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Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

Surprise (or not): Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda joins the Republican Party

As long expected, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda is pulling a reverse Charlie Crist.

The former state representative for Tallahassee, who quit the Democratic Party and became an independent shortly before being term limited out of office last year, now has officially become a Republican.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, 56, officially announced the switch at the 2017 Leon GOP Lincoln Day Dinner held in Tallahassee Thursday night.

“We are excited to welcome (her) into the Republican Party,” Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power said. “Her switch really shows how the protest and identity politics from the left is driving people from the Democratic party.”

One person who predicted the move is state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, who last year tweeted: “One step closer to joining the Grand Ole Party, my friend :)”

She follows the reverse footsteps of former Gov. Crist, who left the Republicans to become an independent, then joined the Democrats.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is the newest addition to join the GOP under the state party’s “Project Majority Red” initiative, “which seeks to increase the number of Republican registered voters throughout our state, in order to overtake the Democrats in voter registration,” Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement.

“Michelle has honorably served her constituents for the past eight years and has a history of siding with Republicans on several issues,” he added. “I believe she has been a great public servant for the State of Florida and led efforts for a more robust economy, lower taxes and an increase in job creation.  We welcome Michelle to the Republican Party and we look forward to working with her.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who represented the House District 9 seat now held by Democrat Loranne Ausley, told FloridaPolitics.com last year she had “always worn the mantle of ‘Democrat’ very lightly.” She once called President Donald Trump “fascinating,” but said she did not vote in the Presidential Preference Primary.

“I have never felt good in a partisan space, where people feel they have to knock down the other party,” she said. “I just try to do what’s right for my constituency.”

Yet she also has followed her own beat, on one hand supporting a bill to allow guns on college campuses, saying she had used a handgun to defend against an attacker when she was a college student, but on the other filing legislation to get rid of Florida’s death penalty.

“It’s not a surprise—she was never a vote you could count on,” former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford said in an interview last year.

And current House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa, also in an interview last year, surmised that Rehwinkel Vasilinda “has higher political aspirations that require her to be more conservative.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda is a New York native who got her undergraduate and law degrees in Florida. She’s now a professor of Legal Studies and Applied Ethics at Tallahassee Community College, and married to capital reporter and broadcasting veteran Mike Vasilinda.

David Jolly says the state of GOP will determine his electoral future

Though he’s out of public office, David Jolly has never been more ubiquitous in appearing on television.

The former Pinellas County congressman was scheduled to make another appearance on MSNBC Wednesday night, this time on “All In with Chris Hayes” talking about the buzzsaw that his former GOP brethren are confronting when hosting townhall meetings across the country.

Jolly is a rare Republican, speaking out critical against many of the moves of the Donald Trump administration, bumping up his status on many cable news producers rolodexes. However, that opposition could come at a price.

Because of his comments regarding the pressures of fundraising that he says the GOP establishment imposed upon him and other freshmen legislators, the National Republican Congressional Committee opted not to aid him in his uphill battle to retain his seat against Democrat Charlie Crist last year. If he were to challenge him again next year, he surely will need those funds to compete in a seat that Democrats will fight hard to maintain. Yet Jolly says he can’t think that calculatingly.

“We would have won if the NRCC had come in,” Jolly told this reporter on WMNF’s MidPoint program Thursday. “If there had been a half million or a million dollars, the reality is of modern electoral science is we would have won … we would have closed that three precent gap.”

Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points to Crist, a closer race than many polls had predicted, based on the redistricting of the CD 13 seat that added the much more liberal parts of downtown and South St. Petersburg to the district. However, Jolly says he won’t fall in line and stay silent when he sees some of the actions that the new Republican president is doing in office.

“I’m not going to sell my soul simply for electoral office,” he said. “I’m not interested in being part of a Congress that’s broken.”

And Jolly includes some Democrats of being timid in speaking out against Trump when the occasion calls for it.

“The reality is that a lot of Democrats are afraid to speak out against Donald Trump as well. And Charlie’s one of those.”

