Charlie Crist Archives - SaintPetersBlog

More endorsements come rolling in for Darden Rice’s re-election

St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice is announcing an extended list of new endorsements Thursday for her District 4 re-election bid.

As a popular first-term Council member and longtime civic activist, Rice enjoys a wellspring of support from elected officials, colleagues and well-wishers on both the local and state levels.

The growing list of endorsements includes several prominent local elected officials: State Sen. Darryl Rouson, State Reps. Ben Diamond and Wengay Newton, as well as St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, and City Council colleagues Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, Karl Nurse, Jim Kennedy and Charlie Gerdes.

“Darden is truly dedicated to the people of St. Petersburg,” Nurse said Thursday. “She has a passion for public service that shines through the work she does, especially when it comes to constituent services. I’m proud to support Darden again in her race for City Council.”

Also lining up behind Rice are Pinellas County Commissioners Pat Gerard, Janet Long, Ken Welch and John Moroni, Pinellas County School Board Member Rene Flowers, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, and Tampa City Council Members Mike Suarez, Yolie Capin, Harry Cohen and Charlie Miranda.

Welch praises Rice’s “great work” for both for the City of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.

“Her leadership on important issues like fair wages and the environment have a positive impact on all of us every day,” he says. “I’m looking forward to continuing our work together during her second term on Council.”

In addition to her work on the environment – the Sierra Club and Florida Conservation Voters are among her earliest supporters – and for social justice, Rice also recently proposed a landmark Defend Our Democracy ordinance for the city of St. Pete, which seeks to stem big money spending in municipal elections.

On a 4-3 vote Thursday, council members supported Rice’s proposal that would require corporations spending more than $5,000 in city elections to certify they are not entirely or partly owned by foreign interests.

“I’m honored to have the support of my colleagues in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and around Tampa Bay,” Rice says. “It’s important in local government to work cooperatively to make positive change, and I look forward to four more years of progress.”

Rice is also being endorsed by former Florida Gov. and current Congressman Charlie Crist, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who is now a Democratic candidate for Florida Governor. She also has earned widespread support from various neighborhood leaders in District 4, a non-partisan seat covering large sections of North St. Pete.

As an active labor union advocate, Rice won the backing of the West Central Florida Labor Council, Service Employees International Union, Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association and St. Petersburg Association of Fire Fighters.

In her re-election bid, Rice is facing only a single challenger, USFSP student Jerick Johnston.

On House floor, Charlie Crist says of St. Pete Pride: ‘Be loud and be proud’

For the first time since it started 15 years ago, the St. Pete Pride parade is moving from the Grand Central District and heading downtown, with the party beginning at 2 p.m. and the parade kicking off around 6:30 p.m.

On the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, Charlie Crist gave a shout-out to the event in a brief address.

Here was the text of his address:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the St. Pete Pride Parade for its significance to Pinellas County, Florida and our LGBTQ community.

Every June, for the past 15 years, the St. Pete Pride Parade has brightened the streets of my hometown leaving joy, love, and equality in its wake.

It has become one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country, hosting over 200,000 attendees last year alone – all possible thanks to our large, diverse LGBTQ community, and city leadership that understands this community is a source of our strength.

As we mark one year since the 49 souls were taken from us at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando,
this Pride is much more than a celebration.

It is a vibrant act of strength for a community that has endured persecution simply for being who they are, and who they love.

As St. Pete looks forward to the celebration this weekend, I wish the community happy Pride!

Be loud and be proud!  Because we’re proud of you.

https://youtu.be/X-een_lFfw4

 

Pride activities begin Wednesday night, with the reception at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

Kathy Castor puts faith in Senate GOP to resist completely repealing Dodd-Frank

Last week, the GOP-led House of Representatives voted to repeal many of the stricter regulations enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. It was part of a desire to roll back rules that they say have hurt banks, restricted consumer growth and slowed economic progress.

Democrats disagree, as each one voted against the bill.

