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Florida U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings dies at 84

Democrat’s death narrows party’s House majority, sets off scramble for his South Florida seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FloridaFORT LAUDERDALE (CFP) — Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, who launched a barrier-breaking, three-decade career in Congress after being impeached and removed from his post as a federal judge in 1989, died April 6 after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was 84.

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U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida

In a statement announcing his death, Hastings’s family said he “lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice. He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind.”

Hastings was re-elected in November to his 15th term from the 20th U.S. House District, which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and areas inland toward Lake Okeechobee. He was the longest-serving member of the Sunshine State’s House delegation.

With Hastings’s death, Democrats have just a two-seat majority in the House. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis will now call a special election to fill the seat, which could leave it vacant for several months and set off a scramble among local Democrats for a rare open seat.

The heavily Democratic, majority black district will almost certainly stay in Democratic hands.

As a civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, Hastings fought against segregation in South Florida and made headlines in 1970 with an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate at the age of 29, the first black Floridian to seek a Senate seat.

He became a judge in Broward County in 1977 and two years later was named a U.S. District Court judge by President Jimmy Carter.

In 1981, Hastings was accused of soliciting a bribe to show leniency toward two convicted mobsters but was acquitted of all charges in 1983 after his alleged co-conspirator refused to testify.

But although he was acquitted, the House later voted to impeach Hastings in 1988, and the Senate convicted him and removed him from office in 1989, only the sixth federal judge ever tossed from the bench.

In 1992, he made a comeback by winning a House seat in Broward County in a runoff against one of his current colleagues, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, becoming part of a group of the first three black congressmen elected from Florida since Reconstruction. He won re-election 14 times, often by 3-to-1 margins.

In January 2019, he announced he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, but he continued to serve in Congress and ran for re-election in 2020.

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Amtrak promising more Southern train service as part of Biden infrastructure bill

12 cities in 8 Southern states could gain train service as part of $2.5 trillion infrastructure package

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — As the Biden administration tries to cobble together political support for its massive $2.5 trillion infrastructure program, Amtrak has announced that it plans to use its share of the money to expand its national rail network, including significant additions across the South.

In a plan unveiled April 1, Amtrak said it would add service to 12 Southern cities, as well as enhancing existing service in Texas, Florida and the corridor between Birmingham, Atlanta and Charlotte.

New Amtrak routes shown in light blue

Kentucky — the only state east of the Mississippi River currently without any Amtrak service — will finally be connected to the national network with a rail link between Louisville and Indianapolis.

The Bluegrass State is the home of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has said no one in his caucus is likely to vote for the infrastructure package the contains the additional Amtrak funding.

Plans also call for a new line to run from Nashville to Savannah, which will extend service to Chattanooga and Macon, Georgia.

Service would also be restored between Mobile and New Orleans, which has been suspended since 2005 because of damage to rail lines from Hurricane Katrina. A new route would connect Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

Currently, Amtrak’s service coming north out of Texas stops at Oklahoma City. That line would be extended to Wichita, Kansas, providing more direct rail links from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest.

Dallas and Houston would also be connected by a direct route, which would bring service to College Station.

In Alabama, Auburn and Montgomery would be connected to Atlanta, while in North Carolina, both Asheville and Wilmington would pick up service. Rail would also be extended further west from Roanoke to Christiansburg, Virginia.

In all, Amtrak would be expanding service in all but three Southern states — Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — which could become an administration talking point as it tries to sell the infrastructure plan to reluctant Southern Republicans.

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WaterGaetz? Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz under federal investigation

Gaetz, a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump, denies sexual relationship with 17-year-old girl, alleges blackmail scheme

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

FloridaWASHINGTON (CFP) — In what is quickly becoming one of the year’s most bizarre political stories, Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz is denying allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl but acknowledges he is under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking charges, as first reported by The New York Times.

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Gaetz discusses allegations on Fox News

As headlines began to trumpet news of the investigation, Gaetz struck back by accusing a Florida attorney of trying to use the allegations to extort $25 million from his family, which the attorney denies, and then tried to drag Fox News host Tucker Carlson into the narrative, which Carlson rebuffed.

“That was one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,” Carlson said after inviting Gaetz to appear on his March 29 show to offer his side of the story. “I don’t think that clarified much, but it certainly showed that this is a deeply interesting story.”

Watch video of Carlson’s interview with Gaetz at end of the story.

To add another twist to the story, the investigation of Gaetz was reportedly triggered by a federal investigation into Joel Greenberg, the former Seminole County, Florida tax collector indicted on a slew of charges, including stalking, identity theft, and child sex trafficking.

While the nature of Greenberg’s relationship with Gaetz remains unclear, the two men were photographed together outside the White House in 2019.

Greenberg also posted a picture on social media of himself and Gaetz with longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted on felony charges in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election but later pardoned by Trump.

Adding to the swirl around Gaetz is a report in Axios that he is considering leaving Congress to take a job with Newsmax, a conservative news outlet. Gaetz confirmed to the Daily Beast that he has had conversations “about life after Congress,” although he said he has not been pursuing any specific job offers.

The New York Times, citing “three people briefed on the matter,” reported that the Justice Department has been investigating Gaetz over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him, which could have violated federal sex trafficking laws.

Federal law makes it a crime to induce a minor to cross state lines to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money.

The investigation was opened in 2020 in the final months of the Trump administration, and top Justice Department officials, including then-Attorney General William Barr, were briefed on the investigation, according to the newspaper.

Gaetz denied he had a relationship with an underage girl and told the Times that “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”

He told Carlson that “providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime. ” He then tried to remind Carlson that he and his wife had dined two years ago with Gaetz and a woman who is being pursued as a witness in the investigation, whom Gatez claimed is being threatened with prosecution unless she cooperates.

