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Bill Rufty

Polk GOP Commissioner warns Republican incumbents may face strong challenges

Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey

Republican Legislators could find themselves challenged for election next year … by Republican candidates, Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland Republican, confirmed Wednesday.

In an interview before his address to the Polk Tiger Bay members, Lindsey said what he described as legislators’ attacks on home rule and local government, has many even in the Republican Party talking about trying to remove incumbents in the 2018 elections.

“The chatter (across the state) is voluminous,” Lindsey said. “I don’t know if it will turn into action, elections are many months away, but there is a lot of chatter about legislators who have basically eroded local control.”

Lindsey, himself, would not say if he will run against one of two Polk County legislators being criticized by local governments for their votes to cut funding to counties and to change school funding in many counties. He lives in the districts of state Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Colleen Burton, both Republicans from Lakeland.

“I would have to resign from my commission term which doesn’t end until 2020 to run next year. But you never say never,” he said with a laugh.

Lindsey told Tiger Bay members that he believed that Polk County would eventually make it through the financial crisis caused by Republican legislators and lawmakers agreed to help 29 “fiscally restrained” counties, largely small or rural counties with very low tax bases.

“But there is no lifeline for the cities, so small towns like Lake Hamilton, Dundee or Polk City will not have that help,” he said.

The normally mild spoken Lindsey has had heavy words for the Republican delegation from Polk County, with the exception of freshman Rep. Sam Killebrew who stood up for his east county district, he said.

“I want the delegation from Polk County to go to Tallahassee to represent Polk County, not to represent for Tallahassee,” he said.

“There is a point at which fiscal conservatism, which I firmly believe in, becomes fiscal conservative malpractice,” Lindsey said. “I have been that would-be candidates have been called by Legislative leaders or incumbent supporters saying, ‘If you get in this race I will bury you.’”

And he accused one former Polk County Commissioner, now-Rep. Neil Combee, a Lakeland Republican, of forgetting his roots and his principles.

“Rep. Combee said the county commissioners were just a bunch of crybabies. During his years on the commission the millage rate was increased five times,” he said.

Darren Soto cautiously eyeing Puerto Rico statehood effort

Sunday’s landslide vote in Puerto Rico to determine statehood and perhaps add the 51st star to the American flag, was almost ignored by news media, until the last minute, because of all the political controversies emanating from Washington.

But some officials like U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat representing the 9th Congressional District had been paying close attention since the election was scheduled.

Soto, 39, the first Florida member of Congress of Puerto Rican heritage, was careful not to take sides in the referendum.

“I believe that decision is solely up to the voters (of Puerto Rico), he said in an April interview, adding,’’ But I did ask to be appointed to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, just in case they asked for statehood,” Soto said.

One of the next steps to becoming a state after a vote from a territory is for its administrators to request statehood from Congress. And the first step will be to go through the subcommittee on which Soto sits.

Voters in Puerto Rico approved statehood by almost 97 percent due in part to a boycott of the referendum by the party supporting a continuation of the current commonwealth status.

“It was a good turnout, but at the end of the day it is those who show up at the polls who decide,” he said.

Soto is well aware that the Republican-controlled House and Senate may be reluctant to approve statehood because voters in the new state likely would put Democratic House members and senators into the Congress.

“I and Rep. Don Young (Republican from Alaska) will be preparing a detailed bipartisan report to our subcommittee,” he said.

Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in presidential elections, but once they move into the United States mainland, they can participate in the presidential election as well as the elections in the states in which they reside. If statehood is granted they won’t have to relocate to vote for president.

The large population of voters with Puerto Rican heritage contributed to Soto’s election November in the heavily Democratic 9th District.

Baxter Troutman entering competitive Agriculture Commissioner race

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven said he will run for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

The grandson of the late citrus baron and one-time gubernatorial candidate, Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Troutman will enter the competitive race to succeed Adam Putnam, a Bartow Republican who is term-limited and is running for governor.

“I will file either Friday or Monday at the latest,” Troutman said. “This isn’t a decision I came to lightly and it isn’t a step to advance to a higher position up the career ladder.”

His run will ensure a heavy GOP primary with state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers and Paul Paulson, an Orlando real estate executive and unsuccessful candidate for mayor of the Central Florida city.

University of Miami law student Michael Christine is the sole Democrat in the race after Daniel Sohn of West Palm Beach announced on his Facebook page that he was withdrawing due to health reasons.

Troutman, 50, served in the Florida House 2002 to 2010. His disagreements with his cousin, former state Sen. J.D. Alexander, both in the Legislature and in the family’s agri-businesses made for great soap opera-like commentary, but both men have said they have since settled their differences.