“I think the memories of politicians in Washington D. C. are very short,” Tampa Representative Kathy Castor told FloridaPolitics.com earlier this week. “I remember sitting across from many of our neighbors who were at risk of losing their homes after they had lost their jobs in the economic collapse of the Great Recession, and now they want to go back to those risky practices where the banks can use their deposits to make risky bets on Wall Street?”

Significant changes included in the Financial Choice Act are major changes such as repealing the trading restrictions, known as the Volcker Rule, and scrapping the liquidation authority in favor of enhanced bankruptcy provisions designed to eliminate any chance taxpayers would be on the hook if a major financial firm collapsed.

“They want to take a lot of the Wall Street cops off of the beat by eliminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (a central part of the Dodd-Frank Act), gutting their ability to hold big banks and others in the financial system accountable,” Castor said. “And they want to eliminate the Volcker Rule that says banks have to be more responsible with their money and not use it to go gamble.”

“I think it’s a step backward for the folks across the state of Florida, especially who lost so much in the Great Recession,” the congresswoman added.

The Financial Choice Act isn’t totally terrible, Castor said.

“In fact there are some new provisions in the Republican bill that are helpful to community banks that I support, so I’m hopeful that they will get into negotiations with the U.S. Senate and those provisions will survive to help our community banks,” she says.

Unlike changes to the Affordable Care Act, making most changes to Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans in the Senate are working on their own financial regulatory bill that could gain the needed Democratic support.

Kathy Castor, Florida Dems say Donald Trump ‘intentionally’ sabotaged health insurance markets

A day after Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price refused to say if the Donald Trump administration would fund cost-sharing insurer subsidies next year, Kathy Castor and other Florida congressional Democrats say uncertainty is undermining the stability of the health care insurance marketplace.

“President Trump and his administration should focus on helping hardworking families keep their affordable health coverage rather than sticking Americans with much higher insurance bills,” the Tampa Democrat writes in a letter urging the president to commit to maintaining cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments or else be responsible for higher insurance costs. “Support is critical for affordable quality health coverage, and President Trump should not ‘play politics’ and threaten the peace of mind of parents and small business owners.”

Those CSR payments are reimbursement to the insurance companies for lower copays and deductibles given to low-income customers of the Affordable Care Act. There were 1.24 million people in Florida receiving such subsidies in 2016, according to a March 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At the Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow noted how proposed rate insurance increases in Pennsylvania are slated to rise nearly 9 percent next year. But if cost-sharing reduction payments are stopped, that increase would rise to approximately 30 percent.

“Instead of working together to build on such successes as the number of uninsured Americans at its lowest in history and ending discrimination against my neighbors with pre-existing conditions, Trump is actively working to put the marketplace in jeopardy by not committing to these vital payments, which help provide my neighbors with affordable quality health care coverage options,” Castor added. “Trump’s inaction on CSR payments is causing instability in the federal marketplace, which in turn is forcing health insurance companies to raise their rates for 2018 or pull out altogether. He is intentionally sabotaging our health insurance markets and leaving hardworking American families and small businesses to bear the brunt.”

The insurance commissioner of Washington state blamed the Trump administration this week for the planned departure of two insurers from the state, attributing it to their refusal to guarantee the billions of dollars in reimbursements expected by the health insurers.

“For months, we’ve worked closely with our health insurers and other stakeholders in a concerted effort to try to explain to the Trump administration and congressional leaders what the impact could be to our market and most importantly, to our consumers, if this level of uncertainty and volatility continued,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

“Today, our predictions came true.”

House Republicans filed suit in 2014 saying that those CSR payments should have been funded through a congressional appropriation. Republicans estimated these payments are about $7 billion a year.

In May 2016, a federal judge agreed with them, ruling that the Obama administration had been making illegal payments to health insurance companies participating in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. The Obama administration appealed that ruling.

House Republicans successfully asked for a delay in the case. after Trump was elected last November.

The letter to the president was co-signed by Congress members Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy, Al Lawson, Frederica Wilson, Charlie Crist, Val Demings and Alcee Hastings.

