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Andrew Gillum Becomes First African-American Nominee For Florida Governor

Andrew Gillum addresses the audience at the Netroots Nation annual conference for political progressives in Atlanta on Aug. 1

The election for the top job in the third-largest state will be a referendum on President Donald Trump, who considers himself a part-time resident of Florida.

Andrew Gillum has become the first African-American nominee for Florida governor, pulling off an upset win over favorite Gwen Grahamand two big-spending businessmen in a crowded Democratic primary field.

The Tallahassee mayor will face Jacksonville congressman Ron DeSantis, who easily defeated state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam thanks to the backing of President Donald Trump.

“We’re going to bring this thing home,” Gillum told his election night gathering in Tallahassee. “As the mayor of Florida’s capital city, I humbly accept the Democratic nomination.”

Gillum never led in any public polling, but was showing signs of gaining momentum in the final weeks. He benefited from being chosen by the progressive wing of the party’s most generous benefactors ― including billionaires Tom Steyer and George Soros ― as well as from a barrage of negative ads against Graham by billionaire Jeff Greene.

Greene wound up finishing fourth in the five-way pack, but he spent $10 million on ads attacking Graham ― more than she spent on television on her own behalf. Liberal outside groups, meanwhile, coalesced around Gillum and served as his turnout operation, particularly in urban areas with large concentrations of younger and minority voters.

Gillum, 39, had difficulty raising money for his campaign after the revelation that the FBI was investigating Tallahassee city government. He says he heard he is not a target of the probe, but one of his closest friends and a former political ally has been the subject of federal subpoenas examining a restaurant he developed in part using city money.

Gillum wound up raising the least money of the five candidates ― $8.4 million between his campaign and a political committee under his control. In contrast, Greene raised $43 million, $40 million from himself. And Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, who started airing TV ads 10 months ago and led the race for several months, raised a total of $41 million, of which $29.5 million was his own cash.

But throughout the race, Gillum’s embrace of progressive ideals such as Medicare for all and his engaging public speaking style made him a favorite of the party’s most liberal activists. In the final weeks, he was endorsed by Vermont senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who campaigned with Gillum in the closing days of the race.

Gillum cut his teeth on political activism as a student government leader at Florida A&M University just a few blocks from Florida’s Capitol, where he led protests against Gov. Jeb Bush’s plan to revamp the state’s affirmative action programs. He went to work for People for the American Way before running for a seat on the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003. He became the city’s mayor in 2014.

The Florida gubernatorial race will now become a referendum on Trump’s presidency, with Gillum painting DeSantis as a Trump clone and DeSantis hoping to bring out as many Trump voters as he can in November.

Trump has spent winter weekends and holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach for years and considers himself a part-time resident of the state. It is unclear how frequently, if at all, he will campaign for DeSantis in the two months leading up to the Nov. 6 general election. Whether Republicans retain control of Congress could determine the survival of the Trump presidency, and his political advisers may choose to focus his time on House and Senate seats.

Trump campaigned with DeSantis only once during the primary, at a rally in Tampa in July, and sent out a handful of supportive statements on Twitter, including the message “VOTE FOR RON” in all capitals late Monday. But in a GOP primary electorate bearing little resemblance to the one that supported former Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, Trump’s seal of approval allowed DeSantis to overcome enormous disadvantages in cash and traditional support.

The state Republican establishment was solidly behind Putnam even before he announced his candidacy. From a cattle ranching and citrus family in the heart of the state, Putnam had been grooming himself for this run from the time he graduated college. He won a state legislative seat at age 22, then moved to Congress four years later, returning to Florida in 2010 to run for state agriculture commissioner.

He served two terms, coinciding with Rick Scott’s years as governor, and had appeared the heir apparent to the job as Scott leaves because of term limits.

DeSantis, in contrast, entered politics just six years ago, when he ran for Congress from the wealthy suburbs of Jacksonville, his hometown, after serving as a Navy prosecutor. His deployment to Iraq during President George W. Bush’s “troop surge” there was a highlight of his biography on the campaign trail. Despite the populist, pro-Trump rhetoric he has delivered for years from the Fox TV studio near the U.S. Capitol, DeSantis graduated from Yale and received a law degree from Harvard.

