Joe Henderson: Some pre-primary thoughts for Hillsborough County

I will be paying attention to a lot of things during Tuesday’s primary election. The weather, however, will not be high on the list.

Even with storms in Tuesday’s forecast, it may not affect the turnout that much.

As of Sunday, voters cast nearly 104,000 ballots in Hillsborough County for the primary election, either by mail or at early voting events like Sunday’s “Souls to The Polls” gathering at two Tampa locations.

As of late afternoon, there were 3,267 votes cast at either the C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library or the West Tampa Branch Library.

“That’s a tremendous turnout,” Hillsborough elections supervisor Craig Latimer said. “I’ve said that Election Day is the last day to vote, not the first.”

Latimer is a relentless champion of early voting, especially by mail. People have been listening. At last count, more than 76,000 ballots had been returned by mail. That could make a huge difference in a primary when bad weather is predicted.

“We’ve been talking about this (weather possibility) for a week now,” Latimer said. “Regardless of the weather, though, a lot of people have already voted.”

MARCO NEEDS A BIG WIN

People will be closely watching what Marco Rubio does in his Republican Senate primary race against upstart (and Rick Scott favorite) Carlos Beruff.

Rubio will win, of course – few people doubt that. He needs a landslide, though. A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey last week showed Rubio with 61 percent to 22 for Beruff.

That indicates an easy win and Rubio needs that. Anything less could be viewed as a caution flag about his electability in November. Rubio hasn’t been hitting the trail much in these final days, indicating he is comfortable with his position now.

KEEPING IT LOCAL

Veteran Hillsborough County pol Jim Norman, whose promising career in the Florida Senate was sidetracked over questions about a land transaction involving his wife, is in a fight for his political life.

He is hoping to return to the county commission, where he served 18 years before being elected to the Senate in 2010. His Republican primary opponent, Tim Schock, won the endorsement of the Tampa Bay Times, which declared, “This one is an easy call.”

Another political future hanging in the balance is that of outgoing Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who has gone all-in to defeat Democratic icon Pat Frank in their primary for the county clerk of courts office.

Beckner won praise for his work in two terms on the county commission, but has raised eyebrows by going negative on the venerable Frank – including bringing her age (she is 86) into the game. Should Beckner lose, he may have a lot of making up to do with Hillsborough Democrats.

Lastly, keep an eye on Hillsborough school board races involving incumbents Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes. They were two of the so-called “Gang of Four” (a really unfair moniker) that voted to oust Superintendent MaryEllen Elia in January 2015.

Those opposed to the move vowed, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, vowed revenge at the ballot box.

Here’s their chance.

FINALLY …

This admission from Ed Narain, Democratic candidate for Senate District 19.

Narain was making the rounds Sunday at a “Souls To The Polls” event in east Tampa. It’s worth remembering that in 2012, Republicans tried to limit these traditional events that remain popular in the African-American community.

“We should be trying to make voting easier,” Narain said. “Early voting makes sense, especially in the digital age. I love to vote by mail, but these days I still need to bring my ballot to the polls on Election Day.”

Can’t miss those last-chance opportunities to meet with the voters.

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Florida political parties raise millions ahead of primary

In the months leading up to the crucial primary election, Florida’s two political parties and affiliated committees took in millions from gambling interests, utility companies and others with a stake in the outcome of this year’s contests.

Campaign fundraising reports filed late Friday showed that the Florida Democratic Party raised $4.72 million in cash compared to $4.1 million to the Republican Party of Florida over the last five months.

This is the first time in years that the Democrats have raised more money for its state accounts – which are kept separate from federal accounts – than Republicans.

Republicans control the Florida Legislature and governor’s mansion and usually raise substantially higher amounts than Democrats. But a split among GOP leaders has fragmented their efforts.

Gov. Rick Scott has stopped raising money for the state party and is instead raising money for his own political committee. Republicans who control the state Senate have also set up their own fundraising account separate from the party. The GOP state senate committee reported raising $5.17 million since April.

Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia on Saturday took to Twitter to point out the state party and Senate fundraising numbers should be combined because “it all goes to get Republicans elected. That’s what matters.” He also added “we still crush” the Democrats in raising money.

Democrats, however, still touted their fundraising totals. Party chairwoman Allison Tant in a statement that the money will help the party with its organization efforts ahead of the November election and help elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

“We look forward to building on our momentum and keeping Florida blue for the third presidential election in a row,” Tant said.