If David Jolly runs again in 2018, would rank-and-file Republicans support him?

Unless you’ve been boycotting cable news, former Pinellas County GOP Congressman David Jolly has been a ubiquitous presence, thanks to his unflinching takedowns on Donald Trump, the titular head of the Republican Party.

“Donald Trump is done,” Jolly opined on “11th Hour with Brian Williams” last month after the Justice Department named Robert Mueller as the special counsel to oversee the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

While that independence from GOP orthodoxy makes the former lawmaker a desired quantity on MSNBC and CNN, the feelings among some rock-ribbed Republicans toward him aren’t nearly so warm and fuzzy.

That independence has led some observers to believe that Jolly is done for the time being for politics, but the former aide to longtime Congressman Bill Young said this week that the idea of running again in Florida’s 13th Congressional District is something that is “actively under consideration.”

Any decision won’t come until next January, however, when he says he’ll have a better idea on when can take the temperature of the “macro political environment.”

“But I’m also not convinced that Charlie (Crist) runs for re-election,” he says. “I think there’s a lot that can change between now and ’18 and so it’s still something under active consideration.”

Kevin Cate, a spokesperson for the Crist campaign, declined to comment.

Susan McGrath, the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee, often takes to her Facebook page to disparage Jolly after he appears on the cable networks criticizing the president.

“David Jolly is the consummate example of a politician that wants to portray himself as something he’s not in order to fool the voters of CD 13 so that he can try to win back his old seat,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in an email.

McGrath continued: “He had no issues with the Republican Party when he ran in a district that had a Republican advantage. He may try to run from the Republican Party and Donald Trump, but the fact is he lobbied for the privatization of Social Security, lobbied in support of offshore drilling, dismissed his vote to deny additional VA funding as ‘a procedural vote’ and for ‘bricks and mortar’ and sponsored legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and on and on. To present himself as moderate is simply not honest. His record speaks for itself.”

Jolly counters by pointing out he was for same-sex marriage and radical campaign finance reform well before CD 13 was reconfigured from a swing seat to a what is now a very Democratic-leaning district.

While the Pinellas Democratic chair is commenting on Jolly, her GOP counterpart is not.

Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie initially told FloridaPolitics.com he would answer the question of what Pinellas Republicans think of Jolly, but ultimately chose not to respond to further inquiries on the matter.

Another prominent Republican official in Pinellas would also not comment publicly on Jolly, but when promised anonymity, said he didn’t see a path for Jolly in the district.

“If your intention is to rally around the base, that’s not the way to do it,” the official said. “He must be trying to rally the independents, but I don’t know if there’s enough runway there for him to take off.”

“I appreciate his honesty and candor if he wants to have a career as a pundit or something,” he added. “But as far as trying to get people to rally behind you, that’s certainly not the way to go.”

Adding to the issue is while some Republicans feel personally ambivalent about Trump, they will still rally around the president when attacked by Democrats and (they say) the liberal media.

“In my observations, he alienated Trump Supporters and Second Amendment supporters before his failed election,” says Dan Tucker, a Pinellas County Republican State Committeeman.

“However, I like David as a person but what I understand from Republican Club members who are typically an older ‘die-hard conservative’ crowd, is that they feel he has lost it while some are openly hostile toward him and feel betrayed,” Tucker says. “I consider him a ‘Never Trumper’ and vying for Joe Scarborough’s job as a Progressive Republican.”

For George Hudak, a GOP political consultant from Palm Harbor who often works with Republicans in New York, the bigger question is will Democrats support a moderate Republican like Jolly over Crist.

“I think David is a truth speaker, he stands up for what he feels is right,” he says, referring to his fight against the National Republican Campaign Committee which resulted in that group opting not to help fund him in such a competitive election in 2016. “David has a lot of integrity; he and Laura are still loved by many Pinellas Republicans.”

Anthony Pedicini believes it doesn’t really matter who is the GOP candidate in CD 13.

“I do not think a Republican can beat Charlie Crist in the district as it is currently configured,” says the GOP political consultant.

