Mitch Perry - 4/282 - 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.

Kathy Castor proposal to maintain ACA’s consumer friendly protections shot down in House vote

On Wednesday, the second day of the 115th Congress, House Republicans began the work of repealing and ultimately replacing the Affordable Care Act, much to the consternation of Democrats like Tampa Representative Kathy Castor.

Castor advocated for an amendment to a bill that was being debated that would maintain the consumer friendly provisions of the ACA, such as the cost saving provisions for Medicare prescription drugs, as well as the provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

“The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans say they want to repeal without a replacement in sight, provided very important consumer protections for all Americas, not just 20 million Americans who gained health insurance through the marketplace of healthcare.gov, ” Castor said on the House floor.

She said that the repeal of the ACA would impact the approximately 43 million people on Medicare, and the 155 million people who currently receive health care through their employer.

“If Republicans aren’t careful in their zeal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they in essence will be asking  our parents and grandparents to pay more. A whole lot more,” she said.

Castor went on to say that the ACA had also been able to reduce the “donut hole” in Medicare coverage. That’s the coverage gap in one’s insurance plan that begins after after one has paid a certain amount for covered drugs.

“My amendment makes the point that Democrats are going to fight for our older neighbors to keep those savings intact, brought to you by the Affordable Care Act,” Castor said.

The Tampa Democrat was attempting to add the motion to a bill sponsored by California Republican Darrell Issa that would repeal in a single vote any rule finalized in the last 60 days of the Obama administration. But the House rejected a motion Castor to send the bill back to committee.

On Thursday, Florida Senator Bill Nelson filed his own amendment under a broader bill under debate that would prevent the Senate from considering any legislation that repeals ACA’s provisions aimed at closing the donut hole in Medicare coverage.

“Closing this gap in coverage, known as the donut hole, has helped seniors in Florida save nearly $1,000 a year,” Nelson said. “Why would you want to get rid of that? We should be looking for ways to lower – not increase – the cost of prescription drugs, especially for our seniors.”

 

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Rick Kriseman formally announces he’s running for re-election

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman filed for re-election Thursday.

“I’m asking the citizens of St. Petersburg to continue the progress of the past three years,” the Mayor said in a statement. “Working together, we’ve taken on the serious issues and made a positive impact in all corners of our city.”

The announcement comes nearly three years to the day that Kriseman was sworn into office. It had been mostly smooth sailing for the former city councilman and state representative until issues with the town’s sewage system occurred last summer.

That’s led to some of the toughest criticism of his time in office for how his office has handled the situation.

St. Pete was already on the rise when Kriseman defeated Bill Foster by 12 percentage points in November 2013 and has continued to see unprecedented growth in the subsequent years.

As the Tampa Bay Times wrote in an editorial over the weekend, “No question St. Petersburg is on a roll. Is that because of City Hall or in spite of it?”

The Times also noted the rising cost of the new Pier, the lack of creating jobs in Midtown’s poorer neighborhoods and the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field as issues that voters will need to consider this fall. In his statement issued out by campaign manager Tom Alte, the Kriseman administration is taking credit for moving forward on the issues of the Rays and the Pier.

“Under the leadership of Mayor Kriseman, St. Petersburg has resolved numerous high-profile issues, including resolving the stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays, moving forward with a community-based plan to build a new pier, hiring a new police chief, and finding the funding needed for construction of a new police station,” it reads.

Since his election, Kriseman has signed legislation allowing for paid parental leave for employees, a higher minimum wage, and second chances for minors.

He’s also elevated the city’s profile through the pursuit of a Cuban consulate, picking up the void left by his friend across the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, after he declined to get involved in that campaign.

“We’ve become the beacon of progress I spoke about on the steps of City Hall more than three years ago — but there is still work to do,” Kriseman said. “We must continue our efforts to combat gun violence and intervene in the lives of our troubled youth. We must do our part to make the sun shine bright on every student in every single public school.

