Barack Obama Archives - Page 7 of 71 - SaintPetersBlog

@POTUS gets a fresh start with Donald Trump inauguration

Much has been said about the peaceful transition of power, but what about the peaceful transition of the presidential Twitter account?

Don’t worry, there’s a plan for that.

The POLITICO Morning Tech email reported this morning that a plan is in place to transition all of President Barack Obama’s tweets from the @POTUS account to @POTUS 44, an “archived Obama-era version of the account. The account will retain all of the current followers, while also attaching those same followers to the account that gets handed over to President-elect Donald Trump.

“That is, if you follow the presidential account now you’ll eventually, automagically, end up following both @POTUS44 and @POTUS,” reported POLITICO Morning Tech.

The White House issued a memo in October, outlining how it would transition the president’s social media presence. According to the memo, @POTUS will be made available to Trump and maintain its more than 11 million followers, “but start with no tweets on timeline.” The White House said the social media accounts of @WhiteHouse, @FLOTUS, @PressSec and @VP.

On Instagram and Facebook, the memo explained, the incoming White House gains access to the “White House username, URL, and retain the followers, but will start with no content on the timeline.”

“An archive of White House content that was posted to the Obama White House Instagram and Facebook will continue to be accessible to the public at Instagram.com/ObamaWhiteHouse and Facebook.com/ObamaWhiteHouse. Facebook accounts for President Obama and the Vice President and the Instagram accounts belonging to the First Lady and Vice President will be moved to new “44” usernames and preserved by NARA,” according to the report.

“We’ll follow a similar approach with other official accounts on platforms including Medium, Tumblr, and YouTube. These presences will be made available to the 45th White House, including the “White House” username, /WhiteHouse URL, and the followers, but start with no content on the accounts. The Obama White House content will be preserved and accessible in the same manner as all other presidential records and continue to be available on the platform at a new URL. “

But don’t stop looking for tweets from Trump’s personal twitter account. CNET reported this week that Trump said he would rather keep using @realDonaldTrump.

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Amid packing boxes and tears, staffers leaving White House

They line up near the Oval Office, down the hallway toward the Cabinet Room, trailed by their spouses and young kids in their finest clothes. When it’s their turn, the White House staffers enter for a few private moments with President Barack Obama, a photo and a farewell hug from the boss.

There’s a mass exodus underway this week at the White House. As Obama holds his last news conference Wednesday, his staff is busy packing up their offices and turning in their BlackBerrys. For some who joined Obama’s team right out of college, it’s the end of the only professional experience they’ve ever known.

The finals days of any president’s administration are always bittersweet and heavy on nostalgia, as officials face the transition back to being “civilians” who will no longer have their hands on the nation’s levers of power. Yet there’s added sadness this time for Obama staffers who are mostly horrified by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

“You’re always aware that it’s a special privilege to work there and not something to take for granted,” said Nate Lowentheil, who worked on Obama’s National Economic Council for the last three years. “It’s particularly hard knowing the next wave of people coming are going to be working to reverse the things you were working to advance until your very last hour.”

There were tears on the faces of some White House aides on Tuesday as press secretary Josh Earnest appeared in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for his final press briefing – his 354th as press secretary, Earnest said. Even former staffers were invited to return to the White House witness Earnest’s last round of jousting with reporters.

“I’m going to miss it,” Earnest said. “It will take some getting used to seeing somebody else standing up here doing it.”

“Or not,” he added, in a nod to the prospect that Trump’s team may make changes to the daily briefing.

In between closing out final projects and typing up reports on the work they’ve done, White House staffers are packing away their knickknacks, coffeemakers and photos. The boxes stack up in offices already vacated by staffers who have departed over the past few weeks.

By Thursday night, all must be gone to make way for Trump’s team.

Before they leave the building for the final time, they’ll go through a checklist that completes their formal separation from the White House: cell phones handed in, computers locked and papers properly filed to be archived. The last step, aides said, is the hardest: handing in the badge that provides access to the complex day or night.

