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The case against Rick Baker running for St. Petersburg mayor

As coy as he has been with the local media and as busy as he is promoting the Rowdies referendum, Rick Baker is almost certain to run for St. Petersburg mayor this year.

Last week, Baker was in Tallahassee for a series of not-exactly-clandestine meetings with top Republican donors like Brian Ballard and Nick Iarossi.

Baker’s biggest cheerleader in the capital, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, set up the meetings.

Baker does not particularly enjoy fundraising; At least not as much as his fellow St. Petersburg office-bearer, Charlie Crist. It’s not that he can’t or won’t make the ask, it’s just that he believes — rightly so — that he probably has better things with his time.

So, for Baker to shake his tin can in Tallahassee, it’s the surest sign yet that he plans on challenging incumbent Rick Kriseman.

If polling is to be believed — and St. Pete Polls has a near-bulletproof record surveying St. Petersburg voters — Baker would actually start as a favorite against Kriseman.

Despite all the hullabaloo over the city’s sewage system crisis, as well as a lack of genuine, visible progress on big-ticket items like a new St. Petersburg Pier or a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kriseman is popular with city voters.

Were anyone other than Baker to challenge Kriseman — from popular Republicans like Brandes to City Council veterans like Amy Foster or Darden Rice — the mayor would dispatch them easily.

But, head-to-head, Baker trumps Kriseman.

In other words, Kriseman is a popular mayor; Baker just happens to be a more popular former mayor.

Three times out of five, Baker beats Kriseman. Which means it’s not a lock that Baker will beat Kriseman in November. In fact, one can make a pretty compelling case for how Baker might lose to Kriseman.

Here are 10 reasons why Baker might not want to run against Kriseman.

Demographics  

St. Pete is an increasingly progressive city, substantially more so than when Baker was re-elected in 2005. St. Pete’s gay community is more visible and more influential than 12 years ago. And if there’s one cohort Baker is cross-wired with, it’s Team Pride. While in office, he refused to sign a proclamation celebrating Florida’s biggest Gay Pride festival — a symbolic non-gesture that many of the city’s LGBT leaders and residents have not forgotten. These folks may already be against Baker’s Republican politics, just as they were against Bill Foster‘s. But Baker’s candidacy may galvanize the gay community in a way no other candidate would.

Demographics — Part 2

When Baker won re-election in 2005, he won every single precinct in the city. That means precincts where blacks are in the majority — no easy feat for a Republican running against an opponent who would become chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Black voters also functioned as the deciding vote bloc for Baker in 2001 and for Foster in 2009 (both men defeated Kathleen Ford). Baker prides himself on his relationship with the black community. Remember, this is the policy wonk who won national acclaim for his vision of a “seamless city.” But will the black vote, in this era of Donald Trump, embrace Baker over a Democratic elected official who will likely be endorsed by most major African-American leaders? Even with Goliath Davis and Deveron Gibbons as his chief surrogates, it’s difficult to envision Baker winning the black vote at the same clip he did in his first two elections.

Lessons from Jeb

In the parlance of Game of Thrones, Baker is a loyal bannerman to House Jeb. So many Republican pols admire Baker, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine him having to look up to anyone. But Jeb Bush is one of those people. Had Bush won his bid for The White House, it’s very likely Baker would be Secretary of Something right now. Obviously, that was not the case and in Jeb’s humiliating defeat — “Please clap” — there’s a cautionary tale for Baker. Bush was out of office for so long, and the political environment had shifted so much, that he was caught flat-footed by the new rules of engagement. What will Baker do when an anonymous negative website about him inevitably pops up? What will Baker’s strategy for Facebook and Twitter be? Will he be caught on video saying something honest, but politically damaging? How will he interact with the Tom Rasks and David McKalips of the mayoral campaign? There are so many possible landmines out there for anyone running for office that it can be a challenge for even a savvy operator like Baker. He can ask his friend Jeb about that.

The Times will not be with him

Baker’s never been the Tampa Bay Times’ favorite local Republican (that would be Jack Latvala), but rarely has he been in its crosshairs. The local newspaper probably doesn’t have the desire or the horses to make Baker one of its “projects,” but it’s not going to be on his side — as it was in his races against Ford and Ed Helm — either. At the end of the day, the newspaper really likes Kriseman, even if it’s aware of his shortcomings. But his politics matches its and Baker’s apparently do not, so expect the editorial page (sans Baker ally Joni James) to weigh in again and again about how Baker had his time, and the city needs to move forward with Kriseman and blah, blah, blah. Also, the Tampa Bay Times may want to make up for this.