Both parties received donations from key industries and businesses in the state who depend on the actions of state government and the Florida Legislature.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which is locked in a gambling dispute with the state, donated $210,000 to the two parties and the GOP senate committee. U.S. Sugar, which has land that some environmentalists want the state to buy as part of an effort to reduce algae blooms, has given $240,000 since April. Other major donors include Disney and the state’s largest utility company Florida Power & Light, which is seeking a rate hike right now from state regulators. Unions and some of Florida’s prominent law firms also made donations.

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Dwight Dudley heats up attack, insists opponent resume lacks experience

The race for the Pinellas County Judge Group 9 seat is coming down to a heated battle over experience.

Challenger Dwight Dudley says incumbent Myriam Irizarry lacks courtroom trial experience in Florida. Irizarry says Dudley has misrepresented her experience. Now Dudley says he’s sticking by his claim that she lacks trial experience and says Irizarry is at fault for any confusion because of apparently conflicting records.

Dwight Dudley
Dwight Dudley

Dudley was referring to apparent contradictions in statements Irizarry made in her last application to the Judicial Nominating Commission and information on her campaign website and in campaign literature.

“She lacks courtroom experience as an attorney in Florida,” Dudley said Friday. As for the apparent contradictions, “I think there’s a fair question” about the information.

“My resume that is with the JNC is the perfect resume,” Irizarry said.

The information on the website under “resume“ is not a resume, she said. “The website is highlights of my accomplishments. … Some of the dates are off.”

She added, “I stand by my resume that I submitted to the JNC.”

Because the campaign “resume” is only highlights, she said, information was left off in addition to the misdating issue.

“I can see how someone might ask the question,” Irizarry said.

Irizarry was the deputy clerk and general counsel in Clerk of Court Ken Burke’s office when she last applied to the JNC for an opening on the bench. Part of that application included a resume of her experience.

According to the resume that accompanied her application in 2015, she was a “staff attorney, Middlesex County Legal Services Corporation” from 1979 to 1981. However, she was not admitted to the New Jersey bar until 1981 after her 1980 graduation from Rutgers-Newark School of Law.

Myriam Irizarry
Myriam Irizarry

And, on the “resume” provided on her campaign site, she says she was a “staff attorney, Middlesex County Legal Services Corp” from 1981 to 1982.

If you look back at the resume submitted to the JNC, she says that from 1981 to 1982 she was an “attorney office administrator, Essex-Newark Legal Services.” That’s not even mentioned on the website.

There are other date disagreements between the two documents.

On the resume given to the JNC, she says she was a “partner, Rivera and Rodriguez, attorneys at law” in New Brunswick from 1983 to 1985. (Irizarry’s maiden name is Rivera.) Yet, on her campaign website, she says she was with Rivera and Rodriguez only from 1984-1985.

And, she worked for the Pinellas County Clerk’s office from 1988 to 2015 when she was appointed to the judiciary by Gov. Rick Scott. But the information on her website indicates she began working for the clerk in 1998.

Irizarry said she’s not sure why the date on the website is wrong. She suggested that might be when she received the promotion to deputy clerk.

On her campaign site, Irizarry claims to have handled more than “7,000 matters, including jury trials, pretrial motions/hearings and arraignments” in the year since she was appointed to the bench. In a recent mailer, however, she claimed she had handled more than 8,000 such matters in that same period.

Both are correct, she said. The 7,000 figure was accurate as of early June. When the campaign began developing the mailer, a second count took place, and campaign workers found that the number had increased.

On that same mailer, Irizarry claims to have presided over “30+” jury trials in the past year. But Dudley said that, during forums, she has claimed to have presided over both “30-plus” and “40-plus” trials.

Irizarry said the accurate number is 34.

“I don’t recall ever saying 40-plus trials,” she said.

Elsewhere on the mailer, Irizarry claims to have “represented” the Pinellas County Clerk of Court from 2003 to 2015. The implication is that she would be the attorney who represents the department in court in legal disputes. But that’s not the way the Pinellas County Charter reads.

According to the charter, that job belongs to Pinellas County attorney Jim Bennett. As the county attorney’s website points out, “The Pinellas County Charter provides that the office of county attorney shall be responsible for the representation of county government …. constitutional officers and all other departments, divisions, regulatory boards and advisory boards of county government in all legal matters relating to their official responsibilities.”

The Clerk of Court is a constitutional office.

That might be what the charter says, but Irizarry said that’s not the way Burke and many other clerks run their offices. Many clerks have hired in-house lawyers to help hold costs down. If there were something Bennett needed to do, Irizarry said, she would have been the one to contact him and oversee the work.

