Mitch Perry - 4/305 - 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 fears how NIH budget cuts will affect USF, Moffitt Cancer Center

President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget cuts funding calls for a sharp increase in defense spending while making significant cuts to a variety of domestic programs.

When asked Monday what might be the worst part of the plan in her eyes, Congresswoman Kathy Castor said it might just be the proposed $5.8 billion reductions in funding to the National Institutes of Health (18 percent of its total budget). Most of the NIH’s budget goes to funding research in health care in universities across the country.

“It’s hard to pick out the worst part,” the Tampa Democrat replied when asked what concerns her most about the preliminary budget, which is expected to be revised when after the Congress gets involved.

“For this community, I would hate to see us take a step backward at Moffitt Cancer Center and USF on medical research, because they’re finding the treatments and cures for the future,” she said.

A trickle-down effect of reduced NIH funding, Castor added, would mean the exodus of “a lot of brilliant young people” who work at those institutions.

The proposed Trump budget would also cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent.

“Add in the devastating cuts to the EPA at the time where we’re trying to protect the health of Tampa Bay after St. Petersburg had some very serious issues with service overflow,” she said.

“This is a community that relies on clean water and clean beaches as the backbone of our economy,” Castor said, “and you begin to eliminate the commitment of the government to keep our air and water clean, that will only hurt jobs and the economy around here.”

During the transition period, Democrats in Florida and around the nation said that they could work with the new president on an infrastructure spending bill.

“If there ever were an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said a few days before Trump was inaugurated in January. “Because for us, infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can’t grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges water and sewage systems.”

However, the Trump budget proposal unveiled last week includes a plan to eliminate a $500-million-a-year program that helps rural communities build and improve water, sewer, trash and street drainage systems. It also cuts a $500-million-a-year program that was created in the federal stimulus package of 2009 to finance a broad range of projects, from replacing bridges to building car lanes. And it would also cut funding for new rail or bus lines.

“I’m very disappointed,” Castor said about the lack of infrastructure spending in the proposed plan. “We have huge needs here in the Tampa Bay area.”

“Here’s a president who talks one thing — ‘oh, we’re going to have a huge rebuilding plan in America,’ and then the first budget comes out, and there’s nothing there. So his rhetoric is not matching what he promised,” she said.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admitted last week that the preliminary budget might appear to contradict Trump’s statements as a candidate and as president

Mulvaney said the White House is targeting “inefficient programs” and will shift funds into “more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”

Florida AARP official calls GOP health care proposal ‘ageism unleashed’

As the U.S. House prepares to vote this week on a GOP-based health care insurance overhaul, an official with Florida AARP said Monday the bill is “ageism unleashed.”

“Ageism is discrimination against people due to their age, and that’s exactly what this proposal does,” said Jack McCray, advocacy manager for Florida AARP.

McCray was referring to provisions that will raise insurance rates for people aged between 50-64 compared to those in their twenties.

Older working class Americans with lower incomes would see their rates escalate under the American Health Care Act since the refundable tax credits provided under the GOP bill are not as generous for this demographic as Obamacare subsidies.

Under the ACA, insurers can charge older enrollees only three times more than younger policyholders. The GOP bill would widen that band to five-to-one, which would hike premiums for those in their 50s and early 60s.

But Congresswoman Kathy Castor says she learned at a committee hearing discussing the bill that GOP officials have said that 5:1 ratio increase was just an “aspirational” figure, “and it looks like it could be any price at all.”

Castor added that the average Floridian aged between 50-64 and receiving subsidies under the ACA makes approximately $25,000. “If you start to charge thousands of dollars more for health insurance, you’re simply going to take coverage away, and that has a cascading effect really undermining their financial security, the security of their families and their kids,” she told a group of reporters outside the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center in Tampa.

The news conference was the third media availability held by Castor in Tampa since the GOP unveiled their health care proposal several weeks ago. And once again she brought forward a member of the community to decry the attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“I plan on working for a long time, but I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma, ” said Riverview resident Darlene Goodfellow, 57. “It’s very treatable, but I need access for health care. I’m a real estate broker. If I can’t drive, I can’t work.”

