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At annual meeting, Republicans contemplate their place at the top after election wins

With big wins in the November elections and now about to control the House, Senate and the presidency, the Republican Party of Florida didn’t feel the need to shake up party leadership much — re-electing Blaise Ingoglia by a sizable margin at the 2017 annual leadership conference Saturday morning.

The RPOF spent much of the rest of the morning at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on top of the world and in good spirits. But they also focused on the future and action, now that they have so much power in government.

Sen. Marco Rubio spoke about the need to not waste the chance to take action.

“We’ll veto a lot of the regulations put in place,” he said. “The Senate has moved to start repealing Obamacare. Donald Trump will be presenting his plan for a replacement within the next few weeks.”

Rubio said in the first half of this year, he anticipated Obamacare to be repealed and replaced.

He also said Republicans could look forward to a new Supreme Court justice replacing the late Antonin Scalia, who would hopefully serve for 20 to 25 years, and tax reform and fiscal plans in line with what they said would help fix the economy.

“We can provide an opportunity for the American dream,” he said. “The party will be organized around limited government, free enterprise and a strong national defense. If we don’t do our jobs, there are no excuses. We control the House, the Senate and the White House. We can set the country on the right course.”

Palm Beach County official Michael Barnett won the Vice Chair seat, and he and others spoke of moving forward and expanding the party to include everyone.

Barnett, who previously served as the party’s Chairman of their Minority Engagement Committee, said it was important to show various minority communities that the Republican Party could serve their interests.

“We’ve made a good start with this election,” he said. “Eight percent of the black vote went to Donald Trump — double what Mitt Romney was able to get.

“We need to keep reaching out to the Haitian, Caribbean and other communities, and become a part of their community. We don’t all come from the same background, but we can share the same values.”

Though Ingogilia’s win was easy enough, not everyone was happy. Challenger Christian Ziegler was touted as the candidate who could devote full attention to RPOF chair, rather than wear more than one hat as Ingoglia does as a member of the Legislature. Ingoglia currently represents the Florida House in District 35.

Ziegler said he could act like a “CEO of a business” for the party, and always be available to people, no matter what.

Orange County Republican chair Lew Oliver voiced some displeasure with this to FloridaPolitics.com. Oliver thought the chair should be someone with no other interests or positions in politics.

“In politics, there are a lot of battles already,” Oliver said. “Members of Legislature are involved in a lot of struggles, factions and groups. You don’t want someone who may be motivated to have another set of battles.”

Ingoglia’s acceptance speech focused on the ability of the RPOF to create “a dynasty” that could keep the state in Republican control for the foreseeable future.

Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera noted it might be unwise for Republicans to get too complacent in their place at the top — the 2018 election cycle could be even more difficult.

“The Democrats suffered losses in this election,” he said. “They’re doing pretty bad. As low and as bad as they are, they may only have one place to go, though — unless we keep our place and not take this for granted. Because they’re not taking their losses for granted.”

“Because they’re not taking their losses for granted.”

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Marco Rubio to Florida Republicans: Re-electing Donald Trump begins now

It’s still six days before Donald Trump is sworn in as president and Sen. Marco Rubio is telling Florida Republicans they have to start working now to make sure he’s re-elected.

Rubio briefly addresses Republicans at the state GOP’s annual meeting Saturday and said Democrats will be working hard to try to take Trump out.

Rubio said, “Re-election has already started.”

Rubio was highly critical of Trump when both sought the Republican nomination for president, and he avoided talking about the billionaire developer after deciding to run for re-election.

But he says he looks forward to seeing what Trump and a Republican Congress can accomplish.

He also dismissed “chatter” that he could challenge Trump in four years, saying he will serve the full six years of his second term.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.
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Rick Kriseman will seek to deregulate the city’s taxi cabs

The announcement came toward the end of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s state of the city address Saturday: The next ordinance Kriseman plans to introduce is one deregulating the vehicle-for-hire industry.

Kriseman did not provide many details except to say it would include incentives for taxi companies and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to comply with St. Petersburg’s system.

Let the market decide what’s best, Kriseman said, adding that, if his plan succeeds then St. Petersburg would be a leader in finding a way to resolve the contentious relationship between traditional cabs and ride-sharing companies.

“If it doesn’t work, that’s OK, too,” Kriseman said.

