Mitch Perry - 4/324 - 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.

Hillsborough Commissioners consider limiting medical marijuana dispensaries to 13 countywide

Hillsborough County Commissioners intend to restrict the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to 13, reversing a decision made two months ago that would have opened the door for unlimited dispensaries throughout the county.

In March, the board voted 4-3 to back a proposal by Commissioner Pat Kemp, which reversed an earlier decision to limit the number of sites that those with a legal prescription could purchase medically approved in the county, once it becomes legal in October.

But on Wednesday, Commissioner Ken Hagan said he regretted that decision, proposing a motion to hold public hearings on the matter June 7, possibly limiting the number of dispensaries to 13 countywide.

“The way our ordinance is written, there are no caps on the number of dispensaries that can open in Hillsborough County,” Hagan said. “I do not believe this is a prudent approach to take for an untested industry, and I also do not feel that the intent of the board was to allow for an unlimited number.”

Both Hagan and Commissioner Sandy Murman made unfavorable comparisons to the dispensaries resembling the state’s notorious “pill mills” that ran rampant in the late aughts throughout Florida that contributed to the opioid crisis that has spread across the country.

The board’s decisions come less than two weeks after the Florida Legislature ended the Regular Session without agreement on a bill creating statewide rules on medical marijuana.

If lawmakers do not return to Tallahassee to address the issue with a Special Session next month, it will be up to the state Department of Health to promulgate the regulations starting in July.

Hagan’s proposal would limit the number of dispensaries to one for every 67,000 residents in unincorporated areas — 13 in all. However, Hagan insisted it was a “starting point, not an ending point.”

“If we need or want to add more dispensaries later, we can always add them,” Hagan added.

Murman also wanted to add an amendment to prohibit selling smokable pot. Neither bill that was working its way through the Legislature this spring allowed for that, which would have Florida join only New York and Pennsylvania as being the only states that have legalized medical pot, yet do not allow it to be sold in smokable form.

Neither bill that progressed through the Legislature this spring allowed for that. If either bill passed, Florida would join only New York and Pennsylvania as the only states that legalized medical pot but banning it in smokable form.

“Young kids are experimenting with marijuana at a very young age now,” Murman said. “They think it’s no worse than alcohol and you can’t die from it, but I think limiting the number of dispensaries will actually be good for us in enforcing our message that we are restricting it to medical needs and medical use.”

Hagan’s motion passed 6-1, with Kemp being the lone dissenter. She maintained that the board was still getting ahead of itself, as some key leaders in the Legislature continue to say that they need to come back and pass a bill on the issue before July 1.

“All the states that have made legal medical marijuana — not one of them has put into place a system that limits the dispensaries like this is,” said Kemp.

The board will hold a public hearing June 7 to vote on the proposal.

Constitutional panel agrees to follow state budget language

The Constitution Revision Commission met on Wednesday for the first time to to go over their controversial rules while meeting in Tampa.

A rules committee first met before a public hearing, scheduled for tonight, starting with a lengthy discussion kicked off by GOP former state Sen. Don Gaetz.

The 37-member board should abide by budget language pending before Gov. Rick Scott that the commission adopt a budget, and do it with a vote of two-thirds of the board, he said.

It would also require that commission Chair Carlos Beruff receive approval from a majority of the panel before hiring employees.

“I think it’s probably not a first good step to be a half-beat off from what the Legislature has developed,” Gaetz said.

Because the governor hasn’t signed the budget (and in fact could veto it), CRC member Tim Cerio questioned whether it was appropriate to support Gaetz’s motion.

The former Senate President (2012-14) countered that if the governor vetoed the budget, he would come back and strike the language out next month.

The committee also supported a motion from former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa to have Beruff select a vice chair to fill in for him when he is absent.

Joyner had raised that issue in an interview for the March 23 edition of Sixty Days, Florida Politics’ email that comes out during legislative sessions.

“I’m concerned about the fact that we don’t have a vice-chair,” she said. “So there’s no continuity in the event that (Beruff), for some reason, becomes incapacitated and can’t act. That affects how people feel about the integrity of the process if one person is controlling who presides and we don’t have a succession plan if he can’t function.”

In Tampa, Jay Fant says House ‘out of whack’ for zeroing out funding for Enterprise Florida

Jay Fant was back in Tampa Tuesday night, where he once again registered his disagreement with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the House vote to zero out funding for Enterprise Florida.