Jolly lost to Crist in 2016 by 3.4 percentage points. That was without any financial help from the National Republican Campaign Committee, who essentially wrote him off after a dispute regarding the commitments made.

Paraphrasing John Kasich, Jolly says he also gets the right to define Republicanism in the 21st-century: “In many ways, I’m fighting for the future of the GOP and fighting for our brand, if you will.”

“The clearest strategy for 2018, if my only interest was running for re-election, would be to keep my mouth shut,” Jolly says. “I mean every consultant on the left and right would tell you — keep your mouth shut, raise money, keep your head down, and then we’ll figure out how to deploy campaign resources three months out — so that is the strategy.”

“If I was just worried about strategy, but I’m not. I’m calling balls and strike, and see what the field looks like next year, but there’s a good chance I’ll be on the ballot, and I will not have the full support of Republicans, nor will I bring over progressive Democrats who disagree with me on policy, but I do think we can put together a majority of Republicans, independents and Democrats and hopefully do what I was trying to do last cycle, which was to truly change politics. “

With all that, Jolly still says he is a “long way” from making a decision.

Charlie Crist blasts bill that Democrats say will rollback Dodd-Frank Act

Charlie Crist took to the floor of the U.S. House on Thursday to blast the Financial CHOICE Act, a Republican-sponsored bill that would undo significant parts of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms implemented the wake of the Great Recession..

“Unrestrained greed on Wall Street caused a preventable disaster because at no point did anyone say: This is simply wrong,” Crist said before the House approved the measure.

“I remember 2008 and 2009: the bailouts, the foreclosures, the long, painful road to recovery,” he said. “The financial crisis exposed a broken regulatory system allowing Wall Street to gamble with Main Street’s future.”

Republicans have chafed at the existence of Dodd-Frank since it passed in 2010.

Sponsored by Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, the bill would give the president the power to fire the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the consumer watchdog agency created under Dodd-Frank, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, at any time for any — or no — reason.

It also gives Congress oversight over the CFPB’s budget, meaning lawmakers could defund the agency entirely, and bars the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from overseeing the living will process, which requires banks to write up plans on how they would safely be unwound in the event of a collapse. The FDIC and the Fed are the two regulators responsible for overseeing this requirement under the 2010 law.

It also repeals what’s known as “the Volcker rule,” named after former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, that addresses self dealign and conflicts of interests between banks and their customers.

While Crist was denouncing the bill, other Tampa Bay area Republicans were rejoicing in its passage.

“Simply put, Dodd-Frank has failed,” said Polk County Representative Dennis Ross. The Financial CHOICE Act represents an alternative and effective approach to financial regulation, which will protect taxpayers, end bank bailouts, empower investors, and hold government bureaucracies accountable.

“Dodd-Frank regulations disproportionately burden small companies and prevent them from competing”, said Hernando County Congressman Daniel Webster. “As a small business owner, I understand the importance of fair competition, and the Financial CHOICE Act will ensure equal opportunity in the financial sector, not an emphasis on big business. I thank Rep. Jeb Hensarling for his commitment to this bill. After years of defeat, with President Trump in the White House this bill has the opportunity to become law.”

Democrats have dubbed the bill the “Wrong Choice Act.”

“With this bill, Members are being asked to again trust the very people who brought us to this financial crisis,” Crist said. “Don’t put them back in charge.  Do not let them do it again.”

Charlie Crist files bill to provide small business tax relief

Democrat Charlie Crist is teaming up with Naples Republican Tom Rooney for legislation to provide immediate tax relief to small businesses, which Crist says would enable them to invest in growth and provide higher wages to employees.

“The lingering impact of the Great Recession continues to make it difficult for many small businesses to obtain bank loans in order to grow,” the St. Petersburg congressman said Tuesday about HR 2680. “Economic expansion starts on Main Street — not Wall Street. Our bill gives locally owned businesses a much-needed boost, from the barber shop in South St. Petersburg to the tech entrepreneur in Clearwater. They should have an easier time hiring more people to serve more customers and expand their businesses. I look forward to working with Congressman Rooney to promote this common-sense, bipartisan effort to help our small businesses grow and improve communities across America.”