The Bill Edwards conundrum

One day, residents of St. Petersburg may look at a statute of Bill Edwards that memorialized his many, many contributions to the prosperity of the city. Or maybe not. It very much depends on the outcome of an ongoing federal lawsuit lodged by two whistle-blowers accused Edwards of looting millions from his defunct mortgage company. According to Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, Baker was uncertain about Edwards’ situation, especially as it relates to the Edwards-Baker effort to attract a Major League Soccer team to the city. Questions about Edwards’ future and Baker’s work for The Edwards Group could be an issue on the campaign trail. Remember, Kriseman made Foster’s remote connections to Edwards an issue during the 2013 race.

Rick being Rick

As smart and successful as Baker has been throughout his career, now and then he makes a decision that even his most ardent defenders (like me) can’t explain. After all, Baker did endorse Herman Cain for President in 2011Kriseman is already making hay about Baker’s politics

Baker is not running against a tomato can.

Not hardly — Some might say Baker has been very lucky with who he’s had to run against in his previous campaigns. Ford, well, is Kathleen Ford, the ultimate femme fatale candidate who, despite her tenacity, was never going to win over a majority of supporters. Helm, well, is Ed Helm, who, despite his sheer intelligence, could not get out of his own way for long enough to build a winning coalition. While Ford, Helm, and Kriseman are all Democrats, Kriseman is nothing like Ford or Helm. He’s already proven he can build a winning coalition of city progressives, minorities, residents from the west part of the city, young voters, and the upscale urban liberals of northeast St. Pete. He has a loyal veteran campaign team and a base of donors and supporters already hard at work. Kriseman’s camp is not taking the prospect of a Baker challenge lightly; that’s why it has been raising money hand-over-fist in what is expected to be St. Pete’s most expensive campaign ever.

Duh! Kriseman is the incumbent

Even Captain Obvious recognizes there are many advantages to being the incumbent in a local race. For example, Kriseman recently won the endorsement of the police union, an organization which went with Foster in 2009. Why? Because Kriseman is committed to building a new headquarters for the St. Pete Police Department. Will rank-and-file cops turn out for Kriseman? That remains to be seen, but advantages like this are the kind of default support an incumbent receives. He gets to be on the city’s TV channel, shows up at ribbon-cuttings, be in the newspaper and on TV any day he wants. Kriseman will be careful about doing so, but all the city’s resources are at his disposal.

Kriseman knows how to throw a punch. Does Baker know what it’s like to be hit?

To quote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Kriseman knows how to throw a punch; his campaign will not hesitate to use any and all lines of attacks against Baker. In the end, Kriseman’s campaign and its allies will throw the kitchen sink at Baker, who, while no stranger from the spotlight, hasn’t had a negative mailer written about him in 12 years. He hasn’t been the star of a grainy, black-and-white television attack ad. He hasn’t had his name dragged through the mud just for the sake of doing that. How will he react? How will Baker counterpunch? The answer to these questions may be the most fascinating thing to watch during the campaign.

Does Baker really want to be Mayor again?

I think if Rick Baker had his druthers, he’d strap on his guitar and tour the state talking about his soon-to-be-released book and how there is a third way for polarized state politics. He’d speak of a “seamless state” and how Republicans can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment. Or be president of an expansion Major League Soccer team. But I’m not 100 percent sure he wants to be Mayor of St. Petersburg for the next eight years — who would run against him in 2021? Sure, Dick Greco had a successful second act as Tampa’s mayor, but by the end of his career, Greco was sadly out of touch with the community he loved so much and once loved him.

Nothing in politics would cause Baker more heartache than for him to lose the respect of his neighbors and fellow residents.

Andrew Gillum tells college Democrats in Tampa ‘We don’t have to run from who we are’

Even though the 2018 election cycle has barely begun, there’s no question that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is quickly learning that his progressive stances are finding enthusiastic responses as he barnstorms the state.

“We can win elections in this state again by being Democrats!” Gillum told an enthusiastic group of Florida College Democrats in Tampay, where they were meeting for their spring convention.

“We don’t have to obfuscate. We don’t have to run from who we are. We can say exactly who it is we are and what we believe and why we’re good for the rest of Florida,” he said at the conclusion of his formal remarks to the crowd of approximately 120 students who gathered at the University Area Community Center.

Referring to previous wins at the ballot box on small class size, solar power and medical marijuana, Gillum asked the crowd rhetorically what was the disconnect that ultimately finds that “our candidates can’t bring it home?