Jolly also took note that while there’s been criticism about some Republicans (such as Marco Rubio) avoiding hosting town hall meetings this week, so has Crist.

“The Congressman is meeting with constituents and hearing their concerns at community events across the district,” responds Crist spokesperson Erin Moffet. “We are looking at options for future public events to make sure the people’s voices continue to be heard, and I’ll be sure to let you know when they are scheduled.”

Regarding a potential congressional rematch against Crist next year, Jolly says he won’t make that decision until sometime early next year.

“If this is the state of the Republican Party next year, what we’re seeing today, then there’s probably not a place for me on the ballot, but I just keep doing what I believe is right,” he says.”There will be a point at which that aligns with where the party is and the community is, and then perhaps there might be an opportunity to seek election again. It simply is not my singular focus, though.”

Charlie Crist joins blasts Trump administration’s rollback of protection for transgender students

Charlie Crist is blasting the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that let them use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity.

“This action sends a frightening message that the administration does not care about the safety of transgender children in our nation’s schools,” Crist said Thursday. “While repealing this guidance does not change the fact that Title IX protects transgender students, it subjects our public schools to more lawsuits and puts trans youth at risk. I stand with America’s trans students who, like all children, deserve a safe place to learn.”

Two GOP members of Florida’s congressional delegation have also criticized the decision.

“This is a disappointing choice for the Administration to make,” Congressional District 26 Representative Carlos Curbelo said in a statement. “We should be working toward ensuring all American children feel safe and accepted in their schools, regardless of where they live, their race, creed, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the decision by the Trump administration, “lamentable.”

Along with Rep. Jared Polis (D – CO), Ros-Lehtinen introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) in 2015 that would prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. She’s also supportive of the Safe Schools Improvement Act which would require schools to create a code of conduct against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other important factors.

Last May, the departments of Education and Justice issued joint guidance directing schools to let transgender students use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The “Dear Colleague” letter, addressed to school districts and colleges that receive federal funding, was based on the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, to include gender identity.

What Adam Smith will be writing about next…

I apologize in advance for being so juvenile …

Last week, I camped out at Kahwa Coffee on Second Avenue South. I had just dropped off Ella at school and I wanted to get back to work right away. So I returned to the bustling coffee shop that once served as my “office” when Michelle and I lived downtown.

Kahwa South is a great spot to work from because it’s so full of energy. And you never know who will walk through its doors in search of a cup of joe. It’s where elected officials from South Pinellas tend to gather or meet with reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, which is headquartered just two blocks away.

Anytime I am at Kahwa, I notice a slew of Times reporters coming and going. I seem to always bump into Michael Van Sickler, with whom I get along much better in person than I do online. The business reporters make frequent appearances. I remember Daniel Ruth making a daily appearance, but I haven’t seen him during my most recent visits.

And, of course, now and then political editor Adam Smith will be there, more often than not meeting with a key local politician.

As much as I’ve come to both detest and resent Adam, he and I are still cordial when we bump into each other. Or at least we had been. For example, when Adam was walking along Adams Street en route to the Capitol in Tallahassee, and I was working at a table outside of the Governors Inn, he said something like, “Schorsch is here” or something like that, which, after giving it a second thought, was typical Adam-condensation because I’m in Tallahassee — you know, the center of Florida politics — more than Adam.

Like George Costanza muttering about the jerk store calling, I kept thinking about how I should have said something snarky back at Adam. See, in person, I’ve always tried to be respectful of Adam, especially when I see him with his wife, Catherine. All of our kids go to the same school and, well, you know how that goes.

No matter what I’ve written about him or what Adam has said to others about me (like how he tells producers he won’t appear on the same radio or TV shows as me), we’ve been big enough to acknowledge each other when we see each other in public.