“And we must upgrade our wastewater and stormwater systems as soon as possible if we’re serious about being a true 21st-century City.

“Our residents, business owners, and community groups are interested in action and progress, not politics. They want a mayor who faces challenges head-on and gets things done. I’ve been that mayor,” Kriseman said. “I know that we can solve any issue as long as we work together. I remain optimistic and excited about where the Sunshine City is heading.”

Throughout most of his tenure, the mayor’s poll numbers have been good, with his handling of the sewage system being his only real Achilles’ heel.

While the issues surrounding the Pier and the Rays have yet to be completely solved, they haven’t dented his popularity, which is unlike the case with Foster.

As of today, seemingly the only man in the way of another four years is former Mayor Rick Baker, who led St. Petersburg from 2001-2009. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted last month of 1,100 votes showed Baker with a surprisingly solid lead over Kriseman, 44 percent to 35 percent.

No other person in the poll mentioned — Jeff Brandes, Amy Foster, Steve Kornell or Karl Nurse — came close to defeating Kriseman (None of those lawmakers, it should be noted, have expressed any interest in running for mayor).

Baker has also been circumspect about another run for office. Since leaving City Hall in 2009, Baker declined opportunities to run for Florida’s 13th Congressional District on two separate occasions. Since 2012, he has served as president of The Edwards Group, the umbrella company that oversees all the enterprises of entrepreneur Bill Edwards.

Included in Kriseman’s re-election statement were endorsements from Sen. Bill Nelson and CD 13 Rep. Charlie Crist.

“Our residents, business owners, and community groups are interested in action and progress, not politics,” Kriseman said. “They want a mayor who faces challenges head-on and gets things done. I’ve been that mayor.”

“I know that we can solve any issue as long as we work together,” he added. “I remain optimistic and excited about where the Sunshine City is heading.”

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Blaise Ingoglia calls for plan to make Florida red permanently

Earlier this week, Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia issued a statement to his fellow State Executive Committee Members promising to roll out his next “aspirational vision” for the future of the party.

Ingoglia is engaged in a bid for another two-year as party chair, running against Sarasota committeeman Christian Ziegler.

On Thursday he announced “Project Majority Red,” his goal to make Florida a permanently Republican state when it comes to voter registration.

The Florida Democratic Party currently has an approximately 300,000 advantage over Republicans in voter registration — but that’s down from almost 500,000 advantage from two years ago, Ingoglia notes.

Due to its razor-close elections for president and governor over the past two decades, Florida has had the reputation of being a “Purple State,” though some believe that phrase may be outdated when considering that Donald Trump won the state’s 29 electoral votes last month.

Combined with the fact that Republicans already control the governor’s mansion and the entire Florida Cabinet, as well as huge majorities in the state Legislature, it’s harder for Democrats to argue otherwise — particularly when they didn’t win the presidential contest, which they were able to do in 2008 and 2012.

Democrats have always led in voter registration, however, in part because many residents in the more conservative northern part of the state have never switched party registration.

But Ingoglia says the goal of “Project Majority Red” is all about making the Sunshine State a “majority red” state, not only by overtaking the Democrats in voter registration, “but keeping it that way for future elections.”

Ingoglia says that Sen. Marco Rubio (who has endorsed his candidacy for re-election) and others donors have agreed to help fund such a program.

On Wednesday, Ingoglia boasted about his effectiveness in improving the RPOF’s ability to have absentee ballots returned. In a statement, he said that under the reforms his team has put in place over the past two years, the return rate for absentee ballots was at 84.5 percent, an improvement of four percent from the previous record from 2012, an improvement of 21 percent.

“The data shows that the Republican Party of Florida reforms, investment, and strategy accounted for almost 58,000 additional ballots cast this election cycle!” Ingoglia wrote. “Instead of wasting millions of dollars on some ineffective GOTV plans, we worked smarter and more efficiently and it showed!”

