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Democratic Party Chair Faces Multiple Challenges

By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel (TNS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — From the gyrocopter pilot who landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol to angry supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to feminist activists and supporters of medical marijuana, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is facing a barrage of criticism from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

They’re complaining about her stewardship of the Democratic National Committee, with some demanding her ouster. They’re raising Cain about statements attributed to her about marijuana and complacency among young female voters.

And they’re trying to apply pressure at home in South Florida, with vows to challenge her in the August Democratic primary aimed at denying her a seventh term in Congress.

“There’s a new round of land mines that she has figured out a way to step in here. Every time she manages to pull herself out of the morass, she manages to figure out a way to step back in it,” said Ben Pollara, a South Florida political strategist and Wasserman Schultz critic.

“What it means, what will come of it, I have no idea,” Pollara said.

Tim Canova and Doug Hughes hope it means she won’t continue as the region’s most prominent member of Congress.

Canova, a professor of law and public finance at Nova Southeastern University, and Hughes, the now-fired letter carrier awaiting sentencing for his gyrocopter flight through restricted airspace and landing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol last year, are seeking the Democratic congressional nomination in the Broward/Miami-Dade County 23rd Congressional District.

Barbara Effman, president of the West Broward Democratic Club, and Andrew Weinstein, a Coral Springs Democrat who was a major fundraiser for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, said they don’t think today’s currents will sink Wasserman Schultz.

Weinstein said he doesn’t see a premature end to Wasserman Schultz’s term as Democratic National Committee chairwoman (which runs through the end of the year). And neither Weinstein nor Effman thinks she’ll lose the Democratic congressional primary (which takes place Aug. 30).

Wasserman Schultz, who has been in public office in South Florida since 1992, is used to criticism. For years it’s been a constant refrain from Republicans. Last year it came from some Jewish community leaders who were angry that Wasserman Schultz, the state’s first Jewish congresswoman, supported the Obama agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

And as Obama’s handpicked chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee since 2011, Wasserman Schultz has been a nationwide voice of the party and a frequent lighting rod for criticism.

“Find me the Democratic chair that hasn’t been bumped and bruised through their tenure,” she told the Sun Sentinel. “There is always something. I’m never going to be able to please everybody all of the time.”

One of her predecessors as Democratic chairman, Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia major, likened the job to being the mayor of a big city. “If you’re mayor and everybody loves you, it guarantees you that you’re not doing anything,” he said in a telephone interview. “You tick people off. You’ve got to be decisive, and I think Debbie has been decisive.”

The current wave of criticism comes largely from supporters of Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Many of his fans believe Wasserman Schultz has used the party to help Hillary Clinton’s candidacy at Sanders’ expense.

For example, they think she authorized a small number of debates among the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates and holding them on nights with relatively low viewership to help Clinton.

“That’s ridiculous. I don’t know how many times I have to say it,” Wasserman Schultz said last week.

She said the Sunday night debate in Charleston, S.C., wasn’t scheduled in the middle of what is a holiday weekend for many in order to reduce viewership. She said it was scheduled during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend on the recommendation of black Democratic members of Congress. It’s in Charleston because of the massacre of black churchgoers there last year. And it’s on a night when it would get network TV exposure on NBC.

Critics have also seized on two comments in a heavily condensed interview published Jan. 6 by The New York Times magazine. She was quoted as saying that young women who have grown up in the age of the Roe v. Wade ruling from the Supreme Court guaranteeing abortion rights are “complacent.”

Wasserman Schultz said that wasn’t an attack on those who are voting and active. “Of course I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to the millions of young women who don’t take the time to vote, that don’t take the time to pay attention to the fact that their rights are under attack,” she said. “I make no apologies for sounding that alarm bell, and I will continue to sound it. That’s my job.”

Proponents of medical marijuana, like Pollara, a leader of the effort in Florida, were critical of the suggestion in the interview that marijuana use could lead to more use of hard-core drugs such as heroin.

Online petitions run by liberal groups Credo Action and Roots Action, which allow people to click and express their displeasure, now have more than 100,000 people who say Wasserman Schultz should resign or be removed as party chairwoman.

Pollara said he doesn’t see an imminent Wasserman Schultz departure. Rendell said once Clinton or Sanders locks up enough support to become the de facto Democratic nominee, it’s up to that person to decide who will run the party. “The putative nominee takes over the DNC.”

Effman, who leads one of the largest political clubs in the county, said Wasserman Schultz has a deep reservoir of support.