Troutman, who proposed to his wife Rebecca on the floor of the House while it was in session, had campaigned for his wife last year in her unsuccessful run for Polk County School Board. The couple have a daughter.

He said he had considered running for Agriculture Commissioner at the end of his terms in the Florida House.

“I was going to do it, but (then-Congressman) Adam Putnam called and talked me from the cliff,” he said.

A citrus grower and owner of a temporary employment service, Labor Solutions, Troutman said he is running because he “understands the plight of the farmer.”

And he took what will likely become a campaign stance toward his Republican opponents in the race, stating he is the one with the most experience in agriculture.

“I can read a book about World War II and give a speech about World War II, but I can never know what someone who fought in World War II knows. The same applies for agriculture commissioner, you have to have dirt on your shoes,” he said.

With Grimsley, however, Troutman has an adversary who has also been in agriculture; whose family owns citrus groves as well. Both could compete for votes from the same constituency.

New polling shows alarming trend, many Floridians unaware how government works

Many Floridians are unable to answer simple questions about how government works, says a new survey of residents by Florida Southern College.

Even those with college degree missed some of the answers from questions included on exams administered to those becoming new citizens of the nation. For example, only 65 percent could name Rick Scott as governor of Florida.

The poll, conducted April 2-14 and April 17-19 by the FSC Center for Polling and Policy Research, took responses from 377 adults. The margin of error is +/- 5 percentage points.

Respondents were asked a series of questions about how they get their news and then were asked questions derived from the citizenship and naturalization exams on their familiarity with state and federal government.

Many commentaries addressed the falling use of the printed newspapers, but results of the Florida Southern poll would suggest it is greater than previously reported.

Asked what they would say is their main source of news, 41 percent of those agreeing to participate in the random sample telephone survey said television. Forty percent said the internet while 7 percent said newspapers, the same [percentage who said their main source of news is radio. Another 2 percent listed other sources and 3 percent gave no answer.

Sixty-two percent of the 18 to 29-year-olds participating in the poll listed the internet as their main source of news and only 7 percent of that age group said newspapers.

Sixty-one percent of those 65 and older said their main source of news is television. Only 11 percent of that age group, which grew up with newspapers, early TV, and no internet, listed their main source of news as newspapers. Twenty-one percent of those 65 and over said their main source is the internet.

Although it was not measured, FSC principal polling analyst Dr. Bruce Anderson said it is possible some of those who get their news from the internet could be from online newspapers.

In the political-governmental questions, while only 65 percent were able to name Scott as governor of Florida, even fewer (45 percent) knew Paul Ryan was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In his analysis, Anderson stated that younger respondents were less likely were to know the answers, suggesting one factor could be dwindling civics and government education.

However, the survey also showed higher education levels did not ensure a correct answer, although a higher percentage of college graduates and post graduates answered more.

According to the polling memo, the telephone numbers used in the survey were formed at random by a computer to ensure that each area of the state was represented in proportion to its population. In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting any opinion poll can induce other forms of error.

Primary care physicians: Health care plans must have prevention

Dr. Joy Jackson

Any health care program implemented by Congress or the state must include affordable preventive health care for all, Dr. Joy Jackson told members of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club Wednesday in Bartow.

Jackson is the Polk County Health Department director and chairs the Florida Department of Health’s statewide committee on Pharmacy and Therapeutics.

She has also served as medical director for Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, a free and low-cost clinic for those in the health insurance gap, since 2012.

Tiger Bay had billed her talk as “Trump vs. Obama health care programs,” but Jackson said affordable health care for everyone is the key to prevention of more serious health problems and increased medical costs. The “how” is up to the politicians, she said, declining to take a side.

At the turn of the 20th century a third of worldwide deaths was due to influenza, she said. Now the No. 1 cause of death is cardiovascular disease and No. 2 is cancer.

“We are living longer and dying of chronic diseases,” Jackson said, making it more crucial that everyone has access to preventative health care.

One of the major causes is obesity and the state has implemented a preventative program known as the Healthiest Weight Project.

Although Jackson steered away from the political side of health care, some Tiger Bay members characteristically did not, asking blunt questions.

One, in particular, wanted to know if Jackson supported universal health care.

“As a physician, I struggle with universal health care, but also universal health care would include preventative health care,” she said. “It is desirable for everyone to have access to affordable, quality health care.”

Asked if she thought everyone gets quality health care she said she didn’t think they do, adding there are multiple reasons. A major one is people not having a primary care physician.

Another health issue concern in Florida with summer approaching is last year’s Zika virus outbreak.

The Florida Department of Health and its county departments monitored the threat carefully she said. There were over 30 travel-related cases of Zika in Polk County alone. But only in Miami-Dade County were there local mosquitoes found to be carrying Zika.

