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David Jolly, Charlie Crist clash in electric debate in St. Petersburg

David Jolly and Charlie Crist went at each other hard for close to an hour in their first debate for Florida’s 13th Congressional District race at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg Monday night.

It was good theater, and for those observing the event that was broadcast live on WTSP-10 News, the differences in the candidate’s positions were relatively stark and distinct.

Although the district is supposedly solidly Democratic after redistricting, Jolly would appear to be in fairly decent shape some seven weeks before Election Day. Although he is being out-fundraised, a St. Pete Polls survey released Monday (which did not include cellphones) had Jolly narrowly leading Crist, 46 percent to 43 percent. Jolly also polled better regarding favorability rankings with a 54/25 percent favorable to unfavorable rating. Crist was listed at 45/45.

The candidates clashed throughout the evening, with some of the fiercest sparks emanating from Crist’s decision to talk about the environmental crisis that has led the city of St. Petersburg to release 151 million gallons of sewage into the streets, as well as Boca Ciega Bay and Tampa Bay.

“What I don’t understand, is why our member of Congress, our representative of Pinellas County, the epicenter of this problem, isn’t advocating day after day after day for federal emergency help to get this cleaned up,” Crist said. “Our country has done this for Flint (Michigan). Why can’t we do it for Pinellas County?”

Jolly responded by getting in a dig in at St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, exciting the GOP partisans in the hall.

“Because the mayor who’s endorsed you who oversaw this catastrophe did not ask for it,” Jolly responded, getting a loud round of applause.

“If you have to be asked for help while the people in your district are suffering, something’s wrong,” Crist replied, getting almost as loud a reaction.

Jolly again blamed Kriseman for not standing up and said he’d be “happy” to work for the county as he has done for other cities in the district.

“Then why haven’t you done it?” Crist interrupted, keeping his foot on the gas. “Do you need an invitation to serve?” which generated the loudest cheer in the exchange. Crist said if he were in Congress, he’d at least be talking about the issue.

There were several other sharp conflicts throughout the evening, which actually began on the second question when co-moderator Mark Rivera asked the candidates were OK with permitting a woman infected with the Zika virus obtain an abortion.

Jolly, who is pro-life, said that he did believe in exceptions for abortion when it came to a woman’s health situation. After Crist had said he was proudly pro-choice, Jolly pounced.

“You were pro-choice, then you were pro-life, then you were pro-choice,” the Indian Shores Republican said. “As a Republican, when you had a chance to serve when you were in office you told the AP in 2009 that you would have supported an abortion ban in the state of Florida. It was only after you switched parties that you switched your position. This was not a matter of conviction for you; it was for political convenience.”

Both candidates came in well prepared.

Crist was more vulnerable, having switched political parties beginning in 2010, when he left the GOP to become an independent while running for the U.S. Senate seat, before making the complete switch to the Democratic Party in late 2012. But he took the offensive in explanation his ideological wanderlust, saying, “it’s not a sin.”

“If the values of the party at the time don’t comport with how you were raised by your family, I think you have a duty to yourself and your God, to do what you think is right, and represent the principals and values that you share, those of decency, doing unto others, doing what’s right for the people that you want to serve, and that’s why I’m a Democrat today and I’m proud of it,” Crist said, eliciting a hearty cheer from the audience.

Crist inadvertently provided the biggest laughs of the evening when he engaged with Jolly about how each candidate found themselves running in the CD 13 contest. Jolly painted his move as noble, and not political.

“Mr. Crist got into this race because the lines have changed,” he said. “I got into this race despite the fact that the lines had changed.”

Crist said he got into the contest only after the lines had changed because the new district included where he lived in downtown St. Pete.

Jolly fired back, “You bought a house in the district in St. Pete Beach that you later sold.”

Not true, Crist insisted. “My wife bought that house,” he said, which while factually accurate, didn’t pass the smell test with the crowd.

When it came for the time for the candidates to ask each other a question, Crist attempted to play the statesman, declining to offer a gotcha question to his Republican rival.

Jolly wasn’t about to let the opportunity go to waste.

Citing a Sarasota-Herald Tribune story, Jolly referred to Crist’s former life when he was known as being tough on crime “Chain-Gang Charlie” of the mid-1990s, when being tough on crime was de rigueur for conservative lawmakers. Jolly went into extensive detail about a Crist visit to Alabama, where he stood over black prisoners to say such a program would be good for Florida.

Crist appeared mortified by the story and chastised Jolly for getting racial.

“I’m embarrassed you’d say that about a fellow Floridian,” Crist said.

When each candidate was asked where they differed from their political party, Crist mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which does place him opposite Barack Obama and the platform of the Democratic National Committee, but safely with the growing mainstream of Democrats who oppose it, like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Jolly went a little loftier, saying that much of his political persona is a challenge to party leadership on issues like marriage equality, climate science, and his STOP Act, which would ban federal officeholders from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

“Look, in three years I’ve tried to change politics at great political risk,” he said. “And I think I continue to put Pinellas over Washington politics.”

Crist said at one point that Jolly lobbied for the privatization of Social Security, a charge the former D.C. lobbyist denied. “Well, you registered to lobby for it,” Crist said. Jolly did say Crist had endorsed his legislation to end taxation of Social Security.