“This common-sense bill rewards small business for creating jobs in our communities,” Rooney added. “Promoting local businesses and encouraging job growth is not a partisan issue. I look forward to working with Congressman Crist on this innovative approach to helping America’s communities thrive.”

The bill calls for amending the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for small businesses an annual tax credit of 3.825 percent, equivalent to half of an employer’s payroll tax obligation, for up to three new employees and totaling $100,000 in wages.

Bob Buckhorn crosses party lines to help Shawn Harrison’s bid for re-election

In 2016, Democrats targeted a handful of Florida House districts they believed they could flip from red to blue.

One of them was Hillsborough County’s House District 63, where the Florida Democratic Party put some money behind Lisa Montelione in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Shawn Harrison.

After a close race, Harrison ultimately prevailed, 51 to 49 percent.

Although off-year elections are traditionally harder for Democrats, there is hope that an energetic resistance to Donald Trump could make 2018 a year of opportunity.

But as Harrison already begins looking forward to getting re-elected next year, he’s getting assistance from one of the biggest Democrats in the region, Bob Buckhorn. The Tampa mayor is listed as a special guest at Harrison’s June 29 campaign kickoff fundraiser at the Tampa Theatre.

“I support people who support the City of Tampa and our legislative issues,” Buckhorn told FloridaPolitics.com in a text message. “Shawn has consistently been willing to advocate on behalf of issues that were important to the City, even if it meant going against their leadership of his own party. He never forgot what it was like to be a local elected official and has been a voice of reason in a political party that has made local government a target. It seems to me that we are all better served when our elected officials care more about their community that their political issues.”

Harrison has voted against the majority of his party in a few notable cases, such as when he supported a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion a few years ago. He also supported economic incentives for Enterprise Florida, a position Buckhorn backed and which earned him the public rebuke of Gov. Rick Scott at an appearance at MOSI early this year.

As House Minority Leader, Tampa state Rep. Janet Cruz was charged with attempting to get as many Democrats elected to the House last fall. She’s also close with Buckhorn and had no issue with him backing Harrison.

“Nothing new,” Cruz told FloridaPolitics.com. “Buckhorn served for many years with Harrison on Council. I believe they became good friends then.”

With Americans saying that they’re tired of partisan bickering, some would say the Buckhorn-Harrison connection should be celebrated. However, that’s not the way some Tampa Democrats see it.

“Flabbergasted” was the term used by Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend after learning of the Mayor’s efforts.

“I’m disappointed because the mayor claims he’s a good Democrat,” said Hillsborough County Democratic Committeeman Russ Patterson, adding that he’s aware that Buckhorn and Harrison are friends. “Friendships are allowed to cross party,” he added.

“I’m not surprised,” said public relations executive Tom Hall, who teamed up with former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and others last year to form The Hillsborough Society, which raised over $40,000 to support local Democrats in Hillsborough County in 2016 and is actively recruiting candidates for 2018.

Hall cited Buckhorn’s support for Republican Pam Bondi against Democrat George Sheldon in the 2014 attorney general’s race, and his refusal to back Democrat Charlie Crist in the gubernatorial race that same year as moves that Democrats haven’t forgotten about.

“I think that those two were big mistakes, and the Democrats that I know and talk to have not forgiven him for that,” said Hall, adding that his group is looking for a good Democrat to challenge Harrison in 2018.

Buckhorn won’t be the only elected Democrat from Tampa at the Harrison fundraiser. City Councilman Frank Reddick is also listed on the fundraising announcement. Reddick endorsed Harrison over Montelione last year.

Montelione did not return a request for comment.

Florida Democrats express outrage, Republicans concern, over possible exit from Paris climate accord

Florida Democrats slammed the anticipated announcement by President Donald Trump that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, while several Florida Republicans urged Trump to keep America in the agreement.