In the past year, St. Petersburg has sought to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft. The city wants the companies to pay the $65 per vehicle tax that cab companies pay. But Uber has resisted, saying that’s unfair because its drivers are not employees and are merely part-timers making a bit of extra money. Uber has suggested paying $5,000 per year.

For the most part, Kriseman’s state of the city address, his third since taking office, was upbeat and gave him a chance to highlight the accomplishments of his administration. Among those, he said, were having the city on a better financial footing, progress on rebuilding the Pier, a 105 percent increase in new business registrations and an unemployment rate that’s lower than the state or national level.

Kriseman also looked to the future, saying the city’s infrastructure needed repair — especially the sewer system. He noted that the city has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars to revamp the system. Kriseman added that he is also revamping the city’s stormwater plan, which was last done 22 years ago.

“How a coastal city can have a 22-year storm plan is beyond me,” Kriseman said. “We have much work ahead, but we are up to the task.”

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Florida Democrats tab wealthy developer Stephen Bittel to lead party

Despite challenges from leading, longtime Democrat activists from Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville and Kissimmee, wealthy South Florida developer and party fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected chairman Saturday of the Florida Democratic Party.

Bittel won on the first ballot, winning 55 percent of the weighted votes against Alan Clendenin, Dwight Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius, quickly ending weeks of wheelings and dealings, charges and counter charges. There remains a lawsuit in Miami-Dade challenging Bittel’s candidacy qualification.

Bittel, who runs several companies in South Florida and has been reported to have a net worth more than $1 billion, took 614 weighted votes on the first ballot. Clendenin finished second with 230 and Bullard third with 115.

King lost again moments later in the race for the party’s first vice chair, to FDP Treasurer Judy Mount.

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Blaise Ingoglia wins re-election as chair of Florida GOP

Incumbent Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia swept to victory Saturday morning at the annual elections with a 152 to 76 vote over challenger Christian Ziegler.

Ingoglia, in a speech touting his virtues, called attention to his own free-market and grassroots leanings, saying there was really only one way to win — through having feet on the ground and getting out and doing the work.

“It’s sitting at home and saying goodbye to your wife and your children, driving to the panhandle and speaking at a dinner, then driving to Jacksonville and speaking at another dinner, and then driving all the way home,” he said, “only to have a chairman call you at 3 a.m. to see if you’re still awake.”

Ingoglia called attention to the victory of President-elect Donald Trump and sweeping victories for the party in Florida as examples of why the Republicans were strong right now.

Now, he said, the challenge will be keeping that position on top and staying there, to create a “dynasty” for the party.

“Staying in power is the hard part,” he said. “We can build a dynasty that lasts for generations. If we work together, nothing will stop us from building a Republican Party of Florida dynasty and winning elections.”

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Alan Clendenin wins appeal to seek Democrats’ state chair

Longtime Florida Democratic leader Alan Clendenin is back in the running for the party’s state chairmanship after winning an overwhelming vote to reject a committee’s ruling from Friday night that had disqualified him.

Clendenin’s candidacy for the state chair was restored after he made a “you know me” speech Saturday morning to the Florida Democratic Party executive committee, to toss the Friday ruling by the party’s Judicial Council, which had ruled him ineligible.

“What happened yesterday had very little to do with the facts and more to do with agenda,” Clendenin said in unsuccessfully arguing his case before the executive committee. “I’ve spent 42 years working hard for the Democratic Party.”

The executive committee also upheld a ruling by that council to keep Miami-Dade developer Stephen Bittel o the ballot.

Bittel still must face Lisa King of Duval County, Leah Carius of Osceola County and Dwight Bullard of Gadsden County.

Party Vice Chairman Clendenin was disqualified by the Democrats’ Judicial Council Friday night from running for the statewide chair’s position. On Saturday morning he sought, unsuccessfully to stay alive in the chair’s race with an appeal to the executive committee.

Yet a challenge against Bittel was denied, and that denial was upheld Saturday morning by the executive committee. But it remains an active issue. Attorney Bruce Jacobs, who is challenging Bittel’s qualification, was denied the opportunity to speak Saturday morning, but said the matter would go to court.

And that pair of challenges hangs over the gathering Saturday, leading to shouts from the crowd.

