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New Florida secretary of state resigns after Halloween blackface photos published

Mike Ertel departs over pictures showing him impersonating black, female Hurricane Katrina victim in 2005

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After less than three weeks on the job, Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel has resigned after a Tallahassee newspaper published photos of him in drag and wearing blackface while posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim at a Halloween Party in 2005.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who appointed Ertel as secretary of state in December, accepted his resignation January 24, just hours after the Tallahassee Democrat showed the photos to the governor’s office as it was preparing to print the story.

Photos of Mke Ertel at 2005 Halloween party (From Tallahassee Democrat)

“I think he’s done a lot of good work, but at the same time, I’ve got to have an administration that’s going to be focused on what matters to Floridians,” DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Marianna, which had been called to talk about hurricane recovery. “I don’t want to get mired in side controversies.”

The Democrat reported that Ertel confirmed he was the man in the photos but declined further comment.

The photos were taken just two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. At the time, Ertel was the supervisor of elections in Seminole County, which includes the suburbs of Orlando.

The photos show Ertel in blackface, wearing earrings, false breasts and a purple T-shirt on which the words “Katrina Victim” had been written.

The newspaper did not say how it obtained the photos.

Ertel, 49, a Republican, was appointed as elections supervisor in Seminole in February 2005 and re-elected four times, most recently in 2016.

After a series of hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, Ertel worked on media relations for an organization that promoted Florida tourism in the wake of the storms.

Florida is one of nine states in which the secretary of state is appointed by the governor rather than elected, with confirmation by the State Senate. County elections supervisors are elected.

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Video: New Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sets out agenda in inaugural address

Republican DeSantis sworn in as Sunshine State’s 46th governor


Video From WJXT-TV Jacksonville via YouTube

7 new Southern U.S House Democrats who ousted Republicans support Nancy Pelosi for speaker

Cunningham of South Carolina and Spanberger of Virginia keep vow to oppose Pelosi; North Carolina’s 9th District remains vacant

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020.

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi accepts gavel from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (From Twitter)

Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida all supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote.

Two other freshmen Democrats who had vowed during their campaign that they would not support Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — kept that promise, voting instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois.

And despite signing a letter in November calling for new leadership in the House, Filemon Vela of Texas switched course to vote for Pelosi.

Meanwhile, as the new Congress convened in Washington with 29 new Southern  members, one seat sat empty — the representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where state elections officials have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris’s narrow win over Democrat Dan McCready amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In the vote for speaker, just three Southern Democratic members did not support Pelosi — Cunningham and Spanberger, who voted for Bustos, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who voted present.

Cooper, who has been in Congress since 1983, had been a long-time opponent of Pelosi’s speakership, having voted against her five times previously.

After the November election, a group of 16 Democratic members, including Cooper, Cunningham and Vela, signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus.

Vela changed course after Pelosi agreed to support term limits for the House Democratic leadership, which will limit her speakership to no more than four years.

Pelosi needed a majority of the 430 votes cast for speaker. In the end, she got 220 votes, four more than necessary.

Of the seven Southern Democrats who ousted Republicans and voted for Pelosi, McBath, Horn and Luria represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Allred and Fletcher represent districts he lost by less than 2 points.

Hillary Clinton carried Murcasel-Powell’s district in South Florida by 16 points and Wexton’s district in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. by 10 points.

Three other Southern Democratic newcomers who won open seats in November also supported Pelosi — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, and Donna Shalala of Florida. All three represent districts Clinton carried handily.

Among Southern Republicans, only three did not support their candidate for speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia supported Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, a grouping of the most conservative Republican members.

Walter Jones of North Carolina did not vote. He has been absent from Congress since September because of an undisclosed illness.

Of the 29 new Southern members of the House, 17 are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Republicans hold 101 Southern seats, compared to 50 for Democrats, with North Carolina’s 9th District vacant.

The 9th District seat is likely to remain vacant until after the state elections board completes its investigation into the allegations of absentee ballot irregularities, which has been delayed until February because of a new law revamping the board.