The Jacksonville Republican state representative, speaking to the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee as he starts his campaign for attorney general, said he gets along very well with Corcoran, agreeing with him 90 percent of the time.

But Fant disagrees with the House’s “method of how they handled this budget in relation to the governor’s Enterprise Florida program.”

Enterprise Florida is the public-private state agency handling the state’s business recruitment efforts.

Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature for $85 million for Enterprise Florida before Session began earlier this year, but the budget passed by the House provides zero funding for the program.

The amount of money is less than 1/10th of one percent of the entire budget, Fant said, expressing amazement that the impasse could ultimately result in Scott vetoing the entire budget.

“If I sound critical of the House’s approach in this method, then I am,” Fant admitted. “We have education, health, transportation, many good programs that occur in our budget, and if we jeopardize it over a food fight over a meaningful smaller, legitimately debatable item, then I think we’re out of whack, and I think we need to come back and find a compromise, not jeopardize our funding from the state.”

Scott has not indicated if he will veto parts of the budget — or the entire thing. State lawmakers could override the governor’s vetoes in a special session. Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Republicans control both the House, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 79-41, and the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a 24-15 margin.

Fant launched his candidacy for attorney general last week, and Tuesday’s appearance before the Hillsborough GOP group was his second visit in Tampa in the past week.

Also on Tuesday, Fant announced that he had asked retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero to serve on his campaign as national security co-chair.

Ag. Commish candidate Denise Grimsley introduces herself to Tampa Republicans

Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Denise Grimsley made the first of what should be many visits to Tampa during the next year-and-a-half, introducing herself to local Republicans and speaking about her credentials as to why she’s the best candidate to succeed Adam Putnam.

Like Putnam, she’s a fifth-generation Floridian, but unlike him, she had an entire career outside of politics before being elected in 2004 to represent Highlands County in the Florida House.

Grimsley spent 17 years in the health care field. She also spent time as a citrus grower and rancher when she took over for her ailing father at the Grimsley Oil Company.

“When I did that, I started seeing how government impacted our day-to-day life,” Grimsley told the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, which gathered at the River at Tampa Bay Church Tuesday night. Before that, she said, she had little interest in the workings of government.

“Up until then, even at my job at the hospital. I didn’t have a lot of involvement with state government or the federal government, but when I started running this company I saw how the Department of Transpiration oversaw our business, I saw how the Department of Agriculture oversaw our business, every single state agency had their  hand in our business in one way or another,” she said.

As chairwoman of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association, Grimsley said that she spent an entire legislative session in Tallahassee and was met mostly with ignorance or indifference. That experience ultimately led to her decision to run for the state House in 2004, where she served until 2012.

She then won in Senate District 26 (representing eight different counties) in 2012, but said she didn’t seriously consider running for Ag. Commissioner until former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced in January that he would not be running for the position.

She says she’s concerned about citrus greening and other diseases that are wreaking havoc with Florida growers. She believes her public and private sector experience make the best candidate for the job.

Before the meeting began, an aide to Grimsley asked members of the audience to sign a petition to get Grimsley on the ballot. She says she would be the first statewide Republican candidate since the 1990s to qualify for the ballot by petition … She needs more than 118,000 signatures by next summer.

Other Republicans running for the position include Paul Paulson and North Fort Myers Representative Matt Caldwell, who has just released his first campaign video.

Ben Carson to keynote Hillsborough GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Donald Trump administration, will be the keynote speaker for the Hillsborough County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner scheduled for June 9.

That announcement was made Tuesday night by Deborah Tamargo, the chair of the Hillsborough GOP, at the party’s monthly meeting in Tampa.

Congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan and Dennis Ross will also appear at the dinner, as will House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

A native of Detroit, Carson grew up poor and was raised by his single mother, eventually graduating from Yale University and University of Michigan Medical School.

In 1984, Carson became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. At age 33, he was the youngest doctor in America to rise to that position.

Carson earned worldwide recognition in 1987 when he led the team performing the first successful separation of conjoined twins, Benjamin and Patrick Binder, who were joined at the head. The procedure took five months of planning, and the surgery was over 22 hours using a 70-person team. He is also credited with discovering hemispherectomy, a procedure where half a brain is removed in a patient to cure certain brain diseases causing seizures.