Then they depart the building and make what for many is a jarring transition from 18-hour workdays and little personal time to unemployment. Lowentheil said that since his last day less than two weeks ago, he’d read three novels, slept 10-12 hours a night and, for the first time in years, didn’t set a morning alarm.

Emails announcing a staffer’s last day stream in at a faster and faster pace as Jan. 20 approaches. They share with colleagues a personal email address and cell phone number, a thank you and maybe a brief reflection on their time at the center of it all.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of it. And yeah, I’m interested in what happens here. And I’ll continue to follow it,” Earnest said. “But I will be relieved to not have the burden to follow it as closely as this job has required over the last two-and-a-half years.”

A few White House staffers have found new jobs already, but most are taking some time off to ponder next steps.

Some are going home to visit family they haven’t spent much time with in years. One said he was spending two months driving across the country, unsure of what he’d do next. Others are taking long vacations to places like New Zealand and Iceland, unencumbered by the need to constantly check in with the office.

“This is the only world I’ve known,” said Clay Dumas, who took time off from college to work for Obama’s 2008 campaign, then interned at the White House before being hired four years ago. He said he was searching for a job that would allow him to continue advancing values and policies he worked on in the White House. “Whatever I do next will be a huge continuation of that.”

Reprinted with the permission of The Associated Press. Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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Donald Trump wax figure debuts before inauguration

Madame Tussauds locations in Orlando, Washington, D.C., New York, and London unveiled wax figures of President-elect Donald Trump ahead of Friday’s inauguration.

A team of 20 artists worked around the clock for six months to create the wax figures. It took five weeks just to fashion Trump’s famous hairstyle with each individual hair inserted by hand.

This isn’t the first time Trump has been immortalized in wax. He’s actually the first president to already have a Madame Tussauds wax figure. Artists took hundreds of photos and measurements of Trump in 1997 for his first figure. After he won the 2016 election, the original was updated to match his current look.

“Mr. Trump was the most-searched person globally on Google in 2016 so the pressure was on to perfect his iconic features in time for inauguration,” said Therese Alvich, general manager of Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. in a release.

Dressed in a patriotic dark blue suit, red tie and Made in America flag lapel pin, Trump will replace Barack Obama in a White House oval office set.

A Trump wax figure has been in the lobby of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not on International Drive for the past month.

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A look at Obama’s legacy, foolish hope of ‘post-racial’ America

(Part 1 of two. Part two will deal with Obama’s political legacy)

The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama focused on the theme of change. Obama promised to “restore our moral standing” and “focus on nation-building here at home.”

Obama, as a candidate, told audiences that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” “Yes, we can” and “change you can believe in” became the campaign themes.

Obama promised to “make government cool again.” This would be achieved by an activist, expanding federal government. Obama seemed to be contradicting the message of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who argued that “the era of big government is over.”

Although Obama viewed himself as a transformative president, much of his first year in office was spent stabilizing America’s collapsing economy and avoiding another Great Depression.

America was losing 700,000 to 800,000 a month with no let up in sight. Major banks and Wall Street brokers were declaring bankruptcy, and the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

If nothing else, Obama deserves credit for stabilizing the economy. His action plan included an unpopular stimulus program, a bailout of the auto industry that some described as socialism, and shoring up the big banks that were responsible for much of the economic instability with their risky loans.

As a result of President Obama’s efforts, an economic catastrophe was avoided. We have had eight consecutive years of economic growth, although critics pointed out the less than 3 percent growth rate was low. The economic programs, in part, lead to an 88 percent increase in the national debt and the loss of the United States AAA bond rating.

“Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was the primary domestic accomplishment of the Obama presidency. Young individuals could remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions would not disqualify you from coverage and 20 million more Americans received health care coverage.