President Donald Trump talks with Ron DeSantis during a Make America Great Again Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Ta
CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
President Donald Trump talks with Ron DeSantis during a Make America Great Again Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018. 

And while Putnam also praised Trump repeatedly on the campaign trail, his standing with Trump likely was irreparably damaged in October 2016 after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape that featured Trump bragging that his celebrity enabled him to grab women by the genitals. Putnam criticized Trump for the remarks, while DeSantis did not. 

DeSantis leaned on Trump’s approval heavily, mentioning it often in stump speeches and in TV ads. He even produced an ad using his young children as props, dressing up his infant in a “Make America Great Again” onesie.

Yet while DeSantis’ love for and from Trump clearly helped him against Putnam in the Republican primary, it may wind up hurting him in the November election against Gillum. Trump is not popular with many independents and even some moderate Republicans. Democrat Margaret Good defeated the son of sitting Republican congressman Vern Buchanan in a special election for a state House seat in Sarasota earlier this year, even though the district leans solidly Republican.

Florida Democrats have not won a governor’s race since 1994, when Lawton Chiles won a second term by defeating Republican Jeb Bush. The party has come within a single percentage point in both 2010 and 2014, losing both times to Scott.

 

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Federal Court Strikes Down North Carolina Congressional Map Again

The court ruled the map so egregiously benefited Republicans that it violated the U.S. Constitution.

A federal court in North Carolina ruled for the second time this year that the state’s congressional map was drawn to so severely benefit Republicans that it violates the Constitution.

The court held on Monday that North Carolina’s congressional map violates Article I, the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

A three-judge panel reached an identical conclusion in January, but after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in two separate partisan gerrymandering cases, it sent the North Carolina case back to the lower court for further consideration.

In June the Supreme Court said in Gill v. Whitford that plaintiffs in partisan gerrymandering cases must show they suffered an injury in the districts where they live. It asked the North Carolina court to consider whether the plaintiffs in the case met those conditions, and on Monday the court said that it did.

“We conclude that, under the test set forth in Gill, at least one Plaintiff registered to vote in each of the thirteen districts in the 2016 Plan has standing to assert an Equal Protection challenge to each of those districts,” Judge James Wynn, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit wrote in an opinion that was joined by Senior U.S. District Judge William Earl Britt. “In particular, such Plaintiffs introduced evidence establishing that each of their districts is ‘packed or cracked’ and, as a result, that their votes ‘carry less weight than [they] would carry in another, hypothetical district.’”

“We further conclude that Gill did not call into question — and, if anything, supported — this Court’s previous determination that Plaintiffs have standing to assert partisan gerrymandering claims under Article I and the First Amendment,” Wynn continued.

The court said the map violated the 14th Amendment because it treated voters differently, depending on their political preferences. The panel also said the map violated the First Amendment because it made it more difficult for politically engaged groups and voters with certain political beliefs to elect their preferred candidates. The map runs afoul of a provision of Article I of the Constitution, the court said, because it gives the North Carolina legislature too much power in choosing who sits in the U.S. House. Article I says that the members of the House of Representatives shall be chosen by “the people.”

The decision is significant because North Carolina is one of the most severely gerrymandered states in the country, with Republicans consistently controlling 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats since 2012. Gerrymandering reform advocates believe the case presents one of the best opportunities for the U.S. Supreme Court to place a limit on partisan gerrymandering because the evidence of Republicans’ intent to gerrymander is so clear. A key Republican involved in drawing the congressional map in 2012 said he wanted a 10-3 GOP delegation because he did not think it was possible to draw one that was 11-2 in favor of Republicans.

“Although North Carolina’s loud and proud admission that legislators drew districts for partisan advantage is unusual, the practice is universal when politicians are in charge,” Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director at Common Cause, which brought the suit on behalf of the North Carolina voters, said in a statement. “Until we prohibit partisan gerrymandering, a true representative democracy will remain out of reach and the voices of all Americans will continue to be silent.”