Not anymore.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife ran into Adam meeting with former U.S. Rep. David JollyDespite Michelle being a loyal supporter of Charlie Crist, the Democrat who unseated him, David was as charming and gentlemanly as he’s always been to Michelle. He gave Michelle a big hug and they exchanged promises to get us all together for a drink in the near future.

Meanwhile, Adam couldn’t even stand up from the table to say hello to someone who had invited him to her wedding. As is typical, he was condescending, asking about why Michelle was at the Vinoy Club and so far from “Pinellas Park,” a reference to our home in the Bayou Club in Seminole!!! Never mind that we are probably at the Vinoy more often than Smith. But like his comment to me in Tallahassee, he was attempting to make Michelle feel like an outsider. He said a couple of other things, which I can’t remember how Michelle described, but the bottom line is, he was pretty much a d*ck.

So when Adam walked into Kahwa Coffee last week, I steeled myself and did not exchange the usual pleasantries. No more bullish*t, I said to myself.

Smith saw that I was working there, turned on his heels and walked back outside without ordering.

That’s when the gods smiled. Adam decided to sit at a table right in front of where I had parked our Chevy Suburban, a beast of an SUV which has an engine as loud as a jetliner.

An engine, as it happens, that can be turned on by remote, just as the panic alarm can, of course, be set off by remote.

Yes, I had some fun with that remote.

Adam did not stay at Kahwa long.

Like I said, I apologize for being so juvenile.

If it weren’t the petty bulls*t I’ve described above that had pissed me off about Adam, it certainly would be the work product of Lazy Adam.

See, I can tell you right now what Adam Smith will be writing about in a few weeks. That’s because, lately, there’s a simple calculus involved with what Smith writes about.

I’ll write about something before anyone else will. The subject matter will percolate. And then Lazy Adam will add his two cents as if he’s the first to arrive at the issue.

To wit:

I opined that “Bob Buckhorn is on the clock” on January 3 and that if he wants to run for governor, the “opening is now” on January 22.

Along comes Lazy Adam six weeks later, writing that if Buckhorn wants to run for governor, “(t)he clock is ticking fast.” Smith even framed his story like I did mine, ticking off the status of Buckhorn’s possible opponents.

Here’s another example.

On January 6, I push out 750 words about how St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman could hand former Mayor Rick Baker a major victory by scheduling a referendum on the future of the Rowdies soccer club in May, just months before Baker has to decide if he will run against Kriseman in the fall. It’s local politics at its most granular. It’s what you’d expect from a website called “SaintPetersBlog.”

Guess what Lazy Adam wrote about six weeks later? That’s right, Kriseman, Baker, and the timing of the Rowdies referendum.

“Before the mayor’s race kicks into gear, however, city residents will head to the polls May 2 to decide whether to approve a long-term lease and big expansion of Al Lang Stadium. It would be privately funded through businessman Bill Edwards, who owns the Rowdies soccer team, which he wants to turn into a Major League Soccer franchise. And here’s where things could get awkward. Baker is president of the Edwards Group and one of Edwards’ top advisers. Edwards has the support of Kriseman and City Hall in the MLS quest, but can’t afford for relations to sour amid a brewing political rivalry between Baker and Kriseman.”

Listen, I get it that what I write is not earth-shattering. I’m not the only one to think that Bob Buckhorn needs to fish or cut bait. I’m not the only one to think it could get awkward down at City Hall because of the Rowdies referendum. But I was the first political columnist to put those ideas into print (or at least online).

Lazy Adam will tell you he doesn’t read my stuff and that I am crazy to think my work influences him.

He’s probably telling the truth about the first part, but let me give you a perfect example of how full of sh*t he is about the second part.

A week ago, Florida Politics’ Scott Powers wrote a story about how Winter Park developer Chris King is contemplating a run for Florida governor in 2018. This was based on information I shared with Scott, who will tell you that eight days ago he had never heard of King. But a source of mine told me about King while standing in my kitchen two weekends ago.

I know a scoop when I hear one. I Googled King, and there was nothing out there about him running for governor. If there was, I missed it. But he is the real deal, so much so that my source told me that other 2018 contenders were asking them about what King was up to.

