisdictions regarding taxicabs and limousines.

“Our work on this bill, I think is far from done,” Guillermo Smith said, blasting the notion that the Ubers and Airbnb’s of the world are the future of the workforce in America. “I hope not, because most Uber drivers are driving for supplemental income,” he said.

The taxicab industry remains unsatisfied as well with the progress of the bill.

Louis Minardi, the owner of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa, feared that the bill allows for very limited oversight of ridesharing vehicles, “because most cities and counties will quit doing what they were doing before,” regarding regulations.

Other critics, like Dwight Mattingly from Palm Beach County, said that with more public transit agencies partnering up with Uber and Lyft, TNC drivers “must conform” to the same regulations that public for hire vehicles have had to adapt to.

Sprowls disagreed, saying those transit agencies can place those regulations in contracts with those companies. “If they want to add more onerous regulation than we have in our bill because they feel that they want to…they are able to do that,” he said.

A former prosecutor, Sprowls disputed the notion that a Level II background check is more rigorous than the ones that ridesharing drivers will be subjected to. “The FBI database has 95 million records. These multistage databases that we specifically outline in the bill, have 500 million records,” he said.

After passage of the bill, Uber and Lyft representatives were ecstatic.

“Today’s bipartisan vote is an encouraging indication that lawmakers recognize the safety and economic value of statewide access to ridesharing,” said Javi Correoso, public affairs manager with Uber Florida. “At Uber, our highest priority is the well-being of riders and drivers alike. Our commitment to innovation has created a layered system using the latest technology to protect all involved.

“Today’s approval of the ridesharing bill by the House Government Accountability Committee clears the way for this important legislation to be voted on by the full House,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “We are grateful for the advocacy of Reps. Sprowls and Grant on behalf of the millions of passengers and drivers who benefit from ridesharing in Florida. We look forward to continuing to advocate for consistent statewide rules for ridesharing that expand economic activity, prioritize public safety, and encourage innovation across the state.”

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Mike Suarez sounds like he’s running for higher office during speech to Hillsborough Democrats

In what could be a preview of things to come, Tampa City Council Chairman Mike Suarez promoted his prescriptions for a progressive city during a speech to the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Council.

The mood were notably different than the last time Suarez addressed the DEC in the same venue. In early December, he and several of his City Council colleagues were denied the opportunity to vote in the local party’s reorganization meeting, which led to Suarez angrily taking to the floor to defend his bona fides as a Democrat.

All of that was forgiven Monday night, however, as Suarez owned the floor in his ten minute address.

Beginning by discussing how he had recently participated in a meeting with organized labor, he quickly segued into referring to his own proposal that the council passed in 2015 that calls for all new contracts with Community Redevelopment Agencies to require that twenty percent of jobs are fulfilled by apprentices.

“What has happened over the past year, and what has happened in last November’s election, is that we need to make sure to get as many folks as ready and able to work, because right now having small minimum jobs are not enough to carry us over. We need more high paying living wage jobs and until we have that, we’re not going to get out of the hole that we’re in,” he said.

Suarez then switched on a dime to talking about the Council’s upcoming vote on an ordinance that would ban mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The issue was workshopped last week and will come back for a vote on March 2.

“How many people here who are gay, and have converted to something else?” he asked the crowd. “If you are born gay, you’re gay. If you’re born straight, you are straight. If you are someone who wants to covert for whatever reason, that is your prerogative as a human being, and your human rights should not be denied, because someone is going to tell you that you have a psychological problem, when in fact, you were born the way that you were.”

The proposal is opposed by conservative activist Terry Kemple, who vows that the city will be subjected to a lawsuit if it passes. Others, including a Democrat in the audience Monday night who said it wasn’t a psychiatric issue, have questioned the need for such policies. Nevertheless, the all Democratic City Council appears determine to pass the proposal.