Goodfellow says that her concerns about potentially losing her health insurance will have a large impact on their family, causing her to become an activist for the first time in her life “because I’m literally fighting for my livelihood and my life now.” She said that Republican Dennis Ross is now her representative in Congress, but she expressed disappointment that she wasn’t able to address the congressman when she attended a town-hall meeting he held in Clermont.

Among the many different provisions included in the House Republican plan, one that Castor continues to highlight is how it would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” system. That would mean states like Florida would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. That’s different from current Medicaid funding. Right now, the federal government has an open-ended commitment to paying all of a Medicaid enrollee’s bills, regardless of how high they go.

“That is a radical change that will put a huge burden on families,” Castor said, adding that she didn’t hold out much hope that Florida lawmakers would pick up those new costs.

“It is a very coldhearted policy that they’re really trying to slip through,” Castor said of the Trump administration and GOP House members advocating for it.

“They want you to focus on the repeal of the ACA, but the most devastating impact under this house bill is to Medicaid,” she said, “by capping the program and costs continue to rise and our older population continues to increase, the state will have less of an ability to be able to be a partner in Medicaid.”

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported that 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 under the House Republican health care bill than under the ACA, including 14 million by next year.

“You’re going to see a large number of seniors just walking away from coverage altogether,” predicted the AARP’s McCray.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the American Health Care Act Thursday.

Bob Buesing contemplates 2018 rematch versus Dana Young

Bob Buesing may be looking for a rematch.

One of the most bitter races in all of Florida politics last year took place in Hillsborough County’s Senate District 18, where Democrat Buesing faced Republican state Rep. Dana Young and independent Joe Redner.

Although Democrats believed Young was vulnerable to a serious opponent she ultimately defeated Buesing 48 to 41 percent. Redner finished a distant third with 9.5 percent.

With redistricting, half the state’s 40 Senate seats are up for re-election again next year, and Buesing said Friday he is considering another run against Young in 2018.

“It’s not about me, it’s about what’s best for the community,” said the 63-year-old Buesing, a longtime attorney with the law firm of Trenam Kemker who before last year had never run for public office. “I’ll make a very reasoned decision, and once I talk to a lot of people, try to do what’s best for the community and if nobody else on the team is going to do this, and somebody needs to do [it], then I’ll think about it.”

Buesing figures to improve his performance in 2018, especially if Redner is not part of the equation.

The adult entrepreneur and progressive activist ran a serious campaign, spending more than $330,000 of his own money and producing several television ads attacking Young. Although Buesing and Hillsborough Democrats insisted Redner’s support would come equally from both Democrats and Republicans, Buesing unquestionably would prefer he not be a factor in 2018.

“I met with Joe Redner and he looked me in the eye and said he’d be proud to endorse me,” Buesing said. “And said he’s not going to run.”

“If she is her opposition, I will back him,” Redner confirmed in a separate conversation. But Redner questions whether Buesing is the right Democrat to run against Young.

“I don’t think he’s the person for the job,” he said. “I don’t think he’s aggressive enough. But anybody but her. At least his heart is in the right goddamned place.”

Between her own campaign contributions and her political committee, Young raised more than $2 million, while Buesing took in more than $500,000 on his own. His PAC, Floridians for Early Education, raised another $133,000.

“It is interesting that she only got 48 percent of the vote after spending millions and millions of dollars on a false attack smear campaign,” Buesing charges. “With spending that kind of money, she only got 48 percent?

“Sounds to me like it’s an opportunity.”

One of the biggest issues in 2016 were attacks made by Buesing, Redner and third-party environmental groups accusing Young of a pro-fracking vote she made during the 2016 Legislative Session.

Throughout the campaign, Young defended her vote by saying it was actually against fracking. That House bill, which was opposed by environmental groups, sought a one-year moratorium on fracking while the state performed a yearlong study on the practice and its effects on drinking water in advance further regulation.

“I do not support fracking in Florida,” she had told the Tampa Bay Times in September 2016. “I will never support fracking in Florida.”

On the campaign trail, Young promised that, if elected, she would propose unambiguous legislation in the Legislature to ban the practice.

This year, she did just that. In January, Young introduced SB 442, which prohibits “advanced well stimulation treatments; clarifying that permits for drilling or operating a well do not authorize the performance of advanced well stimulation treatments,” among other things. The bill is currently in the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. A companion bill has been filed in the House by Orlando Republican Mike Miller and Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz (HB 451).