So I tasked Powers with finding out more and writing about it, which he did and that’s why when you Google, the first news entry about King running in 2018 is our story.

Less than a week after we published this story, Lazy Adam blogged an entry about how “another serious contender emerges in 2018.”

Right, he “emerged” because of a story that veteran reporter Scott Powers wrote. That was the emerging.

At first, Smith’s blog entry did not include any attribution to Powers’ reporting. But after I went on a tweet storm (in which I even called out Smith’s editor, Amy Hollyfield), the Times had a “Hat tip to Scott Powers” added to the end of Smith’s blog post. Of course, that attribution does not show up in print, so readers of the newspaper think Lazy Adam is All-Knowing Adam whose political radar can detect even the slightest movement of a possible candidate.

Here I’ve written 1,500+ words about slights and sore feelings and mere coincidences, and I get that all of this is pretty juvenile (there’s that word again).

My issue with Adam truly is not personal. What’s remarkable is that despite all of his and the Times’ attempts to marginalize my work, I am in a better position now than I was seven years ago. So much so that you have to wonder why they did it in the first place.

No, my issue is that Adam Smith is the political editor of the state’s largest newspaper. He should be setting the agenda for the rest of the political reporters in the state.

Instead, in most cases, he’s a month and a half late.

Last week, I wrote a think piece about how decisions by Jeff Atwater and Francis Rooney impact Jack Latvala’s 2018 ambitions. Had I not written this screed, no doubt Lazy Adam would have written something along the same lines in March.

Ex-David Jolly staffer Preston Rudie now consulting for Jack Latvala

Preston Rudie, who served as the communications director for former U.S. Representative David Jolly, is now doing media consulting work for another Pinellas County Republican, state Senator Jack Latvala.

The Clearwater lawmaker is the most high-profile client for Rudie since he’s gone into the consulting business. He says that with the Catalyst Communications Group, he’ll be working with both private companies and elected officials.

Rudie was an award-winning television reporter with more than 20 Emmy’s and 6 Edward R. Murrow awards to his name while working at WTSP 10 News from 2002-2014.

Shortly after Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in the special election in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2014, Rudie left journalism to serve as Jolly’s communications director, working in both Pinellas County and Washington D.C.

That gig ended officially last month when Charlie Crist was sworn into office. Crist defeated Jolly last November.

“Preston Rudie was the best Communications Director in Congress,” says Jolly. “Colleagues across the country would often share with me just how remarkable Preston was at his job. His clients at Catalyst, including candidates for regional or statewide office, will find great success working with Preston.  Simply put, he’s one of the best in the business.”

Latvala is also singing his praises, telling SPB that, “Preston Rudie is the top communications professional in the Tampa Bay Area. I am proud to add him to our team.”

Rudie’s involvement with Latvala comes as the Pinellas state Senator is contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for Governor.

In 1st House speech, Charlie Crist vows ‘Commitment to Civility’

Charlie Crist wants to see more of the Golden Rule in Congress, with a call for civil discourse on Capitol Hill.

In his first speech on the floor of the U.S. House, the St. Petersburg Democrat joined a bipartisan class of 46 freshman lawmakers who signed a “Commitment to Civility” pledge.

This pledge seeks to “restore collegiality, trust and civility to Congress, encourage productive dialogue, and work to build consensus and the public’s trust in America’s institutions.”

In the letter, the group promised to remain: “dedicated to showing proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue, and modeling civility in our public and private actions.”

“While we may vehemently disagree on matters of law and policy, we will strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of our office,” they write.

Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“I am honored to represent Pinellas County in Congress, and I promise to fight for the needs of my home county. But I pledge to do so in keeping with the ‘Golden Rule,’ to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Crist said in his speech. “I am proud that our freshman class has put forward this ‘Commitment to Civility’ pledge. It states that despite our political differences, at the end of the day we must work together to move our country forward, putting people over politics and treating each other with respect — even when we disagree.”