“In her district they love her. She votes the way they want,” Effman said. “She shows up at everything, and you would almost never realize that she is out of town. She takes care of her district and the voters of her district are very committed to her.”

©2016 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: studio08denver via Flickr

Jeb Bush Mocks Donald Trump, Challenges Him To One-On-One Debate

By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel (TNS)

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — Jeb Bush emphasized terrorism and the economy during a speech to home-state civic leaders and supporters Monday, but he couldn’t escape the long shadow of Donald Trump.

Bush, the former Florida governor, spoke at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches — just a few miles from one of Trump’s resorts, the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. If Trump walked into the venue, an audience member wondered, what would Bush say.

Bush responded with a challenge: “I’d say, ‘Donald I’ll take you one-on-one in debate. Any time. Any place. You name it, I’ll do it.'”

At the beginning of 2015, Bush was widely considered the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. At year’s end, he’s far behind Trump, the billionaire real estate investor whose presence was felt several times during Monday’s appearance.

When another audience member wondered who among the pack of Republican presidential candidates was the funniest, Bush said the comedy champs are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“They both are pretty funny,” Bush said before adding: “You thought I was going to say somebody else.”

Bush said the U.S. needs to stand up to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and he brought up Trump. “Donald Trump may like Vladimir Putin because he (Putin) praised him (Trump). … The best thing you can do with Trump is say something nice about him. He immediately thinks you’re a wonderful person.”

Bush raced through his 15-minute speech, which had three broad themes: The U.S. needs to do a better job at combating the Islamic State and the military needs to be built up; the U.S. economy needs to be improved through growth, which he said would come from changing the tax laws and reducing government regulation; and, he said, life is “a gift from God.”

He called the Islamic State “the threat of our time. We need serious leadership to destroy the threat.”

“I promise you, should I be the president of the United States, I’ll be a commander in chief — not a divider in chief, not an agitator in chief — someone that will respect the military and provide the necessary support so we can get back to peace through strength.”

He reminded the crowd that he was a conservative, tough-on-spending governor when he led Florida from 1999 to 2007.

The audience of 900 was larger than the usual crowd at the Forum Club, which attracts political, legal, business and government movers and shakers to its luncheons. Many were encouraged to attend by the local Bush campaign operation, which had people on hand passing out “Jeb!” stickers to everyone who entered.

As many as half declined the stickers. And after the speech, when a long line formed to take selfies with Bush, at least half the audience left without taking the time to wait to get a picture with the candidate.

Earlier, in response to a question, Bush explained that the selfie is a major new form of political communication. “Look, it wasn’t that long ago that people wanted signatures on things. Forget that. (Now it’s) I want my damn selfie,” he said.

(Tips from Bush: Hold the phone horizontally, not vertically. And hold the phone high “because you look skinnier.”)

Bush, whose more moderate stand on how to deal with illegal immigrants than some of his rivals, has faced skepticism from conservatives. On Monday, he offered a mixture of understanding and toughness.

He said the vast majority of immigrants come to the country to provide better lives for their families. But, he said, “they shouldn’t stay, plain and simple. We need to enforce our laws. It doesn’t matter what their motivation is.”

In a swipe at rival candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bush said, “I haven’t changed my views. Candidates seem to go into the witness protection program on this issue.” Rubio was a part of the so-called Gang of Eight who pushed immigration reform through the U.S. Senate, but then backed away from it as it floundered in the House and became politically unpopular with many conservative grass roots activists.

Bush praised a student question about how the U.S. should deal with China’s attempt to expand its influence in Asia by building islands in the South China Sea. He said he’s often asked by reporters “about things that are trivial. That was the most substantive question I’ve heard in a long time.”

He said the U.S. must make its presence felt in the reason, needs to support allies like Japan and South Korea, should embrace the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, and should not hesitate to fly military aircraft or sail warships in the area.

He also criticized a questioner, a high school student, who said murders haven’t gone down under the Stand Your Ground law Bush signed into law as governor that allows a person to use deadly force “if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm.” He said her statistics were wrong.

He said gun control doesn’t make communities safer and said police need to get a message that they’re supported by elected officials so they don’t get the feeling that doing their jobs “is not worth it.’

In response to a question on diplomatic relations with Cuba, he said that on his first day in office he’d move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv — something neither his father nor brother did — and said he would end diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Earlier Monday, Bush attended a campaign event at a Hialeah restaurant, where he appeared in an unbuttoned shirt, sans tie. At the Forum Club luncheon he wore a suit. Later he headed to a town hall meeting in Ocala. On Tuesday, he’s back in New Hampshire, the state with the first in the nation primary — and the one the Bush camp is counting on to resuscitate his candidacy.