“She had six years to do that bill,” Buesing said. “I’m glad she did. It’s good for the community that she did, but what about the 99 other issues?

“I view this district as much more moderate and sensible that where she’s been on these issues, so now we get to see what her record looks like.”

When contacted later, Young stayed above the fray.

“I’m focused on doing the job the voters in my district elected me to do,” she told FloridaPolitics.com. “I am not focusing on the next election cycle. If I continue to do my job, the rest will sort itself out.”

Ray Rodrigues stance on medical marijuana angers Amendment 2 advocates

Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Ray Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot.

“Here’s what we know,” the Fort Myers House Republican told former Congressman David Jolly on AM 820 WWBA Thursday afternoon. “Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent.

“However,” Rodrigues added, during those same polls, we would ask about recreational marijuana. The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.”

Not every public survey showed that, however. A Quinnipiac poll conducted between April 27 and May 8 of 2016 showed 56 percent supported recreational use; 41 percent opposed.

Rodrigues stunned medical marijuana advocates last week when he unveiled a bill (HB 1397) that included language stating that the medical use of cannabis did not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils, except for vapable forms possessed, used, or administered by or for a qualified patient diagnosed with a terminal condition.”

Rodrigues is not an outlier when it comes to Florida lawmakers pushing medical marijuana regulations to ban smokable pot.

Of five bills on medical marijuana now floating in the Legislature this Session, three prohibit smoking (two others are sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Miami Republican Frank Artiles).

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, says that the Legislature is acting like it’s trying to appease the 29 percent of Floridians who opposed Amendment 2, not the overwhelming majority who did.

“Do I think that’s what the people thought they were voting for? No,” Pollara says about a bill that would ban smokable marijuana. “Do I think that’s what the constitutional amendment says? No. I think the constitution allows — if not the smoking of marijuana — then the purchase and possession of smokable marijuana.”

Of the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only two, New York and Pennsylvania, mandate that patients with a recommendation from a doctor cannot smoke marijuana. In Pennsylvania, edible forms of marijuana can’t be sold in dispensaries, but the law allows patients to produce those items at home.

Rodrigues also told WWBA about 2013 study conducted by Columbia University that found marijuana in a pill form provided longer relief than smoking (4.5 hours compared to 2.5 hours). “When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

“When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

Chris Cano, the executive director of the Central Florida Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (CFL NORML), says that for legislators to determine that smoking isn’t good for some patients is “big government at its worst.” Cano cites the example of Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has been smoking marijuana for years to control symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

“Cathy Jordan smokes two joints every morning, so that she can cough up the phlegm and fluids that she has due to her ALS,” he says. “So smoking works for her. When he says the science is wrong, he’s absolutely wrong. There’s certain benefits to smoking.”

Michael Minardi, the legal director of NORML of Florida, responded to Rodrigues by citing a 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association study that marijuana smokers performed better on tests of lung function compared to either nonsmokers or cigarette smokers.

Rodrigues acknowledged he has heard from Amendment 2 supporters, who aren’t happy with his bill.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” he said. “However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people. Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

In 2014, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the “Charlotte’s Web” bill, which legalized strains of marijuana high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high.

For nearly four years, Pollara has worked to make medical marijuana legal in Florida. He says that the attitude of most members of the Legislature this entire time is to make it as “unappealing to nonmusical consumers as possible.”

“What gets lost in that is that sometimes what you need is to get high,” Pollara says. “You can’t extricate the medical benefit from the getting high part of it.”

While it doesn’t appear to be the sentiment in Tallahassee at this point, Pollara optimistically surmises that there’s still plenty of time for the Legislature to come up with a final product before Sine Die.

(WWBA does not yet have a link to the Rodrigues interview on their website yet. When they do, we will include the link).

At gathering of progressives in Tampa, Andrew Gillum says Democrats won’t win in 2018 by being ‘Republican lite’

In his first appearance in Tampa since officially declaring his candidacy for Governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said the Democratic Party can win back the Governor’s Mansion next year if it convinces the voters of Florida that it can make an impact in changing their lives for the better.

