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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

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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Decision ’18: Machine recounts ordered in Florida U.S. Senate and governor’s races

Elections officials will send ballots through machines a second time and retabulate before Thursday

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Elections officials in all of Florida’s 67 counties will recount ballots in three razor-close statewide races, amid lawsuits, claims of fraud and partisan protests reminiscent of the 2000 presidential recount battle in the Sunshine State.

On Saturday, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered recounts in the races for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner, after unofficial results showed all three races within the 0.5 percent margin that triggers a recount under state law.

The deadline for completing the recount is Thursday.

In the Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott led Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson by just 13,200 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million votes cast, a margin of 0.16 percent.

In the governor’s race, Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 33,700 votes, a margin of 0.4 percent.

The third race headed for a recount is the contest for state agriculture commissioner, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 5,300-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

Scott, DeSantis and Caldwell all led on election night but have seen their margins slip away as additional votes were reported in Broward and Palm Beach counties, both Democratic strongholds.

The slow vote-reporting process in those counties have prompted Republican officials to raise the specter of fraud, although claims of fraud have not yet been substantiated.

Scott sued election supervisors in both counties, saying he would “not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.” Nelson in turn sued Detzner over the process being used to verify signatures on mail-in and provisional ballots.

President Donald Trump has also been stirring the pot, taking time during a visit to France to tweet, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”

Meanwhile, Gillum, who conceded to DeSantis on election night, took it back in a Saturday tweet: “I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote.”

After the recounts were ordered, protestors from both camps gathered outside the office of Broward County Supervisor of Election Brenda Snipes, whose handling of the election has come in for criticism. Pro-Republican protestors offered chants of “Lock Her Up,” an apparent reference to Snipes.

Broward begins its recount of more than 700,000 ballots on Sunday morning.

After Detzner ordered the recount, Scott’s campaign called on Nelson “to accept reality and spare the state of the Florida the time, expense and discord of a recount.” State law allows Nelson to call off the recount.

But Nelson was having none of it: “We believe when every legal ballot is counted we’ll win this election,” he said in a statement.

In Florida, voters mark ballots with a pen, which are then read by optical scanning equipment. During the recount, all of the ballots cast in the election will be run through tabulating machines a second time, except for ballots where voters did not vote in a race or voted for more than one candidate.

If any of the three races is within 0.25 percent after the machine recount, the overvotes and undervotes will be examined by hand to determine voter intent.

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. After an lengthy court fight that reached both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts, Bush was declared the winner.

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Lawsuits fly as Florida readies to recount three close statewide races

Recounts expected in contests for U.S. Senate, governor and agriculture commissioner

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Eighteen years after the nation was transfixed by a vote recount in the presidential race in Florida, state officials are bracing for recounts in three statewide races, including contests for U.S. Senate and governor — a process that has already become contentious before it has even begun.

The Senate candidates, Republican Governor Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, have already filed lawsuits over the election process. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has walked back the concession he made on election night to Republican Ron DeSantis, after subsequent returns from Broward and Palm Beach counties narrowed DeSantis and Scott’s leads.

President Donald Trump also weighed in Friday, calling the election process in Broward and Palm Beach counties “a disgrace” and suggesting he might have the federal government intervene.

“All of the sudden, they’re finding votes out of nowhere,” said Trump, a part-time Florida resident who owns an estate in Palm Beach.

By Saturday at noon, county election officials across the Sunshine State must submit unofficial counts from Tuesday’s election. Those counts are expected to trigger recounts in the Senate and governor’s races, as well as the race for agriculture commissioner.

In all three races, the Republican and Democrat candidates are separated by less than a percentage point.

Scott, whose small lead in the Senate race has dwindled since election night, has filed a lawsuit against election supervisors in Broward and Palm Beach counties, alleging that they are withholding documentation about the voting process. Scott’s lead has been narrowing because of changes in results in both counties, which tilt heavily Democratic

“It’s been over 48 hours since polls closed, and Broward and Palm Beach County are still finding and counting ballots, and the supervisors Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher cannot seem to say how many ballots still exist and where these ballots came from or where they have been,” Scott said in a Thursday press conference. “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.”

Scott also asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the election supervisors, a move that drew criticism from Democrats. An FDLE spokesperson later said no investigation had been launched because no allegations of voter fraud had been raised.

Nelson filed his own lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner alleging that the signature matching process being used to validate main-in and provision ballots is “standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable” and disproportionately affects young and minority voters who favor Nelson.

Detzner, a Republican, was appointed by former Scott. Snipes and Bucher are elected Democrats.

In Florida, if two candidates are within 0.5 percent of each other, ballots in all 67 counties will be counted again by machine, excluding ballots voided because voters either picked no candidate or more than one. That process will have to be finished by Thursday, November 15.

If a race is within 0.25 percent after Saturday’s county reports, ballots will go through a new machine count, and the overvotes and undervotes will all have to be examined by hand to determine voter intent. That process will have to be finished by Sunday, November 18.

In the Senate race, as of Friday afternoon, Scott holds a 15,000-vote lead over Nelson out of nearly 8.2 million votes, a small enough margin to trigger a hand recount. A hand recount is also expected in the agriculture commissioner race, where Democrat Nikki Fried holds just a 3,000-vote lead over Republican Matt Caldwell.