Republicans in the audience gave Bush mixed reviews.

Karen Marcus, a former Palm Beach County commissioner, said she likes Bush though hasn’t committed to his campaign, said “it’s way too early to write him off.” Marcus found it refreshing that Bush “wants to talk about policy issues. He isn’t the shrillest.”

Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, said Bush was a great governor. “When Jeb was governor, he was the best governor in the country. He took on the teachers. He took on the newspaper editorial boards. What more could you ask for?”

But, he said, Bush’s time is over. Dinerstein thinks Bush and all the other candidates should drop out and face what he sees as inevitable: Trump as the Republican nominee for president.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican who represented parts of Palm Beach County, said Monday’s speech — especially the knowledge he showed answering a range of audience questions — showed why he’s best prepared of all his party’s candidates. “He was very good, very animated, forceful in his delivery.”

Still, Foley said, “he’s been slow to catch fire.”

Anita Mitchell, former chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party and chairwoman of the Bush campaign in Palm Beach County, said her candidate will do better than the polls and pundits are predicting. “I certainly don’t count Jeb out. He’s high energy and he’s competitive as heck. He’s working harder than any of them are.”

(c)2015 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as if he is sleeping while talking about his opponent Jeb Bush during a Trump for President campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Ben Carson Adjusting To Heightened Scrutiny As Republican Presidential Front-Runner

By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel (TNS)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – As he adjusted to his new status as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in a slew of polls, Ben Carson on Thursday attracted increased attention from the news media and hundreds of fans to his book tour stop in the most Democratic territory in Florida.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has never before run for office, demonstrated just how unorthodox he is as a politician. Speaking to reporters during a break from signing books, he repeated some of the details of from his background as a troubled youth growing up in Detroit.

“I was a person who was normally a pretty nice person. I would fly off the handle at times and do very outrageous things,” said Carson. “I tried to stab someone. That’s probably the most outrageous thing. I accidentally, you know, put a gash in somebody’s forehead because when I hit him I didn’t realize I had the rock in my hand. I broke somebody’s glasses and injured them with a big rock.”

On more conventional political ground, he stepped cautiously about two issues important to South Florida: whether he’d favor ending what is known as the “wet foot, dry foot policy,” which allows Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to remain in this country as refugees and changes to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives Cubans residency status and a pathway to citizenship. In October, the Sun Sentinel published a series called “Easy Money,” revealing how some Cubans cash in on U.S. welfare and return to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home.

“What we need to be asking ourselves is how do we make sure that Cuban refugees are treated fairly, without allowing people to take advantage of our generosity. That should be the overarching message, and whatever policies we have should pertain to that,” Carson said.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week showed Carson in first place with the support of 29 percent of Republican primary voters nationwide. That moved him up in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, which now has Carson slightly ahead of Donald Trump, 24.8 percent to 24.6 percent.

The two non-politicians, Carson and Trump, are well ahead of the Florida candidates with lots of political experience, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (11 percent) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (5.8 percent).

Carson’s campaign has requested, and he said Thursday he would shortly receive, Secret Service protection. He declined to go into the nature of the threats that made his campaign seek, and the Secret Service to grant, that level of protection.

Carson’s rising poll numbers have also brought heightened scrutiny:

CNN examined Carson’s claims in his 1990 autobiography that he was a violent, angry young man who had an uncontrollable, “pathological temper” until he had an epiphany and turned around his life. CNN reported Thursday that friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with him had “no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.”

Carson said that wasn’t surprising. “Unless they were there at that time, how would they know about that? That’s really silly. Everybody has childhood memories of things that they do that other people, unless they were specifically involved, wouldn’t know about. I don’t know why that is hard for people to understand.”

Buzzfeed’s posting video Wednesday of a Carson speech 17 years ago about Egypt’s great pyramids continued to generate questions. He said in the speech that he believed the pyramids were built to store grain, rather than burial places for pharaohs, and he reaffirmed that view Thursday in Fort Lauderdale.

Carson said his view of the pyramids is “a plausible explanation. It’s a personal belief. Because I happen to believe a lot of things you might not happen to believe because I believe in the Bible.”

Carson’s words were recorded by a throng of reporters, photographers and videographers. He said the scrutiny he’s receiving “may be a little more intense than most people because it’s going to be really hard for them to find any real scandals, so they’re going to have to try to make stuff up.”

Carson supporter Peter Palmer, of Coral Springs, isn’t bothered by anything he’s now hearing about his preferred candidate for the Republican nomination. “Based on what I’ve seen, they bring out weird things from 100 years ago,” he said. “He’s the best option we have of the current candidates.”

