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U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis announces run for Florida governor

DeSantis’s decision follows a favorable Twitter mention from Donald Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Equipped with a favorable mention from President Donald Trump on Twitter, Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has announced that he will run for Florida governor in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida

DeSantis, who is serving his third term in Congress, made the announcement January 5 on the conservative-friendly confines of the Fox & Friends morning program on the Fox News Channel.

“I’m in a position to exercise the leadership that can build on the great work that Governor Rick Scott has done to advance economic opportunity, reform education and drain the swamp in Tallahassee, which needs to be drained just like Washington,” DeSantis said.

His decision to enter the race sets up a primary battle with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a former congressman who has the backing of much of Florida’s GOP establishment.

DeSantis, on the other hand, has the imprimatur of Trump, who offered an almost-endorsement of his candidacy December 22 on Twitter: “Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”

Although Trump did not actually use the e-word, DeSantis is playing up the favorable mention, noting on his website that he has been “endorsed by President Trump.”

DeSantis, 39, a Harvard law graduate and former military prosecutor, was elected in 2012 from Florida’s 6th District, which stretches along the Atlantic coast from the Jacksonville suburbs to Daytona Beach. He is a member of the conservative, anti-establishment House Freedom Caucus.

In 2016, DeSantis ran for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate but abandoned his campaign when Marco Rubio decided to seek re-election after leaving the presidential campaign.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

The major obstacle in DeSantis’s way to becoming governor is Putnam, 43, the one-time boy wonder of Florida politics who was the elected to the legislature at age 22 and to Congress when he was just 26.

Putnam served five terms in the U.S. House, rising to chair the House Republican Conference, the No. 3 position in the House GOP hierarchy. before being elected as agriculture commissioner in 2010.

He was re-elected in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote and has already raised more $15 million for the governor’s race.

Also considering the governor’s race on the Republican side is Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who represents a suburban Tampa district in the legislature and was elected speaker in 2016.

The Democratic primary for governor is shaping up as a battle between former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine.

Graham, who served a single term in Congress before leaving after she was redrawn into a politically unfavorable district, is the daughter of former governor and U.S. senator Bob Graham. If elected, Gillum would be Florida’s first African American governor.

Scott, the incumbent Republican, is term-limited and considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson.

Former Florida U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown gets 5 years in prison for corruption

Sentence brings ignoble end to Brown’s 34-year political odyssey

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

JACKSONVILLE (CFP) — Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida was sentenced to five years in prison on tax and fraud charges related to a scheme to loot $800,000 from a bogus scholarship charity and spend it on personal expenses.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. D-Florida

Brown, 71, a Democrat who represented metro Jacksonville in Congress for 24 years, was sentenced December 4 by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who called her behavior “brazen” and “born out of entitlement and greed,” according to coverage of the court proceedings by the Florida Times-Union.

Brown, who was ordered to surrender in January to begin serving her sentence, left the courthouse in downtown Jacksonville without comment. Speaking to reporters afterward, her attorney, James Smith, said she would appeal.

“The congresswoman wants to let her supporters know that she’s still strong and resolute, and she appreciates their prayers and their support,” Smith said. “She asks that they not give up hope because she hasn’t given up hope.”

Brown’s former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, received a four-year sentence; the head of the charity, Carla Wiley, received 21 months.

Prosecutors alleged that Brown used her contacts and clout as a member of Congress to solicit funds for the charity, which claimed to provide scholarships for economically disadvantaged children. At trial, prosecutors produced evidence that the money was then diverted by Brown, Simmons and Wiley for their own personal use.

Brown took the stand to blame the scheme on Simmons and insist she did not know what he had been doing. But in May, she was convicted on 18 of the 22 counts against her, including including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and filing false tax returns.

When she was elected on Congress in 1992 after a decade in the Florida legislature, Brown became the first African-American to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Emphasizing her dedication to constituent service with the phrase “Corrine Delivers,” she would win 11 more times and become a political institution in Jacksonville. She even helped secure the funds to build the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse, the building where she was tried, convicted and sentenced.

However, in 2016, facing corruption charges and a new district radically redrawn by the Florida Supreme Court, she lost the Democratic primary to now U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

 

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown found guilty on fraud charges

Jurors decide former Jacksonville congresswoman looted scholarship charity

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (CFP) — Corrine Brown, an icon in North Florida’s African-American community who served 24 years in Congress, is likely headed to prison after being convicted of looting a fraudulent scholarship charity to pay personal expenses.

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. D-Florida

Brown was found guilty May 11 on 18 of the 22 charges against her, including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and filing false tax returns. No sentencing date has been set, but, given the number and magnitude of the charges, the 70-year-old former Democratic congresswoman could potentially spend much of the rest of her life behind bars.

Brown made no comment as she left the federal courthouse in downtown Jacksonville, the funding for which, as she often noted, she was instrumental in pushing through Congress.

In a statement released later by her lawyer, Brown continued to maintain her innocence and vowed to fight on.