“We’re not going to stand for it in this city,” Suarez continued. “We are about uplifting people. We are not about degrading people. We are about making sure of promoting people who want to be the best person that they possibly can be for them, for the city. Everyone knows we are a progressive city, a city that looks forward and doesn’t look back.”

He then talked about immigration and sanctuary cities, saying that the city of Tampa wasn’t going to do anything that make immigrants feel unwelcome.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would strip federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities. Bob Buckhorn has said repeatedly that while detaining undocumented immigrants is a function of Hillsborough County and not the city of Tampa, he will not direct members of the Tampa Police Department to help Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) to round up the undocumented. Suarez used the opportunity to bash Republicans, who he said were hypocritical in not standing up for local control.

“I know that what Republicans love to talk about is like to talk about unfunded mandates – don’t put a burden from the federal government onto the  cities and states,” he said. “Let me just tell you something, when they say ICE is going to have to use our police force or our sheriff deputies or our jails in order to capture people who they believe should be sent back to their country of origin, that is an unfunded mandate, and let me tell you, we won’t stand for that here in the city of Tampa,” eliciting another whopping round of applause.

“We want to make sure that our police force, those men and women who work hard for the city of Tampa, have the tools necessary to fight crime and catch criminals, and not to worry about whether or not someone has an expired tag or a license that’s been expired who may be from another country. To me, that is unconscionable.”

Suarez used that same adjective to describe the Florida Legislature’s reluctance to support a proposal backed by Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and plenty of others in the Tampa Bay area at least that would change state law to allow large cities to hold their own tax referendums. Current Florida only allows counties to have that authority. It’s an issue that has been discussed for several years now, as those cities have shown much larger support for public transit referendums than in the surrounding counties.

However, whether anybody locally is pushing Florida lawmakers to pass such a law isn’t clear just weeks before the regular legislative session commences. Nevertheless, it’s another talking point that Democrats have maintained over the past year on the campaign trail.

“We have a Republican legislature that loves to talk about freedom, they love to talk about what’s right for you and your home, but they refuse to let you have the freedom to vote for your own transit needs, and to me, that is wrong,” Suarez said.

Suarez is one of more than half a dozen serious names being discussed as a potential mayoral candidate in Tampa two years from now, when Buckhorn is term limited out of office.  He has never indicated that he isn’t interested in the position, and his short speech on Monday night seemed if anything a preview of the message he might carry when that campaign gets serious, which won’t really happen until after the 2018 midterm elections.

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HART poised to to soon select marketing agency

Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority (HART) CEO Katharine Eagan says that the transit agency’s marketing budget became a budget casualty when the Great Recession reduced funding years ago, but HART’s evaluation committee will soon be selecting a marketing agency to help with their marketing and communication strategic plan in 2017.

“We are in the active evaluation of a firm for a communications plan,” Eagan told members of the Finance and Audit Committee meeting on Monday.

The announcement came a day after the Tampa Bay Times reported on the desultory state of public transit in the Tampa Bay area. The story reported that out of the top 30 largest metro areas in the U.S., the Tampa Bay area ranks 29th in four of six ways that the government measures public transit coverage and usage.

Listening to the fact that nearly a third of the agency’s fleet of buses have transitioned from diesel to ones that run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), board member Mickey Jacobs said it would be beneficial to get the word out about their CNG fleet, which reduces thousands of dollars in annual fuels costs and significantly limits harmful emissions.”It’s a story that we need to tell,” said Jacobs.

Eagan concurred. “We have probably 80 things we want to talk about, and how do we distill that to about three or four messages, which are the most effective to tell folks really what we’re doing with their money, in a way that doesn’t make a taxpayer feel that we’re wasting their money to share this information?” she asked.

Board member Pat Kemp said that far from being negative, she thought the Times piece showed that the agency is performing well with the limited funds it possesses. “It’s really important to know that it’s one of the least funded agencies that they found around the nation,” she said about the board that she now serves on.

“That’s a fair comment,” added committee chairman John Melendez.