“The clerk was my client,” Irizarry said. “As general counsel for the clerk, I was the lawyer for the clerk.”

Irizarry said she believes that became an issue because Dudley wanted to claim she had never had a Florida client, but the clerk of court “is a pretty darn big client.”

Dudley said he’s always focused on Irizarry’s trial experience — or lack of it — in Florida. And, in that, he said, she’s lacking.

“If you’re going to be a trial judge, it is useful in an adversarial system to have experience in motions … trials as an attorney,” Dudley said.

The election is Tuesday. Because the race is nonpartisan, any voter can cast a ballot.

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Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn confront each during WMNF radio debate

During a radio debate Thursday, House District 68 Democrat Ben Diamond challenged what exactly his opponent, Eric Lynn has done in the community, while Lynn turned around to question Diamond’s independence when it comes to the insurance industry.

Those two exchanges came toward the conclusion of a 38-minute debate on Tampa radio station WMNF 88.5 this afternoon, when the two candidates were allowed to question each other in a debate moderated by this reporter (listen here).

The two St. Petersburg-based Democrats are challenging each other in the seat that has been occupied by Dwight Dudley since 2012, and are ideologically very similar on most of the important issues going into next Tuesday’s primary election.

“I’ve been working on a number of local issues for awhile,” Diamond said in leading up to his question to Lynn, referring to his work on the PSTA board and his support for 2014’s Amendment One ballot measure. What have you done?, he essentially asked his primary opponent.

Lynn attempted to turn the tables as he considered his response, indirectly calling out Diamond for lacking sufficient roots in Pinellas. “I know that you’re new to St. Pete, Ben, that you just moved here two years ago.” He went on to say he was most proud of being an advocate for veterans in the county. “Unfortunately, we have too many men and women that served our military in Afghanistan and Iraq who are coming home who don’t have health care, who don’t have jobs, and they need to be assisted by a number of groups here in Pinellas County.”

When it was his turn to ask a question, Lynn reminded listeners about a controversial issue that took place back in 2013, when Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance Co., a Pinellas County firm that had given $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election campaign, was rewarded when the Citizen’s Property Insurance Corp. board of governors (the insurer of last resort in Florida) approved a deal that could have ended up paying Heritage up to $52 million to take over 60,000 insurance policies. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Scott’s office said the governor played no role in the $52-million deal at Citizens, and insisted campaign contributions were not a factor.

Lynn then got to the point, saying that same Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance Company has contributed $20,000 to Diamond’s political action committee, “Protecting Pinellas Families.”

“What did you promise the insurance companies?” Lynn asked, adding that a fourth of all of Diamond’s campaign contributions have come from the insurance industry. “Why is the insurance company that helped Rick Scott, helping you in this race?”

Diamond responded by calling it a loaded question.

“I have a track record of working on progressive issues,” he said. “I’m just as committing to lowering insurance rates as is our current representative, Dwight Dudley, is.”

Diamond went on to say that the No. 1 issue driving up insurance rates in Florida is insurance fraud. “The thing that is driving up the cost of insurance in Florida is these water claims that are being fraudulently turned into very expensive claims. So I’m going to stand on the side of policy owners, and stand for lower rates.”

The candidates agreed on virtually every question posed to them by the moderator, with similar stances on opposing the legalization of marijuana in general (they do support medical marijuana), supporting the Legislature’s passage of a bill to stop doing businesses with companies that boycott Israel, and supporting undocumented immigrants getting driver’s licenses.

The only time they disagreed was on whether or not the region’s two transit systems, HART and PSTA, should merge. Diamond was for such a merger, while Lynn isn’t.

The two Democrats face off against each other Aug. 30 in the district that encompasses parts of St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Lealman and Feather Sound. The winner faces Republican JB Benshimen in November.

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Rick Scott headed to Washington, D.C., to talk Zika

Gov. Rick Scott is headed to Washington, D.C., to push for Zika funding.

Scott will travel to Washington Sept. 6 to meet with members of Congress, according to the governor’s office. The governor is expected to call on lawmakers to immediately pass a Zika funding package.

“The Zika virus demands immediate federal action and I will impress upon congressional members the urgency to protect our residents and visitors,” said Scott in a statement. “The health and safety of Florida’s families cannot be overshadowed by partisan politics. Our state has several requests that the Obama Administration has repeatedly failed to fulfill and I expect the president to work with his federal agencies and Congress to fully fulfill these requests quickly.”