Harris has filed a lawsuit seeking for force certification of the election.

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Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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Decision ’18: Democrat Bill Nelson concedes defeat in Florida U.S. Senate race

Republican Governor Rick Scott will move from Tallahassee to Washington after winning recount

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After protests, a flurry of lawsuits and two recounts, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has conceded defeat to Republican Governor Rick Scott, possibly bringing the curtain down on a political career that spanned more than four decades and included a trip into space.

Scott’s victory means there will be just four Democrats among the 28 senators representing Southern states, down one from the last Congress. And Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction in 1875.

In a video released by his campaign, Nelson said that while he lost the Senate race, “I by no means feel defeated, and that’s because I’ve had the great privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.”

“It’s been a rewarding journey as well as a very humbling experience,” he said.

He also made a plea for more civility to combat “a gathering darkness” in American political life.

“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable,” he said.

Scott, who has now won three consecutive statewide elections by thin margins, issued a statement thanking Nelson “for his years of public service.”

Nelson’s concession came after a machine recount of ballots in all 67 counties and a hand recount of ballots with under-votes or over-votes in the Senate race did not overturn Scott’s margin of victory.

Scott defeated Nelson by just 10,033 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million cast.

Scott had led on election night, but late reports of ballots from Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties began narrowing the lead. Both Scott and President Donald Trump suggested that fraud was occurring in both counties, although evidence seemed to point to mismanagement rather than deliberate malfeasance.

In the following days, both campaigns went to court, and protests erupted outside elections offices in Broward — scenes reminiscent of the recount battle that erupted in the Sunshine State after the 2000 presidential election.

Nelson’s last hope was turning up uncounted ballots in Broward, where 25,000 fewer people voted in the Senate election than in the race for governor. But the hand recount confirmed that those ballots were indeed under-votes, which could have been caused by a flawed ballot design.

In Broward, the Senate race was listed at the bottom of a column underneath voting instructions, which could have resulted in some voters not seeing it.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Scott, 65, went into politics after building a fortune in the health care industry. Financial disclosure reports put his net worth at around $250 million.

He won the governorship in 2010 with a margin of just 1.2 percent and won re-election in 2014 in an even closer race, 1 percent. His margin over Nelson in the Senate race was narrower still, 0.12 percent.

Scott’s win means Republicans will have at least 52 seats in the next Senate to 47 for Democrats, a net pickup of two seats. One seat remains to be decided in Mississippi, where Republicans are favored.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

Nelson, 76, won his first election, to the Florida House, in 1972. He served 12 years in the U.S. House and six years as Florida’s insurance commissioner before winning election to the Senate in 2000.

In 1986, while a sitting member of the House, Nelson went into space as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia. His district included the Kennedy Space Center.

Just 10 days after his return, a different space shuttle, Challenger, exploded during launch, which ended NASA’s program of sending civilians into space.

With Nelson’s defeat, the only Democrats representing Southern states will be Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.

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Decision ’18: Florida governor’s race ends as Andrew Gillum reconcedes

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis will ascend to governorship after just four years in politics

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — The Florida governor’s race has come to an end with Democrat Andrew Gillum’s second concession to Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis.

Gillum — who had conceded on election night but took it back after late-reporting results showed the race tightening — took to Facebook Saturday to offer his congratulations to DeSantis and thank his supporters.

“More than 4 million of you decided that you wanted a different direction for the state of Florida,” he said. “We want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and that you voices will continue to power us.”

DeSantis responded to Gillum’s reconcession on Twitter: “This was a hard-fought campaign. Now it’s time to bring Florida together.”

After a statewide machine recount, Gillum still trailed DeSantis by 32,500 votes, which was more than the margin that would have triggered a hand recount of over-votes and under-votes that is underway in races for U.S. Senate and state agriculture commissioner.

Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis

When DeSantis takes the governor’s chair in January, it will mark the latest step in his swift political rise, becoming the chief executive of the nation’s third-largest state at the age of 40, after just four years in politics.