The ACA was not without its critics. The plan did not control health care costs as promised, and Obama’s promise to Americans that “if you like your doctors, you can keep them” and “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” proved not to be true. In fact, Politics-Fact labeled those promises the “lie of the year.”

The ACA was narrowly passed without a single Republican vote. That does not bode well for its long-term success. Major public policy change in the United States, to succeed, needs to be comfortably passed with bipartisan support. Civil rights legislation and Medicare are just two examples of that.

Democrats contend that Republicans were not going to vote for the ACA and give Obama a major political victory. Republicans argued that the president made no attempt to reach out to them and find common ground. The president has many tools available to curry support, most importantly, the power of persuasion. For whatever reason, the goal seemed to pass the ACA with or without Republican votes.

The election of Donald Trump now jeopardizes the ACA. Republicans must realize that if they attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare without Democratic support, their plan will fail just as Obama’s plan is likely to fail.

Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, was supposed to lead to a “post-racial America.” That was a foolish and unrealistic expectation.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia in an attempt to counter the negative public reaction to statements from Jeremiah Wright, the president’s longtime friend and minister. Wright attacked racism in America in many of his talks. The most explosive comment found Wright stating: “Not God bless America. God damn America!”

In his address on race, Obama said Wright was correct in talking about racism but wrong in speaking “as if no progress had been made.”

Almost as soon as he assumed the presidency, Obama dealt with one racial issue after another. In 2009, Obama said a police officer “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor when Gates entered his home through a window after forgetting his house key. Obama quickly held a “beer summit,” inviting both Gates and the police officer to talk through their dispute.

In 2012, the nation was divided when a white neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a young black male named Trayvon Martin. Obama told reporters that “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.” The white shooter was found not guilty.

A police shooting of another black teen in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 led to criticism of Obama by both whites and blacks. Whites attacked the president for criticizing the police in “using excessive force” against protestors who were “lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.” Blacks criticized the president for stating that there is “no excuse for violence against the police” or “those who would use this tragedy to cover for vandalism or looting.”

 In 2015, the nation was shocked by the brutal murder of nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, a young white male who had been invited to join the Bible study. The nation saw the moving acts of forgiveness as one relative after another of the victims said they forgave him. This act of grace led President Obama to conclude his remarks at the church by singing Amazing Grace.

Obama was widely criticized for his foreign policy actions or inactions. Critics blamed the early exit if American forces from Iraq as creating a vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge. His nuclear pact with Iran was criticized by Republicans, the military, Israel and others who saw the act as creating a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. The president’s failure to enforce his “red line” in Syria if chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad, created an inroad for both ISIS and the Soviets to expand their role.

Like all presidents, Obama has a mixed bag of successes and failures as president. In his own analysis of his presidency, Obama praised his administration for stopping the economic crisis, saving the auto industry, creating the longest stretch of job creation, opening relations with Cuba, shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, passing national health insurance and securing marriage equality. “America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

During the 2016 campaign, Obama stated: “My legacy is on the line.” By that standard, the public decided they wanted to move in another direction.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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Luis Gutiérrez: Puerto Rican prisoner Oscar López Rivera to be freed

Longtime Puerto Rican prisoner Oscar López Rivera — known as a political prisoner to his supporters and as a convicted member of a murderous terrorist organization to his foes — is being freed under a clemency granted by President Barack Obama, according to one key lawmaker

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, an Illinois Democrat who has campaigned for Lopez’s freedom including in a stop in Orlando last year, announced Tuesday that he had been informed Obama is granting clemency. López is from Chicago.

The White House has not yet announced that Obama has granted clemency for López.

López has been in federal prison for more than 35 years after being convicted in 1981 for his participation in the Puerto Rican independence group FALN. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy, use of force to commit robbery, interstate transportation of firearms and ammunition to aid in the commission of a felony, and interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. He was sentenced to 55 years.

López turned 74 last week.