 

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Marco Rubio to attend meetings in Europe this week – not in Tampa

While federal workers get Presidents’ Day off, Congress takes off the entire week.

For some lawmakers, that means coming home to host townhall meetings, which for many GOP lawmakers have become contentious affairs.

Others are traveling overseas this week, such as Florida’s U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio.

The recently re-elected Senator is traveling to Europe to speak with officials regarding the U.S. relationship with the European Union, NATO operations and Russian aggression in Europe.

That’s according to Rubio’s Facebook page. The post says that, “Senator Rubio is traveling overseas this week to attend multiple bilateral meetings with heads of state and senior government officials in Germany and France, two countries with upcoming elections who are facing concerns about Russian interference. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Appropriations Committee, and Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Rubio is conducting this official oversight trip to discuss the U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs, and Russian aggression in Europe.”

What that means is that Rubio won’t be attending any townhall events, including one that was created by activists who had hoped he would attend this Wednesday night at the Tampa Letter Carriers Hall.

“Sadly, we have all grown accustom [sic] to our absent Senator,” writes Melissa Gallagher, who created the event on Facebook. She says that the townhall will go on without Rubio.

“The fact his team refuses to even consider him skyping in or connecting with us is beyond disappointing,” she writes.

“As part of the strategy of disruption outlined in their online activist manual, the organizers are deceiving people by falsely advertising this event, which is not connected to us in any way,” responds Rubio spokesman Matt Wolking.

“The protesters – some of whom failed to show up for meetings they scheduled with our staff – continue to fundraise off of it even though we informed them days ago Senator Rubio will not be there,” Wolking says. “We have been fully accessible and responsive to constituents, and our staff has already met with dozens of these liberal activists at our offices across Florida. As their manual reveals, their goal is to flood offices with calls and emails, disrupt our ability to respond, then complain to the press that they aren’t getting a response.”

Organizers had created a GoFundMe page to rent the hall for Wednesday, and as of Monday morning had raised $2,242, short of their $3,000 goal. The original fee was much lower, but Gallagher says that it was increased “after the venue received several calls from police in Tallahassee and Orlando.”

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Moms Demand Action promise to be a presence during 2017 Legislative Session

Late last week, a federal appeal court struck down an NRA-backed law that restricted doctors in Florida from talking to patients about gun safety.

The legislation, often referred to as “Docs vs. Glocks,” passed during the 2011 Legislative session. It said doctors could be censored, fined, and have licenses revoked if asked or talked to patients about their firearms.

The court ruling stands out as a rare loss for the National Rifle Association in Florida, but only because they haven’t faced strong enough opposition, contends Michelle Gajda, the Florida chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“The truth is, the gun lobby has run roughshod over the state for decades and they’re finally being countered by a coalition of concerned Floridians, moms, gun owners, educators, gun violence survivors and gun owners themselves,” she says of her organization, created in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

Bills in the 2016 legislative session on open carry and allowing guns on college campuses passed through the House but were thwarted in the Senate after Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla refused to hold hearings on those two bills. However, the Miami Republican was defeated in November for re-election, and the pre-session hype is that those bills have a better chance in the 2017 Session.

Acknowledging that Diaz de la Portilla’s departure is “deeply felt,” Gajda says she remains confident that her organization’s advocacy can make a difference on those and other NRA-sponsored bills that will be winding their way through the Legislature when the regular session begins next month.

To assert their presence, more than 100 volunteers from Moms Demand Action intend to visit legislators in the Capitol Tuesday, where they will be joined by activists with the Michael Bloomberg founded gun control group Everytown, as well as gun violence survivors.

“The gun lobby has never encountered opposition in Florida like they’re encountering now and they don’t know how to react to it,” Gajda boldly declares. “They don’t know how to react to real citizens standing up and demanding that they operate in the sunlight. They’re used to operating in rooms in with closed doors in secret meetings and in committee hearings that nobody attends, and what Moms have been able to do is force their agenda into the daylight, and we will be at every single committee hearing, telling them that this is not what Floridians want.”