Six babies in Florida were reported with Zika-related issues.

While the health agencies throughout the state are on guard, residents must also be, she noted.

“Keep tipping and draining,” she said referring to bird baths and small water containers outside, “No going away and leaving standing water.”

While there is no visible presence the alerts must continue with strong mosquito control and with people being aware, Jackson said.

Darren Soto: Current GOP health care bill won’t pass

The current bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will never pass Congress in its current form, freshman U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, told members of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club during a Monday lunch in Bartow.

“I believe ‘Trumpcare’ will be difficult in the House now that the joy of victory has subsided. And things in the Senate can come unraveled,” said the new congressman from Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Osceola County and parts of Polk and Orange counties, during a post-luncheon interview.

“We must have a health care system other than (patients going primarily to) emergency rooms, which is the most expensive option,” Soto said.

A uniform bill with both parties working together is needed, respecting both sides.

But it is also an opportunity for the minority Democrats to have a say in defending or preserving parts of the Affordable Care Act because Republican lawmakers are so divided.

“In chaos, there is opportunity,” Soto said.

He has no problems calling the current bill “Trumpcare.” It is a play on words after Republicans called the ACA “Obamacare,” he said.

“He endorsed it (the Republican repeal and replace bill) so he owns it,” Soto said.

He also told his audience that the deportation of undocumented immigrants could devastate the agricultural and tourist industries in Florida, two of the three pillars of the state’s economy.

“This is the opinion of many ranchers and growers,” he said. “You are not going to have mechanical pickers in the groves. That is not going to happen. You need a guest worker program that actually works and need overall reform.”

Soto serves on the House Committee on Agriculture and on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Citrus greening, a disease that attacks and destroys citrus trees, is a foremost concern he said. He said he is working with Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, to get more funding for research crucial to Florida agriculture.

He and Ross have worked on several issues and will be among a congressional delegation Soto proposed to visit Iraq to determine the political and military situation.

The Florida Delegation, in fact, has developed a series of bipartisan issues on which members from both parties have agreed to work. They include Everglades Restoration, Infrastructure, Tax Reform and solving Red Tide.

“You can’t drive on 17/92 or US 27 and not understand the need for infrastructure funding,” Soto said. And citrus greening is a major concern to the Congress members from citrus counties, he said.

Soto may be a freshman member of Congress, but is not new to legislating. He served for nine years in a Republican-controlled Florida House and Florida Senate before being elected to Congress, which is Republican majority-controlled.

“I have to take that into consideration and thread the needle with good ideas. An example of that is money I have asked for to provide additional hurricane monitoring aircraft working with both parties. There is only one group to monitor the entire Gulf,” he said.

“Congress is more bipartisan than you may think,” he said. “We pass 10-12 bills a day on voice vote meaning no one objects enough to ask for a vote by name. It is the two or three controversial ones that get the press.”

‘Fake news: What is it; How to spot it’ event in Lakeland Sunday

Barry Friedman, editor and publisher of the online news site, lkldnow.com,  will discuss the evolution of fake news as a major issue in current events and how readers can become more discerning of online postings.

Entitled “Fake News: Democracy in an Age of Media Bubbles and Infotainment News,” the event will be held 3:30 – 5:30 p.m., Sunday at the Just Dance Studio, 124 S. Kentucky Ave., Lakeland. An “admission fee” of $5 is requested for light refreshments during the two-hour seminar discussing the growing problem of fake news or deliberate propaganda.

Friedman notes that the 2016 election revealed a need for media consumers to know how to judge the credibility of what they read.

Polk County Democratic Women’s Club to host Lakeland walk, rally

The Democratic Women’s Club of East Polk County will sponsor a walk and rally at Lake Mirror in downtown Lakeland 5-6:30 p.m., Sunday, which it says is to emphasize women’s and social rights.

Karen Welzel, president of the club, said the rally followed by the march around the lake is “to give a voice to groups and individuals feeling marginalized and attacked during this election cycle, and to bring to the forefront issues of importance to women.”

Among those issues, sponsors said, are civil rights, economic issues including equal pay for equal work, health care, religious freedom, environmental concerns, reproductive freedom and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

The rally follows one in Winter Haven last month and several throughout the state building toward the Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21.

Among the speakers for the Lakeland rally will be Welzel, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of East Polk Ridge; former Lakeland City Commissioner Keith Merritt; Dr. Maureen McKenna, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida; Professor Emeritus Dr. Sharon Kay Masters of Florida Southern College, who specializes in Women’s Studies; along with several other speakers.

Bill Rufty: Will I-4, Polk County Go Blue?