Carson documented his life story in an autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which made him a national hero, particularly among African-Americans. He has written several books since, including “One Nation,” which became a New York Times best-seller in 2014.

In 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian.

After ending a Republican bid for president in 2016, Carson — an early Trump supporter — became Trump’s pick for HUD secretary in February 2017. The U.S. Senate confirmed him March 2 on a 51-48 vote. He was a controversial nominee because of his lack of experience in either housing or development, or government in general.

Kathy Castor dismisses rumors she is thinking of a run for Tampa mayor

Kathy Castor is not interested in running for Tampa mayor in 2019.

Elected in November to a sixth term in Congress representing Hillsborough County, the idea that Castor was contemplating leaving Washington to succeed Bob Buckhorn was floated by Patrick Manteiga in his La Gaceta column late last month.

On Tuesday, Castor dismissed such speculation.

“You know, I love my hometown, and I’m in a fabulous position to be able to advocate for my hometown,” she told FloridaPolitics.com. “And that’s what I intend to do — stay right where I am, if the voters will continue to have confidence in me.”

Castor was elected in the Democratic wave of 2006, when the party stunningly picked up 31 seats, putting them back in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Newt Gingrich-led Republican party took over the House some 12 years earlier.

Castor won the open seat left vacant by Jim Davis’s decision to run for governor by winning a primary over four Democrats, including current County Commission Chairman Les Miller.

Florida’s 14th Congressional District seat is considered to “lean strongly Democratic,” though the most recent redistricting before last year’s elections reduced the Democratic advantage in Florida from roughly 14 percent to 7 percent.

Republicans retook the House in 2010, but with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, Castor was able to maintain some influence, most notably in the president’s decision in December of 2014 to reestablish relations with Cuba. That effort was paved in part by Castor’s 2013 announcement that it was time to end the economic embargo against the Communist island nation.

In doing so, she became the first elected official in Florida to make such a declaration since sanctions took place more than fifty years earlier.

Castor currently serves as the Vice-Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, one of the first committees to review the first iteration of the American Health Care Act, the House GOP health care plan designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The AHCA passed the House earlier this month.

Buckhorn’s second and final term in office as mayor is slated to end April 2019, with nearly two years until Tampa voters will be asked to decide on his successor.

Gus Bilirakis wants Donald Trump to talk human rights when meeting Turkish president

Gus Bilirakis is calling on Donald Trump to speak about the deteriorating state of human rights in Turkey, just before the president is scheduled to sit down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Tuesday.

“As it is a critical moment for Turkey and the U.S.-Turkish relationship, the United States must be candid and consistent in our support of democratic values and respect for human rights for the sake of Turkey’s future, as well as the long-term interests in the region of both the United States and our NATO allies,” writes the Tarpon Springs Republican congressman in a letter made available Tuesday afternoon. “We, therefore, urge you to make support for Turkish democracy a priority, both in your meetings with President Erdogan and in U.S. policy toward Turkey thereafter.”

Erdogan has been under fire for a contested referendum that vastly expanded his executive power, as well as his government’s crackdown on dissidents and civil society after an attempted coup last summer.

Trump is reportedly among the minority of world leaders who actually called and congratulated Erdogan on his recent victory in the referendum giving him sweeping constitutional powers and extending his potential political lifespan.

“Over the past several years, Erdogan and his allies have a continuous assault on the rule of law, particularly using the courts to stifle fundamental rights, including free speech, to quash any opposition to their undemocratic actions,” writes Bilirakis, a co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus.

As his staff indicates, Bilirakis has often spoken out against Turkish provocation and threats to the sovereignty of Greece.

Bilirakis represents Tarpon Springs in Congress. That city has the largest population of Greek-Americans of any city in Florida.

In Tampa, public officials blast education bill, urge Rick Scott veto

A host of political and education issues came together Tuesday in West Tampa to trash the massive $419 million public education bill that GOP lawmakers unveiled and passed in the final days of the Legislative Session.

“This is the mother of all education bills, ” said Rep. Sean Shaw. The Tampa Democrat was referring to House Bill 7069, a 278-page conforming bill agreed to in secret and barely surviving a vote in the Senate before the Legislature adjourned earlier this month.

HB 7069, a massive 278-page education conforming bill that was agreed to in secret, barely survived a full vote in the Senate. Public school officials throughout the state have blasted the bill for its enormous incentives for privately run charter schools.

