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Al Lawson to make another bid for Congress

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Veteran Tallahassee legislator Al Lawson, a Democrat, intends to run for Congress again, this time with the help of the GOP.

“Big Al” said he is going to make another stab at the Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a tea party Republican who ousted long-time Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd in 2010.

After being termed out of the Senate in 2010, Lawson lost in a brutal primary by about 2,000 votes to Boyd, who held the seat for 16 years before losing to Southerland.

But the maps drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature, slated to be voted out of the Senate this week and sent on their way to Attorney General Pam Bondi and ultimately the courts for review, may give Lawson (and other Democrats) a leg up against the incumbent from Panama City.

Five GOP-leaning counties that helped Southerland get to Washington – Okaloosa, Walton, Dixie, Lafayette and Suwannee – will no longer be in the District 2 North Florida seat if the maps withstand Department of Justice scrutiny and expected legal challenges.

Lawson said one of the reasons he’s running again is because he didn’t like what Southerland said after Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot last summer. Southerland suggested his $174,000-a-year Congressional salary wasn’t worth the safety risks and the time away from his family and funeral home business.

“Throughout my political career, I’ve always fought hard for workers, for economic development and jobs for this district. And this Southerland complained about his $174,000 salary that was taking away from his business,” Lawson, who served in the Florida House and Senate for nearly three decades, said in a telephone interview. Lawson said he intends to formally file to run for the seat next week.

“He seems to be more concerned about the tea party than concerned about his distict where you have high unemployment, and people need somebody to fight for them in Congress. I have a 28-year history of doing that and it’s something the people need,” Lawson said. “I just need to retire him. And let him go back to the funeral home business.”

Lawson could face another veteran state lawmaker in what may be a crowded primary. Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican who switched to become an independent, wants to run as a Democrat for the seat. But she can’t because of a provision included in an election law (controversial for other reasons) approved by lawmakers last year and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June. That provision bars candidates from switching parties one year before the qualifying period for the general election begins, meaning the candidate must be registered in the party for nearly 18 months before the 2012 November election. Argenziano, who served in both the state House and Senate and also as the chairwoman of the Florida Public Service Commission, is challenging that part of the election law in court.

State Rep. Leonard Bembry, a Greenville Democrat and Boyd look-alike, also intends to run for the seat.

Florida A&M University president Ammons on way out?

Friday, December 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida A&M University Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion‘s hazing-related death was a homicide, an autopsy report ruled today.

The Orlando medical examiner’s findings were released as Gov. Rick Scott stepped up pressure for the historically black university’s president James Ammons to step down.

After being summoned to Scott’s office this afternoon, a subdued Ammons – until then appearing to reject calls for his ouster – said the governor was committed to preserving FAMU’s future and indicated he may go along with Scott’s recommendation before the university’s board of trustees meet on the issue, again at Scott’s urging, by telephone Monday morning.

“It’s something I’m considering,” Ammons told reporters before leaving the Capitol to hand out diplomas at FAMU’s fall graduation ceremony.

Champion’s death was caused by internal bleeding after suffering blunt trauma, the Orlando medical examiner’s office said. The autopsy found the 26-year-old had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and suffered bleeding from soft tissues.

Former state Sen. Al Lawson, a FAMU alumnus who accompanied Ammons to Scott’s office in the role of mediator, said it was no surprise that Champion’s death was a homicide.

“This young man lost his life as a result of hazing. It had to do with a lot of physical blows and so forth, in that report. I think everybody expected that it would be that,” Lawson said. “We know the history of hazing at the university. It’s been around since the early 50s.”

Lawson also advised Ammons to stay on the job until the trustees reach a decision Monday morning, and indicated the governor-appointed board may not agree with Scott.

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Atwater names transition team, includes former senate Dem leader Lawson

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Jeff Atwater named Thomas F. Petway III as chairman of his transition team as the former senate president readies for his new job as chief financial officer.

Petway, a Jacksonville businessman and major GOP contributor, served on the Florida Board of Governors and is an owner of the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars team.

Tucked into a host of Republican big-wigs he tapped for his transition team, Atwater spread a little bipartisan love with his former colleague Al Lawson.

Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat who owns an insurance agency, served as the Senate Democrats’ head honcho while Atwater was president.

See the complete list of Atwater’s transition team after the jump.
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Al Lawson qualifies for Congressional bid against incumbent Allen Boyd

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

lawson1Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson qualified today to run in a Democratic primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd.

Lawson, a Tallahassee insurance agent, is term-limited out of office next year after serving 28 years in the legislature.

He’s an underdog in the race against 13-year Congressional veteran Boyd, one of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats.

Lawson made it onto the ballot by collecting the requisite 5,000 signatures to avoid having to pay the state fee.

Deal struck on private prisons

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

After intense opposition to a prison privatization plan linked to disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom and slipped into the budget late last week, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander has apparently backed off his proposal to shut down up to three prisons and outsource another.

Alexander’s plan drew allegations of foul play from the Police Benevolent Association, the powerful union that represents prison guards and frequently backs GOP candidates, and Gov. Charlie Crist’s Secretary of Corrections Walt McNeil.

The privatization plan would have shut down enough prisons to fill the Blackwater facility in the Panhandle that the state hired Boca Raton-based Geo Group Inc. to build and operate. But the prison population hasn’t grown as anticipated and there aren’t enough inmates to fill the 2,224-bed Blackwater without shutting down other state-run prisons and putting guards out of work.

McNeil said Friday he would have to shut down five prisons and let inmates out early to comply with a federal court order under the Senate’s proposal that would cut about $60 million in salaries.