Jolly showed off his preparation when he attempted to bust Crist regarding his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour. He said Crist opposed the proposal when he served as a board member of Enterprise Florida in 2004 (that’s when Floridians voted to raise the minimum wage as a constitutional amendment).

To his credit, co-moderator Adam Smith took 45 minutes before asking whether Jolly had finally “gotten there” yet on whether or not he’ll support his party’s standard-bearer in November, Donald Trump.

“I’m not there with Mr. Trump,” Jolly said, his stock answer when asked the question.

After Smith had challenged him, Jolly said he wasn’t sure he ever would get there in November.

Crist had no such moral compunction when speaking affirmatively for Hillary Clinton, though he did elicit giggles when he said, “I believe that she is steady. I believe that she is strong. I believe that she is honest.”

Among those seen in the crowd were former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker, SD 19 Democratic candidate Augie Ribeiro, and St. Petersburg City Councilman Karl Nurse.

Bill Rufty: Diverse Florida electorate crucial in presidential election

RuftyIf you are a presidential candidate, you can’t come to Florida with a single, cookie-cutter campaign and speak to issues based on national surveys.

Florida is one of the most diverse and perhaps, with 29 electoral votes, the most crucial swing state in the presidential election, University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus told a large audience Thursday evening.

MacManus was the leadoff speaker for the new season of the Florida Lecture Series hosted by the Lawton M. Chiles Center for Florida History at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

Distinguished professor of public administration and political science at USF, MacManus is considered one of the pre-eminent scholars and commentators on Florida and national politics.

Two major issues rise to the top among Florida voters, MacManus said: the economy and personal safety, and varies in concern among the state’s diverse electorate.

The economy is a great concern for the blue collar and middle class electorate. Of almost the same strength in polls is what MacManus lists as “personal safety,” which includes terrorism in the United States and safety from home-grown violence. Younger voters are more concerned with personal safety. College-age women, for example, are concerned with rape and assault, she said.

Florida’s role is pivotal in the national election, and its swing state status is very tight. In the last three elections — 2010, 2012 and 2014 — gubernatorial and presidential, the margin of victory for the winning party has been 1 percent or less she said.

Late Thursday, a new poll had Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump statistically tied at 47 percent of the electorate with the remaining 6 percent third party voters or undecided.

Because of the closeness, both parties must look at and attract the many layers of diversity in gender, ethnicity, and age.

“Twenty-four percent [of Florida voters] — one-fourth of the electorate — are neither Republican nor Democrat,” she said. And are most likely to be younger.

And although more women traditionally are registered and go to the polls more than men across the political spectrum, the difference is higher for Democrats.

“All I had to do to do was look at the fact that there are 18 percent more females than males among Democrats and know that Bernie Sanders would not win [the Florida Primary].”

There is an even larger group of Hispanic voters now than four years ago, she said, adding that they can’t be viewed as a solid bloc.

“Whenever I talk to people outside the state they all assume every Hispanic is Cuban. The greatest change in the voting population in the last four years has been the influx of Puerto Rican voters,” she said. “It is the second-highest Hispanic voting bloc to Cuban and growing mainly along the I-4 corridor.”

Pollsters from outside the state haven’t learned this yet and often don’t see the difference when conducting their surveys. MacManus said, alluding to the fact that traditionally, Cuban voters in the past have voted Republican while Puerto Ricans primarily vote for the Democratic candidates.

Florida is not only the home base for a diverse population of Hispanic communities, but black voters as well.

“There are Haitians, Jamaicans, and Dominicans mostly in South Florida and their interests are decidedly different from African-American voters,” she said.

“Why does this matter? With a state like Florida and a 1 percent difference [in the victory margin], every slice of demographic is important. You ignore demographics, and you have a potential to lose,” MacManus said.

That is particularly true of the demographics of age, she said. The Greatest Generation — those who remember World War II and Franklin Roosevelt — are 89 years old or over and are 2 percent of the electorate. The Silent Generation includes voters 71 to 88, making up 17 percent of the electorate. Baby Boomers, 52-70, account for 34 percent and are the children of the 1960s and ’70s, with a different cultural reference. They are followed by the Gen X group, aged 36-51, at 23 percent; and the Millennials, 18-35 — whose points of reference are Afghanistan, 9/11, and social media — making up 24 percent of Florida voters.

Millennials are likely to have strongly supported Sanders on the Democratic side and Marco Rubio on the Republican side.

“If you are older, you likely favor one party or the other,” MacManus said, “younger, you are likely NPA [no party affiliation].”

It is the younger generations of Gen Xers and Millennials, which currently make up 47 percent of the electorate in Florida, who will make the changes in future elections.

Asked about the future of the country by an audience member who said he was not optimistic about it, MacManus said she was very optimistic because of the younger generation.

“I frequently ask my students at the end of the semester how many feel they want to go into politics,” she said. “In the last four years, I have seen an increased number raising their hands. And it is not for president or senator. It is the local school board or the Legislature. I find that very encouraging.”

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton turn to battleground states in the South

With Labor Day behind them, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are pushing ahead in top presidential battlegrounds in the South.

