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Meet INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2016 Politician of the Year Runners-Up

They can’t all be winners, but it’s fair to say several top Florida politicians had one heck of a 2016.

In the winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, we recognize some of the runners-up for 2016 politician of the year. Sure, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry may have grabbed the top spot, but these Floridians also had an extraordinary year.

They guided their communities through good times and bad; donned windbreakers and faced down storms; and were catapulted to the national stage. Some ousted the establishment, while others sailed through to easy victories. And one even mounted a successful comeback.

A couple of highlights:

— Gov. Rick Scott deserves a hand for the way he handled the multitude of challenges in 2016, from an attack on an Orlando nightclub to two hurricanes — Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew — barreling toward the state. Florida saw record tourism numbers, despite concerns about Zika and blue-green algae. And the Naples Republican shot on to the national scene for his steadfast support of Republican Donald Trump.

— With all eyes on Orlando this year, Mayor Buddy Dyer stepped up to the plate and represented The City Beautiful — and the state of Florida — with grace. He spearheaded the effort to create the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the Pulse nightclub attack, and was a steady voice throughout the tragedy.

— Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has emerged as a leading voice in discussions about climate change. In recent months, he was name-checked in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece on the issue, featured on National Public Radio talking about the impact rising tides have on his community, and was interviewed by Leonardo DiCaprio for his climate change documentary.

— They’re the next class of congressmen (and congresswomen). The Sunshine State is sending 10 new members to the U.S. House of Representatives this year, marking one of the congressional delegation’s largest turnovers. We’re expecting great things from this group of guys and gals, which includes former state Rep. Matt Gaetz, former Gov. Charlie Crist and political newcomer Stephanie Murphy.

Want to know more about the 2016 Politician of the Year Runners-Up? Check out the 2016 winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, available online now.

Personnel note: Charlie Crist taps Hill veteran Erin Moffet as Communications Director

Congressman-elect Charlie Crist is naming Erin Moffet as Communications Director for his Capitol Hill office.

Moffet has spent nearly seven years running the press operations for Florida members serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Erin will be a strong addition to our team given her years of experience working with the Florida press corps,” Crist, the former Governor who now represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, said in a statement Monday. “Her passion and understanding of the issues impacting Floridians will help us communicate effectively with the residents of Pinellas County to better serve our constituents.”

“It is an honor to continue working on behalf of the people of the great state of Florida as Communications Director in Governor Crist’s Congressional office,” Moffet said. “I am humbled to work for a true public servant who I know will always do what is best for his constituents, working each and every day to move our country forward.”

A former resident of West Palm Beach, Moffet has deep experience as a communicator in the Florida congressional delegation. Moffet got her start as Press Secretary for Congressman Alcee Hastings and later became Communications Director for Congresswoman Lois Frankel.  She currently serves as Communications Director for retiring Congressman Patrick Murphy, working in his Congressional office since 2013 as well as on his successful House campaigns in 2012 and 2014.

Moffet received her undergraduate degree from Elon University and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, with a concentration in political communications.

 

Pinellas GOP, Democrats poised to elect party leaders this Monday night

When it comes to drama with their upcoming party reorganization meetings taking place next week, Pinellas County Republicans and Democrats have nothing on their Hillsborough County brethren.

This coming Monday night, the local executive committees for the Republican and Democratic Parties in Pinellas County will be voting for their party leaders, and in both cases, it doesn’t appear to be many changes at hand – at least not yet.

Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath is running to serve a second term, after defeating Mark Hanisee in a contentious election back in 2014. She has no competition at the moment. Amos Miers are running for vice chair, Wanda Schwerer, who is running for state committee woman, and Rick Boylan, who is running as state committee man. That meeting will take place at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater at 7:00 p.m.

“We are fortunate to have some solid unity and forward momentum in Pinellas with 4 of 7 people running for December PCDEC Board positions who are new, 3 of which are Berniecrats (Bonnie Agan for Secretary) and two who were Bernie Delegates (Wanda Schwerer for re-election to State Committee Woman and myself running for Vice Chair for the first time ever),” Miers said on Saturday.

Over in the Republican world, incumbent Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie is also running unopposed for a second term this Monday night as well. A former vice chair, DiCeglie defeated Lee Pilon and George Farrell for the top position two years ago.