At least eight bills dealing with guns are currently pending in the Legislature this year.

Meanwhile, Moms Demand Action are sponsoring the screening of a documentary, “The Armor of Light” Wednesday night on the USF campus.

The film centers around the relationship between Lucy McBath, the mother of unarmed 17-year Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed by in 2012 in circumstances that highlighted the state’s Stand Your Ground law, and Evangelical minister Rob Schenck, who is searching to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in the U.S.

Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor is scheduled to speak before the screening, and there will be a panel discussion after the film featuring former Tampa assistant Police Chief Mary O’Connor, Hillsborough Safe & Sound Executive Director Freddy Barton, Assistant State Attorney Chinwe Fossett and Hyde Park United Methodist Director/Pastor Reverend Justin LaRosa.

That screening will take place Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the University Lecture Hall on the USF campus. Parking will be available at the USF Sun Dome. (You can RSVP here).

Speaking of Stand Your Ground, on Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up HB 245, filed by Palatka Republican Bobby Payne and Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer. HB 245 would shift the burden of proof in “stand your ground” self-defense cases to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings. Last year, a similar bill was sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley in the Senate and passed through before dying in a House committee.

“I want to make it super clear that there’s absolutely no constituency crying out for this bill,” says Gajda, “Not a single private citizen demanded this legislation. The gun lobby just wants to override Florida courts to advance its own agenda. There’s no demonstrated need to expand Stand Your Ground.”

“What I hope is the outcome of this is something that I hope we all agree on, that people who should not be arrested are not arrested, and people who should not go to trial do not go to trial,” Bradley said after his bill passed in a Senate committee last month. “If I believed that an individual who was otherwise guilty would go free because this bill passed, then I wouldn’t have filed the bill.”

 

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Emotions raw over Donald Trump immigration, refugee stance at Tampa Tiger Bay Club

Tensions over Donald Trump were high at the Friday meeting of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

The president’s recent travel ban on seven mostly Muslim countries and his executive order expanding the authority for individual immigration officers to detain and deport undocumented immigrants are two of the most explosive issues he addressed in his first month in office.

Pressure those events have engendered were reproduced to some extent the luncheon event at the Ferguson Law Center.

“No matter what your view is on immigration, I think we can agree that this rollout was a hot mess,” said Anna Eskamani, senior director of public affairs and communications for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, in referring to the president ‘s executive order from three weeks ago which has been since been reversed by a federal judge in Washington state and stayed by the Ninth Circuit of Court of Appeals.

Colonel Jim Waurishuk served in the U.S. Air Force as a senior intelligence and joint political-military affairs officer for over 30 years, spending time in Iraq, Afghanistan and over 60 other countries. He noted that the seven countries named in Trump’s executive order were initially singled out with a law that President Obama signed back in December of 2015, a talking point made at the time by Trump supporters.

Waurishuk also said that the public needs to stop looking at immigration so emotionally, and more from the standpoint of common sense and logic.

“We put a face of an illegal immigrant as being someone who is Latino or Hispanic,” he said. “We put the face of a refugee as someone who is Muslim, but we don’t [with] people coming from all over the world, from South Asia to Central Asia, from Europe, from Africa.”

“We have to address it like it really is, rather than based on an emotional aspect.”

Waurishuk also echoed Trump supporters when he said that the controversial executive order never included the word “ban.”

However, critics at the time noted that both the president and press secretary Sean Spicer called it just that.

It was also inescapable that one of candidate Trump’s most controversial statements ever in the campaign was when he called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States in December of  “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

The third member of the panel, Nestor Ortiz, is the chairman of the Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council.

Tiger Bay Board Member Don Kruse asked Ortiz that since racial profiling is already done throughout most of the world, what about doing it in America?

Ortiz emphatically responded that should not happen.