DeSantis, who has degrees from Harvard and Yale, spent six years as an attorney in the U.S. Navy. In 2012, he was elected to a U.S. House seat representing part of metro Jacksonville.

In 2016, he entered the race for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s seat, which he had given up to run for president. But when Rubio reversed course after losing the Republican presidential nomination to President Donald Trump, DeSantis withdrew and ran for re-election to his House seat.

After Trump became president, DeSantis became one of his strongest defenders on television — a relationship that paid huge dividends when he decided to enter the governor’s race in January,

DeSantis was considered a long shot to defeat the establishment favorite, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Then Trump tweeted an endorsement that catapulted DeSantis to a lead in the polls over Putnam that he never relinquished.

In the primary, the DeSantis campaign aired a TV ad in which he is seen reading Trump’s autobiography to his infant son and showing his daughter how to build a wall out of blocks, an echo of Trump’s call for a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump tweeted out congratulations after Gillum’s concession: “Against all odds, he fought & fought & fought, the result being a historic victory. He never gave up and never will. He will be a great Governor!’

However, Trump — who during the campaign had accused Gillum of being a “thief” — also tweeted out kind words about the Tallahassee mayor: “He will be a strong Democrat warrior long into the future – a force to reckon with!”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum

Gillum, 39, became mayor of Tallahassee in 2014. Like DeSantis, he also won his party’s primary over the establishment favorite, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a victory which instantly made him a national political celebrity.

In his concession, Gillum indicated that he planned to remain in the political arena, although he gave no specifics. He will step down as mayor in January.

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Decision ’18: Time and options running out for Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum in Florida

After machine recounts, Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis maintain leads in races for U.S. Senate, governor

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After a machine recount of ballots in all 67 Florida counties, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis maintained leads in races for U.S. Senate and governor, with time and options running out for their Democratic rivals, Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum.

In the Senate race, vote totals updated after the conclusion of the machine recount showed Scott with a lead of 12,600 votes over Nelson — a small enough margin that a hand recount of overvotes and undervotes in the race was ordered, with a Sunday deadline.

Ron DeSantis

Andrew Gillum

In the governor’s race, DeSantis’s lead over Gillum was 33,700, not enough to trigger a hand recount. That would seem to leave Gillum with no path to victory before final results are certified on Tuesday, unless he can successfully contest the election’s outcome in court.

However, because totals from three counties that missed a Thursday deadline for the recount — Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough — were not included in the revised totals, Gillum has refused to concede, saying “there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted.”

“We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process,” he said in a statement. “Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally cast vote is counted.”

But DeSantis, who has declared victory, made it clear he is now planning for his transition into the governor’s chair.

“Campaigns of ideas must give way to governing and bringing people together to secure Florida’s future,” he said in a statement. “With the campaign now over, that’s where all of my focus will be.”

Bill Nelson

Rick Scott

In the Senate race, the rival campaigns have filed a flurry of lawsuits since election night, as Scott’s lead over Nelson has steadily decreased.

Most of the contention has centered around Broward County, a Democratic bastion where late tabulation of vote totals has prompted Republican leaders, including Scott and President Donald Trump, to allege fraud.

In Broward, 25,000 fewer votes were cast in the Senate race than in the race for governor, an anomaly that Nelson’s camp hopes might turn the race around.

If those undervotes were the result of a tabulation error, then the hand recount of ballots where no vote for Senate was cast could turn up additional Nelson votes. However, if those results are the result of a flawed ballot design, the race would come to an end.

In Broward, the Senate race was tucked at the bottom of a long column on the ballot, under lengthy voting instructions, where some voters might not have seen it.

Once the recounts are over, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, will certify the votes. At that point, both Scott and Gillum have the option of going to court to contest the election, although that would require evidence of irregularities serious enough to change the outcome.

Scott’s victory in the Senate race would be a pickup for Republicans and mark the first time the GOP has held both of the state’s Senate seats in more than 100 years. DeSantis would succeed Scott in the governor’s chair.

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