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Here he goes again: Charlie Crist leaving Congress to run for Florida governor

Crist makes another run for state’s top office after statewide losses in 2010 and 2014

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CFP) — He’s run for 10 times for six different offices over the past three decades and has been, at various times, a Republican, an independent and a Democrat. And now Charlie Crist is giving up his relatively safe seat in Congress to once again seek the state’s top office as a Democrat that he once held as a Republican.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, announces run for governor in St. Petersburg (From WPTV via YouTube)

Crist announced Tuesday that he would forgo re-election to his 13th District U.S. House seat in order to challenge Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022.

“This won’t be an easy fight, but nothing in life worth fighting for is easy,” Crist told supporters at a kickoff rally in his hometown of St. Petersburg. “I’m running so you will be in charge again, so you will have a governor who will work for the people with a steady hand and an open heart.”

Crist opened the campaign with a broadside against DeSantis, whom, he said, “doesn’t listen, who doesn’t care and who doesn’t think about you — unless, of course, you write him a campaign check.”

Watch video of Crist’s campaign kickoff rally at end of story

While Crist is the biggest Democratic name to enter the race so far, he may have to battle to get his party’s nomination. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the only Democrat now holding statewide office in the Sunshine State — is expected to run, and U.S. Rep. Val Demings from Orlando is also seriously considering the race.

Crist’s decision also has implications for the Democrats’ narrow House majority, as he represents a swing House district in Pinellas County that Republicans held for more than 30 years before he flipped it in 2016.

The Republican he beat in 2020 by 6 points, Anna Paulina Luna, has already announced a 2022 run.

Should he become the Democratic nominee, Crist would face a formidable foe in DeSantis, who has been building a national political profile to possibly seek the White House in 2024.  A Democrat hasn’t won the governorship in Florida since 1994.

Crist’s new political quest is the latest chapter in a complicated political career that has seen him seek six different offices over the last 30 years. His new run for governor will be his 11th campaign overall and seventh statewide.

Crist reached the top in Republican politics in 2006, when he was elected governor as a conservative. But then he  then decided to forgo re-election in 2010 to make what turned out to be an ill-considered run for the U.S. Senate. Poised to lose the Republican primary to now U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Crist bolted the GOP to run unsuccessfully as an independent.

By 2014, he had changed parties again to become a Democrat and narrowly lost the governor’s race to Rick Scott, who now holds the state’s other Senate seat.

Crist, 64, revived his political career in 2016 with his successful run for the House as a Democrat, a seat which he is now giving up after just six years to once again seek higher office.

This will be Crist’s third run for governor. He’s also run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate twice, in 1998 and 2010, and was also elected as state education commissioner and attorney general before winning the governorship.

He has gone 3-and-3 in his previous statewide races.

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New Census figures show 5-seat shift in Southern U.S. House districts

Texas, Florida and North Carolina gain seats; West Virginia loses a seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Census Bureau released population totals for reapportionment of U.S. House seats Monday that will alter the size of delegations in four Southern states.

Fast-growing Texas will be the biggest winner, gaining two seats to take its delegation to 38 members. Florida will get one new seat to go to 28, and North Carolina will gain one seat to go to 14.

However, West Virginia will lose one of its three seats, which could force Republican incumbents to run against each other in newly configured, larger districts.

West Virginia’s new delegation will be its smallest in history. The Mountaineer State has had at least three members of Congress since it entered the Union in 1863 and had as many as six in the 1950s.

Alabama dodged a bullet, keeping all of its seven seats. Some projections prior to release of the final numbers had shown the Yellowhammer State losing a seat.

Georgia will also not gain a seat for the first time in 40 years.

The new numbers will set off a legislative scramble in all four states, as new lines will have to be drawn.

Republicans will be in total control of redrawing lines in all four states. While North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, state law doesn’t give him authority to veto reapportionment bills.

However, Texas and North Carolina are covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to preserve electoral opportunities for minority candidates. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in Florida in 2010 outlaws gerrymandering lines based on political considerations.

Legislators in West Virginia will have to decide which of the state’s three GOP House members — David McKinley, Carol Miller and Alex Mooney — to draw into the same district. As there are no statewide or Senate races in 2022, House members may be left with the option of competing in a primary or bowing out of Congress.

In Texas, due to demographic trends, Republican legislators may have to draw at least one majority Latino district, likely to be Democratic, in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But they could try to maximize Republican chances across the rest of the map, including helping out incumbents who survived Democratic challenges in 2018 and 2020.

No matter now the lines are drawn, litigation is likely in Texas, Florida and North Carolina, states where maps drawn after the 2010 Census were subject to lengthy court fights that resulted in court-ordered map redraws in all three states.

While Virginia is not gaining or losing a seat, its lines could also be substantially redrawn by a new independent commission. The maps after 2010 were drawn by Republicans, who have since lost control of the legislature and governorship, and then later redrawn by a federal court after a legal fight.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature implemented an independent redistricting commission earlier this year.

Also, in Georgia, Republicans may redraw the map in metro Atlanta to target two Democratic incumbents — Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — by combining Democratic areas currently in both of their districts into a single district, which could force one of them out of Congress.

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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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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.

gaetz

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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25 new Southern U.S. House members, 2 senators sworn in Sunday

Freshmen group includes youngest member in nearly 60 years, wave of Republican women

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Members of the new 117th Congress will be sworn into office on Sunday, including 25 new Southern U.S. House members and two new Southern senators.