Members of Congress and other political leaders were reacting late Tuesday and Wednesday to reports that Trump intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which all member countries except Syria and Nicaragua signed, to set goals for reduced carbon emissions.

Trump left the matter open Wednesday, tweeting that he would decide soon what to do. Various media reports indicated that sources within the White House were both signaling that he intends to pull out (New York Times and FoxNews) and cautioning that he hasn’t decided for sure yet (Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.)

Democrats on Wednesday were anticipating, with anger, that Trump would pull out of the Paris agreement. Florida Republicans who responded said they sure hope he won’t.

The potential impact on Florida, already experiencing damaging effects of rising sea levels according to many scientists, was stressed by many in their reactions.

“Our environment and our future are under attack today,” declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, who went on to vow he would fight for environmental protection for Florida on a state and national level. “Florida is the epicenter for climate change — and these decisions will hit us harder than the rest of the United States.”

Others pointed to the potential geopolitical ramifications of the United States becoming the only industrialized country — and the biggest — to reject the accord.

“Trump is making America irrelevant again,” declared Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando. “Climate change is real and human-made. Our country should remain in the Paris Accord and lead efforts to reduce carbon emissions to save our planet. With Florida being the most vulnerable state to rising sea levels, we face an even greater threat to our way of life now.”

And it wasn’t just Democrats expressing such sentiments. After all, The 24-member House Climate Solutions Caucus is co-chaired by Democrat Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, and includes Republicans Brian Mast of Palm City, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

“U.S. should be using every opportunity + its influence 2 mitigate threat of #climatechange at home + abroad. #ParisAccord,” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted.

“I strongly encourage the president to remain in the Paris climate accord,” Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan wrote on Facebook. “Climate change is a serious issue, especially for a state like Florida that has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters.”

In tweets, Curbelo said he agreed with Buchanan, and added, “Bipartisan #Climate Solutions Caucus must now redouble our efforts to build consensus for pro-growth clean energy policies #parisclimate.”

If any of Florida’s other Republican members of Congress disagree, they have not yet publicly responded.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson joined 39 other U.S. senators, mostly Democrats, last week in a letter urging Trump to stay in the agreement, and outlining environmental, economic and diplomatic reasons for doing so. On Wednesday he warned that Florida is on the line.

“Sea-level rise caused by the Earth heating up is a real threat to Florida. If the U.S. isn’t going to do its part to combat climate change, then the rest of the world won’t do theirs and millions of Floridians living along the coast will be at risk.”

Many other Democrats expressed outrage.

“What a fool,” state Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando wrote on Facebook. “Climate change is not a hoax and Miami-Dade will soon be underwater. Party of stupid, indeed!”

Among other statements:

In a written statement issued by her campaign, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress from Tallahassee, declared, “We are out of time — from stronger storms to prolonged droughts and raging wildfires, Florida is feeling the direct effects of climate change today.

“While the rest of the world moves forward, the United States under Trump and Florida under Rick Scott are in reverse. Scott has shown little more than lip service to remedial efforts, and Trump reneging on the Paris Agreement will place our environment, economy and national security at even greater risk.”

By midafternoon, there had been no statement from the other two major candidates for governor, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Democratic businessman Chris King of Winter Park. Putnam’s campaign also did not respond to an inquiry about a challenging statement toward him issued by the Florida Democratic Party.

“The federal government is on the brink of leaving an international agreement that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s time for Adam Putnam to give an answer, worthy of a gubernatorial candidate,” the Florida Democratic Party challenged.

“Florida is ground zero for climate change and our state’s economy, health and well-being depend on our leaders in Tallahassee and Washington actively combating climate change. Does Adam Putnam support Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, which could lead to global temperatures reaching dangerously high levels and seriously threaten Florida’s environment and economy? Or will he continue to deflect questions on fighting climate change and protecting our economy?” FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone said in the party’s statement.