“What we have to do is convince them that voting for us will make a difference in our lives,” he told the member of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida in Tampa on Saturday. “That we have an agenda that can actually impact that and impact that for the better, and I believe we can do that. As a matter of fact, I believe I can do that, if you all allow me to be the Democratic nominee for governor for the state of Florida,” as the crowd cheered.

Elected as mayor in August of 2014 at the age of 35, Gillum has been making decisions in office of late that would undoubtedly appeal to the progressive wing of the party. He successfully defended Tallahassee’s gun laws in court after two gun rights group sued the city to try to expand firearms in public parks, and has declared Tallahassee a “sanctuary city,” a move not many other Florida communities are embracing under the current administration in Washington.

Gillum used the first part of his half-hour speech to give a quick biography to the progressives who are gathering this weekend at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association building in West Tampa. In referring to his public school upbringing (including the fact that he was the first in his family not only to graduate from college, but also high school), he gave a major shoutout to public school teachers, saying that what they do is “the most difficult work that happens on Planet Earth.”

He ultimately warmed up to  tossed some choice red meat for the liberal audience. Rick Scott? “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

Gillum savaged the Governor for his stance on climate change, declining Medicaid expansion and stimulus money for high-speed rail, and for his reluctance to accept Syrian refugees into the state.

“Never mind that the Governor has no right to say who’s welcome and who isn’t in the state of Florida, but since he took liberties, I took liberties,” he said to titters of laughter. “I said, come to the Capitol City, where you’re welcome,” adding, “Remember, these are people being forced out of their homes. Their lives are being threatened. Persecuted.”

On making Tallahassee a sanctuary city, he chided the use of the term “illegal aliens,” saying, “Illegal is not a noun. You don’t call people illegals,” he said, saying the term was a way of stripping away someone’s humanity.

He said Florida should be the capital of solar energy production, adding that if the private sector was too reluctant to be a leader in solar, municipal electric authorities should take the lead, and made sure to mention that his city is currently building a 200-acre solar farm.

Gillum is also against the construction of the $3 billion, 515-mile Sabal Trail Pipeline planned to run from Alabama through Georgia to Osceola County.

“I had to make a public statement against it. I thought it was a no-brainer, I didn’t know that you had to do that, but apparently you do,” he said, as the audience gave him a hearty round of applause. And he promised to put “the teeth” back into the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Regarding the governor’s race, he spoke to the progressive caucus’ language by saying that the Democrats wouldn’t win in 2018 by being “Republican lite.”

“When our issues on the ballot, absent the candidate’s name, people agree with us! They stand with us! So what is the disconnect?” he asked. “I believe we can win by leaning into our values and not running away from them.”

“Whether you are a working class white voter or a working class black voter or a working class Latino voter, if this economy isn’t working for you, you’re pissed off! We have to lean into that. This debate about whether we double down on our base or talk to working class white people is ridiculous. You have to go everywhere. We have to go everywhere and we have to talk to everybody.”

As proof that he’s not just all talk, Gillum mentioned his visit to The Villages last weekend, where he said he spoke to a crowd of 500 people (the Villages Democratic website reported it “overflowed the 350-seat recreation center)

Referring to the fact that Democrats suffer tremendously from a lack of participation in “off-year” elections which happen to coincide for when the state votes for governor and other cabinet positions, Gillum said one reason might be that the party hasn’t given voters sufficient motivation to turn out, before quickly emphasizing that he wasn’t attacking any recent Democratic statewide candidates.

Gillum is the first major party candidate to enter the race, and has since been joined by Central Florida businessman Chris King. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine seems likely to announce his candidacy soon, as does former Tallahassee based Congresswoman Gwen Graham. The jury is still out on what Orlando attorney and fundraiser John Morgan will end up doing.

Julianne Holt expresses concerns about Rick Scott’s benching of Aramis Ayala

After Rick Scott removed Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case of accused cop killer Markeith Loyd, she announced she would not pursue the death penalty in his or any other case during her tenure.

Later, Dover House Republican Ross Spano called on Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to condemn Ayala’s actions. 

Warren refused, saying that he would seek out the death penalty only in “rare cases that are so heinous, atrocious, and undeserving of mercy as to be considered the worst of the worst in our society.”