“I would submit that it’s difficult to bring it home if it is difficult to tell the difference between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee,” he said, a clear shot at previous statewide centrist-oriented Democratic candidates like Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist and Alex Sink.

Noting how the past two gubernatorial elections and last fall’s presidential race all were within 1.5 percentage points in the GOP’s favor, Gillum said the difference in most of those cases was just 70,000 votes in a state of 20 million.

“I believe we might have a chance, a shot at turning 100,000 more people believing like us out, and taking this state back for people. Not special interests, but for people.”

Gillum spent another ten minutes fielding some questions from the students. He made an emphasis about how he’s not afraid of taking on sacred “special interests,” referring to the Second Amendment Foundation and the group Florida Carry suing the Tallahassee City Commission for refusing to repeal ordinances that prevent shooting guns in a public park.

And with Syria back in the headlines, he reminded the audience that back in the fall of 2015 he made a point of welcoming refugees from that war torn country to his city, in exact contravention of what Governor Rick Scott was calling on at that time.

“We had a governor and a Legislature who said that Syrians were no longer welcome in the state of Florida. Right? Never mind that the governor has no say based on immigration policy on who can come in and out of the state of Florida,” he said. “So he took license, so I took license too. I said immigrants and refugees were welcome in Tallahassee.”

Saying he got “tons of blowback,” Gillum said the reason he stood up what “our values  matter when it’s hard,” relating that’s equally hard for immigrant communities in Florida right now.

He also spoke up for state workers, talking about how he’s been able to give three percent pay raises for municipal workers in Tallahassee since being mayor, and said he would like to be able to do slowly address the lack of any such pay increase for a decade (the governor has proposed merit bonuses this year)

“Our governor goes around bragging that we’re the cheapest state to run in all of America, we have the cheapest work force at the state level,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but if I’m governor of the third largest state, I want an efficient, and effective and highly talented and highly competent work force.”

Chris King, the only other officially declared Democrat in the 2018 gubernatorial race, was scheduled to address the group on Saturday night.

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor want Congress consulted on military force in Syria

The two Tampa Bay-area Democratic members of Congress — Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist — say they support President Donald Trump‘s military action in Syria Thursday night. both say that the House of Representatives should immediately reconvene so that members can debate the use of military force there.

But both say the House of Representatives should reconvene immediately so members can debate the use of military force there.

That seems doubtful, perhaps, as the House is breaking Thursday for a two-week Easter recess.

“The Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base was an important and targeted response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” Castor said. “Russia and Iran should be held accountable as well for their support of Assad and his war on the Syrian people.”

“The continued atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against innocent men, women, and most horrifyingly, children and infants, are an assault on humanity and must be stopped,” said Crist. “Last night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered.”

Both Democratic lawmakers say that the Constitution puts the responsibility to declare war with the Congress, and that the President should make his case before them if he is prepared to engage further in Syria.

‎”Congressional leaders, the Trump Administration and Obama Administration have been derelict in following the requirements of the Constitution and law for a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” said Castor. “The military strike on Syria and ongoing war on ISIS should prod policymakers to return to Washington and adopt a new AUMF.”

“Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies,” said Crist. “We need clear objectives to end this crisis to protect our troops and the Syrian people.”

Castor has previously criticized Barack Obama for not getting an Authorization for Use of Military Force in engaging in battle with the Islamic State, criticism that some other Democrats made as well, none more loudly than Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Congressional Democrats as a whole seem to be parroting a consistent line Friday, praising Trump for the cruise missile attacks on a Syrian military base, but insisting he go before the Congress to get authorization before any further action.

Citing rising poll numbers, Florida congressional Dems urge Rick Scott to expand Medicaid

When Congressional Republicans last month attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they heard from several GOP governors, who warned them not to go ahead with a plan to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid, saying it would have a deleterious effect on voters.

Now, with new polling indicating that Medicaid has never been more popular, Florida Congressional Democrats are finding the inspiration to ask Gov. Rick Scott to again consider expanding Medicaid.

“A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too,” begins the letter penned by Sen. Bill Nelson, and Congress members Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel, Fredericka Wilson, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

The letter comes on the same that a new poll conducted by the University of Miami shows that two-thirds of Floridians, or 67 percent, say they favor Medicaid expansion.

Infamously, Scott said in 2013 that he initially supported expanding Medicaid in Florida, but then quickly reversed course and every year since has steadfastly maintained his opposition, despite the business community rallying behind such a move.

