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Infamous dates: The moments that influenced Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Adam Putnam political committee brings in more than $2.3 million in 2016

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam raised more than $2 million in 2016, boosting his war chest ahead of a likely 2018 gubernatorial bid.

State records show Florida Grown, Putnam’s political committee, raised more than $2.3 million through Nov. 30. The committee has raised more than $6.3 million since February 2015, according to state campaign finance records.

Records show Florida Grown spent nearly $1.4 million in 2016, including at least $240,000 for political consulting and $51,450 for advertising and advertising design work.

Putnam is one of several Republicans pondering a 2018 gubernatorial bid. While he hasn’t formally announced his plans for 2018, many consider Putnam to be the man-to-beat in what will likely be a crowded Republican field.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford announced on Dec. 22 he decided against a 2018 bid, saying his role in the 2018 gubernatorial election “should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate.”

“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”

But Weatherford is far from the only Republican considering hoping in the race. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is believed to be considering a run, and a recent Gravis Marketing poll conducted for the Orlando Political Observer tested how Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and former Rep. David Jolly would fare on the ballot.

The field is expected to be just as crowded on the Democratic side. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham; John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney and top Democratic donor; Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all considering a run.

Charlie Crist, Brian Mast among The Hill’s ’10 freshman to watch’ in Congress

Three Florida freshman are among the “freshmen to watch” in the 115th Congress.

On Monday, The Hill unveiled its list of “10 freshmen to watch in the new Congress.” According to The Hill, seven new senators and 55 new House members — including 10 from Florida — will take the oath of office on Jan. 3.

Newly elected Reps. Charlie Crist, Brian Mast and Stephanie Murphy were among the new members The Hill singled out.

Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, unseated Republican Rep. David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. According to The Hill, the former Republican governor “is making a political comeback.”

Mast filled the state’ vacated by former Rep. Patrick Murphy, defeating Democrat Randy Perkins in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. The former combat veteran will be “one of the youngest members of Congress when he takes the oath of office in January,” according to the website.

Mast, according to The Hill, is one of three Republican “pickups in a year where they were playing defense.”

Murphy toppled Republican Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the transportation committee and a 24-year veteran member of Congress. Her win, according to The Hill, offered the Democratic Party “one of its few bright spots.” Her victory makes her the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve in Congress.

With its Lego project, the Tampa Bay Times crushes my hopes and dreams

Last week, the digital geniuses at the Tampa Bay Times debuted a multimedia presentation that used animated Lego figures and constructions to tell a complicated story about a planned toll road on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

“How the plan to fix Tampa Bay’s most important bridge fell apart, told in Legos” from Eli Zhang, Caitlin Johnston, Anthony Cormier, and Martin Frobisher is an absolute must-click for its combination of shoe-leather reporting and “Everything Is Awesome” visualization.

It’s a great read.

It’s visually stunning.

It’s also — to me and only me — heartbreaking.

Please allow me to explain, without taking anything away from the great work of the Times reporters, while also knowing that many in the Times newsroom will take some pleasure in my agony.

Back in May, I wrote in a Facebook post: “it hit me what my next project will be. The next enterprise of Extensive Enterprises, so to speak. People won’t get it at first. They’ll think it’s silly. Then it will get the right people’s attention. And then everyone will say, ‘How much does it cost to do that for us?'”

My excitement originated from a video from Bloomberg: “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Legos.

The introduction was — “Curious how the White House Correspondents’ Dinner works? We explain … with Legos.”

It’s that simple.

As soon as I finished, I had a Eureka moment. Why not bring the Lego video concept to Florida politics? Isn’t that what I’ve done before — take a national idea and make it Sunshine State-sized?

My plan was straightforward. I would first produce a video about some storyline involving Florida politics. From there, I would partner with public relations firms who needed a new way to tell their side of a food fight happening in the Florida Legislature.

“Marion Hammer wants 18 year-olds to bring guns to college campuses … told in Legos.”

“The Workers Comp food fight … told in Legos.”

“Why you can’t get Uber in Miami … told in Legos.”

Whatever. You get the point.

A team of folks (much funnier than I) would help write the scripts. I’d build the Lego sets. Kevin Cate would shoot the videos.

It’s ratings gold, Jerry.

Except for one thing — Lego sets are not very easy to build. At least not the interesting ones.

And, like the Times, finding the right Lego Minifigures is next to impossible.

Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute details the roadblock the Times team faced.

“We’ve found many Lego-people-packs online,” said (Adam) Playford, director of data and digital enterprise at the Times. “But they all have too many weirdos, like Lego Bananaman and Lego Grim Reaper. Regular Lego people are apparently no longer in vogue.”

Playford and Co. solved their Lego-people-problem by putting out an all-hands-on-deck request to the staff at the Times. I, of course, do not have that luxury.

So … and here’s where some of the agony begins to set in … I worked with a firm in London to create custom Lego Minifigures.