“I don’t remember the woman you are speaking of or the context at all, honestly,” a puzzled Carlson replied. (It was unclear if the woman referenced by Gaetz was the same person whose alleged relationship with Gaetz is the focus of the probe, although at another point he said the 17-year-old “did not exist.”)

Gaetz also alleged that David McGee, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Pensacola, Florida, is behind a scheme to use the sex trafficking allegations to extort $25 million from his family and that his father, Don Gaetz, a former Florida Senate president, wore a wire as part of an FBI investigation in the alleged blackmail attempt.

Gaetz has demanded that the FBI release the wiretap recordings to back up his claim. He also claimed that he had been told that McGee could arrange a pardon from President Joe Biden to protect him from the sex trafficking charges.

Speaking to the Washington Post, McGee denied the blackmail allegations, saying he had nothing to do with the investigation into Gaetz. McGee said he had talked to Don Gaetz, describing their exchange as “a pleasant conversation of a dad concerned about his son and the trouble his son was in.”

McGee also told the Post that he welcomed release of any FBI recordings of those conversations: “There is nothing on that tape that is untoward.”

Gaetz, 38, has represented the Florida Panhandle in Congress since 2017, after serving six years in the state legislature.

Last June, he disclosed that he had been providing a home for a teenage Cuban immigrant, the brother of a former girlfriend, whom he considered to be his son, although he had not legally adopted the boy.

In December, he announced his engagement to his girlfriend, Ginger Luckey.

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Conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks enters Alabama U.S. Senate race

Announcement comes less than 3 months after Brooks exhorted pro-Trump crowd to “start kicking ass” prior to Capitol riot

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks entered the chase for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat Monday with a campaign kickoff where he wrapped himself firmly in the mantle of Donald Trump as he tries to navigate what is likely to become a crowded primary field.

Brooks announced his candidacy at a rally in Huntsville where shared the stage with Stephen Miller — a Trump aide who was the architect of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies — and continued to promote the former president’s unfounded claims of election fraud.

“In 2020, America suffered the worst voter fraud and election theft in history,” Brooks said. “And all Americans would know that if the news media was not suppressing the truth as they’re doing.”

Brooks also noted that he had been endorsed twice by Trump in his congressional campaigns and helped Trump fight what he termed “defamatory, hyper-partisan impeachment scams.”

“As President Trump can vouch, I don’t cut and run,” Brooks said. ” I stand strong when the going gets tough.”

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, announces campaign for U.S. Senate (WZDX News)

Brooks, 66, has represented Alabama’s 5th U.S. House District, which covers the northern part of the state, since 2011. He made an unsuccessful bid for the state’s other Senate seat in 2017, coming in third in the GOP primary.

The announcement of his latest campaign comes less than three months after Brooks addressed pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6 in which he told the crowd, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Members of the crowd later stormed the Capitol, resulting in at least five deaths and more than 400 people facing criminal charges.

Brooks has remained unrepentant and refused to apologize, saying he doesn’t believe there is any relationship between his remarks at the rally and the subsequent riot. However, he is facing at least one lawsuit so far over the speech.

Ironically, when Brooks ran for the Senate in 2017, he was criticized for being insufficiently supportive of Trump because of remarks he made about then-candidate Trump in 2016 after release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about being sexually aggressive toward women.

Since then, however, Brooks has been one of Trump’s staunchest and most outspoken defenders in Congress and supported Trump’s assertions of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which have been summarily rejected by courts and investigators.

The Senate seat is opening because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

Lynda Blanchard, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, is already in the race and, like Brooks, playing up her ties to the former president.

Also considering getting into the Republican primary are Secretary of State John Merrill and Katie Britt, the CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democrat in the Yellowhammer State’s congressional delegation, is also considering a run, although the race is likely to be an uphill battle for any Democrat.

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Republican Julia Letlow wins race for Louisiana U.S. House District 5; District 2 race heads to runoff

2 New Orleans Democratic state senators, Troy Carter and Karen Carter-Peterson, will meet in runoff

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

NEW ORLEANS (CFP) — Republican Julia Letlow has won a special election for Louisiana’s 5th District U.S. House seat less than three months after her husband, Luke, died of COVID-19 complications before he could be sworn into the post.

In another special election Saturday in the 2nd District, Democratic state senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter-Peterson advanced to an April 24 runoff in a contest to replace Cedric Richmond, who resigned to take a job as the White House public engagement director in the Biden administration.

U.S. Rep.-Elect Julia Letlow, R-Louisiana

In the 5th District race, Letlow, 40, a former external affairs official at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, took 65% of the vote, besting 11 other candidates in the all-party race.

Coming in second place at 27% was the lone Democrat in the contest, Candy Christophe, a businesswoman and social worker from Alexandria.

Letlow’s husband, Luke, won the seat in November but died December 29 from COVID complications, days before he was scheduled to be sworn into Congress.

She will be just the third woman to represent a Louisiana district in the House, ending a 30-year drought of female representation.

The 5th District includes parts of 24 parishes in the state’s northeast corner and along the Mississippi border.

In the 2nd District — which includes most of New Orleans and part of Baton Rouge, along with the River Parishes between — Carter and Carter-Peterson led a field of 15 candidates, with Carter finishing first with 36% and Carter-Peterson with 23%.

However, the third-place finisher,Democrat Gary Chambers, a community activist from Baton Rouge, was just 1,500 votes behind Carter-Peterson.

Carter had support from much of the Democratic establishment and major unions, while Carter-Peterson drew support from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and from liberal grassroots group such as Democracy for America and Our Revolution, a group spun out of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But Chambers was competing for those same voters and came in ahead of Carter-Peterson in Orleans Parish, the largest in the district.

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