Todd Jennings is also running again as vice chairmanThe Pinellas GOP meeting takes place at the Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater at 7:00 p.m.

While there is little competition in the local party elections, there is a definite rivalry between McGrath and DiCeglie.

McGrath boasts that the Democratic Party leads the GOP in terms of registered voters, and that that the “two most important seats that local parties include, the Board of County Commissioners and Florida’s 13th Congressional District went to Dems,” despite the turnout advantage for the Republicans last month.

The Democratic Party took control of the Board of County Commissioners for the first time in decades after the 2014 election and maintained it last month, while Charlie Crist defeated David Jolly in the CD 13 contest.

DiCeglie concedes the Pinellas Democrats have retaken the lead in voter registration, but says his party took the real prize when Pinellas went for Donald Trump last month over Hillary Clinton, after Barack Obama had taken Pinellas by nearly ten percentage points four years ago.

“The minute a president wins an election and caries that county, this is now a Red county,” he says.

The relative no-drama party elections are in stark contrast with the R’s and D’s across the bay in Hillsborough.

Although Ione Townsend won re-election as Hillsborough Democratic party chair this past week with no opponent, some local Democrats are still cross with her after Monday night’s controversial meeting which resulted in the locally elected Democrats being told that the by-laws of their DEC banned them from participating in the race.

The Republican Executive Committee of Hillsborough County doesn’t get together until Tuesday, December 20, but that could be interesting. Incumbent chair Deborah Tamargo, who defeated former chair Debbie Cox-Roush for the top role two years ago, is being challenged by Jonny Torres.

Charlie Crist calls on Congress to extend tax breaks before adjourning for the year

Charlie Crist is calling on the 114th Congress to extend tax breaks benefiting students and seniors before it adjourns for the year.

The congressman-elect on Tuesday asked Congress to extend several soon-to-expire tax breaks, including a medical expense deduction for seniors, and a tuition and fees deduction. Congress is expected to adjourn for the year later this week.

“These tax breaks are important to seniors, students and homeowners struggling to make ends meet,” said Crist, Florida’s former governor, in a statement. “Congress can and should extend them before the end of session.”

Crist has honed in on five tax breaks that help seniors, students, and middle class homeowners. The breaks are:

— A medical expense deduction for seniors, which allows seniors to write off health care costs once they’ve spent 7.5 percent of their gross income on health care. If the tax break isn’t extended, the threshold is expected to increase to 25 percent.

— A tuition and fees deduction for higher education costs, which provides middle and lower income students with a $4,000 tax credit annually.

— A mortgage insurance deduction for homeowners making under $100,000 a year — $50,000 for married couples filing separately — that allows them to write off their mortgage insurance premium or private mortgage insurance.

— A home debt forgiveness program for homeowners underwater on their mortgages. Currently the discharge of the debt is excluded from being considered as income. Without the extension, the debt could be considered income and would be fully taxed.

— Energy efficient tax credits for homeowners that purchase qualified energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, heating and air conditioning units, water heats, and other environmentally home improvements. Under current law, homeowners can write off 10 percent of the purchase price of the items, up to $500 in credit.

“The Majority in Congress wants to delay consideration of these tax breaks until next year, when they hope to overhaul the tax code,” said Crist in a written statement. “The better way forward would be to do what’s right for our seniors, students and middle class homeowners and extend these tax breaks now!”

Crist defeated Republican Rep. David Jolly to become the Democratic representative from Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Personnel note: Charlie Crist names senior Patrick Murphy aide new Legislative Director

Congressman-elect Charlie Crist announced Monday the appointment of veteran policy adviser Christopher Fisher to Legislative Director in his Capitol Hill office.

“I am excited to have Chris join the team,” the former governor said in a statement. “With his years of experience serving Florida in Washington, working on the issues the people care about, Chris will hit the ground running.”

“Governor Crist’s distinguished career of public service, including as the people’s governor of my home state, truly sets him apart,” Fisher said. “He always puts the people first, and I could not be more honored for the chance to work alongside the governor to serve the people of Pinellas County.”