The court highlighted that the current North Carolina congressional map has been in place for six years and notably left open the possibility of implementing a new congressional map for this year’s midterm elections. Noting that North Carolina Republicans have dragged their feet in drawing previous court-ordered fixes to the map, the court declined to say whether it would afford lawmakers the opportunity this time around but said it would give lawmakers until Sept. 17.

Republicans are expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, there is a 4-4 split between conservative and liberal justices, meaning the lower court’s ruling could remain in place, wrote Rick Hasen, an election law expert and a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

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The Real Story Behind John McCain’s Famous Campaign Rally Moment

He cut off a supporter who had termed Barack Obama an Arab, but there are reasons why he needed to step in.

It was one of Sen. John McCain’s finest political moments.

At a rally for his presidential bid late in 2008 campaign, an audience member backing the Arizona Republican tells him she doesn’t trust his opponent, then-Sen. Barack Obama and insists that the Illinois Democrat is an Arab.

McCain didn’t let her finish. Instead, he shook his head, took the microphone away from her and did something that would have seemed unimaginable during the most recent presidential election: He politely defended his opponent.

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign issue is all about,” he said, prompting applause from some other audience members at the gathering in Minnesota.

The short exchange was a shining moment for McCain that gained attention at the time. Instead of indulging in his supporter’s falsehood, he corrected her and showed grace toward his political foe. And it wasn’t an isolated moment.

At the same rally, the crowd earlier had booed McCain’s response to another supporter who said that Obama “cohorts with domestic terrorists” and that Americans would have to fear an Obama presidency. McCain said Obama was a “decent person” and that there would be no reason to be scared if he won the White House.

McCain displayed character and civility that day, as he showed similarly throughout much of his military and political career. Clips from that rally had periodically resurfaced even before his death, as he publicly feuded with President Donald Trump ― who in his short political career has become known for mocking and insulting his opponents and encouraging his supporters to do the same.

The moments were guaranteed to be shared again following his death on Saturday.

Still, context is needed about that rally and the vitriol toward Obama that surfaced at it.

McCain’s campaign and his controversial running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had disparaged Obama over his acquaintanceship with William Ayers, a domestic terrorist during the Vietnam War era, and exaggerated the link between the two. A campaign ad from a group opposing Obama also played up the link between him and Ayers, who was part of the radical, left-wing group Weather Underground responsible for a series of bombings that happened when Obama was a child.

Palin’s speeches also often inspired rage, with some in her audiences yelling “kill him,” “treason” or “terrorist” at the mention of Obama. Some speakers at McCain-Palin events used his middle name, “Hussein,” in what was clearly intended as a way to question his patriotism ― and which also fueled the birther conspiracy theory.

Writing about the campaign atmosphere at the time, then-New York Times columnist Frank Rich noted that when McCain, during his appearances, “asks the crowd ‘Who is the real Barack Obama?’ it’s no surprise that someone cries out ‘Terrorist.’”

“This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from [Bill] Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today,” Rich wrote.

And even as McCain’s responses to the barbs directed at Obama during the Minnesota rally 10 years ago garner renewed praise, some noted that he could have made a broader point. When the woman refers to Obama as an Arab and McCain says, “No ... he’s a decent family man, citizen,” without mentioning that that Arabic-speaking people can also be decent citizens.

 

McCain’s campaign later condemned the offensive comments made at the Minnesota event, calling them “inappropriate rhetoric.”

Eventually, in his memoir, McCain revealed that he regretted choosing Palin as his running mate instead of then-Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who labeled himself at that point an “independent Democrat.”

Despite their contentious 2008 campaign, McCain and Obama maintained a mutual respect for each other. While conceding to Obama on the night of the election, McCain stopped his supporters from booing his opponent and said he admired how Obama “inspired the hopes of so many millions of Americans.”

McCain has reportedly asked Obama to give a eulogy at his funeral. In a statement released after McCain’s death, Obama’s regard for the senator was clear.

“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own,” Obama wrote. “At John’s best, he showed us what that means.”