The governor’s race is not as close. Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gilllum by 36,000 votes, but that is still a small enough margin to trigger a machine recount.

Gillum, who conceded the race to DeSantis on election night, could opt not to proceed with a recount. But his campaign issued a statement indicating that he would not stop a recount and now considers his concession to have been premature.

“On Tuesday night, the Gillum for Governor campaign operated with the best information available about the number of outstanding ballots left to count. Since that time, it has become clear there are many more uncounted ballots than was originally reported,” the statement said.

“Our campaign, along with our attorney Barry Richard, is monitoring the situation closely and is ready for any outcome, including a state-mandated recount.”

The recounts in this year’s statewide races would be the first triggered since Florida’s election laws were rewritten after the 2000 presidential election, in which Republican George W. Bush finished with a 500-vote lead over Democrat Al Gore.

Court battles and chaos ensued, as elections officials struggled to recount votes cast with punch cards in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Voters in Florida now mark their ballots with a pen, and they are then optically scanned.

Decision ’18: Democrats fail to make major breakthrough in the South

Republicans sweep U.S. Senate and governor’s races; Democrats make a net gain of at least 9 seats in the U.S. House

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

(CFP) — The big, blue wave that Democrats hoped would carry them to a breakthrough in the South crashed into the Republican’s big, red wall in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Republicans won the high-profile governor’s race in Florida and held a lead in Georgia, easily defended U.S. Senate seats in Texas and Tennessee and appear to have ousted Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in Florida.

Joe Manchin

The lone bright spot for Democrats in statewide races was in West Virginia, where U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held his seat.

Democrats did flip at least nine Republican-held U.S. House seats, ousting three incumbents in Virginia and winning a seat in South Carolina and another in Oklahoma that they had not won in more than 40 years. Three seats are still too close to call, with Republicans leading in two of them.

However, Republicans carried two-thirds of the 30 seats that Democrats had targeted across the region, including seven seats in Florida and Kentucky’s 6th District, where Democrat Amy McGrath failed to oust U.S. Rep. Andy Barr despite spending $7.8 million dollars.

Brian Kemp

Ron DeSantis

Republicans won all nine of the governor’s races in the South, including Florida, where Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Georgia, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp was leading former State Rep. Stacey Abrams by 60,000 votes with some mail-in ballots left to be counted.

Abrams has refused to concede.

“Votes remain to be counted. Voices waiting to be heard,” she told supporters early Wednesday morning. “We are going to make sure that every vote is counted because in a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work everywhere for everyone.”

Gillum and Abrams were hoping to become the first African-American governor in their respective states and end 20-year droughts in the governor’s office.

In addition to victories in Florida and Georgia, Republican governors were re-elected in Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and South Carolina, and GOP candidates kept open seats in Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Of the seven U.S. Southern Senate races, Republicans won four and the Democrats two, with one race in Mississippi heading to a November runoff, which amounts to a net gain of one seat for the GOP.

Beto O’Rourke

Ted Cruz

The most high-profile race was in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Senator Beto O’Rourke ran a spirited race to try to oust Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But in the end, Cruz won 51 percent of the vote to 48 percent for O’Rourke.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott defeated Nelson, who was trying for his fourth term. Scott’s win means that Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time in 100 years.

Republicans also defended a seat in Mississippi, where U.S. Senator Roger Wicker won easily, and in Tennessee, where Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn defeated Democratic former Governor Phil Bredesen by an surprisingly large 55 percent to 44 percent margin.

In Virginia, Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine won 57 percent to 41 percent for Republican Corey Stewart.

In a special election in Mississippi to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Cochran’s temporary replacement in the Senate, advanced to a November 27 runoff against Democrat Mike Espy, a former congressman who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Hyde-Smith and Smith both came in at 41 percent,short of the majority they needed to avoid a runoff. Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel came in third at 17 percent.

In the U.S. House races, the most high-profile casualty was 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who lost his Dallas-area House seat to Colin Allred, an attorney and former NFL player.

 

Comstock

Brat

Other Republican U.S. House losers were Dave Brat in the suburbs of Richmond; John Culberson in Houston; Barbara Comstock in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Carols Curbelo in Miami; and Scott Taylor, in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia.

In Miami, Democrat Donna Shalala, who served as health secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, won an open seat that had been held for 30 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Two of the night’s biggest surprises came in Oklahoma City, where Republican Steve Russell was defeated by Democratic newcomer Kendra Horn, and in the Low Country of South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham held a slender lead over Republican State Rep. Katie Arrington, who had ousted the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the Republican primary.

Arrington

Cunningham

Republican incumbent Rob Woodall led by 4,000 votes in the Atlanta suburbs, and in the Charlotte area, Republican Mark Harris held a small lead over Democrat Dan McCready.

The news was not as good for Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta, who trailed her Democratic challenger, Lucy McBath, by 2,100 votes after all of the precincts had reported.

Handel won that seat just last year in a special election that became the most expensive House race in U.S. history, in which more than $50 million was spent.

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