Florida Democratic Party

Monica Russo mulling “every potential path” to become Florida Democratic Party boss

Monica Russo, the head of the SEIU in Florida, isn’t backing down from her bid to take over as chief of the Florida Democratic Party, even though the party’s infrastructure seems stacked against her.

Russo isn’t a chair of a county DEC, and she isn’t a state committeewoman, the two things that would make a potential candidate eligible for the post, according to FDP general counsel Mark Herron.

But Russo is questioning whether the rules about the selection of a chair apply to the current situation, effectively a “special election” to replace former chairman Stephen Bittel, who abruptly quit the post last month after being accused by female aides and consultants of creating a hostile work environment. Party leaders will vote on his successor at a meeting in Orlando on Dec. 9.

Alma Gonzalez, Terrie Rizzo and Stacey Patel are also vying for the post.

Russo, and many other Democratic activists, say the rules should allow any Democrat to run for the party’s top post.

Here’s the full statement from Russo, issued late last evening:

As Democrats, we have an obligation to continue to be the party for openness and inclusion. Any loyal Democrat who has been in the trenches working as part of the Democratic coalition should have the opportunity to be considered for the role of state party Chair.

“The restrictive interpretation of the current rules caused 3 of 5 candidates to move or maneuver to be eligible in the last race, including a former Democratic Senator who for years had been a champion in Tallahassee. Their work as part of the Democratic coalition was not made because of where they lived, but rather their dedication to our movement.

“This interpretation of the rules is archaic. The by-laws are not meant to keep out the very people who have worked side by side, inside and outside the party.

“As I’ve learned, the restrictive eligibility requirements for Chair are specific to electing a chair at the reorganization meeting that happens once every four years, when the seat is up for election. This upcoming meeting of the state executive committee is not a reorganization meeting and as such a number of legal minds have opined that those requirements don’t apply to filling vacancies — suggesting that the eligibility is already opened. I am asking for clarity on this point and will be asking the Florida Democratic Party to offer an opinion.

“I’ve also received a number of calls from people all over the state -smaller and larger counties alike- who have suggested ways to help me become eligible under the most restrictive interpretation. While I do not desire to move and am not inclined to do so, I am considering every potential path to eligibility.”

Fla Dems: We’re not in disarray

Florida Dems are using St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s “big win” Tuesday — as well as victories in Virginia, Washington and New Jersey — as proof that their party has got it together.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel sent out an email to supporters this morning piggybacking on the victories to raise money.

“These wins proved that Democrats aren’t in disarray, but working harder than ever to rebuild our party after 2016.

But, between now and Election Day 2018, we know a lot can happen. That is why now that Democrats have won big, we’re not resting in Florida — we’re working harder than ever before.

“We can’t do that though if we don’t raise $1O,OOO before the end of the day today. Can you click here and donate $5 now?”  Bittel wrote.

Kriseman, the incumbent, defeated former mayor Rick Baker in a hotly contested race that was technically non-partisan but in which major party players — like former VP Joe Biden — participated.

Dems are banking that the strategies used in Tuesday’s elections will provide a playbook going into next year’s elections, where Florida Democrats hope to flip legislative seats and win back the governor’s mansion, which has been in GOP hands for nearly two decades.

Dems bash rebranded Baker in St. Pete

It may have worked it Miami, so why not St. Pete?

Florida Dems and incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s campaign have tethered Rick Baker, a Republican who’s seeking a comeback as mayor, to President Donald Trump, who’s not exactly a rock star in the left-leaning Pinellas County seat.

Dems used the same strategy in a Miami special election in August, successfully pairing Trump with former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. The Miami Republican and his allies vastly outspent Democratic opponent Annette Taddeo in the race for the open Senate seat, but Taddeo coasted to victory.

In advance of the advent of early voting tomorrow, Florida Democrats released a new ad bashing Baker, again tying him to the president.

“The new Rick Baker: angry, deceptive and backwards,” a voiceover says.

“Rick Baker is taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook. He’s willing to say or do anything to win an election—anything besides challenge Donald Trump. Even when Trump embraced white supremacists, Baker was silent. Now that his campaign is flailing, he’s willing to lie if it means getting his old job back. Baker seems to have traded his dignity for $25,000 from the RNC,” Florida Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director Amir Avin said in a press release announcing the ad.

White nationalist speech at UF: Should I stay or should I go?

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and University of Florida President Kent Fuchs are urging students, faculty and others to shun firebrand white nationalist Richard Spencer, who’s speaking at the college tomorrow.

But Florida Democrats issued a press release this morning saying they support peaceful protestors and it’s incumbent on those who disagree with Spencer to speak out.