As a freshman who just completed his first session in the Florida House, Shaw said that the way he thought things were supposed to work in Tallahassee is that a bill is introduced in a committee and goes through other committees. Then, if it survives that process, the bill is ultimately voted on in the House and/or Senate.

Not this time.

“Not only is it filled with bad policy, the procedure with which it was done was way out of wack,” Shaw lamented.

Three members of the Hillsborough County School Board — Susan Valdes, Sally Harris and Cindy Stuart — all appeared at the news conference held at West Tampa Elementary.

On Monday, the Florida School Boards Association became the latest organization calling on Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 7069. In addition to criticizing the lack of transparency in the crafting of the bill, the FSBA have an issue on how Title 1 dollars would be spent if the bill passed.

“The way that the state has now taken a federal law and reregulated it basically at the state level is going to siphon millions and millions of dollars away from our schools that have the highest concentration of poverty,” said a concerned Jeff Eakins, the superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District.

Another controversial provision allocates $140 million for the House’s “schools of hope” proposal, aimed mostly at encouraging charter schools with a track record of helping academically struggling students. The measure would help open branches of charter schools near traditional schools that continually do poorly on state report cards.

“So if we’re going to incentive the charter school that works down the street from a ‘failing school,’ what happens to the failing school that we’ve given no funds to get better?” asked a frustrated Shaw. “What happens in the next five years? The next 10 years?

“This harmful education bill continues to divert our tax dollars from our public schools, many going to for-profit corporations that act as charter schools,” said Tampa-area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Mindy Taylor, an advocate for the Alliance for Public Schools, says her organization is most concerned about parental engagement, increasing funding for public schools, and maintaining local control of schools.

“The provision in HB 7069 violate each of these priorities,” Taylor said.

Eakins stated that Hillsborough receives about $8 million annually for a recruitment retention program to lure nationally certified teachers to teach in some of the county’s poorest area. “That’s $8 million we will not be able to use in that particular program,” he said. “The impact is going to be real.”

Other provisions in the bill include additional funding for social services at a limited number of traditional public schools that are failing, an expanded bonus program for teachers and principals, restrictions on teacher tenure-like policies, a recess mandate for elementary schools, and the elimination of a required high school math exam.

A report from POLITICO on Monday indicated that Scott may, in fact, veto HB 7069.

“We’ve got to make sure we properly fund education, whether we have a great state college system, we have a great K-12 system,” the governor said. “We’ve got to continue to do that.”

Julianne Holt heaps effusive praise about working with Andrew Warren in Hillsborough judicial system

On the same day Julianne Holt was elected to serve as the public defender in Hillsborough County in 1992, Harry Lee Coe was elected state attorney.

After Coe committed suicide in 2000, he was succeeded in office by Mark Ober, who served for another 16 years, before Democrat Andrew Warren narrowly defeated him in a major upset in November.

Although he’s only been on the job officially for a little more than four months, Holt says that in some ways, they’ve been the best four months of her illustrious career in the Hillsborough judicial system.

“What a fresh breath of air it is to practice law in Hillsborough County right now, and it is clearly due to the leadership of Mr. Warren. He deserves the credit for it,” Holt to a crowd of local Democrats at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night in Ybor City.

Since taking office, Warren has been reviewing about two dozen death penalty cases that he inherited from Ober. He’s already announced that he won’t use the powers of the state in two of those cases, a move applauded by Holt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve had up to 29 death penalty cases pending in our office, we don’t have the resources — people resources or monetary resources — to handle that type of workload, even if I live to be one hundred,” she lamented, adding that in the 24 plus years that she’s served as public defender, Warren is the first prosecutor she feels give him time and respect, something that didn’t happen under his predecessors.

“He’s actually going to read the materials that I send to him,” she said. “He’s going to take them into consideration, and I’m not going to get everything I ask for, but … I can sleep at night knowing that there’s fairness and equity, passion, empathy and compassion because this man not only wants public safety in our community but he wants to change people’s lives in the criminal justice system.”

Warren ran an aggressive campaign in ultimately ousting Ober last year, saying that he was too focused on conviction rates than in making the community safer. He charged that under Ober, juveniles were being charged as adults in Hillsborough County more than “just about anywhere in the entire country.”

In a debate, Warren cited a Harvard University study that said Hillsborough was one of the worst counties in the entire country in handling death penalty cases. (The case also mentions Pinellas, Duval and Miami-Dade, alleging that all four shared a “history of overzealous prosecutions, inadequate defense lawyering, and a pattern of racial bias and exclusion.”)