RuftyTuesday will reveal whether the I-4 corridor is still an important swing corridor or whether it has become an important Democratic Party corridor.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hit the counties along that stretch of interstate many times as well — and not just the big cities of St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando. Smaller cities and towns were targets as well.

Donald Trump held a rally at the Lakeland Linder Airport and Tim Kaine, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s running mate, appeared at a rally at the Lakeland Center.

Polk County, traditionally conservative Republican for two decades, is one of the last pieces of the I-4 corridor Democrats would like to have.

Awakening after 20 years, county party leaders finally succeeded in fielding candidates for all seven legislative races. While no Democratic landslide is in sight and only one likely competitive race this time, the Democrats have taken a page from former Polk County Republican Party Chair Jean Burt.

“I can’t expect people to vote Republican and change their party to Republican unless I give them really good candidates to vote for,” Burt said in 1985 when there was no Republican in office in the county.

Essentially, in each election, she asked well-known people in the community to take one for the party.

The first Republican legislator from Polk since Reconstruction was elected in 1990. A Republican majority was elected in 1996 and there hasn’t been a Democrat elected from Polk since 1998. Now, Democrats seem to be paying attention to Burt’s philosophy.

Two of the bigger names Democrats have fielded are retired Circuit Judge Robert Doyel facing Republican activist Sam Killebrew for House District 41, and former school board member Debra Wright challenging Republican incumbent Kelli Stargel, for Senate District 22.

Doyel amassed a healthy campaign warchest of $92,265, an unusual feat for a Democrat in Polk County. Killebrew finished with $228,699.

Wright raised $26,277 in her Senate campaign, but the incumbent Stargel had received $494,010.

Members of the Florida Legislature receive an annual salary of $29,697.

How About Another Election?

Walk into any voting location in Lakeland and you will be stopped as you come out of the building and asked if you are a resident within the city limits of Lakeland.

“If you answer yes the person behind the desk (placed at the required distance from the polling entrance) will say ‘Well come on over and sign the petition for a strong mayor.’” Lakeland resident Ricky Shira said after casting his ballot in early voting. He didn’t sign.

The petitioners will be out in force Tuesday at the precinct locations too.

Supporters of changing the city charter to create a strong mayor form of government in Lakeland hope to obtain enough signatures to force the issue onto the ballot in 2017.

Most of the people manning the petition tables are paid. But there are volunteers for the group as well. And there are just as many old-time movers and shakers in Lakeland who have formed a group to oppose the strong-mayor proposal.

Currently, while the mayor is elected by the city’s voters for a four-year term, he or she is considered one of the seven members of the commission in the city manager form of government.

Supporters hope to bring the issue to the ballot in November 2017, when city commission elections are held.

Both Tampa and Orlando, on each side of Lakeland, have the strong mayor system of government. Supporters say Lakeland, whose population is now over 110,000, is large enough to have a strong mayor system.

‘Woman’s Work’ …

Don’t tell Dena DeCamp of Lakeland that Donald Trump doesn’t have the support of women. She will read you a litany of women working in his Florida campaign.

“Most of the Republican campaign headquarters across the state are being run by the Florida Federation of Republican women,” said DeCamp of Lakeland, who is the state president.

She insists that statewide women are coming forward and supporting Trump, recalling a 92-year-old woman who had immigrated from Australia decades ago and became a citizen had come in to register to vote for the first time.

“We have had many people well over the age of 21 come into the Lakeland campaign headquarters to register for the first time or to change parties to Republican,” she said.

The forms are then taken to the Polk County Supervisor of Elections office to be recorded.

DeCamp has supported Trump from the day he won the nomination and has often acted as his surrogate in the state, including speaking at his event in Lakeland.

“This is the person we in the early tea party have been waiting for — a businessman who is not a politician,” she said late Monday as she was putting up more campaign signs.

Hispanic Polk Republicans to protest Hillary Clinton in Lakeland

The Hispanic Republican Club of Polk County plans a protest rally against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at 5 p.m. Thursday at the intersection of Florida Avenue and Edgewood Drive in Lakeland.

The intersection where north-south and east-west thoroughfares cross has been a favorite of sign wavers and protesters for decades.

From a candidate who used to dress as Uncle Sam, to one campaign that featured a rock band, to a street preacher with a megaphone, the intersection is somewhat similar to London’s Speaker’s Corner, especially during election season.

Concepcion Scharar, a Lakeland resident and one of the protest organizers, said the group plans to protest revelations in Clinton campaign officials’ correspondence in the recent WikiLeaks emails that she said are disparaging to Catholics and thereby an insult to Hispanics and other minorities. She said the gathering is also to protest Clinton’s own stand on abortion (which is pro-choice).

Armed with placards and signs, Scharar said the Democrats do not have as large a contingent of Hispanic supporters as they claim.

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