Meanwhile, Ziegler has sent out a notice to members of the state executive committee saying that Ingoglia has not returned his request for a debate before they vote on a new chair on January 15. In order to provide any additional information to those who may still be undecided in the race, he is hosting a conference call with all voting members on Thursday night.

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Dwight Bullard lays out plans to lead Florida Democratic Party

Dwight Bullard has released key parts of his platform for Florida Democratic Chair, and it includes a bold proclamation to replace at least half of its fundraising with donors who give less than $100 annually.

The 39-year-old former state lawmaker says that uniting the party is essential to his agenda.

“Inspiring our folks across Florida, awakening their hearts and minds to what is possible, and re-engaging the people with their Democratic Party: that is my priority,” he said in a statement issued Wednesday night.

Like some of the other candidates in the race, Bullard is also talking about a 67-county strategy, which he says includes the 12 counties in Florida that currently don’t even have a Democratic Executive Committee.

The only candidate of color in the five-person field for the chair, Bullard says it’s time to “dramatically increase the diversity of our leaders, including the representation of young people, communities of color, and the working poor in the leadership ranks of our state & local party organizations.”

Bullard has been endorsed by Our Revolution — the political organization launched by supporters of Bernie Sanders, and like Sanders, he’s encouraging the party to welcome smaller financial contributions, and less “from corporations who don’t reflect the values of the Democratic Party.” Specifically, he’s calling for the FDP to replace “at least” 50 percent of its fundraising with donors who give under $100 annually.

Bullard lost out to Coconut Grove developer and major Democratic Party fundraiser Stephen Bittel in the race for Miami-Dade County committeeman on December 20. Like Tampa’s Alan Clendenin, Bullard then relocated to a different county — in his case, Gadsden County — and was voted as a committeeman there, making him eligible for the party chair position (a complaint has been filed with the FDP regarding Clendenin’s move).

Bullard says he wants to build a party where its members and officers “are no longer influenced by threats from people in powerful positions, nor motivated by promises of personal gain.” And he says that candidates who’ll be chosen who are most likely to win in general elections “by ensuring our candidates participate in fair primaries that are not rigged by the voices or resources of Democratic organizations or officials.”

Bullard has created a new website touting his candidacy called DwightUnites.com.

Bullard served in the Florida House representing Southern Miami-Dade County from 2008 to 2012. He then won election in state Senate District 40 in 2012, but after the district was redrawn a year ago, he lost his bid for re-election to Republican Frank Artiles in November.

There are five candidates in the race for FDP chair, with the election set for January 14. In addition to Bittel and Clendenin, Bullard is also running against Duval County committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius.

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Mitch Perry Report for 1.5.17 – Poll says voters want Dems like Bill Nelson to fight Donald Trump when necessary

We’ve heard from several Florida Democrats (such as Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist) that, when appropriate, they look forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump once he takes office later this month.

The question for them and other Democrats concerned about their own poll numbers as well as what’s good for the country is where and when they decide to go along with Trump and, more likely, when do they oppose him.

On a conference call yesterday, the folks with the Center for American Progress provided the details about a new poll they conducted in 14 battleground states where Democrats like Bill Nelson will be running for re-election in ’18. The survey concluded that a majority of the public want Senate Democrats to serve as a check and balance on the new president and congressional Republicans even if it means blocking his initiatives “on many occasions.”

That could be a challenge for Nelson, who, on occasion, can be progressive, but also likes to maintain a centrist mien, especially when election time comes around.

Well, good luck to him on that one, because he’s being challenged right now by his supporters here in the Tampa Bay area. Yesterday, dozens came to call on him to, at the very least, call for a delay in the confirmation vote scheduled for next week for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for Attorney General.

One area where Nelson one might be surmise he’ll stick with his liberal colleagues is in acting as a bulwark to defend the Affordable Care Act.

“They want to repeal it and then try to hang it on us. Not gonna happen. It’s their responsibility, plain and simple,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference.