A graduate of the University of Miami, Fisher has a deep legislative background working on behalf of Floridians, previously serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy for Congressman Patrick Murphy, Legislative Assistant for Congressman Ted Deutch, and Health Policy Fellow for Congressman Robert Wexler.

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Personnel note: Charlie Crist appoints Austin Durrer Chief of Staff

U.S. Representative-elect Charlie Crist announced Thursday that experienced Capitol Hill veteran Austin Durrer will head his new congressional office.

Durrer has served in senior roles in both the legislative and executive branches over the past 15 years. He was a longtime aide and Chief of Staff to Congressman Jim Moran, a senior Member of the Appropriations Committee, and currently serves as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), overseeing the Department’s data technology mission.

“Austin brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and a strong, steady hand to this important position. He’s an impact player who will build our team in Washington with a laser-like focus on serving the people of Pinellas County,” said Crist, the former Governor who now represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District in the 115th Congress.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to work for Gov. Crist on behalf of Pinellas County,” said Austin Durrer. “He’s no ordinary freshman, and someone who has dedicated his life to looking out for the little guy. I look forward to helping advance his agenda of bringing common sense solutions to Washington, to bridge the political divide, serving as the voice for the people of Pinellas County on Capitol Hill.”

Durrer has an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Political Science and Economics

CNN reports, eloquently, on the nightmare that is Florida Medicaid

It’s been ten years, almost to the day, since Congressman-elect Charlie Crist pulled $360 out of his pocket to pay for a year’s supply of thermal blankets for 12-year-old Kevin Estinfil, and pulled the plug on state lawyers who’d been fighting in the Third District Court of Appeal to deny the boy the basic supplies that were keeping him alive.

Back then, Crist was the Florida Attorney General who had just been elected Governor, and Kevin was confined to a Medicaid group home for children with life-threatening medical conditions. Kevin’s case turned up on Crist’s radar thanks to bad publicity courtesy of Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller, but not before the state had spent enough money jerking Kevin’s caregivers around to pay for a warehouse full of thermal blankets.

Today, half of Florida’s children rely on Medicaid “insurance,” and the plan is managed as badly now as it was a decade ago.

People who study Medicaid for a living will not be surprised by anything in the damning new report from CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, and neither will families who have sacrificed their savings, their careers, and any hope of a normal life for the sake of a child who will never be able to care for himself.

For the rest of us, Cohen’s look into the lives of Florida’s “health care refugees” is a bone-chilling holiday buzzkill.

Among the refugees are Kim and Richard Muszynski, formerly of Boynton Beach. With good jobs and longtime Florida roots on both sides of their blended family, they could not have imagined packing it in and starting over in Colorado.

But that’s what they did, after five-year-old daughter Abby, who was born with a life-threatening genetic disorder, had one near-death experience too many due to the toxic combination of underfunding and red tape for which Florida’s Medicaid program is infamous.

In Colorado, Abby’s physical health and her parents’ mental health have improved dramatically. Somehow, America’s Centennial State has figured out how to give children enrolled in its Medicaid program the therapies and medications ordered by doctors, without interference from Dr. No at the Department of Pennywise, Pound Foolish.

Another member of the Florida Medicaid Diaspora is three-year-old Sofia Patriarca. Like Abby, her needs are complex and will require round-the-clock care all her life. Sofia’s parents sold their family pizzeria in Lantana and will relocate to a state that’s safer for children with unique abilities.

“Medicaid forces us to give our children subpar care,” Sofia’s mother, Stefany Garcia-Patriarca, told CNN. “They treat them like animals instead of children.”

It took special courage for Heather Rosenberg to tell CNN that she and her husband have considered leaving Florida to obtain better health care for their children. As foster parents to 16 children, three of whom they adopted, Rosenberg is an expert on Florida Medicaid.

She described it to CNN as “horrible” and “an absolute nightmare,” hastening to that she speaks as a mother, and not in her role as — wait for it — children’s ombudsman at the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Florida spends a small fortune recruiting foster and adoptive families, and promises that they will not have to dip into their own pockets to fund essential medical services that are beyond the reach of all but families with the richest private insurance plans.

No matter how much room people like the Rosenbergs have in their hearts, they’ve only got 24 hours in a day, and they should not have to spend a minute of it begging the state to keep its promises to Florida’s Medicaid eligible children.