His cause has been taken up by a wide range of politicians who, like Gutiérrez, believe he is being held as a political prisoner of Puerto Rican independence, sentenced and serving far longer than would be justified by the actual crimes for which he was convicted. His has been an issue for much of the Puerto Rican community in particular; many of them consider him a freedom fighter, not a terrorist.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat of Puerto Rican heritage, is among those who have been urging Obama to grant him clemency or an unconditional pardon.

“We want to congratulate Oscar Lopez Rivera on his new freedom coming up in May and appreciate his long-term fight for Puerto Ricans,” Soto said. “We also want to thank President Barack Obama for doing the right thing.”

Another Orlando supporter, Phillip Arroyo, a Democratic activist who petitioned the White House on behalf of his group, Coalition for Puerto Rico Justice, for Lopez’s release, called it a very emotional day.

“We did it!” Arroyo said. “Oscar will go down in history as Puerto Rico’s version of Nelson Mandela. As a Puerto Rican who worked at the White House, I am so proud of President Obama who has once again showed his compassion and his courage to stand up for justice. Oscar will soon be back in our homeland of Puerto Rico, where he rightfully belongs.”

More than 108,000 people who signed an online petition calling for López’s release.

Gutiérrez office announced late Tuesday afternoon that it had received word from the White House that López will be released unconditionally after 120 more days in prison. The clemency not only releases him but wipes clean his record of convictions.

“I am overjoyed and overwhelmed with emotion,” Gutiérrez declared in a statement. “Oscar is a friend, a mentor, and family to me and he and his brother José have been friends and mentors for my entire adult life. There were times when hope was hard to find but my wife Soraida always had faith that this day would come.  Now it is clear that Oscar will rejoin his family and be able to walk free among the Puerto Rican people.”

López is a cause célèbre in the Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida and throughout the United States, and for residents of Puerto Rico.

His support extends from the capitol of Puerto Rico, where Gov. Alejandro García Padilla; Gov.-elect Ricardo Rossell, and Secretary of Justice César Miranda all have written and called for his release; to the halls of Congress, where López has near-universal support among the Hispanic Caucus members.

The support goes well beyond the Puerto Rican community to include Jimmy Carter, who was president during most of López’s alleged crimes, and who last month called for Obama to release him; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who made a similar call; the New York City Council, which pass a resolution in 2015 calling for his immediately release; the late Coretta Scott King, who backed his release before her 2006 death; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the presidents of the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and SEIU; the United Church of Christ; the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda; the Latino Victory Project, the ACLU, and several international human rights organizations, though not including Amnesty International.

A decorated Vietnam War Army veteran who lived much of his pre-prison life in Chicago, López was an acknowledged member and alleged leader in the 1970s and early ’80s of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or the FALN. The armed, Marxist-leaning, Puerto Rican nationalist group was linked to a number of bombings, shootings, robberies and other violent acts in Puerto Rico and stateside, acts which federal authorities labeled as a terrorist. The 1975 bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, claimed by FALN as a retaliatory act, killed four people and injured 60. There were other deaths and injuries in other incidents.

While he was not convicted of any charges directly linking him to any of the FALN’s more notorious attacks, prosecutors and the FBI had characterized Lopez as a leader, trainer and bomb maker for the group.

He also was convicted in 1988 of conspiring with others for a prison break, allegedly to be done with smuggled-in weapons, grenades and explosives. The escape attempt never went forward. He got another 15 years.

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18M more Americans would be uninsured under 2016 GOP repeal

Insurance premiums would soar and some 18 million Americans would lose health coverage if Republicans partially repeal President Barack Obama‘s health care law without a replacement, Congress’ nonpartisan budget office estimated Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office analyzed a GOP 2016 repeal measure, which Republicans have cited as a starting point for their 2017 drive to dismantle and replace Obama’s health overhaul.