Dems have been pushing the reality that if the Republicans have a legitimate vehicle to replace the ACA with, nobody really knows what it is. And no doubt, some in the GOP might be fearing the repercussions of taking away people’s care.

“Republicans must be careful in that the Dems own the failed ObamaCare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases……like the 116% hike in Arizona,” Trump tweeted yesterday, adding, “Also, deductibles are so high that it is practically useless. Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web…massive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess. It will fall of its own weight – be careful!”

Meanwhile, Schumer’s office said yesterday that the Democrats are targeting eight Trump Cabinet nominees for extra scrutiny, name checking Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, Scott Pruitt, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price, Andy Puzder and Wilbur Ross.

Schumer said he wants their full paperwork before hearings are scheduled, adding that only a few have turned it in while most haven’t. Schumer said he also wants their tax returns, particularly because some are billionaires and given the potential for conflicts of interest.

Those hearings begin next week.

In other news…

The race for the Florida Democratic Party gets crazier by the day. Yesterday we learned that 13 members of the Miami-County DEC filed a complaint with the FDP regarding the circumstances that have allowed Coconut Grove real estate developer and donor Stephen Bittel to be eligible for the party chair position. Earlier in the day, Tampa’s (or should we say Bradford’s) Alan Clendenin was shooting down a complaint filed against him regarding the circumstances that have allowed him to become eligible in the race.

The House of Representatives is poised to vote on condemning President Obama and the UN for that resolution last month castigating Israel for continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. The resolution was written by Polk County’s Dennis Ross.

And newly sworn-in Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren celebrated his victory on Tuesday night with friends and family in Tampa Heights.

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13 members of Miami-Dade DEC file complaint over Stephen Bittel’s election as state committeeman

The race for the Florida Democratic Party Chair position gets more contentious by the day.

On Tuesday, thirteen members of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee filed a complaint to the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) regarding the special election held on December 20th during which Stephen Bittel was voted as Miami-Dade State Committeeman, defeating former state Senator Dwight Bullard.

Bittel’s election made his eligible to run for the state party chair position next week in Orlando.

The grievance sent to FDP Chair Allison Tant alleges that because of a series of rules violations, the election of Bittel “must be immediately overturned.”

The complaint charges Miami-Dade DEC Chair Juan Cuba with violating the bylaws of the Miami-Dade DEC, the bylaws of the Florida Democratic Party, and rules of parliamentary procedure “in order to conspire with several known and unknown individuals to bend and break the rules regarding the Special Election held on December 20th and the events leading up to the aforementioned election.”

The controversy begins with the Miami-Dale DEC reorganization meeting December 6 when Bret Berlin was elected to serve as state committeeman for Miami-Dade County.

At that same meeting, Bittel was voted in as a precinct captain around midnight, making him eligible shortly afterward to mount a run for state committeeman, which happened when Berlin resigned in his role as committeeman on December 10.

Bittel was sworn in alongside 137 other party precinct captains. Yet according to the party’s current rule book, it’s illegal to swear in precinct captains at an executive committee meeting. Berlin, the state committeeman, made a motion to suspend those rules and appoint that huge number of captains, which included Bittel. There is, however, a question of whether a quorum was present for the vote, a charge made in the complaint by the 13 DEC members.

More controversy erupted when it was discovered lobbyist Stephanie Grutman sent an email December 4, trying to find people to vote for Bittel during a December 19 meeting. In the messageGrutman said she needed to help sign up 100 new Democratic Election Committee members in two days.

The complaint lists issues with the inclusion of nonmembers in voting procedures and:

— Lack of clarity about the presence of quorum and the percentage of proxies;

— So-called “ratification” of a prior invalid motion;

— The physical blockade against our observers at the beginning of the meeting when crucial motions were being cast and voted upon;

— Confusion surrounding the precinct committee(wo)man election/appointment in Precinct 586, and

— Potential conflicts of interest involving Miami-Dade DEC, Juan Cuba, Bittel and applicants.

