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Charlie Crist slams the GOP for ‘extreme measures’ on women’s reproductive rights

Following moves by President Trump and the GOP-led Congress this week on abortion, St. Petersburg Democratic Representative Charlie Crist is blasting D.C. Republicans on the issue of women’s reproductive rights.

“This past weekend, I stood with thousands of my neighbors in St. Petersburg, Florida to demand the protection of women’s health and rights – a message that was echoed by a million others nationwide,” Crist said. ” And how did Republicans in Washington respond to this call to action?  By pushing forward several extreme measures attacking women’s healthcare and reproductive rights.  This alone is outrageous.  Even worse, these actions will particularly hurt low-income families, young people, and women of color.”

Among the decisions that Crist was criticizing was a vote on H.R. 7 , sponsored by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith. The bill permanently bans the use of federal funds for abortion and prohibits anyone who receives subsidies to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from purchasing a plan that covers abortion.

On Monday, President Trump signed an executive order banning foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive certain kinds of American aid from counseling health clients about abortion or advocating for abortion law liberalization. Ronald Reagan originally issued the so-called Mexico City policy in 1984. Bill Clinton reversed it when he took office. George W. Bush put it back into play in 2001, and Barack Obama reversed it in 2009.

However, according to Mark Leon Goldberg with UN DispatchTrump’s executive order goes beyond what previous Republican Presidents have done on this issue:

Rather than applying the Global Gag Rule exclusively to US assistance for family planning in the developing world, which amounts to about $575 million per year, the Trump memo applies it to “global health assistance furnished by all department or agencies.” In other words, NGOs that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, support early childhood nutrition and brain development, run HIV programs, fight ebola or Zika, and much more, must now certify their compliance with the Global Gag Rule or risk losing US funds. According to analysis from PAI, a global health NGO, this impacts over $9 billion of US funds, or about 15 times more than the previous iteration of the Global Gag Rule which only impacted reproductive health assistance.

Crist says “we will not stop fighting” for women’s reproductive rights.

“Women’s rights are human rights, and no matter where you live, what insurance you qualify for, or your income – all women should have equal access to quality, comprehensive healthcare,” he said.

After leaving Charlie Crist for David Jolly, Vito Sheeley says “I’m still a Democrat”

Vito Sheeley says that despite his decision to now work for former Republican Congressman David Jolly, he remains a Democrat.

In one of the more enigmatic personnel developments in Tampa Bay area politics recently, Sheeley announced Monday that he was leaving the office of Charlie Crist,  to now work for Jolly as a senior adviser.

Crist defeated Jolly in Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District race last fall.

The move came just days after reports that Sheeley was going to work for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s office, along with (unreported) rumors Crist had jettisoned Sheeley early last week, and rehired him by week’s end.

In a just-released statement, Sheeley says: “Many have and will continue to question my reason for leaving Congressman Crist. That is an answer that will remain between Charlie Crist and me.”

He then says service to his community “outweighs any political party or title.”

A St. Pete native, Sheeley worked as an outreach coordinator for Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor, whose district used to include parts of South St. Petersburg, before leaving in 2016 for Crist’s congressional campaign.

Sheeley says he will help Jolly continue policy work locally on education, veterans, urban affairs and other Pinellas priorities.

To some, the hiring decision remains perplexing, considering Jolly is no longer a sitting congressman, announcing Monday he has not made a decision about running again in 2018.

However, in hiring Sheeley, he has indeed invited speculation that he intends to run next year.

Sheeley’s statement in full, entitled “I’m Still a Democrat,” is below:

Public service is a part of my DNA. My mother was a social worker, my grandmother was an educator, and my grandfather a pastor. I was raised to believe that serving my community and country is the most important calling one can have. I still believe that today. I have worked in public service as Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Kathy Castor, Outreach Director for Charlie Crist’s Congressional Campaign 2016 and, until recently, Congressman Charlie Crist’s District Director.