Under the new plan, expected to be introduced as a budget amendment today by Democratic Leader Al Lawson, the department would gradually fill Blackwater by closing 17 dorms in other prisons, something McNeil favors.

Critics of the proposal also filed complaints with State Attorney Willie Meggs and U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin, both in Leon County, alleging that the Blackwater deal was done in secrecy and questioning Sansom’s association with it. Sansom put the original $110 million to the build the prison into the 2008 budget in a floor amendment and tried to guarantee that it would be built as an annex to the Graceville prison that Geo operates.

Dems seek investigation of AG McCollum health care lawsuit

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

House and Senate Democratic leaders want the state auditor general to investigate Attorney General Bill McCollum after he filed a lawsuit challenging the federal health care reforms approved by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Democrats accuse McCollum, a Republican who is running for governor, of using his office as the state’s chief legal eagle to promote his candidacy for governor.

“When a state official can deploy not only the vast resources of his office, but hire outside counsel at taxpayer expense to try and block millions of Floridians from finally getting access to health care, it’s time to stop and demand some accountability,” Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said at a press conference this afternoon. “When the same state official, who happens to be a Republican, leads the charge on a national Republican mission to use health care reform as a rally cry in the upcoming elections, it’s time this legislature stops and asks how much in taxpayer money is being diverted from critical issues to advance a political agenda.”

The Dems complained that McCollum should be protecting consumers by going after pill mills and mortgage foreclosures and instead is using state funds to appeal to conservative Republican voters with the lawsuit.

“This is…for the rank political ambitions of the candidate,” Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said. Gelber is running for attorney general in a Democratic primary against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres.

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Lawson: Florida GOP leaders ‘psychologically intoxicated’ over health care reform

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum’s lawsuit against Democrat-controlled Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration has sparked a political feud not only in the nation’s Capitol but in the state’s as well.

Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson took offense at Senate President Jeff Atwater’s congratulatory press release lauding McCollum’s legal disparaging of the president’s health care reform.

The president’s office issued an unusually partisan release entitled “Florida Senate Leaders Support AG McCollum’s Legal Challenge to Unprecedented and Unconstitutional Government Health Care Scheme.”

The GOP leaders are “like little boys who are playing marbles and the ones who lost went home,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee said.

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Conflict of interest for Thrasher as Senate elections chairman and head of RPOF?

Friday, January 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson wants Sen. John Thrasher stripped of two important committee assignments if he is annointed chairman of the state GOP as expected.

Lawson asked Senate President Jeff Atwater today to remove Thrasher as chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee and off the powerful reapportionment committee if he is also chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

“The conflict is evident: Senator Thrasher’s primary job as RPOF head is to see that Republicans win and maintain office through the elections process – a process in which his committees – one of which he controls – play a critical role,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee, wrote Atwater this morning.

Thrasher, a former House Speaker, returned to the legislature in a nasty special election to replace the late Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville. The trial lawyers’ association political arm targeted Thrasher in a racially-charged mailer that resulted in a shake-up at the Florida Justice Association leadership and forced former executive director Scott Carruthers to resign.

Thrasher’s special election drama was one of the reasons why Atwater appointed him to chair the committee, Atwater said at the time. Campaign reforms are at the top of Thrasher’s agenda this session, the Jacksonville lobbyist said late last year.

Along with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, I was deeply troubled by the announcement earlier this week that Republican Senator John Thrasher may take over as head of the Republican Party of Florida, while maintaining his seat in the Florida Senate.

“As you know, the task of the committee he chairs is to set public policy on maintaining fair and unbiased elections. The task of the second of which he is a member is to oversee the drawing of legislative districts. To allow Senator Thrasher to remain in dual chairmanship roles and/or as a member of a committee holding sway over fair representation would threaten the integrity of the process as a whole,” Lawson wrote.

Stay tuned for a response from Atwater.

Unions put the brakes on rail deal

Friday, November 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Next week’s special session to prove the state’s commitment to commuter rail could go nowhere without concessions to unions.

Senate President Jeff Atwater is trying to round up support for a Central Florida commuter line by linking it to a financial fix for the flailing Tri-Rail to draw down federal money for a third project, a high-speed line linking Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

The bill’s been negotiated by House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office behind closed doors throughout the month.

But Atwater’s ability to pass the measure in the Senate could hinge on two key Democratic senators: Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Tony Hill of Jacksonville.

The labor unions were part of a coalition that killed the Central Florida SunRail deal despite backing from powerful GOP lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Now the unions are pressuring Lawson and Hill to oppose the measure that is expected to include a provision that would allow SunRail to operate without union workers and do away with some Tri-Rail union jobs.

It might be hard for Lawson and Hill to turn their backs on the unions next week.

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Black caucus wants trial lawyers to unfold their wallets

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A racially-charged mail piece targeting former House Speaker John Thrasher will cost the state’s trial lawyer association more than embarassment.

The Florida Justice Association has hired former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan to conduct an investigation into the flier that elicited outrage from the legislature’s black caucus.

“It was the most blatant display of racism I’ve seen in 27 years,” Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, who is black, said at the legislature’s black caucus meeting last night.

The mailer was especially offensive to black lawmakers because they have historically sided with the trial lawyers in votes and considered them their friends, Lawson said.

“This experience really threw me for a loop,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said.

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U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd and wife separate in midst of reelection campaign

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, a Panhandle Democrat, and his wife Sissy have separated after nearly four decades of marriage, according to news reports.

The separation takes place as Boyd, a former state legislator who has served for 12 years in Congress, is campaigning for reelection against Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson.

Boyd, a Monticello farmer, is a member of the “Blue Dog” coalition, a group of conservative Democrats.

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