Critic hits Leon County’s Scott Maddox right where he lives

Former Florida Democratic Party Chairman and statewide office candidate Scott Maddox is involved in another political fight this Thanksgiving season. Though elected to another term on the Tallahassee City Commission, he was blocked from taking the oath of office earlier this week.

Maddox, who served as FDP Chairman from 2003-2006, is facing a legal challenge to his official residency. The question going back and forth through the Leon County courts and the First District Court of Appeal (DCA) is whether Maddox officially lives within the city limits of Tallahassee, a fundamental requirement of the city’s charter.

Similar complaints about residency crop up around the state from time to time, usually among candidates whose district lines were re-drawn putting them outside their district. Nothing usually comes of these other than news stories, but Maddox is facing a persistent local critic in Dr. Erwin Jackson.

Jackson filed suit in the Second Judicial Circuit in September claiming Maddox is ineligible to serve because he actually lives outside the city limits. According to the filing document, Maddox, an attorney, lists his residence as a rented office building in downtown Tallahassee.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by Erwin Jackson on his third attempt to discredit me,” said Maddox, who was the Democratic nominee for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2010. “This one will be thrown out like all of the others have been.”

The City of Tallahassee intervened and asked that they, Maddox’s colleagues, have the final say in determining his eligibility. Judge Charles Dodson agreed.

Jackson went to the DCA, where a three-judge panel unanimously reversed Dodson, saying “the proper forum for Jackson’s post-election contest is in the circuit court.”

The three-judge panel consisted of Charlie Crist appointee Lori Rowe, a former Executive Deputy Attorney General; Rick Scott appointee Scott Makar, a former Florida Solicitor General; and another Scott appointee, Susan Kelsey, an experienced appellate lawyer.

Dodson did not appear to take the reversal well. The DCA order to Dodson to hold a hearing used the term “immediate” before the word hearing.

He took them literally. Dodson held a hearing almost immediately and ruled in favor of Maddox. Jackson and his legal team were outraged by the fact they had little time to prepare.

This is “a miscarriage of justice,” Jackson said. “An appeal will be immediately forthcoming.”

Again, the DCA overruled Dodson, this time with a bit of a hand slap. The judges said the lower court “abused its discretion” in the way it handled the hearing.

Monday was swearing in day for the Commission and Dodson gave the go-ahead for Maddox to take the oath of office pending the residency review. The DCA stepped in by again overruling Dodson and blocking Maddox from taking the oath of office “pending further order from this Court.”

Jackson is also seeking the removal of Dodson from the case. To be reversed three times on the same case, called a hat trick in hockey, is not a good thing.

The parties are now arguing the date on which a public official is eligible. Jackson argues legal residence means Election Day, which in this case was August. The Maddox team argues November 21, or swearing in day.

To a non-lawyer observer, like this writer, that would seem to acknowledge there could be a problem if you are arguing “when” as well as “if.”

To be fair, Jackson is a relentless critic of city government. Sometimes they deserve the scrutiny, like the recent proposal to raise property taxes by 27 percent.

Maddox, to his great credit, was an opponent of the outrageous property tax plan and argued against other increases. He sounded like a conservative.

At the same time, it is understandable for elected officials to become frustrated, especially if they truly believe they are doing the right thing.

Maddox remains confident, perhaps with good reason, he will prevail. The residency challenges usually go in the favor of the candidate.

Jackson certainly isn’t going away, whether or not Dodson is relieved of command. He is 100 percent certain he has a case.

Stranger things have happened as this year’s elections demonstrated.

We will know soon.

Darden Rice, FLPIRG call out Marco Rubio, David Jolly for failing to protect consumers

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. David Jolly have sided with Wall Street bankers rather than protecting financial consumers, according to Florida PIRG, a public interest advocacy group.

“Rep. Jolly and Sen. Rubio have sided with big Wall Street banks and other financial institutions at the expense of consumers,” said Turner Lott, a campaign organizer with FLPIRG. “They have supported legislation that would starve the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] by changing its funding source.”