For the script of the first video, I would tell the story of Marco Rubio and the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

I ordered Minifigures resembling Rubio, Donald Trump, Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson, Carlos Beruff (in a trademark black shirt), Ron DeSantis (pictured here in a Navy outfit, of course), and David Jolly.

As for the sets; well, let’s just say what the Times built for its very nice story about a bridge is, um, child’s play.

I started by building the small city building sets:

Soon, I became more ambitious, building bigger sets:

I assembled cars, planes, and trucks (including a replica of one the U.S. Senator drives) so we could shoot the pivotal scene from outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera tells Rubio he should re-enter the race.

I even built The White House (which was very difficult because it’s from the “Architect” class of Lego sets, which is basically Lego’s way of saying “A lot of f*cking pieces are in this box.”

I’ve been building and collecting Lego sets for nearly seven months, thinking the entire time that no one else would bring an idea I first saw on Bloomberg to Florida politics.

And then my bitter rival, the Tampa Bay Times, unveils its pretty little story about a bridge.

When I read the first tweet about the story, I knew what it was about without clicking on the link. My heart sank to a depth deeper than those caissons that hold up the Howard Frankland.

Sure, as my wife and other friends have said, I could continue my Lego project — and I still might.

But that’s like making “Deep Impact” after you learn that “Armageddon” is in production.

“Deep Impact” is probably the better film, but everyone remembers “Armageddon.”

If I do a ” … as told by Legos” video now, critics will say, “but didn’t the Times do that first?”

And screaming “but Bloomberg did it before either of us” does nothing to solve the problem.

Now I am stuck with a whole lot of Legos — which is OK, since my daughter, Ella Joyce, loves building with them.

In fact, Legos are one of the things we’ve been able to do together.

Just yesterday, Ella became sick on our way to a Christmas event replicating a train ride to the North Pole (it’s awesome, and I recommend it to every parent.) We were forced to turn around, missing one of our favorite holiday traditions.

To make up for it, I finished building this — bringing the North Pole to Ella:

If this episode has taught me anything, it’s that, as an entrepreneur, when a light bulb goes off, move quickly. That’s what worked for Sunburn, Florida Politics, INFLUENCE Magazine and everything else I’ve done.

I moved too slowly on this project and, subsequently, I lost out.

That won’t happen again.

Speaking of which, I have an idea for a …

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.

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).

 

Charlie Crist defeats David Jolly in CD 13 race

Charlie Crist has defeated David Jolly in Florida’s 13th Congressional District by four percentage points, 52 percent to 48 percent.

The Associated Press called the race with 239 precincts out of 241 reporting.

His victory will be framed as his political comeback, following two rough losses statewide for U.S. Senate in 2010 and governor in 2014.

Crist originally did not intend to run against Jolly in the CD 13 seat, but after the district’s lines were redrawn in 2015, Crist opted to get into the race. It didn’t hurt that the new district was much more favorable to a Democratic candidate.

For Jolly, it ends a very eventful 20 months in office.

When redistricting did occur last year, he opted to run for the then-open U.S. Senate seat Marco Rubio said he would be leaving to run for president. But Rubio reversed course in June, weeks after he dropped out of presidential contest.

The race became vitriolic between the two men from the jump. When Crist declared his candidacy in the fall of 2015, Jolly somewhat uncharacteristically crashed his press event, blasting him at the time.

Tensions escalated after the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee began airing a television ad featuring a photoshopped picture of Jolly with Donald Trump. In fact, Jolly has denounced Trump’s candidacy, and he called for local stations and the DCCC to stop airing the ad.

But the ad continued to air for several weeks until Crist ordered it to come down, after a stern editorial written by the Tampa Bay Times called on him to do so.

“Congratulations to Charlie Crist on becoming the next representative for Florida’s 13th Congressional District,” House Majority PAC Executive Director Alixandria Lapp said in a statement. “FL-13 voters have rejected David Jolly’s backwards agenda and chosen a representative who will make their voices heard in Washington. House Majority PAC is proud to have played a role in ensuring Charlie Crist will be able to do great work in Congress.”

HMP aired two TV ads on broadcast, cable, and digital platforms in the Tampa Bay media market, becoming the first outside group to spend on TV in the race.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a potential 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, congratulated Crist on his victory. “His community and our state will be well represented by Charlie and our delegation will be stronger because of his victory tonight,” he said.

 

It’s not the party, it’s the after party: Where to find Tampa Bay candidates on election night

Election night parties will be raging across the state Tuesday. For some, it’s a chance to pop some bottles and celebrate. For others, it will be a somber event, marking the last hurrah of a long, hard-fought campaign.

Want to party like a politician? Here’s a rundown of where candidates will be as the polls close.

U.S. Senate

It was one of the most-watched U.S. Senate races this election cycle. And on Tuesday night, both Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Patrick Murphy will be toasting the crowd in South Florida.