At the Tampa Tiger Bay Club Friday, Warren was asked again about his thoughts on the case. He responded with essentially the same thing — the issue was between the Governor and Ayala.

Warren did acknowledge “prosecutors have the discretion to make charging decisions or the decision not to charge, the sentences that we seek, within each municipality, locality and jurisdiction. and the exercise of that discretion is critical to having a well-functioning criminal justice system.”

That prompted a more provocative reaction from Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt, a Democrat like Warren.

“As an elected constitutional officer, I am given broad discretion on how I run my office,” she began. “If I abuse that discretion, if I do things that are illegal, unethical immoral, things of that sort that rise to a certain level, then the governor has the ability to remove me, suspend me. If I’m charged with a criminal offense, the governor can take action.

“But it is extremely scary to me to think that if one person is unhappy with the decision that Mr. Warren makes in our community, decides to hold a news conference and be critical of him, that the next thing he would get is a message saying you’re removed from that case, somebody else is going to come in to my community and take that case.

“The next time he’s in a similar position, is he going to exercise his discretion, or is he going to be doing because he’s fearful of what may come from Tallahassee?” she asked. “I want him to keep his discretion.”

Her response was met with loud cheers from the Tiger Bay audience.

Hillsborough County judicial officials say they’re united about providing civil citations for juveniles, not arrests

Although Andrew Warren was considered a serious underdog in his race against Mark Ober for Hillsborough County’s State Attorney last year, he had plenty of ammunition to run in a changing social environment.

Both the right and left has coalesced in recent years when it comes to believing in serious criminal justice reform, and independent groups had reported that Hillsborough was an outlier when it came to administering the death penalty and in arresting juveniles for possession of marijuana, vs. offering civil citations. Warren was one of a number of reform-oriented candidates who won prosecutorial races in major jurisdictions around the nation in 2016. 

At the Tampa Tiger Bay Club’s Friday meeting at the Ferguson Law Center downtown, the 40-year-old former federal prosecutor started the conversation by saying that now is the time to act on making serious reform on juvenile justice.

“It starts with avoiding sending nonviolent, juvenile first-time juvenile down the spiral of the criminal justice system,” he said. “We need to avoid saddling them with arrest and conviction records that make it harder for them in the long run for them to become taxpaying law abiding contributing members of society.”

He said that also meant being tough on “serial recidivists” and holding people accountable. But he said, it has to be done in an intelligent and smart fashion, and “not promote the revolving door of criminal justice, but rather promotes public safety.”

Although Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt has been in office since 1992, she said she felt revitalized in her job because of Warren’s election.

“If you think that I’m enthusiastic to continue as the public defender, it’s because I see an opportunity in this community to work together with the state attorney’s office and with law enforcement to truly make a change in this community and in the lives of our youth that in the last 20 years really hadn’t had that opportunity,” she said.

One of the hottest criminal justice reform bills pending in the Legislature this year is from Sen. Anitere Flores. The Miami Republican sponsored a bill calling for mandatory civil citations across the state for first-time juvenile misdemeanors in 11 different categories.

Holt said she is fully behind it, saying that a program for diversion or civil citation has been in existence for two decades in Florida, yet still has not been fully adopted statewide.

“For those of you who have ever been even anywhere around the criminal justice system, it is a very slippery slope. It is easy to get in, it is very hard to get out,” Holt said, adding that experienced lawyers themselves have a hard time sometimes navigating the system, much less a young teenager.

“How can you ask a young child when they are being confronted by the criminal justice system and its challenges, how can you expect them to be successful?” she asked. “You cannot. Many adults cannot be successful. Not because they don’t want to. But because it’s challenging.”

The participants also included Hillsborough County Chief Judge Ron Ficcarrota and Hillsborough County Sheriff Col. Donna Lusczkinsky.

When asked by a Tiger Bay audience member about the issue of implicit racial bias, all four speakers spoke up.

Warren said that there were some “significant distinctions and differences and biases” in how the State Attorney’s office was prosecuting white juvenile offenders vs. minority juvenile offenders from 2008-2013, and so he began going back into those direct files after taking office in January to determine to identify why that was the case.

He admitted that he hasn’t been able to identify that problem just yet.

Lusczkinsky said that the Sheriffs Department give annual training to deputies on multicultural diversity and bias based profiling annually.