Trump, the Republican nominee, is set to campaign in Virginia and North Carolina on Tuesday, two critical states in his path to the presidency. Clinton, the Democrat, is campaigning in Florida in search of an advantage in the nation’s largest swing state. A Clinton victory in Florida would make it virtually impossible for Trump to overcome her advantage in the race for 270 electoral votes.

The day before in swing state Ohio, Trump softened his stance on immigration while Clinton blasted Russia for suspected tampering in the U.S. electoral process.

In a rare news conference aboard her new campaign plane, Clinton said she is concerned about “credible reports about Russian government interference in our elections.”

“We are going to have to take those threats and attacks seriously,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her from Ohio to Illinois.

Clinton’s comments follow reports that the Russian government may have been involved in the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails just days before the party’s national convention. The emails, later revealed by WikiLeaks, showed some DNC officials favoring Clinton over her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders — who has since endorsed Clinton for president.

She said Russian President Vladimir Putin appears “quite satisfied with himself” and said Trump “has generally parroted what is a Putin-Kremlin line.”

Meanwhile, Trump extended a rare invitation to journalists to accompany him on his private plane from Cleveland to Youngstown, Ohio. The billionaire businessman appeared to shy away from his hard-line vow to block “amnesty” for immigrants in the country illegally.

Any immigrants who want full citizenship must return to their countries of origin and get in line, he told reporters — but he would not rule out a pathway to legal status for the millions living in the U.S. illegally, as he did in a long-awaited policy speech last week.

“We’re going to make that decision into the future,” Trump said.

Clinton powered through a coughing fit at a Labor Day festival at a Cleveland park, sharply criticizing Trump’s recent trip to Mexico as “an embarrassing international incident.” Unwilling to allow Trump to modify his immigration stances, she said his address later that night in Arizona amounted to a “doubling down on his absurd plan to send a deportation force to round up 16 million people.”

“He can try to fool voters into thinking somehow he’s not as harsh and inhumane as he seems, but it’s too late,” Clinton said.

The former secretary of state flatly said “No,” when asked in an ABC News interview whether she’d be willing to accept the Mexican president’s invitation to visit the country, as Trump did last week.

“I’m going to continue to focus on what we’re doing to create jobs here at home,” Clinton said.

Earlier in the day, Trump attacked Clinton’s energy level, noting she hasn’t followed his aggressive traveling schedule and questioning whether she had the stamina to help bring jobs back to America.

“She doesn’t have the energy to bring ’em back. You need energy, man,” Trump told reporters.

He added, “She didn’t have the energy to go to Louisiana. And she didn’t have the energy to go to Mexico.”

Clinton’s 25-minute question-and-answer session was her first extensive availability with reporters since early December. Beyond Russia, she answered questions about the ongoing controversy surrounding her use of a private email server while secretary of state, which Trump has used to cast doubt over her ability to protect classified information.

“I take classification seriously,” she said.

While Labor Day has traditionally been the kickoff to the fall campaign, both Clinton and Trump have been locked in an intense back-and-forth throughout the summer.

The start of full-fledged campaigning opens a pivotal month, culminating in the first presidential debate Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Polls show Trump trailing Clinton in a series of must-win battleground states, meaning the debates could be his best chance at reorienting the race.

Trump told reporters he does plan to take part in all three presidential debates, joking that only a “hurricane” or “natural disaster” would prevent him from attending.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

With more than 173,000 votes, Senate hopeful Pam Keith says she feels like a winner

Although Pam Keith was always in the Senate race to win it, she won’t deny the sense of satisfaction she felt Wednesday, even though she came up well short of defeating Patrick Murphy for the Democratic nomination.

Keith captured more than 173,000 votes in the Florida Democratic Primary, finishing less than 2.5 percent behind Alan Grayson for third place in the Democratic Senate race. The 33-year-old Murphy captured 59 percent of the vote. Grayson finished in second place with just under 18 percent, and Keith, the former Navy JAG officer and Miami-based attorney, came in third with 15.4 percent. And she did that while barely raising $250,000 and airing no television ads.

“I think I conducted myself with grace, and I ran a positive campaign,” said Keith in a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon. “I didn’t spend my time smearing my opponents, and so I know I didn’t win, but I still feel like a winner. Certainly, the feedback I’ve gotten back today has been nothing but positive and encouraging.”

And unlike Grayson, Keith has already endorsed Murphy (on her Facebook page) in his race against Marco Rubio in the general election. “My goal is to make sure that we take control of the Senate and retain the White House, and if I can be helpful, I will be,” she said.

During the heat of the campaign, though, Keith was hardly so sanguine about Murphy, the Democratic Party’s establishment choice from early in 2015. She was particularly piqued when he would not submit to participating in a single debate this summer, despite several media organizations’ attempts to do so. After Grayson’s ex-wife accused the Orlando congressman of domestic abuse, Murphy unilaterally declared he would not debate him, while barely acknowledging he also was blowing off Keith.

“I think that was very wrongheaded,” she said of Murphy’s decision. “What Patrick did was basically take a default position that he had so much of a lead in fundraising and visibility, that the best move for him was to just make sure that nobody else could get any visibility or oxygen, and he would win by default,” she recounts. “And I think that a lot of people who ended up voting for him, voted for him because they didn’t even know that they had another choice, or given the opportunity to see that they had a choice.