Jacobs has filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County to legally challenge how Bittel was elected state committeeman in Miami-Dade, making him eligible to run statewide. He said a hearing had been set for next Friday in the court of Judge Lisa Walsh.

Bittel’s attorney then told the gathering that Bittel’s election in Miami-Dade followed the letter of the law, and said the extensive evidence is prepared to show that.

Democrats are trying their hands at new technology to count votes.

Each qualified delegate has been given a digital, Wi-Fi clicker, assigned to them. To vote, they click their choices, and their votes are instantaneously recorded and displayed on a screen at the front of the room, with a timer showing when time expires.

The technology should result in much quicker results as the Democrats pick a new chair this morning, along with other top officers and ten delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

“They’re rented, so the Russians can’t hack them,” quipped Helen McFadden, the DNC’s parliamentarian.

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Brian Burgess: Adam Hollingsworth appointment could be blip on Rick Scott’s legacy

As his second term in office winds down, Rick Scott should be considering his legacy as Florida governor, particularly if he wants to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

It’s that same legacy that makes Scott’s recent decision “bizarre,” at least in the eyes of The Capitolist’s Brian Burgess.

Burgess refers to Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s former Chief of Staff, who the governor named this week to the University of North Florida board of trustees.

As Burgess writes, the appointment “predictably created a wave of justifiable outrage,” one which could needlessly jeopardize both the reputation of Florida’s University System and Scott’s legacy.

Hollingsworth’s earlier admission of academic fraud – lying about a public relations degree from the University of Alabama in 1990 – makes him, in the view of many (including United Faculty of Florida UNF Chapter President  John White), ineligible for a position in academia.

“It seems to me someone should be disqualified from overseeing or evaluating the value of the degrees that we grant at UNF if they lied about having one,” White told the Florida Times-Union. “Granted, that was a long time ago, but it seems to me it is an egregious affront to what we stand for at this university

Yes, the unwanted attention did force Hollingsworth to resign. But Scott’s penchant for dropping people from his circle who generate any bad press – the latest example being Visit Florida’s Will Seccombe – leaves many scratching their heads over Hollingsworth’s placement at UNF, as opposed to a less controversial board appointment.

Hopefully, this will remain just a minor blip on Scott’s legacy, which Burgess is ardently defending.

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No. 9 Florida State getting big contributions from its bench

Florida State sophomore Terrance Mann has dubbed the ninth-ranked Seminoles’ bench the “Boom Squad.” So far the nickname has proven to be appropriate considering how productive the reserves have been in conference play.

The Seminoles’ reserves are averaging 22.5 points and the team is 16-1 and off to a 4-0 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play for the first time in school history.

They are one of two ACC teams that have 12 players averaging in double figures in minutes played. The other is 11th-ranked North Carolina (15-3, 3-1 ACC) — and FSU plays the Tar Heels Saturday in Chapel Hill.

“They are like a second starting unit because it wears other teams down which we use to our advantage,” Mann said. “They bring everything — energy, scoring and defense.”

With the depth and no set rotation, coach Leonard Hamilton has often subbed three or four players at a time to get the freshest combination on the court. According to KenPom’s minutes analytics, FSU is the only ACC team to not have anyone play more than 70 percent of their team’s minutes. The past three seasons, Hamilton has had three or more players do that.

The Seminoles have seen 41 percent of playtime go to bench players, which is sixth among Power Five conference schools and 22nd in Division I.

“We haven’t had a lot of quality depth the past couple years,” Hamilton said. “We just now have our full complement that allows us to use everyone. We’re fortunate that those guys are not coming in just to spell guys but contributing at a high level and improve.”

While Florida State’s bench has been mostly populated by newcomers, it has also had a nice mix between youth and experience.

Senior Jarquez Smith (6-foot-9) and sophomore Christ Koumadje, who is the tallest player in program history at 7-4, provide plenty of size in the frontcourt. Koumadje is fifth in the conference in blocks with 24 while Smith is averaging 10 points and 4.5 rebounds in the past two games.

Freshmen CJ Walker and Trent Forrest have been effective at both ends of the court. Walker leads the team in free throw percentage (80.8 percent) and Forrest is sixth in the conference in steals with 28.

“We know when we come in, we’re going to try to make something positive happen. So I just feel like we’ve accepted the role and we enjoy it,” Forrest said.