“We want to make sure our deputies are educated and they understand the challenges that go with across the different economic areas,” she said.

Ficcarrota said judges in Hillsborough County are also required to take a diversity course. “I think what would help  is if we would get  a more diverse bench. That would be a big step,” he said. “I think its important that when a juvenile looks at that bench and sees a face that looks like his or hers., that needs to happen,” he said, adding that means more people of color applying for judgeships, and the governor appointing a more diverse bench.

Mike Pheneger with the ACLU expressed disappointment that the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office had been reluctant to decriminalize marijuana possession. The County was a late entrant in that program, creating the Delinquent Act Citation Pilot Program (DAC Pilot Program) last summer. It’s an alternative to an arrest and a possible criminal record for juveniles found to be in possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis, or possession of drug paraphernalia.

Lusczkinsky responded that the Department didn’t believe that was an adequate process and system in place “to make sure that the children would get the service we needed.”

Holt didn’t address the Sheriff Department’s delay in enacting that program, but said that that are now “flat to the mat on it” in terms of issuing out civil citations vs. arrests now.

Warren said that he was taking about the need to expand civil citations to include misdemeanor possession for juveniles from the first week of his campaign, and was happy about the coincidence of the sheriffs department adopting the program after he said he began taking about it.

He also mentioned the statistics often mentioned by Flores when talking about the need for statewide mandatory civil citations for juveniles on various first-time nonviolent offenses.

While Pinellas County uses civil citations in over 90 percent of the time, Hillsborough’s numbers have been in the 30 percentile range.

Tampa City Councilmembers ponder their own political future — now that Bob Buckhorn has decided his

Tampa City Council Chair Mike Suarez says Bob Buckhorn‘s decision to opt out of a statewide run in 2018 should mean a lot less drama associated with the election for council chair next month, a development he says “is a good thing.”

There was plenty of such drama surrounding the election of a council in 2015 and 2016, due to the uncertainty around Buckhorn’s political ambitions.

But his announcement that he will forgo a run for governor and instead fulfill the last two years as Mayor of Tampa rejiggers the political calculus among some of the councilmembers who may be considering a run themselves for mayor in 2019. That’s because if Buckhorn had decided to run, it would mean that he would have likely relinquished his office well before his term was up. And under the city charter, if there are fewer than 15 months remaining in the mayor’s term, the current chairman serves as mayor.

That was a fact overshadowing last year’s council chair election, as well as the rumors that were floating that the mayor was ready to exit City Hall and work in a Hillary Clinton administration.

“I mean, obviously if the president asks you, you would consider,” Buckhorn said in the days immediately preceding last year’s council chair vote.

That possibility led to an excruciating contest for council chair between Suarez and incumbent Frank Reddick that ultimately took the council 14 ballots before choosing Suarez to lead them.

That was the same meeting where Reddick alleged that Vincent Gericitano, the president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, made a throat-slashing gesture to Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, an indication, Reddick charged, that he was warning her not to vote for him for chairman. Ultimately, the Tampa Police Department Internal Affairs Department cleared Gericitano of that charge.

“It’s been a great honor and privilege to serve as chair of council the last year,” Suarez told SPB earlier this week. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m very appreciative that I’ve had the chance to serve in this role.”

The thought that Buckhorn might have to leave his seat early also was an issue in 2015. Months before Buckhorn was re-elected that year, he opened up his own political action fundraising committee, considered a first step toward a potential statewide run.

That year’s council chair election resulted in then incumbent Charlie Miranda losing out to Reddick, after having served the previous four years. Miranda tells SPB he has no interest in serving as chair this year.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing now. More time for life,” he says. And if his colleagues nominated for the position? “No, I would tell them, thank you very much, but I pass,” he says.

Reddick seems a bit ambivalent about becoming chair again. He says if his colleagues were to “honor” him by nominating him, “I would not turn them down.”

On the other hand, “it doesn’t give you any special privileges,” he says. “It’s more of a ceremonial type of event, and that’s it, but if your colleagues recognize you for that leadership role, then you have to feel honored and appreciate it.”

Yolie Capin currently chairs the monthly Community Redevelopment Agency meetings. She says the fact that Buckhorn isn’t going anywhere is going to take “a lot of stress off of everyone for those that were vying for that seat,” and says she is now interested in the chairman position.