“But the name of the game of politics is winning, and his strategy worked, so you can’t fault him for doing what he thinks you need to do to win. I just think that’s not in the interest of voters.”

Perhaps Keith’s biggest moment during her quixotic campaign occurred a few weeks ago, when the Miami Herald editorial board endorsed her for the Democratic nomination, choosing her over Murphy and Grayson. Keith called that unexpected decision “a validation” of her candidacy. “It’s such a respected publication,” she said. “They didn’t do the ‘hey, this is the front-runner thing, so the front-runner gets our endorsement.’ They asked tough questions, and they based their decision on the merits of the answers given by the candidates.”

But for every positive moment like garnering the Herald’s endorsement, Keith continued to feel a lack of respect that comes in part from never having held public office. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel never invited her in for an endorsement interview, she says. Nor did the AFL-CIO. “I can’t say that I was allowed to compete head to head, and I didn’t win.  You know, that’s not exactly what happened.”

With a very real chance of recapturing the U.S. Senate this fall, the Democratic Party in Washington and Tallahassee rallied around Murphy immediately after he declared his candidacy for the Senate in the spring of 2015, with Barack Obama and Joe Biden making an unusual endorsement of Murphy early on. At that moment the party wasn’t even attempting to be unbiased in telegraphing who they were pulling for, a charge many Bernie Sanders supporters made about former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee frequently over the past year.

“I definitely think the president should not have chimed in this race,” Keith said. “I don’t think the titular head of a party should be endorsing candidates in primaries. I think that’s wrong, and it doesn’t make for a fair race. And if we start to lose faith that we have fair primaries, then we lose something critical, and I’m not sure that it can be fixed in the future if we let it go.”

While some of her supporters are already inquiring about her running for another office in two to four years, Keith said she’s not willing to commit to anything yet — other than that after a year-and-half on the road competing with limited financial resources, she needs a job. “If you know anyone’s hiring?” she laughed, before addressing the disappointment she hears from Florida progressives, not exactly thrilled about a Murphy candidacy.

“In politics, sometimes the candidates you want sometimes don’t win and sometimes things don’t go the way that you want them to, but you gotta keep your eye on the bigger picture, and you must be pragmatic, and there are a lot of things at stake this year, and I don’t want people to use their disappointment or their bitterness to be a block toward making rational choices.

“Our country needs us to be clearheaded, and to be pragmatic, and I’m inviting all my fellow Floridians out there to take heed of that.”

Marco Rubio, Patrick Murphy win Florida’s Senate primaries

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy each easily won their primaries Tuesday, setting up a November showdown that’s guaranteed to be nasty as each party grapples for a majority in the Senate.

Rubio, who decided at the last second to seek a second term, easily fended off millionaire homebuilder Carlos Beruff and Murphy used the backing of President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders to defeat U.S. Rep Alan Grayson, who was counting on his party’s most faithful liberal voters to overcome Murphy’s money and establishment support.

In other contests, former Democrat Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was hoping to keep her seat in Congress against Tim Canova, a Bernie Sanders-backed law professor who was able to raises more than $3 million.

Rubio had declared during his failed presidential campaign that he would not run again for Senate. But he nearly cleared what had been a crowded GOP field with his last-minute turnabout.

Beruff rolled the dice to see if the anti-establishment mood powering Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign could send him to Washington as well. But after spending $8 million of his own money and going nowhere in the polls, he essentially shut down his campaign ahead of the primary.

Rubio supporters at his party near Walt Disney World whooped and chanted “Marco! Marco! Marco!” when The Associated Press declared him the winner.

“I voted for Marco only because I’ve been a longstanding supporter,” said Diane Martin-Johnson, 66, after voting early Tuesday in Pinellas Park. “It’s unfortunate he didn’t do his job fully in Washington this term. I do think he deserves another chance. He thought he was doing the right thing (by running for president). That’s my only complaint against him. He’s a good man.”

Murphy, a former Republican, quickly earned party support and raised significantly more money. He was also backed by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Grayson, a fiery liberal known for brash comments and hamstrung by a difficult divorce, relied mostly on small donors and feuded with party leaders.

Todd Martin, 53, and his 18-year-old daughter Haley, voted together in Tallahassee, where they recently moved as she starts college. They both chose Murphy, in part because they like his efforts to get government to address algae outbreaks near their former home in Vero Beach.

“I grew up on the river and it’s a shame what they let happen,” Todd Martin said. “I like where Patrick Murphy stands on the algae. It’s very important to me.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said there were slight delays in opening some polling places, but described no other glitches. More than 1.75 million Floridians already cast ballots by mail or at early-voting stations before polls opened Tuesday.

This year’s primary turnout could top ones held in 2012 and 2014- a sign that competitive races for Congress and the Florida Legislature could be driving up turnout this time around.

Rubio and Murphy took opposite approaches on primary day. Rubio had no public events scheduled before polls closed, while Murphy began his day at 7 a.m. at a Miami-Dade polling site, joined by Gov. Bob Graham, a former senator, and his daughter, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. Murphy also visited two other South Florida polling sites.

Wasserman Schultz jumped to an early lead over Canova in a primary colored by leaked emails revealing that DNC officials had worked against Sanders to favor Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

Democrats also hope to gain seats in Florida’s heavily Republican House delegation after court-mandated redistricting chipped away the advantages of some incumbents.