Deutch issued a lengthy statement, declaring, “President Trump’s unfortunate decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement all but guarantees we cede our leadership on this issue so vital to our future to China, Russia, and Europe. Sadly, it’s just the latest move in a string of actions by this President that have damaged our international relationships and weakened our global standing.

“This decision has the potential to irreparably harm our earth, dramatically hinder our economic growth, and fundamentally change our way of life.

“South Florida is already struggling with the effects of climate change, like worsening weather patterns and rising sea levels. As sunny-day flooding becomes more common, the President responds by sticking his head in the sand in denial of the science and the reality in our own community. Will Mar-a-Lago Country Club need to be underwater for this president to make a responsible decision about climate change?

“If President Trump won’t listen to the scientists, then he should listen to the business leaders who strongly support the Paris Agreement. They understand that it will promote investments and create jobs. By removing the US from the Paris Agreement, this president is putting our country at a competitive disadvantage in the world.

“Most importantly, today’s decision puts our national security at risk. Even as our military leaders devise strategies to combat the effects of climate change, in our own country and globally, the president’s dangerous decision will make their job more difficult and our nation less secure.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg said in a written statement: “The Paris Climate Accord is a historic and shared commitment between nearly 200 countries to protect our environment and our future.

“It would be extremely disappointing and damaging for the U.S. to walk away from this commitment and surrender America’s leadership in climate stewardship. Withdrawal would cause lasting damage to our international relationships, global environment, and national economy. In my home state of Florida, the environment is our economy and we feel the effects of climate change on a daily basis. We must renew and strengthen these commitments, not turn our back on them. A decision to withdraw from the Accord would be shortsighted, irresponsible, and immoral.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of West Palm Beach wrote in a statement issued by his office: “President Trump’s intention to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement is an irresponsible renouncement of American leadership. The results of abandoning this international framework will be tragic, destructive, and costly, and will undermine the legitimacy of our country on the global stage.

“The United States cannot allow its foreign policy to be dictated by irrational nationalistic whims. The 195 signatory Paris Agreement was reached after painstaking negotiations. In signing, our country honored its commitment to leave future generations with a better world. Climate change is real, and we know what causes it. The Paris Agreement commits governments to working together to cap pollution levels and combat carbon emissions, which will reduce extreme climate events like drought, famine, and rising sea levels.

“Ignoring our international responsibilities jeopardizes the health and future of our country. President Trump needs to recognize that he is the President for all Americans, not just the privileged few. This destructive and shortsighted decision will have serious consequences, and the President should be held accountable for his irresponsible actions.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa declared the prospect a “huge economic blow to the state of Florida.”

“It will cost us jobs and leave Floridians on the hook for the higher costs of the changing climate. Trump is ceding America’s leadership in the world to other nations with disregard for the economic damage to our people,” she said in a written statement.

“Sixteen of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001, including 2016 which was the third consecutive record-breaking year. Floridians in particular face higher costs tied to rising AC bills, property insurance, flood insurance, local taxes for infrastructure fixes, extreme weather events, beach renourishment and more. The rising costs of the changing climate are a real threat for Florida families and businesses. Miami and Tampa Bay are among the top 10 regions in the world most at risk from property loss from flooding and sea level rise.

“Trump’s decision strikes at the heart of the economic boost that Florida and other states enjoyed due to expanding job opportunities in clean energy, green building, solar, energy efficiency and cogeneration. Clean energy jobs are on the upswing, much more so than jobs in industries tied to fossil fuels. Florida’s construction and manufacturing industries have long been anchors of the state’s economy, employing more than a half-million workers. These industries have steadily recovered from the recession that gripped Florida in 2007. An analysis by ICF International estimates that investing in clean energy would create 1 million new jobs in America by 2030 and 2 million jobs by 2050. Florida was on track to see 109,000 new jobs tied to clean energy construction and manufacturing by 2030, and 206,000 jobs by 2050.