In 2015, the Florida Senate approved a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion; the House overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

State officials said that plan would have covered as many as 650,000 residents.

Here’s the text of the letter sent to Scott:

Dear Governor Scott:

A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia already have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable health care to working families and students. Floridians should not be placed at a disadvantage compared to other states. Indeed, a survey published today by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 67 percent of Floridians support moving forward with expansion to bring $66 billion in federal funding between the years of 2013-2022 to our state. Medicaid expansion will boost jobs and enable Florida to move to a more efficient health care delivery model. In fact, it is estimated that the state would have seen $8.9 billion in increased economic activity and more than 71,000 new jobs in 2016 alone. It not too late to chart a better course for the State of Florida.

Now that Speaker Ryan has declared, “[the Affordable Care Act] is the law of the land,” we should all be doing our part to expand coverage to the uninsured, improve the quality of health plans, and lower costs for everyone. Expanding eligibility to all Floridians with annual income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level–less than $30,000 per year for a family of three–is the fiscally-responsible thing to do not only for a huge number of Floridians, but also for consumers who use Healthcare.gov, for businesses who provide coverage to their employees, and for hospitals who are charged with providing care without regard to a patient’s coverage status. Insurance premiums for Americans who have private insurance are generally lower in states that have expanded Medicaid. Private insurance costs are higher in states that did not expand Medicaid because of costs of sick and uninsured are transferred to the private insurance pool according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coverage is key, rather than costly and inefficient emergency room care and delayed treatment.

With years of Medicaid expansion already underway in other parts of the country, we have seen that other hard working Americans have benefited from improvements in health care quality and affordability through expansion. Medicaid expansion in Florida would provide over 800,000 of our fellow Floridians with access to primary care. Preventive services like screening for HIV, cancer, and heart disease will save lives, help keep our state’s residents healthier, and improve management of their chronic conditions. Providing access to Medicaid will also improve risk pools in the private market, a shift that has saved consumers in expansion states seven percent on their monthly premiums. Floridians deserve these benefits just like any other American.

Medicaid expansion also will reduce the unpaid medical bills owed to hospitals that put pressure on the state budget and our safety net hospitals funded with taxpayer dollars. Refusing to cover working Floridians through Medicaid expansion does not reduce our state’s health care costs, it just passes them on through rising premiums and tax hikes. With a third of our state’s resources already devoted to health care, the influx of $50 billion in federal funding would safeguard services from the draconian cuts currently under consideration by the state legislature. Medicaid expansion would help the state avoid the rising costs brought by Zika, the opioid crisis and mental health needs.

Throughout your time as the chief executive of our state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown a willingness to work with you to find a path forward that will expand coverage to hard-working, able-bodied adults in our state. States with conservative governors around the nation have arrived at solutions that expanded Medicaid while upholding their conservative principles. If you miss this opportunity, you will chart a fiscally-irresponsible path that will cost our state billions, cost our state jobs and sacrifice the health and well-being of all Floridians.

Thankfully, Republicans in Congress abandoned their recent proposal to rip coverage away from millions of Americans including children, the disabled, and our neighbors with Alzheimer’s in skilled nursing. Like most Floridians, we realized that this was not an honest attempt at improving health care in America. Rather than continuing political games over the Affordable Care Act, we ask that you move to develop a plan for Medicaid expansion in our state to benefit the health, financial security, and well-being of all Floridians.

Sincerely,

###

Report: St. Petersburg tops 21 Florida cities with worst air pollution in 2015

The Sunshine State’s air is dirtier than it should be, according to an environment report issued Thursday.

The study, called Our Health at Risk, reviewed EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot — dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Among its key findings:

— People in the Tampa Bay area experienced 56 days with elevated smog pollution and 86 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

— St. Petersburg ranked 1st in the state for worst smog pollution in 2015, and 1st for soot.

Across Florida, 21 cities and metro areas had unhealthy levels of air pollution with an average of 17 dirty air days during 2015, including Miami, Tallahassee, and Gainesville.

The report comes as the Trump Administration is planning major cuts to environmental programs promulgated by the Obama administration, including a request to the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan; a request to the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling; a proposal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, and instructions to the TPA to roll back federal clean car standards.

“We can’t afford to roll back these key environmental protections,” said Congressman Charlie Crist. “More pollution and more climate change are direct threats to our community’s health, safety, energy independence, and economy.”

The report was written by Elizabeth Ridlington from the Frontier Group and Travis Madsen from the Environment America Research & Policy Center, and published by Environment Florida.