Florida had to rip up and redraw its congressional maps after they were found to violate the state constitution’s provision requiring compact districts that don’t favor incumbents or political parties. That spurred one of the state’s most heavily contested congressional election years. Several races will essentially be decided in the primary and Florida will eventually send at least seven new House members to Washington.

Republicans now outnumber Democrats 17-10 in the state’s congressional delegation. If Democrats sweep all four seats seen as competitive in November, that Republican advantage could be reduced to 14-13.

One of those is now held by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican who was expected to win Tuesday, but who would then have to beat former Gov. Charlie Crist, who used to be a Republican but is now a Democrat.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

AFP-Florida bashes Patrick Murphy for supporting a public option in Obamacare

Americans for Prosperity Florida is blasting Democratic Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy, a day after he expressed support for adding a government public option to the Affordable Care Act.

“It is good to see Patrick Murphy leaving the privileged gates of his Palm Beach estate,” said AFP Florida state director, Chris Hudson. “Maybe while he’s out and about he should take a second to recognize that Obamacare has failed and that the results of President Obama’s “lie of the year” have included insurance companies dropping out of the embattled top-down program, requests being made to increase premiums as high as 43.6%, and the average American being saddled with $1,000 in medial debt.

Continued Hudson, “Patrick Murphy needs to stop pandering to special interests, and stop supporting policies like the public option that only exist to undermine the private sector until they go out of business! If this is the sort of lead-from-behind attitude Congressman Murphy is trying to sell, then Florida families shouldn’t buy it.”

While campaigning at the West Tampa Sandwich Shop on Monday, Murphy told voters that he believes that with more insurers now announcing that they will no longer carry patients who are on the Affordable Care Act, a public option is now needed to provide competition.

“The key is like any issue — it’s acknowledging that there are some things that are working, and that some things that need to be fixed,” Murphy said. “No legislation that is passed — or rarely I should say — is perfect, and you have to evolve with the times to see what’s actually working. Unfortunately, in Washington you have a group of people that basically want to shut down the government … they say throw the whole thing and start over, without offering solutions to it.”

The idea of the public option is to create a separate, government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers offering coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders included versions of the public option in their proposals when they first began working on health care reform in 2009. But they dropped the idea relatively quickly.

As Democrats were approving their platform that was officially ratified at their national convention in July, Hillary Clinton unveiled a health care plan that included a public option. Though she had supported such a proposal in the past, during her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders she opposed it, saying it would be too costly and run into interference from Republican governors.

If Murphy wins Tuesday’s primary election for the Democratic nomination for Senate, he will likely face Republican Marco Rubio in the fall. On Monday, a spokesman for Rubio blasted his comments about a public option.

“Patrick Murphy promised voters that Obamacare’s state exchanges would bring down costs and create more competition, but Floridians are finding themselves with fewer health care options and skyrocketing premiums they can’t afford,” said Michael Ahrens. “Only someone like Patrick Murphy who has consistently embellished the facts about himself could read the latest devastating headlines about the failure of Obamacare and declare it a success that should be expanded.”

Marco Rubio, Patrick Murphy look confident before Florida’s Senate primary

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy are campaigning as if Tuesday’s primary was already over and they won their parties’ nominations for U.S. Senate.

And it may be for good reason. Rubio’s main challenger, Carlos Beruff, appeared to throw in the towel, essentially shutting down the campaign he’d sunk $8 million of his own money into. And Murphy’s main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, has been damaged by ethics and domestic abuse allegations, leaving Murphy to focus on Rubio.

That leaves congressional races as some of the more exciting to watch during Tuesday’s primary, the first since court-mandated redistricting undid advantages for some incumbents and prompting one of the liveliest campaigns in many seasons. Congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is receiving an unexpectedly strong challenge from a Bernie Sanders-backed political novice.

Voters will also decide whether to amend the state constitution to allow a property tax break to promote solar power. And many of the state’s congressional primaries almost certainly assure the victor will be elected in November because of the political makeup of the district.

Republican primaries to replace retiring GOP Congressmen Jeff Miller, Ander Crenshaw, Curt Clawson and Richard Nugent will likely decide who is sent to Washington in November. The same goes for the Republican primary to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who is exploring a run for governor after her district was redrawn in a way that favors the GOP. Democratic primaries to replace Grayson and Murphy will also likely choose the next members of Congress in those districts.

Still, the Senate race is the main event, and one that took several twists along the way. Rubio wasn’t even supposed to be on the ballot, declaring he’d run for president instead of seeking a second term. Rubio dropped out of the presidential race when Donald Trump trounced him in Florida, but he still said he was done with the Senate. Then, two days before the deadline to get on the ballot, he changed his mind, chasing all Republicans but Beruff out of the race.

The Democratic primary pits former Republican and party establishment favorite Murphy against Grayson, a fiery liberal whose outspoken candor makes him unelectable in the minds of party leaders. Despite voting with Republicans far more often than Grayson, Murphy is backed by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Grayson has run a maverick campaign, condemning his party’s leaders and saying Murphy will be a puppet for leadership and special interests.