Other first-year members of the Florida delegation signing the Commitment include Matt Gaetz of CD 1, Neal Dunn of CD 2, John Rutherford of CD 4, Al Lawson of CD 5, , Val Demings of CD 10, Brian Mast of CD 18 and Francis Rooney of CD 19.

Charlie Crist signs on to letter calling on GOP to refrain from cutting family planning funding

St. Petersburg Representative Charlie Crist is adding his voice to a collection of House Democrats opposing a vote scheduled this week that would ban funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning organizations under the Title X National Family Planning Program.

“Title X-funded health centers, like Planned Parenthood, provide birth control, mammograms, cancer screenings and family planning services for millions of women across the country,” Crist said in a statement. “These attempts to restrict a woman’s access to comprehensive reproductive care – disproportionately impacting low-income women – cannot stand. We must stand up for women’s rights and the women’s health organizations that provide this much needed care.”

The letter was signed by members of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. Other Florida Democratic House members signing on to the letter sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan include Kathy Castor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Val Demings and Darren Soto.

The letter criticizes the GOP in the 115th Congress for several other measures, including passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017, which would, among other provisions,  effectively make the Hyde Amendment permanent. That’s the 1977 law that has banned any federal funding for abortions. That bill would also ban federal funding for health benefits plans that cover abortions and ban federal facilities and federal employees from providing abortions.

Throughout his political career, Crist has at times referred to himself as both “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” but has consistently touted a pro-choice agenda since becoming a Democrat in December of 2012.

Here’s the letter sent to Speaker Paul Ryan:

Dear Speaker Ryan:

We write to express our grave concern for efforts to undermine Title X family planning.  Despite promises to focus on jobs and the economy, Republicans have started the 115th Congress with a total assault on women’s choices, access to care, and economic security by:

  • Charging ahead to sabotage and dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while making no promises to preserve vital protections for women;
  • Providing little to no details on their plans to replace ACA, while making a point to announce that their ACA repeal package will block access to Planned Parenthood, a high-quality, long-trusted provider of reproductive health services;
  • Rushing to impose and dramatically expand the global gag rule, harming women around the world; and
  • Advancing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act(H.R. 7) through the House, effectively banning private insurance companies from covering comprehensive reproductive health services.

Now, with their most recent effort to weaken the Title X national family planning program through the Congressional Review Act, Republicans have demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to limit women’s access to vital health care.  Sadly, this includes contraception and family planning services that all women need.

For more than 40 years, Title X has served as a cornerstone of safety-net care. As the only dedicated source of federal funding for family planning, Title X allows a diverse network of providers to deliver high-quality care to low-income, uninsured, or underinsured individuals and to those seeking confidential care. In 2014 alone, Title X-funded clinics helped prevent approximately 904,000 unintended pregnancies, 326,000 abortions, and 439,000 unplanned births.  In addition to direct clinical care, Title X also supports critical infrastructure needs for health centers, including new medical equipment and staff training that are not reimbursable under Medicaid and commercial insurance. This infrastructure is vital to ensuring safe, quality care at health centers which serve and provide basic health services to high-need populations.

Throughout both Democratic and Republican administrations, Title X has been interpreted to prohibit state actions that block providers or classes of providers from participating in a Title X project based on factors unrelated to a provider’s qualifications to perform the required services. The networks include providers ranging from state, county, and local health departments as well as hospitals, family planning councils, Planned Parenthood affiliates, federally qualified health centers and other private non-profit organizations.  In fact, in instances when states have passed laws to limit provider participation in Title X, federal courts have consistently held that those state laws are contrary to, and preempted by, federal law.

In response to a growing number of states targeting family planning providers for exclusion from key federal health programs, including Title X, the previous Administration proposed the regulation “Compliance with Title X Requirements by Project Recipients in Selecting Subrecipients.”  The regulation, which was finalized in December 2016, helps ensure patient access to family planning services and supplies through qualified providers by reiterating that “no recipient making subawards for the provision of services as part of its Title X project may prohibit an entity from participating for reasons other than its ability to provide Title X services.”  During the rulemaking process, the Department of Health and Human Services received more than 145,000 comments, the vast majority of which supported the rule.