Premiums for policies bought from online marketplaces established by Obama’s law would rise up to 25 percent a year after enactment of repeal. They’d about double by 2026, the report estimated.

There’d also be 18 million more uninsured people a year after enactment and 32 million more by 2026, the report projected.

The numbers served as a flashing yellow light for this year’s effort by President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to annul Obama’s law and — in a more complex challenge — institute their own alternative. While Republicans have produced several outlines for how they’d recraft Obama’s 2010 statute, they’ve never united behind one plan despite years of trying and there are many unknowns about what will happen in insurance markets while the GOP effort is underway.

The report also became immediate political fodder for both sides in what is expected to be one of this year’s premier battles in Congress.

Trump seemed to complicate that fight over the weekend when he told The Washington Post that a forthcoming GOP plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” In contrast, some congressional Republicans have used a more modest description, saying the plan will offer “universal access.”

The 2016 bill that CBO analyzed did not replace Obama’s law with a GOP alternative, which Republicans have insisted will be an integral part of their health care drive this year.

Because of that omission, Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the report “assumes a situation that simply doesn’t exist and that no one in Congress advocates.” AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the estimates “meaningless” because they ignored plans for legislation and regulatory actions by the incoming Trump administration aimed at revamping how people could obtain coverage.

Even so, Republicans have cited last year’s bill — which Obama vetoed — as a starting point for their 2017 drive to erase his law. Finding unity among Trump and GOP lawmakers on what a new plan should look like is expected to be a challenging task

Democrats used the report as ammunition to assail the Republican health-care push.

“Nonpartisan statistics don’t lie: it’s crystal clear that the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act will increase health care costs for millions of Americans and kick millions more off of their health insurance,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a written statement that used the law’s formal name.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Charlie Crist calls GOP Obamacare repeal without replacement ‘unacceptable’

With the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — already beginning to be phased out by Republicans in Washington this month, congressional Democrats took to the streets in Florida and around the country Sunday afternoon.

Congressional representatives held rallies and press events featuring regular citizens whose lives have benefited by Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

In South St. Petersburg, Charlie Crist held his own event, where he blasted congressional Republicans for having nearly seven years to provide an alternative to the ACA without doing so yet.

“In Washington D.C. I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening,” he said of the plans to repeal and replace.

And while that comment drew cheers from his supporters at the news conference held outside of Advantage Insurance Solutions on 22nd Street South, the fact is in the House at least, Republicans don’t necessarily need any Democrats to help them pass an alternative plan after they repeal the ACA.

“I think we need to keep it the way it is and try to improve it,” Crist said when asked if he would work with Republicans on a replacement.

“There are things that can be better about this act, no question about it,” he admitted, referring to ways to keep costs from escalating. But he said that repealing provisions of the law such as removing the ban on insurance companies being able to deny patients with pre-existing conditions was morally wrong.

“It would have to be something like Obamacare,” he said when asked by another reporter about what type of alternative he could stand behind. But the freshman Representative admitted that would be “challenging” considering that Republicans ran this fall on a platform of dismantling Obamacare.

“But anything worthwhile is not easy,” he said. “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for.”

Terry Donald is the owner of We Haul Florida, a hauling and cleanup service in Pinellas County.  He calls his family’s health history “a nightmare” with high blood pressure and heart disease present in several members of his clan. He related an anecdote about how he received a staph infection after cutting his leg while mowing his lawn. “Had I not sought treatment, I would have lost my life,” he said starkly, referring to how he was treated by his doctors with an aggressive course of IV antibiotics.

“People ask me why this coverage is so important and I tell them I had insurance,” he said. “I knew it would be covered. I knew I wouldn’t go bankrupt for receiving the care that I needed.”

Gloria Campbell writes insurance policies as the owner of Advantage Insurance Solutions. She says before the creation of the ACA, nine out of 10 health insurance policies that she drew up for her clients were rejected because of her client’s pre-existing health conditions, or their families’ poor medical history.