It will be the second complaint sent to Tant in recent days over a candidacy for state chair.

Last week, Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, filed a complaint last week calling on Tant to reject the candidacy of Tampa’s Alan Clendenin, who moved to Bradford County after losing a vote early December for state committeeman in Hillsborough County.

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Activists want Bill Nelson to delay confirmation hearing on AG nominee Jeff Sessions

Of the many Cabinet choices made by President-elect Donald Trump, some of the strongest opposition centers around the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

Wednesday morning in Tampa, a group of activists spoke with officials in Sen. Bill Nelson‘s district office, calling on him at the very least to call for a delay a vote on Sessions’ confirmation, scheduled for January 10. Outside, a couple of dozen more concerned citizens held signs and spoke to reporters about their opposition to the Alabama Republican.

“We think that over the course of his career, Sen. Sessions used the power of the courts to discriminate against civil rights leaders, allegedly using racially charged language to disparage minorities, expressed support for the KKK and then tried to dismiss it as a joke,” said Toni Van Pelt, the president of the Pinellas County-based Institute for Science and Human Values.

“He celebrated the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, opposed same-sex marriage, denied the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, voted against greater access for health care for veterans, blocked the paycheck fairness act, and voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act,” Van Pelt added

“He should not be the Attorney General of the United States.”

Other groups represented at the rally included the Tampa Bay Coalition of Reason, the Clearwater Unitarian Universalist Church, AAUW, Suncoast Humanist Society, Atheists of Florida and Center for Inquiry-Tampa Bay, and numerous Bay area chapters of the National Organization for Women.

The reason for the call to delay next Tuesday’s confirmation hearing is that the groups allege that Sessions has failed to provide media interviews, speeches, op-eds and more from his time as U.S. attorney in Alabama, the state’s attorney general and his first term as senator, from 1997 through 2002. As reported by CNN, the progressive groups contend that Sessions listed just 20 media interviews, 16 speeches outside the Senate, two op-eds, an academic article and a training manual, as well as just 11 clips of interviews with print publications — including none before 2003.

Sandra Weeks, with the West Pinellas County chapter of NOW, rapped Sessions for failing to disclose his long history with Breitbart News, the conservative website that was formerly run by Steve Bannon, now serving as chief White House strategist in the incoming Trump administration.

Weeks cited the fact that Bannon once called Sessions “one of the intellectual, moral leaders of this populist, nationalist movement in this country,” which was just reported Tuesday by the Huffington Post.

A spokesman for Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN on Sunday that Sessions has been forthcoming with information on his questionnaire.

“The notion that Sen. Sessions — somebody who committee members have known and served beside for 20 years — hasn’t made a good-faith effort to supply the committee with responsive material is preposterous,” said a spokeswoman for Grassley. “It’s been clear from the day Senator Sessions’ nomination was announced that the left-wing advocacy groups aren’t interested in a fair process and just want a fight. We trust the minority committee members will have the courage to give Senator Sessions the fair and respectful process he deserves.”

Nadine Smith, the head of Equality Florida, met with staffers in Senator Nelson’s office. She calls the Florida Senator “an absolute statesman,” but said that “these are the times that call for people with some fight in the belly.”

“We can’t start normalizing this sexist bigotry, this racism, and this is the place where you draw the line, and you fight back and you hope the senator will hear that message and understand that there’s an awful lot of us who have his back if he’s willing to fight as hard he’s needed to,” Smith said.

Nelson is up for re-election in 2018.

When asked if she’ll continue to support him if he were to vote to confirm Sessions later this month, Smith replied: “I think that anyone who normalizes this administration’s horrific cabinet selections (and) does not demand a level of vetting, will lose the confidence of voters in Florida.”

Last November, just 10 days after Trump was elected, FloridaPolitics asked Nelson his thoughts on the nomination of Sessions to be AG.