Palmer said his dream ticket is Carson and Trump running together for president and vice president.

Lisa Lewis drove with her husband David and daughter, Alessandra, 16, from Port St. Lucie to see Carson.

“I love his ideas. I think he’s the epitome of the American dream. He worked really hard to get where he is now,” she said. The heightened scrutiny is “part of the game. I love the way he handles it.”

Earlier Thursday, he signed books in Kendall. After about an hour and a half, he headed for another signing in Boca Raton on a day that brought him close to home in West Palm Beach, where he retired after his career as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

In an interview this week with the Sun Sentinel, Carson said as a presidential candidate, he makes it home only a couple of times a month. On Friday night, Carson is the keynote speaker at a dinner in Palm Beach Gardens sponsored by the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida.

(c)2015 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in Greenville, South Carolina, September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Wasserman Schultz Visits Hobby Lobby Store — To Urge A Boycott

By Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel

DAVIE, Fla. — Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, stopped at a Hobby Lobby store in her district on Wednesday — not to pick up some craft supplies for one of her kids’ school projects, but to alert people to the store’s existence and urge people not to shop there.

“I want people to know that this Hobby Lobby is here and they should vote with their purses and their pocketbooks, and women should not shop here. If you didn’t know this Hobby Lobby was here before, know it now and don’t shop here. They don’t deserve women’s business because they are the ones that all across the country have made it harder for women to get access to birth control,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz said the store shouldn’t be patronized because it was the driving force that led to a Supreme Court decision in June that certain family-owned corporations couldn’t be required to provide contraception coverage through their health insurance plans. The contraception mandate was part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The congresswoman and party chairwoman spoke at a news conference adjacent to the parking lot of a Hobby Lobby near the intersection of State Road 84 and University Drive in Davie. The store, which opened in April, is the chain’s first South Florida location.

Wasserman Schultz was joined by a representative of Planned Parenthood of South Florida, a Florida International University medical student, and a woman who requires prescription birth control for medical issues not involving contraception. Supporters stood behind them and at the intersection holding anti-Hobby Lobby signs.

Joseph Ottolenghi, the FIU student and co-president of Medical Students for Choice, said limiting employees’ access to certain forms of prescription birth control would have a perverse effect. The more expensive forms of birth control, which are harder for women to afford if they don’t have it covered by insurance, are the most effective. If women don’t get those types of birth control, he said it would lead to more unintended pregnancies and more abortions.

Wasserman Schultz said it is “particularly important to hold Hobby Lobby accountable, stand in front of their business, make things uncomfortable for them because that is what they have done to their employees. I want to make sure that people understand that there’s a business here that doesn’t support its employees, that wants to be able to get in the personal business of their employees and make health care decisions and replace their own values, replace their employees’ health care decisions, with their values. …

“The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not only disappointing, it was dangerous. No boss should have the right to dictate an employee’s health decisions because (they) don’t belong in the bedrooms, doctor’s offices or pharmacies of their employees. A woman and her doctor know what’s best for their body. Not an insurance company. Not a politician. And certainly not a manager at a Hobby Lobby,” she said.

It isn’t the first time Wasserman Schultz has advocated using the power of the purse in a political context. In 2012, when people who support gay rights boycotted the fast food chicken chain Chick-fil-A because of contributions from its owners and foundation to anti-gay causes, she said she issued an edict to her three kids: No more Chick-fil-A.

“Our family votes with our wallets,” she said. “So when we discover a company doesn’t share our family’s values and makes contributions or spends its profits on causes with which we don’t agree, we don’t patronize those businesses anymore. Hobby Lobby is one of the prime examples.”

Public relations representatives for Hobby Lobby couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday evening. A page on its website describes the 5-4 Supreme Court decision as “a victory for Americans who seek to live by faith.”

The company owners argued that the birth control requirement imposed under the Obamacare health law violated their religious convictions by forcing them to provide “potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan.”

Most customers at the store late Wednesday didn’t want to talk or have their names published.

Amanda Wilson of Fort Lauderdale, on her first trip to the store to make a return for a friend, said she agreed with Wasserman Schultz in principle. “We should have birth control covered,” she said. But, she said, she wouldn’t avoid patronizing the store because “I don’t feel like I’d make a difference by not spending money there because I’m just one person.”

Kevin Dougherty of Cooper City is a constituent of Wasserman Schultz’s — but not a fan. “I doubt seriously I would give her recommendations any consideration.”

Photo: Nicholas Eckhart via Flickr

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