There are 43 cases of locally acquired Zika in four Florida counties. According to the Department of Health, there are 636 cases of Zika in Florida. That includes the 43 locally acquired cases and 70 cases involving pregnant women.

Scott in June used his executive authority to set aside $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response. In a statement Thursday, Scott said more than $23 million has been allocated to local mosquito control and Zika prevention efforts.

The state has called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send 5,000 antibody tests. Scott said Wednesday fewer than 1,200 have arrived.

The Florida Department of Health still believes active transmissions are only taking place in Wynwood and Miami Beach. Cases in Pinellas and Palm Beach counties were identified this week.

Scott’s trip to Washington, D.C., will coincide with the end of Congress’ summer recess.

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Marco Rubio calls for lawmakers to pass Zika funding bill

Marco Rubio said Congress should immediately pass a bill to help combat the spread of Zika when it returns to work next month.

“Our job is to make sure the funding is available to not only fight Zika, but to get a vaccine,” said Rubio during a stop in Fort Myers on Wednesday.

Rubio said House and Senate leaders should have called lawmakers back to Washington, D.C. to approve a Zika funding bill.

The Senate passed a bipartisan $1.1 billion funding package earlier this year, much higher than the version passed by the House. House budget negotiators came to an agreement that would set aside $1.1 billion, but came with strings attached. That bill was blocked by Senate Democrats, who accused Republicans of playing politics.

Rubio said he has supported every funding proposal that has come before the Senate, and was an early supporter of President Barack Obama’s $1.9 billion funding package. Rubio said he asked the president to use the $300 million diverted from other programs to help fight Zika.

The Miami Republican’s comments came as another case of locally acquired Zika was discovered in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that a locally acquired case had been discovered in Palm Beach County.

Scott called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send 5,000 antibody tests to Florida. So far, the CDC has sent less than 1,200 tests to the Sunshine State.

“It is disappointing that these requests have not been fulfilled. Florida now has 43 cases of locally acquired Zika and the Obama Administration must quickly fulfill our entire request so that we can continue to provide the resources our state needs to combat this virus,” said Scott in a statement.

There are 636 cases of Zika in Florida. That number includes 43 locally acquired cases and 70 infections involving pregnant women.

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Incumbent Judge Myriam Irizarry says opponent’s mailer misrepresents her experience

Judicial races are usually rather low-key affairs, in part because of restrictions that limit the topics candidates can discuss.

Myriam Irizarry
Myriam Irizarry

But the race between incumbent Pinellas County Judge Myriam Irizarry and state Rep. Dwight Dudley is heating up as the Aug. 30 election approaches.

Dudley, a Democrat who left the House to run for the judiciary, is focusing on experience. According to a recent mailer sent to voters across Pinellas, he has a lot and Irizarry has “zero” — at least when it comes to trying cases and representing clients in court as a “Florida attorney.”

The implication, of course, is that Irizarry has zero trial experience.

Irizarry said Wednesday that the mailer, and its implication, are a “misrepresentation” of her legal experience. And, she said, it ignores the experience she’s gained the past year on the bench.

Irizarry is a native of Puerto Rico whose family moved to New York when she was a child. She and her six siblings were raised by a single mother. With help from tuition-aid programs, she was graduated from Rutgers College and Rutgers-Newark School of Law and was admitted to practice in 1981.

She spent the next 14 years gaining trial experience representing indigents for housing and family law issues, working in the public defender’s office and in private practice. In the public defender’s office alone, she said she tried 20 cases.

Dwight Dudley
Dwight Dudley

Irizarry followed her family to Florida and joined The Florida Bar in 1995. She went to work for the Pinellas County Clerk of Court. Her first job involved teaching the clerks about criminal law and legal procedures. She was promoted through the ranks until she became general counsel for the Clerk of Court and oversaw the smooth running of the office and court system. Her duties included representing the clerk’s office in administrative hearings and conducting hearings over employment disputes.

Between her work in New Jersey and Florida, she said, she gained widespread experience that has helped her since she was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Rick Scott. That’s in part because a county judge can be appointed to any court — from misdemeanor crimes to felony cases to civil or domestic cases.

“I came in ready to be assigned everywhere” rather than being limited to one area of the law, she said.

Since then, Irizarry said, she has gained experience as a judge, overseeing more than 8,000 cases, arraignments, motions, and hearings. And she has presided over more than 30 jury trials. She is presiding in misdemeanor court where the majority of cases are DUIs, batteries, retail theft, and possession of marijuana.