“I will certainly reserve judgment if he is the nominee until we go through the hearings and it comes to the full Senate for a vote,” Nelson said at a news conference at his downtown Tampa district office.

“I can tell you that Jeff Sessions and I have worked on a number of pieces of legislation together in a bipartisan way and I’ve always had a very good working relationship with him.”

Last year, Nelson and Sessions worked on a bill that would reduce the number of H-1B visas from 85,000 to 70,000 a year. The filing of that bill came following reports Disney and other companies are using the visas to cut costs at the expense of American workers.

On Tuesday, more than 1,200 faculty members from law schools around the nation wrote to Grassley and Judiciary ranking member Diane Feinstein, calling on them to reject the Sessions nomination.

A poll released by the liberal Center for American Progress on Wednesday showed that by a 61 percent to 25 percent margin, voters in the battleground states (like Florida) want Senate Democrats to be an independent check and balance on Donald Trump, even if this means opposing Trump’s policies on many occasions. Fifty-six percent of these voters want Senate Democrats to try to block Trump’s plans on many occasions. Across all 14 states in the survey, 59 percent of voters want their Democratic senator to be an independent check and balance on Donald Trump, compared with just 28 percent who want their senator to mainly support Donald Trump’s policies.

“Senator Nelson always appreciates hearing from his constituents and will certainly take their views into consideration if Sen. Sessions’ nomination comes before the full Senate for a vote,” said Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown.

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After his first day on the job, Andrew Warren celebrates his victory as State Attorney with well wishers

While the efforts at criminal justice reform remain stalled in Washington D.C., the voting public showed up at the polls last year and indicated that they certainly want change at the local level.

In Harris County, Texas (which encompasses Houston), Democrat Kim Ogg defeated Republican Devon Anderson by promising to overhaul drug prosecutions. In Jefferson County, Alabama, Charles Todd Henderson defeated GOP incumbent Brandon Falls in part by campaigning against the “mass incarceration of those with drug addictions and mental illness,” and by revealing that he is “not supportive of the death penalty nor incarcerating our children in adult jails and prisons.”

In Florida’s primary elections last August, voters in Duval and Orange counties ousted their respective incumbent Republican State Attorney’s, and in Hillsborough County last November, Democrat Andrew Warren defeated 16-year GOP incumbent Mark Ober by less than one percentage point.

Warren blasted Ober on the campaign trail, saying he was too focused on conviction rates than in making the community safer, and in running an outdated State Attorney’s office. “We’re like the rotary phone of criminal justice,”  Warren said at a debate last September. “We’re in need of an upgrading.”

At the Beck Group building in Tampa Heights on Tuesday night, Warren held a victory party of sorts, nearly two months after his stunning victory.

“I was told I was crazy because I was too young. Hadn’t lived here long enough. The opponent was unbeatable,” Warren recounted to the audience who crowded the building’s third floor.

“But I don’t think I was crazy. I thought I was hopeful. I thought I was hopeful that people would share my vision for criminal justice reform.”

Joined by his two young daughters and later by his wife, Alex, Warren filled in some details of his personal life he hadn’t previously shared with audiences. Working at the Justice Department in Washington, Warren says he learned four years ago that he was likely to be relocated to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tampa. Like virtually anybody who has moved from a major city to Tampa, he admitted that there was a bit of culture shock at first.

“We were driving down from North Tampa to South Tampa via Dale Mabry, and past a strip mall, and a strip mall, and a strip club, and another strip mall and another strip club,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “And Alex turned to me in the car and asked, ‘where in the hell are you taking me?’

After promising his wife that they would move back to D.C. if they didn’t acclimate to the community after a year, Warren says by Thanksgiving of 2013, “we realized that we were never leaving.”

Saying that there were too many people to thank for his election victory, Warren then went ahead and praised a few individuals who he said were crucial to his success, including former Hillsborough County DEC Chair Chris Mitchell, as well as transit activist Kevin Thurman and attorney David Singer.