“The Florida Democratic Party reiterates its support for all peaceful protesters who are standing up and speaking out,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said in the release. “We have a moral obligation to refute hate and bigotry whenever they present themselves. White supremacy is an evil we cannot ignore. When leaders like our governor fail to challenge the President for embracing white supremacists, it becomes all the more urgent that the rest of us speak out—clearly, unequivocally, and loudly. We must let it be known that we reject hatred in all its forms.”
Responding to a request by Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency for the county. The executive order allows for coordination between state and local law enforcement agencies. Darnell said her request wasn’t based on any heightened security risks, but was a preventative measure.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting this morning, Bondi said she was praying “nothing happens” and urged students not to go to the event, while saying “there is no place for espousing these horrible, horrible views.”

Bondi said law enforcement will be well-prepared.

But, she added, “There is just no place right now for this, but you know with free speech, if he’s going to get up there and do it, then he’s going to do it. But we are going to make sure that our students and our citizens are protected.”

Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, was among the speakers at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protestors. Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured.
Clashes between Spencer supporters, some of whom are white supremacists and others who back his white separatist ideology, and “Antifa,” or anti-fascist, groups have taken place on other campuses where Spencer has spoken.

Dems mauling Maul’s disaster creds

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Democrats and other critics of Gov. Rick Scott are creating a storm over Wesley Maul, the governor’s pick to head up the Florida Division of Emergency Management with two months left in the hurricane season.

The Florida Democratic Party questioned Maul’s qualifications, who’s now the division’s chief of staff and will take over as interim head of state emergency ops from Bryan Koon on Sunday.

“We need an experienced leader at the helm of our emergency management operations, and no one would disagree that Wes Maul is totally inexperienced and unprepared for such an important role,” FDP spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said in a statement. “Rick Scott has a clear record of propping up unqualified political appointees, but this is unacceptable.”

American Bridge 21st Century PAC, a progressive “super PAC” that targets Republicans, also piled on, outlining the resumes of prior division leaders to highlight the contrast with Maul.

“Wesley Maul’s resume would only be impressive to Tallahassee lobbying firms,” American Bridge said in a memo released Thursday. “He has only one year of experience working at the Division of Emergency Management. He has no degrees or professional credentials in emergency management. Just four years ago, Maul was a mattress delivery associate while enrolled in law school. Following that, he was a travelling (sic) aide to Rick Scott, handling the governor’s personal calendar and making sure the governor stuck to his schedule.”

Here’s the snapshots of Maul’s predecessors, provided by American Bridge :

  • Koon (Division of Emergency Management Director from 2011 to present), previously served as director of emergency management for WalMart. He was also a watch commander for the White House Emergency Operations Center.
  • David Halstead (2010-2011), had been with the division since 1998, including the 2004 hurricane season when he was an emergency services branch chief.
  • Ruben Almaguer (2009-2010), was a deputy director at the division after having worked as a division chief for the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.
  • Craig Fugate (2001-2009), had also been a deputy director for the division before being appointed to the top job by Gov. Jeb Bush. Fugate, a Democrat, had spent a decade as emergency manager for Alachua County.
  • Joe Myers (1993-2001), was director of emergency management in North Carolina for eight years prior to taking the job in Florida.

Maul, who joined DEM in May 2016, spent about three years in the governor’s office. His duties, according to Maul’s LinkedIn page, included running Scott’s daily schedule and coordinating travel.

Prior to going to work for Scott, and while earning his law degree at the University of Florida, Maul spent a year as a delivery associate at Mattress Town of Gainesville, which the LinkedIn page said increased “average daily delivery capability by 211% through improved inventory analysis, logistics, and sales operations.”

In a press release announcing Koon’s departure this week, Scott called Maul a “valued member” of his team since 2013.

“As Chief of Staff at DEM, Wes has worked countless hours helping lead our state through Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew and now Irma,” Scott said in the release. “Since earning his law degree at the University of Florida, Wes has devoted his life to serving the families of our state and I am confident in his ability to lead DEM as Interim Director as we continue to recover from Hurricane Irma.”

By Jim Turner.

Florida Dems launch TV ad in St. Pete mayor’s race

The Florida Democratic Party is running a TV ad aimed at keeping St. Petersburg blue.

The mayoral race is a rock ’em, sock ’em battle not only between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, and Republican Rick Baker, a former mayor who left office in 2010.

The November election is also viewed as a contest between state Dems and Republicans, and could foreshadow Democrats’ ability to score in legislative and statewide races next year.

The ad puts Baker on the “Extreme Team” alongside President Donald Trump, Gov. Rick Scott and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee backed by Baker. (Note the ominous clouds in the background while the Reds are on the field).

“Baker is weak, out of touch with our values,” a voice over proclaims.

In contrast, the ad links Kriseman, a former state representative who took over as mayor three years ago, with former President Barack Obama, former VP Joe Biden and hometown Congressman Charlie Crist.