FLPIRG, a nonprofit, public interest advocacy organization, is campaigning to highlight the work and successes of the CFPB. Lott said Jolly is being targeted because he may still be able to vote on legislation that affects the CFPB before he leaves office in January. Jolly, a Republican, lost his re-election bid to Democrat Charlie Crist.

Rather than siding with Wall Street, Lott said, Rubio and Jolly should instead defend the CFPB against proposals that would weaken it.

The CFPB is a federal agency tasked with the job of protecting financial consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and taking action against companies that break the law. The CFPB also provides education and information so consumers can make good financial decisions.

The CFPB’s successes for consumers cited by FLPIRG:

— The CFPB has returned nearly $12 billion to more than 27 million consumers by holding companies accountable for breaking the law.

— Among its numerous actions is a record $100 million penalty and consumer restitution against Wells Fargo for millions of fake, fraudulent consumer accounts created by its employees.

— The CFPB’s website hosts a complaint database that has processed more than one million complaints. It provides educational resources to help consumers make important financial decisions.

— More than 64,000 complaints from Floridians have been published in the database.

St. Petersburg Council member Darden Rice agreed that the CFPB needs to continue as an independent watchdog agency. The CFPB’s work to regulate financial companies and ensure consumers are financially stable is critical to an area like St. Petersburg, she said.

The prevalence of payday loan companies in the city is a prime example of the need for a watchdog. Rice said, “There are more payday loan storefronts than there are Starbucks and Burger Kings in the St Pete, Tampa, Clearwater metro area.

“These payday loan vendors are concentrated in areas that are predominately lower income communities and are still recovering from the economic collapse. We need to take necessary steps, like strengthen the CFPB, to protect consumers from predatory loan businesses that put people in debt traps they can never escape.”

Lott cited three threats to the autonomy of the CFPB:

— Proposed changes to its leadership structure – The agency is currently headed by a single director, Richard Cordray. There are efforts to change the structure to a commission of five people. Getting Cordray confirmed was a long uphill battle, Lott said. Getting five people confirmed would be even more difficult, possibly leaving the agency unable to fully function. Or the five seats could be stacked in favor of the industry it is meant to rein in. Both scenarios have been seen at other agencies, Lott said.

— Changes to its source of funding – The CFPB is currently funded independently through the Federal Reserve. Every banking regulator has had independent funding since 1864 to protect the economy from the politicization of banking policies as much as possible. Lott said there is an effort to bring the CFPB’s funding under Congressional appropriations approval – this means Congress could starve it to death so it wouldn’t be able to do its job because the lobbyists dominate those funding decisions.

— Stall the CFPB’s current rulemaking – The CFPB is currently working on rules that would protect consumers from payday debt traps and forced arbitration. Forced arbitration is used to prevent consumers from banding together and joining class action lawsuits to seek justice when they are wronged by financial companies. There are efforts to hamstring the CFPB’s work on these rules, he said.

Charlie Crist unanimously inducted into New Democrat Coalition

Newly elected Congressman Charlie Crist is one of the freshmen lawmakers making up the New Democrat Coalition for the 115th Congress.

By a unanimous vote, the Coalition inducted 10 members-elect — four from Florida — to the progressive centrist group of legislators dedicated to advancing the New Dem vision of economic innovation, competition and national security.

Crist recently defeated incumbent Republican David Jolly in the redrawn Florida’s 13th Congressional District. The former Republican governor joins Democrats Val Demings of CD 10, Stephanie Murphy of CD 7, and Darren Soto of CD 9. Murphy had unseated longtime Republican John Mica, who represented Central Florida for 12 terms; Soto became Florida’s first Puerto Rican in Congress.

“In a year that was filled with disappointment adding to the New Dem ranks offers a bright spot,” said coalition chair Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin. “The New Democrat Coalition is proud to induct these ten accomplished and dedicated Members-Elect into our growing coalition.

“Together we look forward to advancing key priorities including growing the economy, giving everyone a shot at the American Dream, making government work better, and keeping our nation secure,” Kind added.

The remaining crop of members-elect to the group include Salud Carbajal (of California’s CD 24); Lou Correa (California’s CD 46); Josh Gottheimer (New Jersey’s CD 5); Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii’s CD 1); Tom O’Halleran (Arizona’s CD 1); and Brad Schneider (Illinois’ CD 10).

 

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