McCain, for his part, offered a typically candid assessment when asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper in 2017 how he wanted to be remembered: “He served his country and not always right. Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably.”

Barack Obama Reacts To Aretha Franklin’s Death

Image result for aretha franklin

The Queen of Soul performed at the former president’s first inauguration in 2009.

Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, longtime fans of Aretha Franklin, paid their respects to the Queen of Soul following her death.

“Aretha helped define the American experience,” the Obamas said in a statement Thursday, after Franklin’s death at age 76 from pancreatic cancer. “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade ― our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.”

The former president and first lady praised Franklin’s “compositions and unmatched musicianship.”

“Every time she sang,” they added, “we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine.” 

Franklin performed at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Obama immediately named Franklin when she asked who should perform at his inauguration, former Obama staffer Alyssa Mastromonaco said.

In December 2015, before he left office, Obama was caught singing along and tearing up as Franklin performed Carole King’s ”(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center. 

“American history wells up when Aretha sings,” Obama later said, explaining his emotional reaction to the performance in an email to The New Yorker.

“Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R. & B., rock and roll ― the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope,” he wrote.

Franklin said she was moved by Obama’s response to her 2015 performance, calling his reaction “stunning” in an interview with Vogue.

“I’ve done the Kennedy Center many times. I’ve sang for Marian Anderson. I’ve sang for Marion Williams. I’ve sang for Lionel Hampton. But never that response,” Franklin said. She added that Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were always “wonderful” at her performances.

Obama, during his two terms in office, often invited artists to perform at the White House and celebrate black musicians.

In March, Franklin canceled her concerts on doctor’s orders to rest. She announced her retirement in February, but said she would continue to perform at select events.

Franklin won 18 Grammy awards and was known for powerhouse hits, including “Respect,” “Think” and “Chain of Fools.” She was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

At the height of the civil rights movement, Franklin’s rendition of “Respect” quickly became a rallying cry for women, African-Americans and other marginalized groups.

Former President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for “helping to shape our Nation’s artistic and cultural heritage.”

She sang “God Bless America” at former President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration, and “I Dreamed a Dream” at former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.

Read the Obamas’ full statement below:

America has no royalty. But we do have a chance to earn something more enduring. Born in Memphis and raised in Detroit, Aretha Franklin grew up performing gospel songs in her father’s congregation. For more than six decades since, every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine. Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.

Aretha may have passed on to a better place, but the gift of her music remains to inspire us all. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace. Michelle and I send our prayers and warmest sympathies to her family and all those moved by her song.

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Kellyanne Conway Has Trouble Naming A Top Black White House Aide

“We have a number of different minorities,” working for the administration, she said on ABC.

Kellyanne Conway, the chief counselor to President Donald Trump, had difficulty on Sunday naming the top black aide working in the White House following the firing of former “Apprentice” contestant Omarosa Manigault Newman late last year.

Newman was the most prominent, high-level black in the West Wing as Trump’s director of communications for the White House office of public liaison. She was reportedly fired by White House chief of staff John Kelly for abusing her position and had to be physically removed from the premises.

Conway, asked on ABC’s “This Week” who would now rank as the highest-level black among personnel stationed in the West Wing, initially faulted host John Karl for not focusing on Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. “The president works with the secretary every day,” she said.

The former renowned neurosurgeon, however, does not physically work or advise the president from an office in the White House. 

Conway then went on to give the first name of a staffer who focuses on criminal justice issues and works at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is adjacent to the White House. Conway never provided his full name.

Karl pressed the matter, asking her, “What does that say to have not a single senior adviser in the West Wing who’s African-American.”

“I didn’t say that there wasn’t,” Conway replied.

But she offered no specifics and urged Karl to “look at the fact that we have a number of different minorities. And the fact is that this president is doing well for all Americans.”

As Trump routinely does in his stump speeches. Conway then stressed the historically low unemployment rate for blacks amid the economic recovery that began under President Barack Obama and has gained steam since Trump took office.

“You may not want to cover it as much as it should be covered,” she said of the black unemployment figures.

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