Campbell says many of those people now on the ACA had never previously seen a doctor because they didn’t know how insurance worked.

“Now they own their own health care,” she said. “They talk about what kind of outcomes they want. Now people don’t rely on getting sick, they rely on staying well.”

“We have the technology to restart a heart, to 3D print organs and tissue, to save people from Ebola, but we lack the moral fiber and legislative stones to ensure that the American taxpayer doesn’t face lifelong financial ruin for the crime of surviving,” charged Jhavavi Pathak, who currently attends MIT and is the founder of The War on Cancer Foundation.

She told the story of her father, Yogesh, who in 2004 was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer which ultimately spread to his spleen, pancreas, lungs, leg, brain and skull. He’s had 14 major surgeries, including four on his brain, and is somewhat miraculously still alive. In the fall of 2013, he signed up to get on the ACA. “Every one of us is a single mishap or accident away from lifelong financial ruin,” she declared.

“It used to be people didn’t survive a serious medical issue,” Pathak said. “We just didn’t have the medical treatments or the scientific know-how. But now in 21st Century America, people simply can’t afford to survive a serious medical attention.”

While she and the other public speakers blasted the GOP for not having a replacement plan ready to insert as they begin to repeal the law, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced Sunday that he does have a replacement ready to go.

“Replacement should be the same day,” Paul said on CNN’s State of The Union, reiterating his critique of fellow congressional Republicans’ “repeal and delay” idea. “Our goal is to insure the most amount of people, give access to the most amount of people at the least amount of cost.”

Paul praised the good intentions of the designers of the Affordable Care Act but said it includes too many mandates and has “broken the insurance model” in the individual market. Among other changes, his plan would remove some insurance coverage mandates that drive up premium costs to “legalize the sale of inexpensive insurance.”

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Tale of 2 parties: Florida GOP high, Dems low ahead of 2018

The state Republican and Democratic parties met two miles from each other Saturday, their first meetings since Donald Trump carried Florida in November’s election, but the atmosphere and enthusiasm were worlds apart.

As both parties chose their leaders, it was easy to see which has more confidence heading into an election cycle when the governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats will be open. Republicans were aglow in victory after Trump stunned many political observers by winning the state Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. At the same time, Democrats held a contentious election to choose a new chairman with little talk about this past election.

“How good does this feel? We defied the mainstream media, we defied conventional wisdom, defied the pollsters,” Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told GOP county chairs. “Right across town, Democrats are having their election and they’re not feeling near as good.”

As both parties prepare for 2018, Republicans are focused on how to build off the momentum Trump built with voters who traditionally haven’t been part of the political process while Democrats elected wealthy real estate developer and major party donor Stephen Bittel as chairman in hopes of ending two decades of futility at the polls.

“Donald Trump got a lot of people off of the couch and got them involved. It is our job at the Republican Party of Florida to harness all of that passion, all of that energy, and keep them in the game,” said state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who was easily re-elected. “And when we do, and mark my words we will do it, we will cripple the Democrat Party for a generation.”

After the Democrats elected Bittel, a group of protesters stood outside the meeting room holding signs that read, “SHAME,” ”This is not the party of the people” and “People over $$.”

Still, Bittel tried to paint the best picture of the party’s future.

“We have had an under-resourced operation in Florida for a long time. That changes, starting today, and we will build a different kind of party, I’m a different kind leader and we will change things,” Bittel said. “I grew up in Florida in an era when we won everything. I’m looking forward to that era again.”

But Bittel, 60, grew up more than four decades ago, and there’s a new generation of Democrats who have rarely seen victory.

Florida hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994. They’ve lost 14 of the past 15 Cabinet races. And despite Democrats’ success in passing a ballot initiative that requires political districts to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor parties or incumbents, Republicans maintain huge majorities in the Legislature and hold 16 of Florida’s 27 U.S. House seats.

