The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - Page 7 of 605 - SaintPetersBlog

Ben Carson to keynote Hillsborough GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Tuesday, Castor dismissed such speculation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#16 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Gus Bilirakis

Tarpon Springs Rep. Gus Bilirakis earned props even from of his most zealous Democratic Party critics when he held three well-publicized town hall meetings in early 2017, where he steadfastly defended his opposition to the Affordable Care Act while acknowledging at the time that his GOP House colleagues didn’t have a replacement bill teed up to support.

The day before the House voted on the American Health Care Act 2.0 in early May, a spokesperson said he was undecided as conversations continue about the final form of the bill. But when it counted, he voted with the majority of his GOP colleagues in support of the bill.

“Gus is the quiet guy from Tarpon Springs who works hard and gets the job done,” says Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano. “He has a true servant’s heart, an outstanding staff and a desire to represent the people of his community to the best of ability.”

Fasano also praised the 54-year-old as someone who doesn’t crave the spotlight, an exception in Congress.

Bilirakis was No. 15 in the 2016 survey.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“There has been speculation that his seat in Congress could be in jeopardy over the health care issue, but I’m not buying it. I’ll give him a lot of credit for showing up to town halls earlier this year on that issue even though he knew he would be beaten up by angry voters. He doesn’t get enough credit, I think, for working to speed up the process where potential lifesaving drugs are approved by the FDA. He also is a champion for veterans, which makes him aces in my book.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#17 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Ken Hagan

Ken Hagan, the longest-serving Hillsborough County Commissioner (going on 15 years), announced last month that he’ll attempt to stay in the job by running in District 2 next year.

That ended the somewhat far-flung speculation (promoted by Hagan himself) that the Carrollwood Republican was considering a move to Tampa to run for mayor in 2019.

Hagan is all about bringing sports to Hillsborough County — he stays the point man in the region in working on bringing the Tampa Bay Rays across the Bay. He also was part of the team that led to Tampa hosting the College Football Playoff championship.

Hagan was also an unflagging champion of the Go Hillsborough transit initiative, but his influence couldn’t bring the majority of his GOP brethren to even support putting the measure on the 2016 ballot.

Hagan’s position at No. 17 stays constant from 2016.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“He is another guy who has been around forever. He prefers moving in stealth on big-ticket issues like a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Hillsborough County, but now and then he’ll surprise you with a headline like he did in March. That’s when he tweaked the Rays for not showing “urgency” in choosing a stadium site. If the Rays lose Hagan’s support, they’ll either be in St. Petersburg forever or Montreal.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#18 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Dennis Ross

Dennis Ross, initially elected in 2010 to Florida’s 15th Congressional District that had been held by Adam Putnam, thumped Jim Lange, his Democratic rival last fall, 58 to 42 percent.

As the senior GOP deputy House majority whip, Ross has mostly been a steadfast backer of President Donald Trump and spoke out enthusiastically upon the successful passage of the American Health Care Act in early May.

“After seven long years, Americans across Florida and the entire nation can breathe a sigh of relief today because we fulfilled our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he declared.

After the AHCA vote, the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index gives CD 15 a +6 Republican lean.

Ross was No. 19 in the 2016 survey.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“As senior deputy whip for Republicans in the U.S. House, Ross is moving steadily up the ranks. Part of that, no doubt, is that he sticks reliably to GOP talking points (taxes, Obamacare, et al: BAD). He has worked with Democrat Kathy Castor on things like flood insurance though, and one-on-one he is an engaging fellow. Democrats are lining up in Polk County to challenge for his seat. They will not be successful.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#19 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Cruz

The first Latina House Minority Leader in the history of the Florida Legislature, Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz is perhaps at the maximum level of her power in the 2017 session, the first in her two-year stint.

Originally elected in a tightly contested special election in her overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning district in January 2010, Cruz has impressed friends and colleagues at her ascendance in Tallahassee.

Although there have been reports about her considering a run against Dana Young next year in the Senate District 18 race, the smart money seems to be that she may take a crack at a spot on the Hillsborough County Commission.

Cruz saw two of her priorities get passed in 2017 – a vote by mail signature fix and a bill requiring health insurers and HMOs offer medication synchronization programs.

Cruz knows “all too well the struggles that face working families, teen moms, single parents, small-business owners and the strife of young students who cannot afford higher education,” says her daughter, Ana Cruz, a lobbyist and former executive director of the Democratic Party of Florida.

This is the second time Cruz has placed in the survey. She placed No. 16 in the 2016 survey.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“I would have moved her up in the rankings by several notches. Democrats don’t hold much sway in the Legislature but Cruz, the Democratic House leader actually managed to stand out as a voice that reminded the Republican crowd that lawmakers’ responsibilities extend beyond cutting taxes and helping their charter school buddies.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#20 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bernie McCabe

Bernie McCabe, the 69-year-old Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney, had originally said that 2016 would be his swansong in office, but opted for one more four-year term last year, where he was unopposed in his reelection bid.

When Aramis Ayala, his Central Florida counterpart, stunningly announced earlier this year that she would no longer pursue the death penalty in the capital cases that stood before her, McCabe emphatically said he did not agree with her decision.

 “I think if you’re going to be the state attorney and you’re sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Florida, you’ve got to do all of them,” McCabe told the News Service of Florida “If you accept this job, you have to accept that the governor can remove you from a case if he thinks that’s in the best interest of justice. That’s just the way it is.”

McCabe did not make the 2016 survey.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“I don’t like the death penalty but it’s on the books. McCabe, in his role as Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney, has what I believe to be an obligation to pursue the ultimate punishment in appropriate situations. After Aramis Ayala said in Orlando she wouldn’t seek the death penalty in high-profile case that seemed to scream for it, McCabe left no doubt that he was not on her side. Point, McCabe.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

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