My passion is to see that others have the same opportunities that I have been given.

Many have and will continue to question my reason for leaving Congressman Crist. That is an answer that will remain between Charlie Crist and me. My service to my community outweighs any political party or title. You see, for me, I don’t see Democrat or Republican, I see people. I see children not receiving a quality education, I see poverty, I see families searching for job security and a better way to provide. I recognize the injustice within our Justice System, I’m appalled at witnessing our voting rights being stripped away to benefit those in power or those who would like to remain in power. These reasons and more are the reason why I fight for a solution. I will be working with David Jolly to continue policy work locally regarding education, veterans, urban affairs and other Pinellas priorities.

I respect David Jolly. I respect his service to his community and country. We both share a common belief, we love this community.

David Jolly respects my Democratic views, and together I believe we can bring balance to our divided country. In these days and times, we as a nation have forgotten what is important. What is important is “Treating others as one would wish to be treated;” this is the Golden Rule. As I continue this journey, I will fight for what I believe is important. That is “You,” the people … of Pinellas County, Democrat or Republican, your voice matters.

We face serious issues together we can overcome.

I would like to thank everyone who supported me in this past week. Your overwhelming encouragement has meant a lot to my family and I.

Florida Democrats to propose “The Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Act” aimed at closing gender pay gap

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz and two of her colleagues have filed the Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Act, aimed at closing the gender pay gap in Florida.

Lantana Democrat Lori Berman is co-filing the legislation with Cruz in the House (HB 319), and Orlando Democrat Linda Stewart is filing the bill in the Senate (SB 410).

“It is unconscionable that in America today women continue to be paid less for the same amount of work as men,” declared Cruz in a statement issued on Friday. “Our nation was founded on the ideal that all of us are created equal and that ought to hold in all facets of our lives. Paying people fairly for the work they do shouldn’t depend on their gender, but rather on the quality of their work.”

The Democratic lawmakers say the two bills delineate which reasons that employers can use to pay employees differently, such as based on education, skill-set and experience. They say that by clarifying those reasons, employers can avoid litigation and be clear about which attributes are valued.

The bills would also bar employers from inquiring about or screening employees based on their prior salary history, and it would also increase civil penalties for a violation.

“While I feel this legislation should be unnecessary, the reality is that in 2017 women are still not earning the same pay as men in the same position,” said Berman.”Paying women equally is good for the economy and good for business. It is simply a no-brainer and I invite my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to write this into statute once and for all.”

“Those groups most affected by this – the single mother; a family stricken by illness or unemployment or tragedy that relies on a female breadwinner; those Floridians whose gender identity isn’t even recognized anywhere in our state laws; they deserve policies and protections that reflect the reality of their everyday existence. That’s why we need this bill. That’s why we were elected to serve,” said Stewart.

Helen Gordon Davis was a Tampa icon who passed away last May at the age of 88. She was the first woman from Hillsborough County elected to serve in the Florida Legislature back in 1974. She  was reelected for six consecutive terms and, in 1988, was elected to the Florida Senate. Her political career ended in 1992 when she lost that state Senate seat that comprised parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas County to Charlie Crist.

According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Florida, over a lifetime of work (47 years), the total estimated loss of earnings of women compared with men is $700,000 for a high school graduate, $1.2 million for a college graduate and $2 million for a professional school graduate.

The odds of the bill passing in the Legislature would appear to be slim, as Cruz has offered it up in previous sessions without much success.

The three Democrats will speak about their bill next Tuesday at a press conference in Tallahassee.

David Jolly hires Charlie Crist staffer Vito Sheeley as ‘senior adviser’

David Jolly says that he has not made a decision whether to run for his former congressional seat next year, but that’s the impression he has given by announcing on Monday that he has hired Vito Sheeley to serve as his “senior advisor for the 2018 political cycle.”