Republicans appear better situated heading into a critical state election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the three GOP Cabinet members, including Putnam, are leaving office because of term limits. Also in 2018, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term, and it’s widely thought Scott will challenge him in what could be Nelson’s toughest re-election yet.

But despite under-performing again in 2016, Democrats think 2018 can be different. Democratic strategist and former state party political director Christian Ulvert pointed at several pluses. First, Nelson, the one consistently successful Florida Democrat since 2000, will be on the ballot.

“This year, we have a potential for Bill Nelson setting the tone, to really set the stage from the top down,” Ulvert said.

He also said the party has a rich field of popular city mayors who could be on the ballot for statewide races, including Fort Lauderdale’s Jack Seiler, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach’s Philip Levine, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum.

Putnam, who is likely to run for governor, warned Republicans that despite their successes, the party cannot become complacent.

“We can’t get arrogant and cocky and lose our way,” Putnam said. “We can’t take anything for granted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Subcommittee accepts complaint against Alan Clendenin, but he remains eligible for Fla. Dem Chair

Blame it on the fog of internal byzantine party rules, but Alan Clendenin remains eligible for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Late Friday afternoon, this website reported that Clendenin was ineligible to compete in Saturday’s vote, after an FDP subcommittee voted to accept a complaint filed against him regarding his move last month from Hillsborough County to Bradford County to make himself eligible for the election.

However, the entire state committee will be asked to accept or reject the subcommittee’s vote on Saturday morning before they vote for party chair. The complaint that was approved on Friday approved nullifying Clendenin’s election as State Committeeman in Bradford County last month, where he had rented a mobile home. The vote was five members in favor, with two abstentions.

FDP officials initially did not relay that information to this reporter.

The party members can accept the vote of the subcommittee, and move on. Or they can disapprove the vote, and there are apparently a number of Democrats who aren’t even fans of Clendenin who believe that he still deserves an opportunity to run for party chair. After all, the man widely considered the top dog in the race, Miami area developer and fundraiser Stephen Bittel, was the subject of a second complaint that was also heard on Friday. The judicial subcommittee rejected the complaint filed against him, however, keeping him eligible.

That vote on Bittel is also up for a review by the state executive committee.

Nevertheless, the subcommittee vote was a huge blow to Clendenin’s candidacy. In 2013, he lost to Allison Tant in an intense, one-on-one battle to take over the reigns of the party, which at the time was relatively in high spirits, following Barack Obama’s narrow victory in Florida over Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. He was named vice chair at the time, but immediately set his eyes on the prize after Tant announced in November that she would be stepping down in January.

However, in order to be eligible to run for party chair according to the party’s bylaws, the candidate pool can only come from someone currently serving as a county party chair, or state committeeman or state committeewoman.

Clendenin needed to be elected to committeeman at the Hillsborough County’s December 6 re-organization meeting, but was defeated by Russ Patterson 52-40. The vote was considered extremely controversial, however, after Hillsborough DEC Chair Ione Townsend ruled that all locally elected officials in nonpartisan races (such as mayor, city council and school board) were ineligible to vote, setting off an ugly exchange at that meeting. Whether Clendenin would have won if those elected officials were allowed to vote remained questionable, it left a foul taste with many DEC members.

Clendenin laid low in the immediate aftermath, and then stunned the world when he appeared in Bradford County on December 20, where that local DEC had an opening for committeeman. At that December 20 meeting, Clendenin was elected to be Bradford County’s state committeeman, thus making him eligible once again for the party chairman election.

But then Bay County State Committeewoman Patricia Byrd filed a complaint with the FDP, challenging Clendenin’s residency in Bradford. In her complaint to party chair Tant, Byrd wrote that Clendenin had “disingenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman.” To prove her point, she stated that Clendenin actually had two separate homestead exemptions on file for residences in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties, and thus truly wasn’t a resident in Bradford County.