With comfortable leads in the polls, Rubio and Murphy took a similar strategy: Ignore the primary opposition. Both declined to debate their opponents, choosing instead to attack each other.

Rubio said he didn’t debate Beruff because there wasn’t enough time.

“He didn’t really seem that interested in debates not that long ago,” Rubio said in the days leading up to the primary. And when asked about the primary, Rubio turned the subject to Murphy, saying, “I take every race seriously. I’ll have more events today than Patrick Murphy will have all week.”

Rubio’s campaign has been issuing near-daily attacks on Murphy while virtually ignoring Grayson.

It was clear, though, that Beruff wanted a debate, particularly investing so much money trying to build his name recognition. He repeatedly criticized Rubio for not agree to an exchange, saying he should “man up” and calling him a coward.

Murphy called off the only debate schedule with Grayson after the mother of Grayson’s children said he abused her over the two decades they lived together, an accusation he has denied. Instead, Murphy focused nearly all is attention on Rubio. Murphy’s second ad of the campaign, released four weeks before the primary, attacks Rubio for missing votes while running for president.

During a phone interview, Murphy said Rubio is more concerned about his political ambition.

“He constantly says ‘I’m in this for Florida,’ but he’s clearly not running for Senate for Florida. He’s never been there for Florida; he’s never been there for a local issue; he’s never shown up for work. He’s in this for himself,” Murphy said.

It’s a similar message Grayson has made about Murphy, that there is no substance behind the candidate. Grayson repeatedly points out that Murphy was a Republican until he decided to run for Congress. He has voted with Republicans on bills that would have weakened Obama’s health care overhaul and he supported a committee to investigate Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attacks that killed four Americans at a compound in Benghazi, Libya.

“They’re desperately trying to take this empty suit and make him into a plausible candidate for U.S. Senator and they’re failing,” Grayson said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

SD 19 candidates talk it out at Tampa Tiger Bay Forum

Although the candidates for Florida’s 19th Senate District have engaged in numerous campaign forums over the past couple of months, Friday’s encounter at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club did offer some new wrinkles.

One was the appearance of the lone Republican in the race, John Houman, who has carried such a light footprint to date in the campaign that Ed Narain joked that he didn’t know he actually existed. The other new element was watching Augie Ribeiro (twice) break into a not-so-terrible Bernie Sanders impression.

The Democratic primary — which will likely decide the winner in November in the decidedly liberal-voting district — also features two veteran Tampa Bay state lawmakers, former House District 59 Rep. Betty Reed, and current HD 70 Rep. Darryl Rouson.

The headlines in the race have lately featured a war of words between Narain, currently serving in the HD 61 seat, and Ribeiro, the high-powered, wealthy civil justice attorney who has poured approximately $400,000 of his own cash into the contest since entering on the second-to-last day of qualifying in late June. Ribeiro has defended those contributions by saying essentially he hasn’t taken the money from corporations that have business before the Legislature, a comment that rankled Narain, who works for AT&T.

“Just because you’ve received the contribution from somebody, it doesn’t mean they get to tell you how to vote or what to do,” Narain said, adding that the sources he’s received funding from are the same companies who give to most Democrats.

He then attempted to turn the tables on Riberio by saying that 60 percent of the more than 600 individual contributions he’s received in this campaign come from citizens in the district. “There are other candidates here who can’t say that, because they haven’t been doing the grassroots fundraising. They haven’t raised money from the ‘special interests ‘ in Tallahassee. I reject the idea that any of the candidates are bought and sold.”

Ribeiro didn’t back down.

“I think it’s very important that the folks know where money is coming from,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to take money from the corporations that historically he’s gone after in court (like BP and General Motors).

He also said he didn’t want to explicitly say Narain or the other candidates who received funding the utility companies in Florida were “bought and paid for,” but he did say that the public should know Narain took over $34,000 from utility companies and more than $40,000 from insurance companies. “That’s important because those amounts are more than the salary of a state senator (which is less than $30,000 annually),” Ribeiro said. “And I think the people, especially people in a poorer district, who are struggling to survive, who are really cost conscious, and need to make sure that their representatives are fighting these very industries to keep costs down.”

Reed added her own thoughts about big money. “I’ve served in Tallahassee, and when you take money from too many people, they are going to be there waiting to be paid,” she said, generating applause.

Later in the forum, Ribeiro said that one reason he decided to get into the race was that he wasn’t hearing anybody say anything about the 15,000 children in Senate District 19 who go hungry every night. But Narain said that the number was actually 144,000.

Houman was spare in his responses, sometimes eliciting laughter at the succinctness of his comments. “That’s a simple answer — yes,” he said when asked if he would support a proposal to make the education commissioner an elected position as it was previously. When discussing whether there was too much testing in the public schools (something all the candidates agreed that there was), the Republican responded, “Simple question. I agree. Less testing and more teaching.”

The candidates — including Houman — all decried the prevalence of pro-gun legislation that is part of Florida culture.

“I am proud of my F rating from the NRA, unlike some of the other people up here who have been endorsed by them,” Narain said to applause from the audience. That was a not-so-subtle dig at Rouson, who was the recipient of a campaign mailer from the powerful organization urging SD 19 voters to support him in the race, though they officially did not call it an endorsement.