Sheeley has been working as district director for Charlie Crist, the man who defeated Jolly last November in the Congressional District 13 race. Sheeley also worked on Crist’s congressional campaign as his campaign outreach director.

“While I have made no decision whether to pursue elective office in 2018, I am committed to continuing our important policy work of the last three years,” Jolly said in a statement.  “As Laura and I consider what is best for our family and our community in 2018, I am thrilled to have Vito Sheeley join our political team. Through my years working with Vito in Pinellas, I know him to be an honorable man, dedicated to our community, and a trusted advisor on how best to represent and serve Pinellas County and the State of Florida.”

“I’m extremely excited to begin my new role with Congressman Jolly,” Sheeley said. “Helping the citizens of Pinellas County has been and will remain the most important priority of my life.  As Senior Advisor to Mr. Jolly, I look forward to continuing to listen to the needs and concerns of Pinellas County.  I thank Congressman Jolly for recognizing my value to him and his team.”

Max Goodman, a spokesman for Jolly, says that Sheeley will be working with Jolly  “to continue policy work locally regarding education, veterans, urban affairs and other Pinellas priorities.” He says he’ll be paid through non candidate committee funds.

The announcement caps a bizarre week in the news for Sheeley, who previously worked for Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor.

There were unconfirmed reports that Crist had fired Sheeley last week, and then rehired him back. FloridaPolitics called Sheeley on Friday to ask him about that report, which he flatly denied, saying that he was still working for Crist at the time.

He also said it was unclear whether he would go on to work for Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign, as had been reported by the Tampa Bay Times last week.

“I only wish the best for Vito,” Crist told FloridaPolitics this afternoon. “He did a wonderful job on our campaign, for which I will ever be grateful. I hope for a very bright future for he and his family.”

Floridians head to D.C. for Donald Trump inauguration

A hush has fallen on the state capital.

Sure, there’s plenty of work to do before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. But some Florida politicos are using this week to flee Florida and head to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Gov. Rick Scott will be there. An ardent supporter of the New York Republican, Scott was the chairman of the super PAC that backed Trump’s presidential bid. He was expected to head to D.C. on Tuesday, one day before the Florida Sunshine Ball, hosted by Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott.

But don’t think the Naples Republican (and possible 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful) spent the day in his tuxedo and dancing shoes. According to his official schedule, Scott was scheduled to meet with General John Kelly, the incoming Secretary of Homeland Security; Republican Reps. Francis Rooney and Neal Dunn; and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Trump transition official.

Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville political guru who helped lead Trump’s Florida campaign, traveled to D.C. on Wednesday. She’ll be on hand for all of the festivities; as will uber lobbyist Brian Ballard, the chairman of Trump’s Florida finance committee.

And it should come as no surprise that state Rep. Joe Gruters and his wife, Sydney, will be in town for the event. Gruters was one of the first big name Floridians to back Trump, and never wavered in his support throughout the campaign. The couple plans to head up to D.C. on Thursday, and plan to attend the swearing in and go to the Liberty Ball.

Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County GOP state committeeman, also has a full dance card. He planned to attend several events hosted by the governor, as well as an event hosted by Rep. Vern Buchanan.

“With Florida being Trump’s second home, Washington, D.C., feels like it’s been invaded by the Great State of Florida,” he said in an email. “Incredibly excited to experience this event as one of just 304 Electors to have cast the votes necessary for him to become our next President.”

Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — joined by fundraisers Trey McCarley and Kris Money —will be there too. Crisafulli was another top Trump supporter, and played a key role in getting him to the Space Coast for rallies throughout the campaign. His name was floated as one of several Floridians who could land a gig within the Trump administration.

He won’t be the only Florida Speaker in attendance. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is will be there, even though he was a slow to warm to Trump. (He backed former Gov. Jeb Bush, then Sen. Marco Rubio, and then Sen. Ted Cruz before somewhat reluctantly backing Trump.) And look for Senate President Joe Negron, who as Republican elector helped Trump officially clinch the presidency, in the crowd.