Clendenin immediately labeled the complaint “baseless,“and said that the homestead exemption in Manatee County actually belonged to his partner, John Peccio, though tax records listed both men as co-owners of both houses. And he said that Byrd was a supporter of Stephen Bittel, one of his opponents in ther race.

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

Interestingly, a third candidate in the race, former state Senator Dwight Bullard, did the exact same thing as Clendenin did to remain viable in the election. After losing to Bittel for state committeeman in Miami-Dade in late December, Bullard relocated to Gadsden County, where he was elected as a committeeman there. But no one has filed a complaint against him.

The race remains between  Clendenin, Bittel, Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius. 

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Charlie Crist pleads case of Michael Morgan, unjustly jailed for 23 years, to Barack Obama

Michael Morgan

Charlie Crist is calling on President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of one of his constituents, a St. Petersburg man imprisoned for 23 years for a crime a growing number of people believe he did not commit.

On Friday, the freshman St. Petersburg Democrat sent a letter to the White House telling the story of Michael Morgan, who has been unjustly serving three life sentences for crimes that many — including reporters, a former Pinellas County Commissioner and even a juror who voted to convict — now say he is innocent.

More than two decades ago, Morgan, 18 years old at the time, was in St. Petersburg riding his bicycle home from school. After encountering a man with a large dog, who began yelling and chasing him, Morgan went to a neighbor’s house and called his mother, Vel Thompson, to help.

When Thompson arrived a few minutes later, police had Morgan in handcuffs.

That day, officers were looking for a black male suspected of the assault and attempted rape of Felicia Fuller 12 days earlier. Fuller’s father, Earnest Fuller, was an officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Felicia Fuller had been shot in the buttocks during what was described as a “drug deal gone wrong.” Cocaine was found at the scene. Fuller claimed that two African-American men assaulted her: one with a gold tooth and another who was clean-shaven.

Morgan had an alibi for Fuller’s attack — he was at a school dance with friends, something corroborated by multiple witnesses. He also did not fit the description of either man, having a full mustache and no gold tooth. Nevertheless, Morgan was arrested.

After going to trial three times, Morgan was ultimately convicted and sentenced to three life sentences and has been in prison for the past 23 years. Three years ago, supporters created a Change.org petition to request the Florida Clemency Board to consider his clemency request. The petition, which now has 337 signers, asks the Governor to waive the rule preventing the board from hearing Morgan’s request because of his life sentences.

In January 2015, WTSP’s Mike Deeson highlighted Morgan’s case in a nine-minute video summarizing the problems with both the case and his conviction, which came about without DNA or other physical evidence. The video, which is available on YouTube, also shows Morgan meeting with former Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche in the effort to gain clemency.

In Crist’s letter, he invoked Obama’s campaign for criminal justice reform, where the president granted clemency to more than 1,300 people over his two terms in office.

“I applaud your valiant efforts to reform our nation’s criminal justice system; ending juvenile solitary confinement, banning the box for federal employees, and reducing the use of federal private prisons,” Crist writes. “In that same vein, your support for people serving unjust or excessive sentences has brought justice and hope to thousands of nonviolent offenders and their families.”

Crist then related his time as Florida Governor, during which he worked to streamline the state’s clemency process.

However, Obama cannot just grant Morgan a pardon, since presidential commutation powers are restricted only to federal crimes. Any change in Morgan’s sentencing lies in the hands of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who would need the agreement from two cabinet members who are also statewide elected officials.

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” Crist writes. “Our Chief Executive in Florida has the power to grant clemency, but to date has not chosen to take action on this case.”

Now, Crist is asking for Obama to help — in his few days left as president — to right this injustice.

“Mr. President, your kind attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful,” Crist writes. “Thank you again for all that you have done to improve our criminal justice system and restore the lives of the unjustly accused. It is my hope that your efforts lead to freedom for Americans, like Michael Morgan, who sit in prison today for crimes they clearly did not commit.”

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