The Southern House freshmen include seven Republican women, part of a wave elected in November that more the doubled the number of GOP women in the chamber, and 25-year-old Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who is the youngest member of the House sworn in since 1965.

Also among the new Southern House members is former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, whom President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to elevate to Veterans Affairs secretary in 2018. He will represent now represent the Texas Panhandle.

Republican Stephanie Bice from Oklahoma City is making history as the first Iranian-American to serve in Congress. Her father emigrated from Iran in the 1970s.

Byron Donalds, the new member representing Southwest Florida, will be one of just two African American Republicans in the House and three in Congress overall.

Full list of new Southern House members at bottom of story

Clockwise from top left: Cawthorn, Bice, Donalds, Tuberville, Sessions, Greene

In the Senate, Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, and Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, will join a Southern contingent that now includes 25 Republicans and just three Democrats, after Tuberville defeated Doug Jones in November.

Lawmakers were sworn in during a rare Sunday session because the Constitution prescribes January 3 as the date for opening a new Congress.

Sunday’s House session is scheduled to include a moment of silence for Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Luke Letlow of Louisiana, who died from COVID-19 days before he was set to be sworn in.

While both the House and Senate were observing coronavirus precautions, including masks and social distancing, one new member from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was spotted on the floor without a mask, prompting admonishment by House staff.

During orientation for new members, she had dismissed masks — which are required on the House floor — as “oppressive.”

Among the new members sworn in Sunday was one very familiar face — Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, who served 11 terms in the House before being defeated in 2018, then claiming a seat from a different district in November.

Sessions and Jackson are part of a group of seven new members from Texas, marking a turnover in nearly a fifth of the Lone Star State’s delegation amid a wave of retirements. All are Republicans.

Florida has five new members; Georgia, four; North Carolina, three; and Alabama, two. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia each have one new member. Delegations from Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia were unchanged.

Eleven of the 25 new Southern members are women (seven Republicans and four Democrats), part of the largest group of women (121) ever sworn into a single Congress. The new Congress will also feature a record number of Republican women at 29, up from 13 in the last Congress.

The service of one Southern House member in the 117th Congress will be brief — Cedric Richmond, a New Orleans Democrat who will leave to become a senior aide to President-elect Joe Biden once he is sworn in on January 20.

Special elections will be held in Louisiana for Richmond and Letlow’s seats in March; neither are expected to change hands between parties.

The Constitution requires members of the House to be at least 25 years of age, a threshold Cawthorn met in August after winning the Republican primary in his Western North Carolina district. He will be the youngest House member since Jed Johnson Jr., a Democrat who represented Oklahoma for a single term between 1965 and 1967.

Sessions represented a Dallas-area seat during his first stint in the House, which he lost in 2018 to Collin Allred. Rather than try to reclaim it in 2020, he ran in a vacant seat in a district that includes Waco, where he grew up.

Of the 25 new Southern members, 21 were Republicans and just four were Democrats. Overall, Republicans hold 99 Southern seats and Democrats 52, with Letlow’s seat vacant.

Four Southern states — Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia — have no Democrats in their House delegations, while five others — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — have just one.

In only one Southern state do Democrats hold a majority of seats, Virginia, which is sending seven Democrats and only four Republicans to Washington.

Here is a list of new Southern House members, by state:

Alabama
Jerry Carl, R, 1st District (Mobile, South Alabama)
Barry Moore, R, 2nd District (Montgomery, southwest Alabama)

Florida
Kat Kammack, R, 3rd District (Gainesville, North-Central Florida)
Scott Franklin, R, 15 District (Lakeland, eastern Tampa suburbs)
Byron Donalds, R, 19th District (Fort Myers, Southwest Florida)
Carlos Giménez, R, 26th District (south Miami-Dade, Florida Keys)
Maria Elvira Salazar, R, 27th District (Miami-Dade)

Georgia
Nikema Williams, D, 5th District (Atlanta)
Carolyn Bourdeaux, D, 7th District (northeast Atlanta suburbs)
Andrew Clyde, R, 9th District (Gainesville, Northeast Georgia)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, R, 14th District (Rome, Northwest Georgia)

North Carolina
Deborah Ross, D, 2nd District (Raleigh)
Kathy Manning, D, 6th District (Greensboro)
Madison Cawthorn, R, 11th District (Western North Carolina)

Oklahoma
Stephanie Bice, R, 5th District (metro Oklahoma City)

South Carolina
Nancy Mace, R, 1st District (Charleston, Low Country)

Tennessee
Diana Harshbarger, R, 1st District (Tri-Cities, East Tennessee)

Texas
Pat Fallon, R, 4th District (Northeast Texas)
August Pfluger, R, 11th District (Midland, San Angelo, west-central Texas)
Ronny Jackson, R, 13th District (Amarillo, Wichita Falls, Panhandle)
Pete Sessions, R, 17th District (Waco, central-east Texas)
Troy Nehls, R, 22nd District (western Houston suburbs)
Tony Gonzales, R, 23rd District (West Texas)
Beth Van Duyne, R, 24th District (metro Dallas-Forth Worth)

Virginia
Bob Good, R, 5th District (Charlottesville, central Virginia)

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