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Ridlington. “Elevated levels of air pollution — even levels the federal government says are safe for most people — hurt our health.”

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Nelson and Rubio must stand up for our health,” said Turner Lott with Environment Florida. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean car standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

Charlie Crist finds footing in Congress, raises record $717K in 1st quarter

Charlie Crist is reporting more than $717,000 raised in the first quarter of 2017, a record-breaking amount for any freshman lawmaker during the first months in office.

“I’m humbled by this historic outpouring of early support and honored that so many people are rallying behind the people of Pinellas County,” Crist said in a statement. “This is a part of the country that believes in bipartisanship and making sure Washington is accountable to the people. I’m doing everything I can to amplify that sentiment.”

Crist now has $672,083 cash-on-hand.

In his first few weeks in Washington, the St. Petersburg Democrat stumbled out of the gate, including missing a vote condemning a UN Security Council resolution aimed at Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But he’s since found his footing, and won raves from his constituents after hosting a four-hour town hall meeting in St. Petersburg last month.

He’s also held a number of fundraisers in his short time in office.

But raising more than three-quarters of a million dollars in a non-election year is definitely an achievement for any congressional incumbent, much less one in just his first three months of his term in office.

In that respect, Crist is the antithesis of the man he vanquished in the Congressional District 13 race last fall, David Jolly.

Jolly was not known to enjoy fundraising and wasn’t considered very good at it. One of his signature pieces of legislation he proposed during his time in Congress was the STOP Act, which would have banned federal office holders (like Crist) from raising money in office.

While the bill received plenty of media attention, it went nowhere in the House of Representatives.

Charlie Crist joins bill rolling back Doanld Trump’s efforts to weaken Clean Power Plan

Two days after President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

St. Petersburg Congressman Charlie Crist joined 35 other Democrats to file legislation to prevent its implementation.

HR 1812, known as the Congressional Leadership in Mitigating Administration Threats to the Earth (CLIMATE) Act declares the anti-environment executive order null and void and prohibits federal funds from implementing, administering, or enforcing the order.

“My home county of Pinellas is quite literally a peninsula on the peninsula of Florida, and we feel the effects of climate change daily. Our shorelines are impacted by severe storms and constant coastal erosion. And, as a result, there are real concerns that one of our key revenue sources — tourism — may wash away bit by bit,” Crist said. “We can’t afford to roll back these key environmental protections — more pollution and more climate change are direct threats to our community’s health, safety, energy independence, and economy.”

Obama’s Clean Power Plan would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms. It also undercuts regulations on methane emissions.

“This executive order ignores both the science and the impacts of global climate change, and jeopardizes our children’s future by reorienting our policies backwards toward higher-emission sources of energy,” says Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider, another co-sponsor of the bill. “The United States must continue to play a leadership role in the international effort to confront climate change, or risk losing that role to other countries. We need to lead not just to protect our environment and national security, but to also ensure that the green energy jobs of tomorrow are created here at home.”

Trump signed the order while surrounded by coal workers and executives earlier this week.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Trump reportedly said to the miners as he signed the order, according to The New York Times. “You’re going back to work.”

Florida may reinstate resign-to-run law for politicians

Florida could reinstate a law that forces politicians to resign from their elected positions if they wind up running for federal office.

A House panel on Wednesday voted for a sweeping election bill that would return the law to way it was before 2007. The Republican-controlled Legislature changed the law that year to help Gov. Charlie Crist.

Crist at the time was seen as a rising GOP star and viable candidate for vice president. He wound up switching parties and is now a Democratic congressman from St. Petersburg.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Fort Myers Republican and sponsor of the bill, said state and local politicians should not get a “free shot” if they run for federal office.

The legislation would also make changes to when cities could hold elections.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

House advances bill that would change Tampa’s election dates

Under a new bill passed Wednesday by the House Government Accountability Committee, Tampa would need to change the dates of municipal elections every four years.

Changes to when local municipalities hold election days was one of a series of proposals included in a committee-written bill passed by the House Government Accountability Committee, approved easily by a 22-1 vote.

Historically, residents in the city of Tampa voted in primary and general municipal election held in March. Under the committee bill passed, the election would have to be held only at one of four dates — at the general election in November, after first Monday in November in an odd-numbered year, or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April in odd- or even-numbered years.

The governing body of the municipality must choose which of the dates to conduct its elections. The bill sets a format for runoff elections based on the four dates and allows elected municipal officers to continue to serve until the next municipal election is held in accordance with the bill. Changes to municipal election dates would not take effect until July 1, 2020.