“To be able to knock off a 16-year incumbent who was pretty well liked is nothing short of remarkable,” enthused Democratic strategist Vic DiMaio.

“This was a surprise election,” agreed Cyril Spiro, the independent North Tampa medical professional who lost a bid for the Tampa City Council District 6 race.

Warren was sworn into office earlier in the day. At the same time, approximately a dozen black residents held a demonstration in front of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse. They weren’t there in protest, however, but instead came out to celebrate his victory, believing his campaign rhetoric that he will enact serious reforms in the office.

“We want equality for everyone,” said Yvette Lewis with the Hillsborough County NAACP at the rally. “We reached out to the other state attorney and didn’t get anywhere, so now we have a new person in, and we’re letting him know the community voted him in.”

 

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Alan Clendenin dismisses complaint filed against him as ‘baseless’

The battle to be the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party is becoming increasingly crazy – and intense. Two of the five candidates have had to move to different counties to be eligible for the position and one of them, Alan Clendenin, has been hit with a complaint regarding his election as state committeeman in Bradford County last month.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times Adam Smith was first to report that Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, filed a complaint last week with current chair Allison Tant, calling on her to reject Clendenin’s election.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Clendenin is dismissing the complaint, alleging that Byrd is a supporter of Stephen Bittel, the Coconut Grove developer whose own election as state committeeman in Miami-Dade County last month has been subject to criticism.

“Instead of making the case for why he’s the best person for the job, it appears as though this candidate is trying to win by clearing the field using baseless and unfounded complaints to disqualify his opponents,” Clendenin says about Bittel.

“I want to be clear – the complaint filed today with Chair Tant is baseless,” Clendenin continued. “Like other candidates in this race, as well as the past four FDP Chairs, I qualified for this position within our current rules. I know that these rules do not make sense to many people which is why I’m calling for them to be changed and will make this a top priority if elected. This complaint is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from talking about how we move this party forward.”

Clendenin and former state Senator Dwight Bullard both lost in their bids for state committeeman at their respective counties reorganization meetings last month, making them ineligible to run for state party chair. However, both have now relocated to different counties where there were positions open for committeeman; both were elected.

In Clendenin’s case, it necessitated moving from his South Tampa home to Hampton in Bradford County. Bullard moved to Gadsden County, after losing his bid for committeeman in Miami-Dade.

Bittel won that vote, but only he was able to run after the party’s former committeeman, Bret Berlin, resigned to make way for Bittel.

Duval County Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius round out the field.

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Tom Lee wants to eliminate agency designed to use taxpayers funds for constructing or improving sports facilities

Less than three years after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the agency created to distribute those funds.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” the Brandon Republican said Tuesday. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Under the Sports Development Program created by the Legislature in 2014, sporting projects and complexes seeking Florida tax revenue must submit proposals to be evaluated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Then the disbursement of funds must pass approval by the Florida Legislative Budget Commission. The state can award up to $13 million annually for all certified applicants. The maximum annual distribution for a single sports franchise facility is for only $3 million, and distributions can be made for up to 30 years.

In spending $100 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium over the past year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hoped to procure $3 million in Sports Development Program funds to help pay for that upgrade. However, their application was rejected because it wasn’t completed on time. The NFL franchise reapplied to the program last month, requesting $1 million a year for at least 10 years.

Scott hailed the legislation when he signed it into law in June of 2014, saying that the program would add more jobs to the state, as well as increase tourism.

“I am proud to support this legislation, and this Sports Development Program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said at the time.

The legislation was also supported by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, now serving as Senate Appropriations Chairman. But it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

The anti “corporate welfare” attitude espoused by Corcoran prevailed last year in Session, when three different sports facilities — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — received no funding from the Legislature, despite the Department of Economic Opportunity finding they qualified for the state sales-tax money.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Stuebe has filed legislation (SB 122) that would prohibit a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on leased public land. Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila has filed a companion bill in the House.

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