Women across the United States, and the men who support them, have had enough.  It is unconscionable that this common sense clarification has become a political football for members of Congress who want to limit women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care. We urge you to stand in support of women and oppose this assault on contraceptive access and care.

Sincerely,

 

 

On MSNBC, David Jolly wonders how serious Donald Trump is taking the presidency

David Jolly is in New York this week, making the rounds at the cable news networks as one Republican not afraid to criticize Donald Trump.

On his latest appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word (with guest host Joy Reid), the former (and possibly future?) congressman from Florida’s 13th District called Trump’s first month in office “his JV moment,” specifically referring to Stephen Miller’s performance on the Sunday morning shows.

Miller is the 31-year old senior adviser to Trump who is reported to be working alongside Steve Bannon in crafting the President’s messaging.

Among Miller’s most provocative comments was on CBS’ Face The Nation, when he said, “The media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

“The first month of the Trump administration has been his JV (junior varsity) moment,” Jolly said on MSNBC. “Get the 31-year-old sweaty kid off the TV, and bring in the steady senior hand.”

Jolly compared the beginning of Trump’s presidency with that of George W. Bush’s, the last president elected without winning the popular vote. Jolly said that Bush 43 surrounding himself with senior Washington officials like Dick Cheney and Andy Card, who, he said, “whether you liked them or not, we’re a steady hand.”

“We will see turnover, and frankly, this 31-year old should not have been the voice of the president on Sunday morning TV when we’re in such a pivotal moment,” Jolly said.

Jolly also questioned how seriously Trump is taking his job as the most powerful man in the free world.

“I think this is the very quiet anxiety of most Republicans, including congressional Republicans, is how serious is the president taking this job?” he asked. “He is our president. President Donald Trump. Like him or loath him. But how seriously is he accepting this responsibility and the anxiety we have is based upon the decisions he made in the first 30 days, the people he is surrounding himself with?” Jolly asked.

Jolly appeared Monday on CNN’s New Day as well and is scheduled to make another appearance on MNSBC later this week.

The 44-year-old Jolly has been increasing his media profile in recent weeks (complete with stylish glasses and a new beard) as he keeps his options open regarding 2018. Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points against Charlie Crist, in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District last fall.

He engendered speculation that he was considering another run for the seat in 2018 when he hired former Crist staffer Vito Sheeley last monthThe circumstances behind Sheeley’s departure from working for Crist remain shrouded in mystery, part of was has led people to wonder about Crist’s somewhat rough beginning in his short time in Congress.

Charlie Crist may be likable, but how soon before he eyes a new gig?

One of Charlie Crist’s best traits is his likability.

He can be a candle-in-the-wind on issues, depending on his audience. Changing parties infuriated Republicans and made Democrats skeptical. And once he gets a job, he tends to get wandering eyes for his next gig. But damn, he is a really nice guy. Despite his baggage, people like him and a lot of them vote for him.

That’s one reason he rose above the political tsunami that swamped Democrats nationwide and beat another good guy in Republican David Jolly to represent Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Given that, it’s puzzling that Crist so far apparently hasn’t used his best trait to solidify the home base, even as he adjusts to life in the U.S. House of Representatives. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday Crist has had a series of stumbles that have supporters wondering what the heck is going on.

Smith wrote that Crist and his wife, Carole, who is paid to oversee his political activities, “generated widespread grumbling and head-scratching about his clumsy start in Congress, even among longtime friends.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat, told the newspaper Crist hasn’t touched base with her since he left for Washington.

“I can only compare the two, and right after David Jolly was elected he was calling my office and asking for a meeting and wanting to work together,” she said. “We built a very tight relationship. I’m hoping we can build the same kind of relationship with Charlie.”