“This fight is not over, and as I’m sure you know, I will continue to fight to clear my name and restore my reputation,” she said.

In a statement, Kenneth Blanco, the acting assistant attorney general, said Brown had “violated the public trust, the honor of her position and the integrity of the American system of government.”

“She shamefully deprived needy children of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have helped with their education and improved their opportunities for advancement, and she lied to the IRS and the American public about secret cash deposits into her personal bank accounts,” Blanco said.

Prosecutors said Brown and her associates operated a fraudulent private charity that purported to provide scholarships for needy students but instead diverted the money to their personal accounts to pay for luxuries and other expenses. Brown used her political connections to raise money for the charity, which took in more than $800,000 put paid out just $1,200 in scholarships, according to prosecutors.

Brown’s longtime former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and the president of the charity, Carla Wiley, have both pleaded guilty to charges related to the scheme, and Simmons became the star witness against Brown.

Brown took the stand in her own defense, insisting that she did not know that Evans was diverting money from the charity.

The conviction marks a tragic fall for Brown, who in 1992 became part of the first group of African-Americans in Florida’s U.S. House delegation since Reconstruction.

With a political operation built on a flair for publicity and attention to constituent service — her campaign slogan was, “Corrine Delivers” — she was never seriously challenged, despite court-ordered changes in her district and efforts by Republicans to unseat her.

However, in 2015, the Florida Supreme Court dismembered her 5th District, ruling that it was gerrymandered based on racial considerations in violation of state law. Instead of taking in African-American communities in Jacksonville and snaking down the St. Johns River valley to Orlando, the new district heads straight west to Tallahassee, giving Brown a wide swath of unfamiliar territory to defend.

The new lines, coupled with her indictment on fraud charges, led to her primary loss to  U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee, ending her 34-year political career.

5 Southern Republicans break ranks to oppose House Obamacare repeal

But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.

Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.

Hurd

Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”

Comstock

Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”

“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.

The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.

“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”

Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.

Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact,  if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.

Curbelo

This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.

Mast

In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.

“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”

Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.

“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”

Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”

“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.

Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.

Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen bowing out after three decades in Congress

Her departure opens up a prime opportunity for Democrats to pick up a GOP-held seat

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of Florida’s House delegation, will not seek re-election in 2018 to her 27th District seat in Miami-Dade County, drawing down the curtain on three decades of service that have made her an icon in the state’s politically powerful Cuban-American community.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

The decision means Republicans will now have to defend a seat from a district which Donald Trump lost by 20 points in 2016 but which had continued to return Ros-Lehtinen to office term after term.

“It’s a great job. But there comes a time when you say, you know, even though this is a wonderful life, and even though I’m doing what I love to do, there’s so many other wonderful things,” she said at a May 1 news conference announcing her retirement.

Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican who has found herself at odds with Trump and other members of her own party, also insisted her departure is unrelated to the current political climate in Washington.

“I know it would be a great narrative to say people aren’t civil with each other and that there’s just a lot of infighting,” she said. “But I’ve been there so many years, I don’t recall a time when there hasn’t been infighting.”

“I’m not frustrated by that.”

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, who was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with her parents at the age of 7, won a House seat in a 1989 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of  Claude Pepper, who himself was a political icon in Miami. She became the first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress and the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Florida.

She has faced little opposition since that first election. However, as the Cuban-American community in Miami has become less monolithically Republican in the last 20 years and district lines have been been altered, the GOP has held on to the district largely because of Ros-Lehtinen’s popularity.

Still, in 2016, she won by just 10 points, as Hillary Clinton was pasting Trump in her district. Democrats were expected to try to contest the seat in 2018, although Ros-Lehtinen expressed confidence that she would have won if she had she run again.

Ros-Lehtinen has left signficant daylight between herself and Trump, refusing to endorse him and opposing both his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As the mother of a transgender son, she has also been a champion for LGBT equality in Congress.

The 27th is one of just six Southern House seats held by Republicans that Clinton carried, and her margin there was the largest win in any GOP-held district in the country. Ros-Lehtinen’s departure means Democrats will have an opportunity to pick up the seat.

The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen will be a wide open affair, likely drawing a number of Cuban-American politicians from both parties into the mix. Among the Republicans being mentioned is  Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera, who has run statewide and is closely allied with the state’s two top Republicans, Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.

Several state legislators are also eyeing the race, which may mean that the field won’t begin to fill out until the legislature adjourns later in May.

Southern GOP, Democratic senators split on using “nuclear option” in Gorsuch fight

Senate eliminates filibusters of Supreme Court nominees in party-line vote

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of all 24 Southern Republicans, the U.S. Senate has changed its rules to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominations, clearing the way for confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to a lifetime seat on the high court.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

After Democrats blocked Gorsuch’s nomination with a filibuster, the Republican majority used a parliamentary maneuver to change Senate rules, eliminating the need to reach 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

That vote fell along party lines, with 52 Republicans in favor, 46 Democrats opposed and two independents who caucus with Democrats also voting against the move.