Rouson has boasted at other forums that his legislation passed earlier this year making it illegal to discharge a firearm for recreational purposes in residential neighborhoods was the first pro-gun control legislation in Tallahassee since the late 1980s. But before he got a chance to mention that Friday, Narain prompted him, saying, “No disrespect, representative, but the last gun control bill passed by the Florida Legislature was passed by a Miami Beach Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson in 2013 that restricted those with mental illnesses to be able to purchase a firearm.”

All of the candidates said they hoped Florida would echo the Justice Department’s announcement Thursday that they are phasing out privately owned prisons, citing safety concerns. Rouson says he is campaigning on a platform of prison reform, referring to the large number of unresolved deaths in state prisons. “We can’t just allow for-profit agencies come in and do what it is a core mission of government,” he said.

The St. Petersburg-based legislator also talked up his previous work for Driver’s License Reinstatement Day, in which various local agencies meet up with members of the public who have had their licenses suspended because of a failure to pay fines.

Betty Reed said it wasn’t easy to get legislation passed in the House as a member of the minority party, “but sometimes if you continue to work on it … sometimes it takes years before you can get it actually through, but if you keep working, you will get it there.”

All of the candidates have received important endorsements in the contest. Ribeiro said he was proud to get the backing of the group Tampa Bay for Bernie, which prompted him to (twice) begin doing a vocal impersonation of the Vermont senator.

SD 19 encompasses West Tampa, East Tampa, Riverview, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach, Sun City and downtown St. Petersburg and South St. Pete.

Medea Benjamin on her new book examining the U.S.-Saudi Arabia alliance

Although Medea Benjamin has been an activist for nearly four decades, most of the country didn’t come to know her until shortly before the Iraq war, when she infiltrated her way into congressional hearing rooms to shout down people like Donald Rumsfeld to protest the upcoming war.

She’s best known as the co-founder of the anti-war activist group Code Pink, which has a history of infiltrating and briefly disrupting events, including the Senate hearing of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the confirmation for CIA Director John Brennan, and most recently, Donald Trump during his speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Benjamin is bipartisan in her targets. She also heckled President Obama three times during a speech he was giving on military policy in 2013, prompting the president to say, “the voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.”

She’s also the author of a new book, “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.- Saudi Connection,” and is making several appearances in the Tampa Bay area this weekend to promote it. This reporter (who has known and covered Benjamin since we both lived in San Francisco in the mid 1990s) interviewed her on Thursday afternoon.

MP: Why Saudi Arabia?

MB: Well I realized that neither I, nor my progressive friends, knew anything about Saudi Arabia except that it was a mysterious kingdom that the U.S. was allied with. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that we’re never going to stop these endless wars in the Middle East, or for that matter, get off the oil consumption, if we don’t confront this issue with Saudi Arabia. And the more I looked into it, the more appalled I became at how repressive this regime is, not only externally because we’ve been to Bahrain and saw how they crushed the Democratic uprising there. We’ve been to Yemen and seen how they’ve been involved in how they’ve created this catastrophe in Yemen, but also learned about how much they repress their own people, and the millions of migrant workers who have really built the desert up into what it is today.

MP: We’ve had a strong relationship with them for decades, transcending presidents and political parties. Should it be such a strong relationship?

MB: It shouldn’t be at all. It’s appalling that it is and it’s appalling that it’s gone on for such a long time, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, and it’s appalling that progressive folks who have been involved in an anti-war movement have not taken on this issue of Saudi Arabia, so it’s appalling on all kinds of levels. And I think especially now when the Saudis are involved in an internal conflict with Yemen, and the U.S. is providing the weapons and the logistical support for it, it’s really a time to say that enough is enough. And just this last week, after the administration announced that it was planning to sell another $1.5 billion worth of weapons, the Saudis go ahead and bomb Doctors Without Borders hospitals, a potato chip factory, a school, a residential neighborhood and how long can we not just allow this to happen but know that the blood is on our hands as Americans because we’re so intimately involved in all of this.

MP: You’re like the Zelig of activists because you’re always there in the mix. What’s it like to be this activist that’s always getting in the faces of the powerful for so many years?

MB:It’s been really fascinating being in Washington D.C., because the first time I went to a hearing I was still living in San Francisco, they (the Bush administration) were going to have Donald Rumsfeld testify about why we were going to go to war in Iraq. And I remember thinking that I thought I had to sneak in as a journalist, in a pants suit and a little pad of paper, carrying a copy of  the Washington Post, because I didn’t even know that these were public hearings, and I got there really early to stand in line and nobody from the public showed up. Nobody was really going to these meetings, and it just amazed me because they were open to us and we weren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to confront these people. So I kind of got hooked on this, going to these hearings. We shut down several hearings. We shut down the hearing with General Petraeus. We shut down the hearing with CIA Director John Brennan and all you need is about 20 people to get into a hearing making a ruckus and they can’t even continue, so it’s been a great education to come from the Bay Area, where we don’t have that reverence for power, especially power that doesn’t deserve that reverence, and are willing to get arrested, willing to confront members of Congress, presidents, secretaries of state, defense ministers, weapons manufacturers, lobbyists for the NRA, any of these people, and then to bring our friends and colleagues in from around the country to join us. It’s created a different culture in Washington (where she’s lived since 2008).