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo are expected to be in town; the Miami Herald reported they’re sharing a two-bedroom apartment they snagged on Airbnb. The paper also reported Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is making the trek north.

You’ll likely see Nick Iarossi and Scott Ross, along with their wives Debbie and Ashley, dancing the night away at one of the parties this week. Both supported Sen. Marco Rubio, but eventually joined Team Trump.

Jim Smith and Monte Stevens, both with Southern Strategy Group, are in D.C. for the inauguration. They’re in town with Ambrosia Treatment Centers, which provides care to people suffering from substance abuse, in hopes of raising awareness about the need to make top-notch care available to as many people who need it as possible.

Their trip isn’t just about business, though. Stevens is planning to tweet about all the action from the firm’s Twitter account, @SoStrategyFlorida.

Hayden Dempsey and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig both have jam-packed schedules. Their calendar of events includes the Florida Sunshine Ball; the Republican National Lawyers Association Luncheon, which features a keynote address by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and an inaugural reception hosted by the Greenberg Traurig Washington, D.C. office for clients and friends.

Meredith O’Rourke, one of the state’s go-to Republican fundraisers, plans to spend the week in D.C. with “fellow Republicans and strong supporters of our clients, while looking forward to a new day for our country.”

You might spot David and Melissa Ramba, Michael Fischer, Andy Gonzalez, Evan Power (and his wife), Bill Helmich, and Todd Lewis, Nick DiCeglie, Jay Beyrouti, Justin Bean, Bob Fisher, Travis Horn and Matt Lettelleir as you flip through the channels for inauguration coverage.

Robert Hawken is turning the trip into a learning experience for his daughters. They’re planning to take an overnight train from Jacksonville to D.C. for the inauguration. Once there, they planned to attend the Florida ball and check out the parade.

Lake County Property Appraiser (and former state representative and state senator) Carey Baker be in the nation’s capital; so will Richard DeNapoli, the former chairman of the Broward Republican Party.

Even Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s former Republican governor, will be on hand. The St. Petersburg Democrat said he was looking forward to attending the event.

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected the president of the U.S.” said Crist last week.

He won’t be the only Florida Democrat in the bunch: Democrats Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz are also planning to attend the inauguration.

Charlie Crist asks EPA to investigate deaths of pelicans, egrets in St. Pete

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the troubling deaths of more than 20 pelicans and egrets in the Tampa Bay area last week, as well as the massive beaching of false killer whales this weekend that resulted in more than 80 deaths of these mammals.

The freshman Democrat from St. Petersburg wants the EPA to test the toxicity of the surrounding waterways to see if these deaths are linked to poor water quality caused by harmful algal blooms.

The four-paragraph letter dated Tuesday, says:

“I am writing today to request that the EPA investigate two recent events of great concern to me: multiple pelican and egret deaths in the Tampa Bay area, as well as the deaths of more than 80 false killer whales in Everglades National Park.

“In the waters surrounding my district, at least 22 pelicans and egrets died last week alone, with many more birds falling ill and being taken in for rehabilitation. Following a recent cold snap and resulting fish kill, there has been an influx of birds to the area. While a fish kill following cold weather is not uncommon, the deaths of the birds suggest there is something besides cold weather happening in the waters around Tampa Bay. The city of St. Petersburg has asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to test for the presence of toxic algae in the water, but I am requesting that the EPA also get involved in investigating this alarming situation.

“In addition, more than 80 false killer whales died over the weekend during a mass beaching on the Gulf Coast of Everglades National Park. While the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and FWC are performing necropsies to determine the cause of the stranding, I would like the EPA to test the toxicity of the surrounding waters to determine if a link exists between the stranding and water quality.

“Both of these incidents are extremely disturbing and raise concerns of harmful algal blooms in the waters off of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Given the devastating effects of last year’s algal blooms on both the east and west coasts of Florida, I am asking that the EPA fully investigate these events, report the findings to me and the public, and work to mitigate further impacts. Thank you for your swift consideration and attention to this matter.”