Rubio will attend an election night party at the Hilton Miami Airport, 5101 Blue Lagoon Drive in Miami. The party is expected to begin around 6:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Murphy will be in Palm Beach Gardens. The Democrat is set to attend an election night party at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott, 4000 RCA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. The doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Rubio has consistently led in the polls since announcing his re-election bid in June. Outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the race to re-elect Rubio; Murphy had the backing of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Although not on the ballot, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will join Hillary for Florida supporters for an election night watch party in Tampa at the Florida Ballroom, 2nd Floor, Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, 700 South Florida Avenue. After a day of Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts, attendees will watch Clinton deliver remarks to supporters and volunteers at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Joining Nelson will be U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, state Rep. Ed Narain and state Rep.-Elect Sean Shaw.

U.S. House

CD 12 — Rep. Gus Bilirakis will hold his election night party at the St. Nicholas Cathedral Center, 348 N. Pinellas Ave. in Tarpon Springs. The fun begins at 6:30 p.m., and will include a visit from Shalyah Fearing, a semifinalist on NBC’s The Voice. Bilirakis faces Democrat Robert Matthew Tager in the general election.

gus-bilirakis

CD 13 — Rep. David Jolly will hold his election night party in the grand ballroom at The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, 501 5th Ave. NE in St. Petersburg. The fun begins at 6 p.m. Jolly faces former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, in the general election.

jolly-party-vinoy

CD 18 — Republican Brian Mast will hold his election night party at Spoto’s Oyster Bar, 131 SW Flagler Ave. in Stuart. The party kicks off at 6 p.m. Democrat Randy Perkins is holding his party at Big Apple Pizza, 2311 S. 35th St. in Fort Pierce. Perkins’ party is expected to begin around 7 p.m.

CD 19 — Republican Francis Rooney will hold his election night party at Bistro 41, 13499 Cleveland Ave. in Fort Myers. The party begins at 6 p.m. Rooney faces Democrat Robert M. Neeld in the general election.

State Senate/House

SD 16 — Team Latvala — Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala and his son, first-term state Rep. Chris Latvala — will be holding a joint election night Party beginning 7 p.m. at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N. NcMullen Booth Rd. in Clearwater. The elder Latvala is running unopposed in SD 16.

team-latvala

SD 18 – Florida House Majority Leader Dana Young is holding her Election Night Watch Party beginning 6 p.m. at Pane Rustica, 3225 South MacDill Ave. in Tampa. No RSVP is necessary. Young is running in the newly drawn Senate District 18 against Democrat Bob Buesing, as well as no-party-affiliated candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove.

dana-young-watch-party

HD 63 – Democrat Lisa Montelione is hosting an Election Night Watch Party at Mr. Dunderbaks, 14929 Bruce B Downs Blvd. in Tampa. Party begins at 6:30 p.m., and is free and open to the public. Food will be provided and there will be a cash bar. Montelione, a former Tampa City Councilwoman, faces incumbent Republican Shawn Harrison in HD 63.

HD 66/HD 67/HD 68 — The Republican Party of Pinellas County holds its joint-candidate Election Night Watch Party at the St. Petersburg Hilton, 950 Lake Carillion Dr. in Clearwater. Doors open at 6 p.m., with a cash bar. In attendance will be State Rep. Larry Ahern, who is running for re-election in House District 66, facing Democrat Lorena Grizzle. Chris Latvala is also scheduled to make an appearance. Latvala is running for re-election in House District 67, facing Democrat David Vogel. Also at the Hilton event will be JB Bensmihen, who faces Democrat Ben Diamond in House District 68.

multi-candidate-victory-party

HD 69 — Rep. Kathleen Peters will host an election night party at Middle Grounds Grill, 10925 Gulf Boulevard in Treasure Island. The party begins at 6:30 p.m.

kathleen-peters

HD 70 — Former St. Petersburg City Councilmember Wengay Newton will host an election night Watch Party for his campaign in Florida House District 70 beginning 6:30 p.m. at The Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge in downtown St. Pete. The Hangar is located at the Albert Whitted Airport Terminal, 540 1st St. SE. Second Floor in St. Petersburg. RSVP at 727-823-PROP.

screencapture-file-f-wengay-newton

County races

Pinellas County Commission District 3 — Mike Mikurak will also make an appearance at the Republican Party of Pinellas County event at the St. Petersburg Hilton. Mikuriak is running against incumbent Democrat Charlie Justice.

Hillsborough County Commission District 6 — Pat Kemp holds her watch party at the Italian Club in Ybor City, 1731 E. 7th Ave. in Tampa. The party begins at 6:30 p.m.

pat-kemp-watch-party

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser — Bob Henriquez holds his election watch party at the Outpost, 909 W. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa. Event begins at 7 p.m. with live music, food and a cash bar. RSVP at www.Henriquez2016.com. Henriquez is running for re-election against first-time candidate Todd Jones, who is a private-sector appraiser.

bob-henriquez

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