Compare Crist to other members of Congress from the area. Democrat U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor frequently returns to Tampa and Hillsborough County to keep in touch with voters.

Republicans Gus Bilirakis (District 12) and Rep. Dennis Ross (District 15) do the same.

Bilirakis, as was widely reported, held a second “listening session” Saturday with Pasco County voters who forcefully oppose his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It was the second such meeting Bilirakis has had on that issue with constituents in his district. Give the man credit for showing up.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is another politician who never forgets to keep in touch with the home folks. And we all remember how the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young was an unrelenting champion for Pinellas County.

But where is Charlie?

If this trend continues, it likely will embolden Republicans to find a serious challenger to go after his seat in 2018. It might even inspire a primary challenge from Crist’s own party — assuming he still is a Democrat by then (you never know).

Or, we have to note, people may start to wonder if Crist will lose interest in his current job the way he did as governor and state attorney general and not run for re-election at all.

He could squash all that by just being good ol’ likable Charlie. People will be waiting.

Charlie Crist names Gershom Faulkner as Outreach Director

Congressman Charlie Crist has hired Gershom Faulkner as Outreach Director, to serve as the St. Petersburg Democrat’s liaison throughout Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“Gershom is a great addition to our team,” Crist said Friday. “His dedication to service is unwavering – as a Marine defending our country, and through positions with former Rep. Frank Peterman and Congresswoman Kathy Castor. As a veteran, small-business owner and community leader, Gershom is uniquely qualified to serve as Outreach Director and we are excited to have him come on board.”

After graduating from high school in St. Petersburg, Faulkner joined the Marines where he served honorably during the Gulf War, receiving several commendations. After four years of active duty, he returned to St. Petersburg and began his service to the community, working with Frank Peterman, Jr. during his tenure as both a city councilman and state representative.

Before mounting a run for city council, Faulkner worked on several local and statewide campaigns, including Betty Castor‘s 2004 senatorial campaign and Kathy Castor‘s successful 2006 congressional campaign, afterward joining her office as Outreach Director.

During the 2016 cycle, Faulkner volunteered on the Crist for Congress campaign.

Faulkner expressed his thanks to Crist in a statement:

“I am pleased and honored to accept Congressman Charlie Crist’s offer to become our Representative’s Outreach Director. This is a position I did not seek but am honored to accept since I have a passionate desire to serve the community and have a firm faith in Congressman Crist’s ability to represent all people in our community in Washington.

“As President Obama evolved on the issue of gay marriage and LGBTQ issues, so too have I evolved. Like Congressman Crist, I am a strong advocate for equal rights and equal protection under the law for the LGBTQ community. I understand that in this ever-changing world, it is imperative to have a representative who is sensitive to the needs of everyone, not just the few or the privileged.

“Regardless of a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identification, I will work collaboratively with the community as a member of the Congressman’s staff to ensure that every voice is heard and that the needs of all the people are always my first priority.

“I am a veteran of the Gulf War who served in the United States Marine Corps. I was honorably discharged as a Sergeant. After leaving military service, I served as a legislative aide to former State Representative Frank Peterman Jr., and Outreach Director to Congresswoman Kathy Castor, I truly believe that my knowledge of how government works and my strong relationships within the district, will serve Congressman Crist well as his Outreach Director.

“The challenges facing African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, refugees, labor unions and women’s rights, are ALL issues that I stand ready to tackle – relaying solutions to the Congressman as articulated by his constituents.

“I am honored and excited to begin this new chapter of service to my community and my country. I will do everything in my power to live up to the trust placed in me by Congressman Crist. I am looking forward to helping citizens find solutions to their issues and restore the notion that government is an instrument of good for all people.”

Faulkner currently serves on St. Petersburg’s Civil Service Board and previously sat on the Southside St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) ad hoc Planning Committee. He is also President-elect of the St. Petersburg Midtown Rotary Club and serves on the board of the Neighborly Care Network.

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