Charlie Crist looking forward to attending Donald Trump inauguration

There are now 24 Democratic members of Congress who say they won’t attend the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as America’s 45th president on Friday.

Charlie Crist isn’t one or them.

“I will be attending the inauguration, and I look forward to it,” Crist told this reporter on Sunday, after hosting a press event where he called for Republicans not to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The growing number of Democrats who say they will boycott the inauguration began after Trump publicly rebuked civil rights icon John Lewis, on Saturday morning, following Lewis’ remarks to NBC’s Chuck Todd that he didn’t consider Trump “a legitimate president” and wouldn’t attend the inauguration.

“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” the Georgia Democratic added.

Trump responded in characteristic fashion early Saturday morning, tweeting that Lewis was “all talk” and “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district.

That response angered Tampa Representative Kathy Castor, who wrote in her own tweet that Trump’s attack on Lewis “shows what a small, graceless person he is,” perhaps her most provocative statement regarding the President-elect.

Lewis was in Miami on Monday morning, serving as the keynote speaker for the city of Miami’s MLK Day breakfast.

Meanwhile, the inauguration is taking place at the end of this week. Crist says it’s “important to focus on the peaceful transition of power.”

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected president of the U.S.,” the St. Petersburg Democrat adds.

Crist has made it clear that he was elected by his constituents to get things done in Washington, and  has said that he will work with Trump to help get more Americans “back to work.”

Miami area Representative Fredericka Wilson says she won’t attend the inauguration, but not because of Trump. She tells the Miami Herald that she had a previous commitment. No other Florida Democrats have said they won’t be attending the inauguration.

 

 

Charlie Crist calls GOP Obamacare repeal without replacement ‘unacceptable’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Dem. congressional members to hold rallies for ACA today

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to vote Friday on scrapping the Affordable Care Act, two days after the Republican-led Senate voted to do so after hearing from President-elect Donald Trump that they should act quickly to repeal the law.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said earlier this month that repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law in its entirety would cost roughly $350 billion over the next decade. Republicans say a good Obamacare replacement strategy would reduce government spending, but they have not agreed on a consensus plan.

Democrats are planning rallies on the ACA Sunday, including many of Florida’s most prominent members of Congress.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch will be hosting a rally Sunday at the Sunrise Civic Center in Sunrise at 2 p.m.

In St. Petersburg, Charlie Crist will hold an event at Advantage Insurance Solutions at 833 22nd St. South at 12:30 p.m.

And in Tampa, Kathy Castor will be headlining a rally in front of the Tampa Family Health Center at 7814 N. Dale Mabry Hwy.

Castor held a press event in Tampa earlier this week, where she told reporters that she does believe that Democrats can work with Republicans in Washington on making some improvements to the ACA without throwing it all away. She mentioned working on controlling the costs of pharmaceuticals and bringing greater competition in those areas of the country that have seen exponentially large premium increases as two viable examples.

But while some congressional Republicans are publicly expressing concern about moving too fast on repealing the law without an adequate replacement, the new president made clear during his news conference Wednesday that he wants the GOP to act swiftly, as per his campaign promise.

We will be filing a plan,” Trump told reporters about his Obamacare replacement. “It will essentially be simultaneously.”

That statement “just killed” GOP leadership’s “repeal and delay” approach to the ACA, said the head of Families USA after Trump’s statement.

“This presumably ends the Republican congressional leadership’s irresponsible attempt to repeal the ACA without any guidance about what would replace it,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA. “This no doubt reflects the growing concerns among many people, including a growing number of Republicans, about the dangers of the ‘repeal and delay’ approach.”

Castor also wrote to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week in an attempt to rebut some claims Gov. Rick Scott made to him about how the ACA is working — 0r not working — in the Sunshine State.

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

Michael Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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