“There aren’t ICE agents targeting Canadian citizens,” he said. “They’re targeting black and brown communities, whether it be because they think they’re Muslim, or because they think they’re a terrorist, or they think that they can stop and frisk because they might have a gun or be a gang member. The majority of profiling directly impacts people of color. Which is an unfortunate reality. And I don’t say that lightly.”

“It is nice to be white in America,” Ortiz continued, “because these are things that do not apply to you, and I’m not saying that you have anything to apologize for, but just know that is our reality.”

“So should profiling be happening? No, not unless it happens to everyone, but unfortunately it does not.”

Things got a little tense when a white woman (only identified as Brooke) remarked that there was an imbalance on the panel, with “two people of color” debating the issues on the progressive side and only a single white conservative on the other.

Tiger Bay Club head Yvonne Fry said she had made a “great effort” to get another conservative on the panel, with no success.

A few minutes later, a woman sitting next to her named Kathy Brown referred to the “stark division” in the nation between liberals and conservatives. She said that conservatives like herself felt as despondent as liberals now do under President Trump, but “conservatives don’t go out on the street and riot.”

To buttress her argument, Brown said that the Obama administration had put “restrictions on religion, telling Chaplains what they said and couldn’t say.”

Ortiz disagreed with the comparison, saying what Trump is doing to Muslims and undocumented immigrants is something that Obama never did to Christians.

“We have the potential of losing out homes and our livelihoods,” he said, “and that wasn’t a reality for people when Obama was the president. It just wasn’t. When you say we took away religious freedoms? That didn’t happen. Obama was not saying go round up Christians.”

After hearing public comment from dozens of people earlier this month, The Hillsborough County Diversity Advisory Council recommended that the Board of County Commissioners made Hillsborough a sanctuary county.

A woman at Friday’s forum said that because the Trump administration threatened to withhold federal funds to such local governments who do that, would it truly be worth the effort?

(BOCC Chair Stacy White already said he has no intention of approving such a decision).

Ortiz said yes, it would be worth it; Eskamani said that working for Planned Parenthood, she is experienced in being threatened with the loss of federal funding.

One interesting side note to the proceedings: In his introductory remarks, Waurishuk said he had worked with Gen. Michael Flynn, who earlier this week resigned as Trump’s National Security Adviser. When attorney

When attorney Gary Dolgin commented on the circumstances leading to Flynn’s resignation later in the hour, Waurishuk hinted that he believed the general got a raw deal.

“Every national security advisor is allowed to do what he’s done,” he said. “There’s a period called the transition period from Nov. 9 to January 20 where anybody is brought on starts to do his job. They don’t wait until January 20 to start doing their job.”

Waurishuk went on to say the administration received more than 50 calls from world leaders, all with some sort of agenda.

“He said in 10 or 15 or 20 days, we will look at that once we’re in office, being as cordial and polite as possible in saying what he did,” Waurishuk told the audience, referring to Flynn’s actual dialogue (a transcript has not yet been published).

He also told Dolgin that he would need to follow up with him after the meeting.

“I’ll talk to you privately on that because I’m not at bay,”  Waurishuk said. “It’s totally different, but it was done for media purposes. You’d be surprised at what really went on.”

 

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Tampa Bay Tea Party transit critics get their say at forum

Whatever adjective(s) you may wish to use to describe Sharon Calvert, Tom Rask and Barb Haselden, “effective” has to be one of them.

The three Tea Party-aligned citizen activists have led the opposition to the two major public transit initiatives that have gone down to defeat over the past seven years, and contributed strongly to a third never making it to the ballot in Hillsborough County in 2016 (they also proudly add the failed referendums in Polk County in 2010 and 2014, as well).

The facts are well known, but just a reminder:

In 2010, the one-cent sales tax referendum known as Go Hillsborough lost by a 58%-42% margin in Hillsborough County.

In 2014, the one-cent sales tax referendum known as Greenlight Pinellas in Pinellas County did even poorer, losing 62%-38% at the polls.