Dudley’s mailer, she said, also does not take into account the complicated job of judge. Having trial experience, she said, is just one part of it.

“In the world of trials, a trial is a trial is a trial, in terms of openings, closings” and other procedures, Irizarry said.

Judges have to be able to juggle several tasks at one time. And they have to be an effective listener to quickly get to the heart of issues.

“You need all of those skills to be a good judge,” Irizarry said.

The non-partisan judicial election is Tuesday. Voters do not have to be registered by party to cast a ballot.

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Education, collaboration are key tactics in Pinellas’ war on Zika

As officials investigate the first non-travel-related case of Zika in Pinellas, they’re stepping up their efforts in educating residents and enlisting their help to eradicate the mosquito that carries the virus.

The educational efforts are an offshoot of a partnership between Pinellas County mosquito control and the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County.

“So, in terms of intervention, it’s really working with mosquito control. I think we have a great partnership,” Dr. Ulyee Choe, the Pinellas Health Department director, told Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday.

“Once we are notified of a suspect case, we do notify mosquito control so they can target their mosquito control effort around the vicinity where [the victims] reside,” Choe said.

Choe made his comments Tuesday, the day Gov. Rick Scott announced Pinellas had a confirmed case of non-travel-related Zika. Choe cautioned that one case does not make an epidemic. It does not even make “active transmission.” That would take at least two to three cases of non-travel-related Zika.

“Basically, what active transmission means is that local mosquitoes are spreading the virus as opposed to travel-related cases getting infected somewhere else and then bringing it back and presenting with those type of symptoms,” Choe said.

Right now, he said, the county is waiting to see if any other cases develop. While that’s happening, he said, the Health Department is offering free Zika testing for pregnant women at all of its clinical sites in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs.

The Health Department also expects to have available, in the next day or two, mosquito kits for all pregnant women who would like one. The kits contain repellent and Permethrin, as well as condoms, because Zika can be sexually transmitted.

The Health Department, Choe said, will also continue its prevention campaign that includes “door-to-door education and provide any spraying as needed …. We will continue to work with the community to get the information out there. Working with the medical community to update them on any guidelines, working with hospitals, businesses, schools, getting some educational materials out there. Homeless shelters, as well as those that travel abroad.”

Education is a message St. Petersburg is taking seriously. Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday designated Dean Adamides, the division chief of emergency management in the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Department, to oversee the city’s response to the Zika threat.

Adamides said Wednesday that, right now, the main goal is to continue to cooperate with the county and health department and to educate residents about the virus and mosquito control.

“The best thing we can do is educate,” Adamides said. Those efforts, he said, have been ongoing but will be escalated in light of the non-travel-related case.

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SD 19 candidates talk about early education and getting bills passed in a GOP Legislature

It’s always challenging for any Democrat to get a bill they sponsored passed in the Florida Legislature. And with Republicans continuing to dominate the House and Senate, it’s sometimes difficult to hear them boast about what they’ll accomplish in Tallahassee on the campaign trail, when the reality is much starker.

At Tuesday night’s Senate District 19 forum focusing on early childhood education at the Robert W. Saunders Library in Tampa, the three men and one woman looking to succeed Arthenia Joyner talked about the changes they say are necessary in a state that ranks 37th in per-pupil spending in the nation and 44th in providing health insurance for children.

Ed Narain, who has been successful in getting bills passed in his one and only term as a state representative, said the key to getting crossover support is to emphasize “ROI”(return on investment).

“The fact of the matter is that $1 invested in early education results in $8 coming back,” adding that it’s a low estimate. “So being able to talk and speak the language of business to a lot of these ‘business folks’ (he said using the his fingers on both hands in the universal quote sign) that are representing us in Tallahassee is important.”

Outgoing State House District 70 Representative Darryl Rouson acknowledged the reality of being in a body (the Florida House) with just 39 Democrats versus 81 Republicans.

“It’s about children, and they have children too,” he said of his Republican brethren. “This is where relationships come into play. And when you have worked with the leaders of the Senate, some of them having served in the House, before you go to the Senate, it counts for something. So I will maintain it’s not just advocacy, but effectiveness in working towards getting this type of legislation passed.”

Betty Reed represented District 59 in Tampa for eight years (2006-2014), and said she learned to work well with both Republicans and Democrats during her tenure. “The legislation I brought home was very meaningful to children, to families, to everyone,” she said, mentioning several times during the forum about her Black Infant Mortality bill  (sponsored in the Senate by Joyner) that passed in her first session in the House in 2007. That bill provided a one-time grant of $1 million to research why black infants in Florida died at a rate four times greater than white infants.