On the current council, Suarez, Reddick and Capin’s names have all been floated as potential mayoral candidates in 2019 (Harry Cohen‘s has as well, but there is now more speculation that he will run to succeed his friend Pat Frank as Clerk of the Hillsborough Courts in 2020).

Reddick says flatly he has no interest in running for mayor, but is very interested in staying in public service, saying that a run for county commission or the state legislature is something he’s thinking about.

And Capin?

“As far as the Mayor’s race, I think I am leaving my options open,” she emailed SPB earlier this week. “Everyone knows I can definitely run a campaign.”

Suarez appears to be primed for a run for mayor, if a speech he recently gave to the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee is any indication. Other names being bandied about in town to run in 2019 include former Police Chief Jane Castor, architect Mickey Jacobs, businessman Topher Morrison, County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan.

Former state representative Ed Narain told this reporter several weeks ago that several people have called to ask about his interest, but he says that’s not something he’s actively pursuing at this time.

Then again, the election is two years away, meaning there’s plenty of time for him or others to think about running for the office.

Bob Buckhorn calls Donald Trump’s proposed budget ‘reckless’ for American cities

Add Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to the list of Democrats taking issue with President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget.

“President Trump’s proposed budget is not only unrealistic it’s reckless for America’s cities,” Buckhorn says in a statement issued Thursday afternoon. “As someone who campaigned on investing in infrastructure, this proposed budget does just the opposite. Not only does it make no mention of tax-exempt bonds and local deductibility for cities, it guts funding for housing programs and cuts and sometimes eliminates funds for infrastructure and transit needed for America’s cities to thrive.”

Buckhorn noted that Tampa was “a city whose Riverwalk was partially funded by Tiger Grants, whose Encore housing was developed with Choice Neighborhood grants, and who relies on the National Endowment of the Arts grants to beautify neighborhoods and create cultural experiences.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said the proposal would “severely hurt” many residents in cities of all sizes, towns, and suburban and rural areas.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said his city would suffer huge cuts to a wide array of services and capital funding, jeopardizing everything from housing inspections and senior services to transit projects and counterterrorism efforts under Trump’s budget.

In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee said he was “deeply troubled” by the Trump budget, asking Congress to “fight against a budget that does not support American families.”

Andrew Warren reacts to Ross Spano’s comment that he should resist following lead of Aramis Ayala on death penalty

The announcement that Aramis Ayala, the newly-elected state prosecutor in Orlando, would not seek the death penalty in the high-profile prosecution of an accused cop killer is having reverberations around the state.

Ayala was taken off the case by Governor Rick Scott after she refused to recuse herself, and prompted Dover Republican Ross Spano to call on Hillsborough County’s State Attorney Andrew Warren to “condemn” Ayala’s actions.

“I call on our new State Attorney, Andrew Warren, to resist the political urge to follow the lead of State Attorney Ayala, condemn her actions and publicly commit to following the rule of law,” stated Spano in a statement.

Spano serves as Chairman of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Vice Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House. He called Ayala’s refusal to seek the death penalty in the case of Markeith Loyd “an inexcusable abuse of her prosecutorial discretion.”

“State Attorney Ayala has inappropriately injected her radical political ideology into a judicial proceeding and I demand she adhere to the rule of law,” Spano said.

Like Ayala, Warren was elected last year as State Attorney. In both cases, they were Democrats running on a platform of criminal justice reform.

In response to Spano, Warren applauded the Legislature and Scott for passing legislation requiring a unanimous jury recommendation to obtain a death sentence.

“Each State Attorney, including Ms. Ayala, after careful and meticulous evaluation, has the full, legal discretion to determine for his or her jurisdiction, whether to employ this ultimate sanction,” he said. “My office will thoroughly and painstakingly evaluate each capital offense and seek the death penalty only in the rare cases that are so heinous, atrocious, and undeserving of mercy as to be considered the worst of the worst in our society. I look forward to working with Representative Spano on a variety of criminal justice issues: from the death penalty, to the dangerous and irresponsible Stand Your Ground legislation currently pending that makes it harder to prosecute violent criminals, to cost-effective programs that increase public safety while reducing long-term recidivism.”

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