With the filibuster out of the way, Gorsuch was confirmed by a vote of 54 to 45, with just three Democrats supporting him, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Three of the four Southern Democratic senators — Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia — supported the filibuster and voted against confirming Gorsuch. While Manchin did not join the filibuster and voted for confirmation, he did not support the move by Republican leaders to eliminate filibusters for Supreme Court nominees.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia

Manchin released a statement blistering both sides for “hypocrisy” and charging that the filibuster fight illustrates “precisely what is wrong with Washington.”

“Frustratingly, both parties have traded talking points: Republicans say it’s about obstructionism and Democrats say it’s a power grab. Their shifting positions and hypocrisy is the one thing that unites them,” he said.

Manchin also noted that in 2013, when Democrats used their majority to end filibusters for executive branch nominees, “every Republican Senator joined me in opposing the rules change then, but now, they stand united to do exactly what they opposed.”

Manchin is up for re-election in 2018 in a state President Donald Trump carried by a whopping 32 points. Warner and Kaine’s opposition to Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee presents less political risk in Virginia, the only Southern state Trump failed to carry last November.

Nelson, however, is also up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won and could be facing a formidable Republican foe in Florida Governor Rick Scott.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

In a statement announcing his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Nelson said he has “real concerns with (Gorsuch’s) thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees.”

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture (to end the filibuster) and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately released a statement noting that Nelson had opposed a previous Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and had previously voted to confirm Gorsuch to a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Nelson proved to Floridians today that he no longer shares their values, and instead is more politically aligned with the liberal elite of Washington,” said Katie Martin, an NRSC spokeswoman. “Nelson has been in Washington too long and his move to ignore the will of voters in Florida will cost him his job in 2018.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Kaine, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is also being pounded by Republicans, particularly over a remark he made during the 2016 campaign saying he would support the “nuclear option” if Republicans filibustered any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. At the time, Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

In a lengthy statement explaining his support for the filibuster, Kaine noted that Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, for which Gorsuch was nominated. He also said the filibuster, which Gorsuch would need 60 votes to overcome, ensures that high court nominees “receive significant bipartisan support.”

“That is especially important now given the many important issues pending before the court and the clear need to fill a position long held vacant through blatant partisan politics with someone who can bring independence and non-partisanship to the job,” Kaine said.

3 of 4 Southern Senate Democrats supporting Gorsuch filibuster

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia sole supporter of Trump Supreme Court nominee

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the U.S. Senate headed for an epic showdown over a Democratic filibuster of President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, three of the four Democrats who represent Southern states in the Senate have lined up against Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

Senators Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia have all announced they will support a Democratic filibuster designed to stop the Gorsuch nomination, which will likely prompt GOP leaders to end filibusters for Supreme Court nominees, a move that has come to be known as the “nuclear option.”

The lone supporter of Gorsuch left among Southern Democrats is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All 24 Southern Republicans in the Senate are expected to vote to end the filibuster and confirm Gorsuch.

Manchin — up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump carried by a whopping 32 points — said in a statement that Gorsuch “has been consistently rated as a well-qualified jurist, the highest rating a jurist can receive, and I have found him to be an honest and thoughtful man.”

“I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice,” he said.

Warner and Kaine’s opposition to Trump’s nominee presents less political risk in Virginia, the only Southern state Trump failed to carry last November.  Nelson, however, is up for re-election in 2018 in a state Trump won and could be facing a formidable Republican foe in Florida Governor Rick Scott.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

In a statement announcing his decision to oppose Gorsuch, Nelson said he has “real concerns with (Gorsuch’s) thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees.”

“I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture (to end the filibuster) and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation,” Nelson said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately released a statement noting that Nelson had opposed a previous Democratic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and had previously voted to confirm Gorsuch to a seat on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Nelson proved to Floridians today that he no longer shares their values, and instead is more politically aligned with the liberal elite of Washington,” said Katie Martin, an NRSC spokeswoman. “Nelson has been in Washington too long and his move to ignore the will of voters in Florida will cost him his job in 2018.”

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

Kaine, who is also up for re-election in 2018, is also being pounded by Republicans, particularly over a remark he made during the 2016 campaign saying he would support the “nuclear option” if Republicans filibustered any of Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees. At the time, Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

In a lengthy statement explaining his support for the filibuster, Kaine noted that Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s selection of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, for which Gorsuch has now been nominated. He also said the filibuster, which Gorsuch would need 60 votes to overcome, ensures that high court nominees “receive significant bipartisan support.”

“That is especially important now given the many important issues pending before the court and the clear need to fill a position long held vacant through blatant partisan politics with someone who can bring independence and non-partisanship to the job,” Kaine said.

If Republicans are unable to get 60 votes to end the filibuster against Garland, Republican leaders are expected to change Senate rules to end filibusters for Supreme Court nominees and allow them to be confirmed by a simple majority.

In 2013 when Democrats controlled the Senate, they invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to end filibusters for nominees for positions in the executive branch, after minority Republicans thwarted several of President Obama’s appointments.

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