In 2016, what might have been a half-cent sales tax referendum known as Go Hillsborough got mired in ethics issues and never even made it to the ballot, after Hillsborough County Commissioners twice rejected putting it there on 4-3 votes.

Calvert, Rask and Haselden were the invited speakers at Friday’s Cafe Con Tampa lecture series at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa, where they faced a large crowd, many of whom come from the Tampa/Hillsborough County business and political establishment that wish those ballot initiatives had passed in one form or another (though the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee sent out an email alerting their members about the meeting).

While critics say you can’t build enough roads to handle the transportation needs of the Tampa Bay region, all three speakers were unified in saying that they support putting money in roads, first and foremost.

Referring to how to lighten the gridlock on the Howard Frankland Bridge, Haselden asked the audience, “Is the solution more public transportation? Or is the solution re-doing the road? So we widen the roads.”

Calvert and Haselden also said they both support the FDOT’s multi-billion dollar Tampa Bay Express toll lanes project, which is extremely unpopular in some parts of Tampa.

All three speakers also talked about trust in believing their local officials, or to be more accurate, their lack of trust.

“My transit agency (PSTA) – I don’t trust them. I don’t trust the board,” said Rask.

With a college degree in finance, Calvert said that numbers “have to make sense to me,” and in her opinion, there has not been an honest explanation about the fiscal scenarios laid out in the Hillsborough initiatives in 2010 and 2016. She later said that if she ever would support a transit referendum, it should only extend ten years out, and not thirty, as both Hillsborough initiatives would have been.

“I’m not anti-transit. I’m cost-effective transit,” Calvert said about her general philosophy on using public monies for major transportation projects.

Not only did she play a leading role in ensuring that Go Hillsborough never made it to the ballot in 2016, Calvert is now expressing concerns about the much heralded “premium transit” study that the Florida Dept. of Transportation is funding and that the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will conduct that will look at various options, including bus rapid transit, light rail and commuter rail. She says she has attended the public meetings about the study, and sees basically the same people talking to each other, while shutting out an organization like the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) out of USF.  She says more entrepreneurs need to be invited to the discussion.

One area where Calvert is enthusiastic about the future of public transportation is when it comes to the use of autonomous vehicles, where Florida is actually ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the nation in creating the regulatory framework for that technology to begin happening relatively soon.

Haselden worked against Greenlight Pinellas in 2014. She says that the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) should rely on providing essential bus service for those who need it, and stop vying to get “choice riders” to ditch their cars, because “it’s not going to happen.”

Although branded as the three transit critics were coming into hostile territory, there was mostly positive vibes expressed from the members of the audience for the speakers coming to the forum. However, there were also criticism about not presenting alternatives  to fixing the region’s huge transportation problems.

Rask disagreed with the notion that the region is 20 years behind because of a lack of a viable public transit system.

“I think we’re ahead by not wasting money on these public transit projects,” he said, eliciting some groans from the crowd.

There has been considerable concern amongst the Tea Party crowd of a creeping referendum coming from the new HART-PSTA Memorandum of Understanding, something officials with those transit agencies strongly deny.

Tampa City Council Chairman Mike Suarez said that just because the voters have rejected referendums in the past, doesn’t mean they don’t want the option of having one in the future. “Saying that you can’t  have another election because it’s already been defeated I think is the weakest part of their argument,” he said.

Suarez then asked if they would support having the Legislature approve a law that would allow some of Florida’s cities (like St. Petersburg and Tampa) to put their own referendums on the ballot. This has been a hobbyhorse for locally elected officials in the Tampa Bay area, frustrated at losing referendums at the country level, while they have performed much better in the cities. While Rask and Calvert said they didn’t necessarily have a problem with it, local GOP Bay area lawmakers have expressed repeatedly that they have no interest in doing so.

At the end of the discussion, Tampa resident Sandy Reif told the three speakers that all he had heard was a negative message.

“I don’t think you’ve offered a solution to anything,” he said with disdain.