“Solar energy would have accounted for many of the new jobs and economic growth, but Trump’s damaging new attack will set us back. The solar industry created jobs 12 times faster in solar construction, installation, operations and maintenance than those created in the overall U.S. workforce. In 2016, one out of every 50 new jobs in America was in solar energy. Solar workers already outnumber coal miners 3 to 1, and that trend will continue. Solar and wind also received a boost a couple of years ago when Congress extended the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit for five years. The solar ITC will continue at 30 percent for facilities commencing construction before Jan. 1, 2020, adding 220,000 jobs by 2020. The PTC will remain at 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour credit until it gradually phases out by Jan. 1, 2020, adding 100,000 jobs to the economy. Local businesses, architects and manufacturers already have started to build our clean energy economy. We know how to do it through solar energy, which has seen prices drop by 80 percent since 2009, and with energy efficiency, which is the lowest-cost source of energy.

“America should not take a back seat to others on clean energy jobs and the challenges posed by the changing climate. While America previously led the way on the international climate accord with nearly 200 countries including China and India committing to reduce carbon pollution to help preserve the planet for our children and grandchildren, Trump now cedes that leadership role, costs us jobs and passes along higher costs to America’s families — a poor legacy indeed.”

Charlie Crist checks out expansion of Metro Wellness and Community Center in St. Pete

The Tampa Bay metropolitan area had the 15th highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the country for 2015, the Centers for Disease Control reported last December.

Over the years, thousands of local citizens infected with the virus have come for treatment at the four Metro Wellness centers in the Tampa Bay area. But, for more than two decades, the flagship building has been located on the western edge of Kenwood in St. Petersburg.

That center is undergoing a $5.2 million expansion, which will ultimately double its current footprint.

On Tuesday, St. Petersburg U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist visited the facility, to get a first-hand look at the progress and learn more about programs that Metro Wellness offers the community.

In an hourlong tour of the facility, Crist personally shook hands, took selfies and engaged in small talk with dozens of Metro Wellness staffers. He also took a journey into the expanded part of the building (but curiously refused to don a hard hat, as was required for reporters and Metro Wellness staffers).

Priya Rajkumar, the COO and Chief Program Officer with Metro Wellness, said that the 340B Prescription Drug Program has allowed the organization to expand their services with CAN, the Community AIDS Network, with which the nonprofit shares office space.

And that, in turn, has allowed expansion of the building, where they’ve been able to raise more than a million dollars in the past year.

“On our own, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” she said.

Lorraine Langlois is CEO of Metro Wellness, and has been with the organization for close to 25 years. When Crist was informed that she was recovering at home from recent knee surgery, he asked Keene for her number and chatted with her for a few minutes, commiserating with her about the “ill-conceived” creation of the American Health Care Act, the GOP House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The AHCA currently enjoys the support of only 8 percent of American who think the Senate should pass it as is, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Metro Wellness has expanded over the years, and now has over 140 employees.

“It started as a mechanism to care for those who were dying of HIV/AIDS and from that caring core a nonprofit was formed to better provide services,” said James Keane, the interim director of Metro Wellness’ LGBT Community Center Services. “It was about lengthening someone’s life and treating the disease, as opposed to helping folks with end-of-life issues, and that growth went hand in hand with caring with those infected with HIV.”

Among the services that Metro Wellness provides is an HIV prevention program, where they go into Pinellas County school to educate black and Hispanic youths between the ages of 13 and 19. Rajkumar said the greatest level of infections in the county are black and Latino men under 30. However, they haven’t been able to enter all the schools in the county.

“There’s a tremendous amount of stigma that’s still associated,” she said of AIDS and HIV. “In each school, there can be some politics, so each school is a little different in what they can allow us to speak about.”

“There’s politics?” Crist asked sincerely. “What about the First Amendment? It would help reduce the level of new infections.”

Metro Wellness director of compliance Kirsty Gutierrez, said that the center has been able to use a grant approved last fall by the state to help young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 who have just been released from Pinellas County jails, helping them access health insurance, housing, job training and HIV awareness and education.

Currently, there are eight intake and treatment rooms for HIV and primacy care, and the expansion and renovation will double that space.

Construction is expected to be completed by July 2018.

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