For the past few decades, Tampa has held main municipal elections in early March, with runoffs scheduled three weeks later.

“Our biggest reason for opposing this is a legislative override of the will of the people,” said Casey Cook with the Florida League of Cities. “Every city when it is formed adopts a charter, and that charter is approved by the voters in that area.”

The new bill would also repeal the decade-old change in state election law, which required local or state office holders who qualify for federal office to resign from the office they presently hold if the terms, or any part thereof, will run concurrently and sets the requirements for such resignations.

It would also change the state’s resign-to-run law to include federal office holders (such U.S. senators and representatives) to the current law that mandates that lower office holders must resign if any part of the term will run concurrently with the office that the candidate presently holds.

In 2007, the law was changed by the Republican-led Legislature to allow for the possibility of then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to run as a vice presidential candidate in 2008. However, John McCain ultimately bypassed Crist, going with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Other states do allow federal officeholders to run for president and not resign from their current office. Rand Paul of Kentucky ran for president last year, but was allowed to stay in his Senate seat (where he was also on the ballot and won re-election in 2016).

The bill mandates that in any election the word “incumbent” must appear on the ballot beside the name of a candidate seeking re-election to public office when the office sought is not subject to term limits. Current law only requires a ballot to indicate a candidate is an incumbent when two or more candidates running for the same office in a primary election have the same or similar surnames.

The bill requires all candidates who qualify for office as an NPA candidate in partisan elections to be registered at the time of qualification as NPA.

Also, the measure requires an NPA candidate to attest in writing that he or she is registered as NPA. Currently, the law allows candidates to qualify without party affiliation (NPA) despite being registered with a political party.

In addition, a candidate would be required to pay his or her qualification fee with a certified check as an alternative to paying with a properly executed check.

The bill passed 22-1, with only Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith dissenting.

Smith objected to the fact that the bill did not mention what he called “the broken system of write-in candidates” in Florida elections.

In Florida, party primaries are normally closed; only voters registered with the party can cast ballots to choose its nominees. But state voters amended the Florida Constitution in 1998 to open primary contests if the winner would face no opposition in the general election. The point was to ensure that all voters would have a say if the primary would determine the winner. In 2000, however, the state Elections Division concluded that a single write-in candidate in the general election would be considered enough competition to close a primary with candidates from just one major party. Ever since, write-ins have regularly closed primaries, even though a write-in has never won an office in Florida.

Caldwell said he agreed with Smith, but said that change could only occur via a constitutional amendment, and thus could not be included in his legislation.

The committee also unanimously passed a bill from Jacksonville Democrat Tracie Davis (HB 521) that allows early voters to be able to turn their ballot into any early election voting site. Davis said that in her research, 31 counties currently allow voters to do that, but it is not uniform in state statute.

If HB 521 passes, it will become state law.

Charlie Crist to host health care telephone town hall meeting Tuesday

Charlie Crist wants to hear from constituents about ways to improve health care in America

The St. Petersburg Democrat is hosting a telephone town hall meeting on the subject Tuesday night.

On Friday afternoon, Crist cheered the news that House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the vote on the American Health Care Act because there wasn’t enough support among Republicans.

Crist called the decision a “win for the American people.”

“It was a bad bill, plain and simple,” Crist said in a statement Friday. “It would have harmed our seniors, and particularly those who often don’t have a voice in the debate – ‘the least among us’ if you will, the poor and the disabled.”

Crist, a former Republican, has been consistent in his rhetoric since going to Washington in January that, when possible, he is willing to work with the Trump administration to improve the lives of Americans. “We have the opportunity now to drop the rhetoric, roll up our sleeves, and work together to fix what needs fixing to bring down costs, expand access, and protect the most vulnerable in our society,” he says.

At this point, nobody is sure if Republicans will attempt to take another crack at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, which remains the law of the land. Crist is a supporter of the ACA, but says it needs improvements.

Speaking in the Oval Office Friday, Donald Trump blamed Democrats for unanimously opposing the bill, saying Obamacare would soon “explode.”

“Now the Democrats own Obamacare 100 percent,” he said. They own it. It’s exploding now, and it’s going to be a very bad year. There are going to be explosive premium increases.”

If you want to participate in Crist’s telephone town hall, you need to register by 5 p.m. on Monday, which you can do so by going here.

Crist held a four-hour town hall meeting in St. Petersburg earlier this month.

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