Sophomore PJ Savoy, who is a junior college transfer, has added the biggest offensive impact with his perimeter shooting off the bench. He is 22 of 50 on 3-pointers during the team’s school-record, 12-game winning streak including a pair of 3-pointers during Tuesday’s 88-72 win over No. 7 Duke.

Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said after his team lost last Saturday that he thinks this is the best team Hamilton has ever had.

“I think they can play a lot of different ways,” Williams said. “I don’t necessarily look at it as a platoon but if you are platooning, obviously that means there are a lot of different options relative to what’s going on in the game.”

The advantage in bodies has been apparent during the second half of games. In conference play, the Seminoles have outscored teams 43-34 after halftime.

If there is a team though that can match FSU’s depth it is the Tar Heels, who have four players averaging in double figures and six averaging at least 7.2 points overall. UNC has the ACC’s top scoring attack at 89.3 points with FSU second at 86.7.

The Tar Heels though will be thin up front with freshman forward Tony Bradley Jr. out due to a concussion. Isaiah Hicks has frequently battled foul trouble while junior swingman Theo Pinson has played in only two games after missing the first 16 due to October foot surgery.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he considers Saturday’s game to be a challenge due to Florida State’s length and depth.

“It’s effective for them defensively because they have good feet and then the length, so they bother your shot,” he said. “They use their length and athleticism and their brain, because I think they’re a really intelligent team too.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Palm Beach state committeeman, committeewoman endorse Stephen Bittel for FDP Chair

With just hours to go before the Florida Democratic Party Executive Committee votes for a new party chair, front-runner Stephen Bittel announced that he has the backing of John Ramos and Deidre Newton, the Palm Beach County State Committeeman and Committeewomen, respectively.

“The Palm Beach County Democratic Party Executive Committee Board of Directors, members, zone leaders and elected officials participated in the decision to endorse Stephen Bittel,” Ramos and Newton said in a statement released by the Bittel campaign Saturday morning.

Bittel is running for FDP chair against former state Senator Dwight Bullard, Duval County State Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Party Chair Leah Carius. 

Tampa’s Alan Clendenin may still be eligible as well.

Before the vote for party chair, the executive committee will vote on whether to accept or reject the decision by the FDP’s judicial subcommittee to accept a complaint filed against him that challenged his election as a Bradford County State Committeeman (you can read all about that here).

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Bob Graham, Chris Hand pushing new edition of ‘America The Owner’s Manual’

Someone might be forgiven for thinking that maybe Bob Graham and Chris Hand might not want to tell people how to fight city hall and win.

Graham, of course, is Florida’s former U.S. Senator and former governor. Hand is a former aide of his who also served chief of staff – at city hall, in Jacksonville. Fighting city hall, or the governor’s office, or Congress, might have put them in awkward positions at times.

But the two are pushing a new edition of their book, “America The Owner’s Manual” with the new emphasis and subtitle, “You Can Fight City Hall – And Win.”

The 287-page, 10-chapter book is a how-to guide for citizens to define the problem that’s annoying them and take action to convince the government to take care of it, available on Amaazon.com and other online bookstores. The book is a fully-updated and revised version of the book the first owner’s manual published in 2009, mainly addressing such rapidly changing arenas in media and social media.

Graham said the idea goes back to 1974 when, as a member of the Florida Senate, he was challenged by a Carol City High School civics teacher in Miami Gardens about civics education, and together they worked up a how-to curriculum for the students and helped teach it.

With chapters such as “Just the Facts, Ma’am: Gathering Information to Sway Makers,” “The Buck Stops Where? Identifying who in Government Can Fix Your Problem,” and “All for One, and One for All: Coalitions for Citizen Success,” the book aims, Graham said, at creating and training what he called the “citizen lobbyist.” Hand and Graham said it applies to all levels of government, but probably most important and effective at the local level, where they said most decisions directly affecting people are made.

“Really, what we’re trying to do in this book is, we want the everyday citizen who says that I’m concerned with the Orange County School Board changing the boundaries of my school, or I’m worried that government hasn’t cleaned up a local lake, or I’m worried about that new highway construction they’re talking about through downtown Orlando, that they can pick up this book and work in a step-by-step process to address their concerns with government,” Hand said.

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