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Alan Clendenin is undecided on who to vote for in DNC Chair race

The 447 members of the Democratic National Committee that will get together for the party’s four-day spring meeting in Atlanta beginning next Thursday have an important decision – who will lead the Democratic Party over the next four years?

The two best known candidates are Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and Tom Perez, the Dept. of Labor Secretary under Barack Obama.

“If I was a betting man, I’d say that Perez has the edge,” says Alan Clendenin, a DNC Commiteeman from Tampa who will be in Atlanta next week to vote in the chair’s race. Speaking with this reporter on WMNF radio on Thursday, Clendenin also acknowledges that “there’s a lot of love for Keith” Ellison as well.

Getting some love from some mainstream Democrats is South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was endorsed on Thursday by former DNC National Chair and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Former Maryland Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley is also backing the mayor.

Clendenin also speaks highly of South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison, who he pegs as a sleeper candidate.”He’s got a lot of future ahead of him,” he says. “He’s a young guy. I’m a huge fan of Jamie Harrison.”

On Wednesday, Harrison received the endorsements of Ohio Democratic Congress members Tim Ryan and Marcia Fudge.

Other candidates in the race include Sally Boynton Brown, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, activist and Fox News communicator Jehmu Greene, and New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley, who Clendenin has known for years.

“He’s been in party politics for a long time,” Clendenin says. “He knows where all the bodies are buried. Anybody who becomes a chair who does not use Ray Buckley is a fool, because he’s going to be somebody important.”

Clendenin is no stranger to elections when it comes to party chair, having finished second in the races to lead the Florida Democratic Party in 2013 and again last month, when he lost out to Miami area developer and fundraiser Stephen Bittel.

Clendenin has not committed to anyone in the contest yet. And he’s not the only Hillsborough Democrat with a vote.

Hillsborough County Commiteewoman Alma Gonzalez is also a DNC Committewoman. She was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

The election for DNC Chair takes place on Saturday, February 25.

 

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Top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner to speak in St. Pete next month

Former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who became a national cable news star as a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign, will be speaking in St. Petersburg in March.

The 49-year-old Cleveland native served on the Cleveland City Council from 2005-2008. She resigned her seat that year to accept an appointment to the Ohio Senate in 2008. She won a full term in 2010, before losing a contest for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014.

Recently there has been a movement to draft her to run for Governor of Ohio in 2018.

Last year Turner became a prominent supporter of Sanders campaign. After he lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton, Turner admitted that she was considering an offer to run for vice president on the Green Party’s national ticket, but ultimately opted to stay within the Democratic Party.

Turner will speak at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the United Methodist Church Allendale at 3803 Haines Rd. N. St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets, go to movetobuild.us.

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Ex-David Jolly staffer Preston Rudie now consulting for Jack Latvala

Preston Rudie, who served as the communications director for former U.S. Representative David Jolly, is now doing media consulting work for another Pinellas County Republican, state Senator Jack Latvala.

The Clearwater lawmaker is the most high-profile client for Rudie since he’s gone into the consulting business. He says that with the Catalyst Communications Group, he’ll be working with both private companies and elected officials.

Rudie was an award-winning television reporter with more than 20 Emmy’s and 6 Edward R. Murrow awards to his name while working at WTSP 10 News from 2002-2014.

Shortly after Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2014, Rudie left journalism to serve as Jolly’s communications director, working in both Pinellas County and Washington D.C.

That gig ended officially last month when Charlie Crist was sworn into office. Crist defeated Jolly last November.

“Preston Rudie was the best Communications Director in Congress,” says Jolly. “Colleagues across the country would often share with me just how remarkable Preston was at his job. His clients at Catalyst, including candidates for regional or statewide office, will find great success working with Preston.  Simply put, he’s one of the best in the business.”

Latvala is also singing his praises, telling SPB that, “Preston Rudie is the top communications professional in the Tampa Bay Area. I am proud to add him to our team.”

Rudie’s involvement with Latvala comes as the Pinellas state Senator is contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for Governor.

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