Holt said the job as a public defender has taken an emotional toll on her over the years, but she had a renewed sense of purpose in seeing “true reform” happening in the community when it comes to criminal justice issue.

“This is a dream come true for me,” she enthused.

Left unsaid in her rhapsody towards her colleague was that in fact Holt endorsed Ober over Warren in last fall’s election.

In her letter of endorsement (available on the local FloridaYouJudge.com blog), Holt wrote that based on her knowledge of Ober’s “legal acumen and professionalism, as well as the accomplishments made under his leadership,” she was backing him in the contest.

After she was finished, Warren, who was in attendance, quipped, “How much do I owe you?” without further comment.

Although the duties of her job are generally of a nonpartisan manner, Holt also proudly spoke about her Democratic Party roots during an era when it wasn’t popular to be a “D” in the county.

“All of you know that for a long time, there was some tremendous efforts by the other party that if you were someone that was in office and they could pull you away, and tell you that they were going to promise you to do lots of things for you, that you should switch parties, and I stayed as committed as I could stay,” she said, referring to politics in Hillsborough County in the 1990s.

That certainly wasn’t the case last fall, when not only did Warren stunningly oust a 16-year incumbent in Ober, but Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump for president by more than six percentage points.

Chris King says uncontested Republican rule has failed Florida’s working families

Unlike the other four Democrats who have either entered the race for governor or are seriously flirting with the possibility, Winter Park businessman Chris King is somewhat of a blank slate for the majority of party members in Florida.

That’s why appearances at events like Monday night’s Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee are taking on added significance.

“We have an affordable housing crisis all over the state,” King addressed Democrats gathered at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County in Ybor City. “It is felt deeply here in Hillsborough County. There are 2.6 Floridians who don’t have access to a doctor who knows their name. Forty-five percent of our jobs pay less than $15 an hour, we have partisan gerrymandering, we’ve been fighting for years, we have toxic algae blooms we  can see from space, 90 percent of our students are in public school, and 90 percent of the conversation coming out of Tally is about.”

He paused as the crowd quietly announced: “Charters.”

During his 22-minute speech, the 38-year-old King talked policy and biography. He followed that with another 15 minutes of question-and-answer with DEC members.

King is CEO of Elevation Financial group, the Winter Park company he began over a decade ago with his brother, which invests in affordable and senior housing in the Southeast. While he hits the familiar Democratic talking points — education, health care and the environment — King also makes an issue out of the lack of affordable housing in the state, an issue which many other Democrats only give lip service.

“It’s not fair that we have huge tax cuts to the biggest corporations in America while were raiding the affordable housing trust fund to the tune of $1.7 billion over the last 15 years, which has been an all-out attack on seniors, on law enforcement, on recent college graduates, anyone who wants to make a life here in Florida” he said, referring to the fact that for the 10th year in a row, state lawmakers are proposing to sweep money from the affordable housing trust funds into the general revenue fund to spend on other purposes.

Echoing Bernie Sanders, King says the biggest problem in Florida is an economy which isn’t working for enough working families.

“Our economy is going in one direction — down,” he says, casting a different version of Florida than the one depicted last week by the only Republican to declare his candidacy for governor, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam.

“The story that is not told — and we haven’t done a good job as Democrats, unfortunately of telling it over the last several decades — is that the party that stands up and says they’re the party of economic opportunity, they’re the party of growth and business and jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, actually in the last 15 years in Florida we’ve been on a steady decline. It’s not talked about, but it’s felt by working families all over Florida.”

King says that Florida’s per capita GDP is nearly identical today to where it was in 2000, and says that blame for that economic stagnation is completely on Republicans, who have controlled all levers of state government for nearly two decades.

“Florida is not growing, and it’s hurting families and our ability to do really anything that you and I care about,” King continued. He said if elected he would implement a “jump start fund” to make capital accessible to small business people.

King is one of three Democrats to have officially entered the 2018 sweepstakes for governor. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the first candidate out of the gate, and was followed by former Tallahassee area Congresswoman Gwen Graham two weeks ago.

Orlando attorney/entrepreneur John Morgan says he’s no rush to declare if he’s running (or not), while Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is in a “testing the waters” phase. Levine will speak at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club this Friday.

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