As a first-time candidate, St. Petersburg-based civil justice attorney Augie Ribeiro doesn’t have a record in Tallahassee to reference, so he focused on how poorly Florida rates when it comes to voluntary pre-K programs, behind red states like Alabama and Georgia. “We could use those other states as our role models,” he said, as well as making the return-on-investment argument by quoting business officials like former Proctor and Gamble  CEO John Popper who advocate for early childhood education. Ribeiro says UPK is “the seminal issue in our country.”

“This is as important as any terrorist threat, if we do not address this issue now,” Ribeiro said about a weak universal voluntary pre-kindergarten program. “We are facing threats not only to our country’s future for our kids, but also that our own military needs heightened awareness.”

Tampa Bay Times editor and columnist Ernest Hooper asked the questions at the forum, which was organized by the Children’s Movement of Florida. He cited the fact that employees at child care centers make less per hour than those working at fast food restaurants, and asked what could be done to increase pay scales to attract and retain better teachers.

Ribeiro said that the Legislature needs to be convinced the money they’re spending on “corporate welfare in trying to woo businesses into the state that bring in low-paying jobs” should be shifted and spent on early childhood education.

Reed said she supports raising the living wage to $15 an hour, and said she wouldn’t be afraid to argue that to Gov. Rick Scott. “Every once in awhile, he moves just like you ask him to,” though other Democrats might wonder about that. “I know I can get results. Send me to Tallahassee. I know we can get it done,” a line she repeated like a mantra throughout the evening.

Rouson reiterated his call to tax the internet sales of goods and use that income to as a direct funding source for early childhood education.

With less than a week to go before the Aug. 30 primary, it’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top.

Court-imposed redistricting of all 40 Senate seats inspired some Democrats to contemplate winning a number of seats this year. The Republicans hold a 26-14 lead at the moment, but Narain dared to think boldly of the Democrats catching up within the next few years.

“We could see some very dramatic changes,” he optimistically mused when asked about how much the Democrats could get done in the state Capitol. “The hope is that the Democratic Party picks up seats in the Senate, and we’re able by 2020, even those numbers up to 20-20, which dramatically changes a lot of the bad legislation that we would see from the House to the Senate,” he said. “In other words, we’re going to see a lot more bargaining taking place.”

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As Zika comes to Pinellas, Charlie Crist and David Jolly condemn congressional failure to deal with disease

U.S. Rep. David Jolly and former Gov. Charlie Crist don’t agree on much.

But Tuesday they agreed Congress’ failure to provide funding to combat the Zika virus is unconscionable. They were reacting to news released by Gov. Rick Scott that the Department of Health had confirmed a non-travel-related case of Zika in Pinellas County.

Crist, a Democrat who is running against Jolly for the Congressional District 13 seat, said, “For this virus endangering Floridians to now spread unabated to Pinellas County is inexcusable. Lives are in danger, particularly expectant mothers, children, and women planning to have children.”

Crist added: “We need clear solutions to this serious problem. First, [House] Speaker [Paul] Ryan must bring Congress back to Washington to do their job and pass a clean funding bill. Then, Florida must expand Medicaid to cover the 200,000 women in the coverage gap without access to affordable healthcare and who are at great risk.”

Jolly, a Republican who has long criticized Congressional inaction on the threat from the Zika virus, repeated his call for Congress to return to Washington, D.C., to pass a long-term Zika funding package.

“Florida is at risk and Washington is tone deaf,” Jolly said. “Today’s news of a locally transmitted case of Zika in Pinellas County is another alarm that should prompt leadership to call members back to D.C. to address this public health issue.

“As a representative of a frontline state dealing with the Zika outbreak, I fully understand the serious public health risk this virus presents. But we must address this issue now and responsibly and without playing politics. This is a public health issue, not a political issue.”

Jolly sent a letter to Ryan expressing the urgency of the problem for states like Florida. However, Congress failed to pass a Zika funding package before breaking for the district work period.

With Congress not scheduled to return to Washington, D.C. for two more weeks, Jolly supports an emergency session to address this health issue and quickly reach a bicameral, bipartisan consensus package that can be enacted into law immediately.

“The good news is nearly $100 million per month is currently flowing to combat Zika as a result of reprogramming Ebola funds. But we must pass a comprehensive funding package that will give health officials what they need to protect Floridians and others from the spread of Zika before this threat becomes a crisis,” Jolly said.

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