MP: How would you describe America in terms of its social progress in 2016?

MB: We’ve certainly made gains in terms of a lot of social issues, rights for people in the in LGBTQ community, or women’s rights, I’m not denying that there’s been great progress in certain areas, but when it comes to our foreign policy, we have not evolved very much.

If you look at Obama’s foreign policy, it’s very similar to the one of the Bush administration. Nobody has come in and said, ‘Oh my goodness, we have 800 (military) bases around the world, what do we need them for? Let’s start closing them down.’ Or, ‘Oh my goodness, why are we giving taxpayer dollars to these repressive regimes like Egypt or Honduras, let’s just stop doing them.’ So it’s been very much the status quo that benefits the weapons manufacturers, and the military contractors. So I think we have to make a major shift in the way that we interact with the world.

MP: In 2012 you wrote “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control,” which was of the first books to look at the rise of robot warfare. Do you think enough Americans know and/or care what we’re doing overseas with our drone warfare program?

KB: When Code Pink started working on the issue, almost nobody knew about it because the government refused to even talk about it publicly. These were covert operations by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, and even when groups like the ACLU would take the government to court over the killing of innocent people, the government refused on national security grounds to even discuss the program, so at least that has changed over the years and reinforced our own government to tell us more about what they’re doing. I think unfortunately though, the media rarely gives us news of U.S. drone strikes or lets the the families of innocent victims get a chance to speak in mainstream media, and so people really haven’t developed empathy with the populations that have become the victims of our drone strikes. Because, it’s not just the missiles hit and kill a particular person, the threat of living under these drones that has been a sort of collective punishment for entire swaths of populations in places like Yemen and Pakistan, so not enough people know about it, and not enough people are upset enough about it to do something.

MP: What do you think of how the mainstream media is doing in covering news and politics?

MB:I think the media’s horrendous. I have to look toward alternative media or to overseas media to get any news that I feel has enough substance to it. The U.S. media keeps regurgitating the same issues, over and over and over, like, what did Donald Trump say today? I think it gets very boring and so narrow, so I think the media does us a tremendous disservice. Yet, despite that, it’s amazing how much Bernie Sanders was able to inspire people and build a movement when the media — at least in the beginning — pretty much ignored him, and it’s amazing that despite the lack of media to our issues, we are able to build movements. The Black Lives Matter movement has not only spread across the entire U.S., but it’s become international; and the environmental movement is a strong and ever-growing international movement. So I think that these movements that we create from the grassroots grow up pretty much despite the problems we have of a media that covers the wrong issues in the wrong way.

Medea Benjamin will be making five different appearances in the Tampa Bay area this weekend. You can find her schedule here. On Sunday, she will be speak at Unitarian Universalists in St. Petersburg (100 Mirror Lake Dr. N.) at 1 p.m., and at Inkwood Books in Tampa (216 S. Armenia Ave.) at 3:30 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mitch Perry Report for 8.17.16 – Impeachment memories

Before Barack Obama was elected, a lot of political observers said that with such a divided nation, every president could face the potential of being impeached.

I’m reminded of that today on the 18th year anniversary of Bill Clinton giving a prime-time address to the nation after seven months of silence on the Monica Lewinsky matter.

“I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife,” he said in a four-minute address. “I deeply regret that.”

“While legally accurate, I did not volunteer information,” Clinton added.

Ah, the 90’s. We all know what happened later that year: the House of Representatives impeached Clinton in December, but he was eventually acquitted by the Senate a couple of months later. It was a wasted year out of everybody’s lives, though Clinton came out of it more popular than ever (thanks to the booming economy) and House Republican suffered, with Newt Gingrich losing his Speakership after the November ’98 elections.

While Clinton has been the only president impeached in recent times, it should be noted that Obama will leave his presidency in five months without ever seriously being threatened with the ultimate sanction from Congress.

Going back to the 80’s, there was serious talk that Ronald Reagan could be impeached for the Iran-Contra affair in 1986.

In 1991, on the day the Gulf War broke out, Texas Democratic Representative Henry Gonzalez introduced a resolution with five impeachment charges against George H.W. Bush.

And there was serious talk that was shut down by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the idea of impeaching George W. Bush because of the Iraq war.

And do you want make a bet that whether it’s Trump or Hillary in the White House next year, there will be ferocious congressional opposition waiting for the biggest slip to perhaps make a similar effort.

But with Obama, though he’s angered the political right throughout his 7.5 years in office, there’s never been anyone seriously saying that he’s done something worthy of such consideration.

In other news.

Jackie Toledo is going all out in her quest to win the House District 60 GOP primary later this month. A new mailer says she’ll crack down on “illegal aliens,” and says she’d attempt to repeal two recent bills passed by the Legislature, including one that gives in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

CD 15 Democratic hopeful Jim Lange has some language on his website that echoes closely that of progressive icons Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Eric Lynn and Ben Diamond fought yesterday over who dropped the ball in trying to get a debate set up between the two Democrats in their race for the House District 68 campaign. The bottom line? No debates for anyone.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency (HART) held a transportation summit in Tampa yesterday.

And the NRA is backing Daniel Webster in his quest to win the Congressional District 11 race.

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