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In GOP primary to replace cocaine congressman, ‘We need to stop all this negativity’

Friday, April 11th, 2014 by George Bennett

State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto greets a voter after a Republican congressional debate Wednesday in Fort Myers.

Over on Florida’s west coast, a nasty Republican primary is winding down for the seat of former Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned in January after being busted for cocaine possession.

Among the combatants: state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, who got her start in politics on the Wellington village council and has landed endorsements from Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.

The race features a big-spending outsider, Curt Clawson, who made a splash by spending $200,000 to run ads during the Super Bowl that showed him draining three-pointers (he’s a former Purdue basketball player) and challenging President Barack Obama to a shooting contest.

Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and businessman Michael Dreikorn are also running in the April 22 prmary, which this week featured a rare three-candidate news conference to discuss a Utah sex offender.

“We need to stop all this negativity,” said Dreikorn (who, coincidentally, is the only candidate who can’t afford TV ads).

Subscribers to MyPalmBeachPost.com can read more about it by clicking here.

Gaetz taps Senate leadership team

Monday, November 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz announced his top lieutenants for the next two legislative session, tapping Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, as Majority Leader and picking Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as budget chief, a position he also held in the Florida House.

And in a possible nod to President Lincoln, who staffed his Cabinet with one-time adversaries, Gaetz named Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, as chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. Gaetz has made ethics reforms one of his top priorities and lawmakers are being pressured to address a contentious elections overhaul passed last year (HB 1355) that some blame for long lines and other problems during this year ‘s presidential election. Latvala was in a leadership battle against Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, earlier this year. Gardiner is expected to take over the Senate in two years but whether his successor will be Latvala or Negron (or someone else) remains undecided.

As expected, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, will keep his post as head of the powerful Rules Committee. Thrasher is a former House speaker and also served as chairman of the state GOP.

Returning Sen. Tom Lee, R- Brandon, will be Deputy Majority Leader and Whip, also not a surprise since Lee is a former Senate president.

Negron served as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee for the past two years and has represented Gaetz in talks with the Obama administration recently over how to handle the federally-mandated health care exchanges.

Gaetz is also setting up a special committee to deal with the health care law but hasn’t yet named its chairman.

Senate kills controversial ‘parent trigger’ measure on tie vote

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A split Senate shot down a controversial “parent trigger” bill on a 20-20 tie vote on the final day of the legislative session in a defeat for Senate GOP leaders, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

It’s at least the second high-profile measure backed by Haridopolos and his leadership team defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, who also banded together to stop a prison privatization measure earlier this session.

The Senate spent an hour debate the measure (SB 1718), sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, and half an hour on questions before taking a vote. The vote was expected to be so close that Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, delayed it for moments until all 40 senators were in the chamber.

The plan, heavily lobbied by California-based “Parent Revolution” and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation, would have given parents the ability to determine whether low-performing schools should become charter schools or be taken over by for-profit management companies if more than 50 percent of parents whose children attend the schools sign petitions.

Critics said the process was riddled with problems and made parents at the failing schools vulnerable to manipulation by for-profit charter companies. A coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA oppose the proposal.

“I’m tired and weary. I’m tired of sound bites and gimmicks that don’t do anything. Parent trigger. Parent revolution. Parent empowerment. Sound bites that mean nothing,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who called the proposal “fraught with risk.”

Three other states – California, Texas and Miss., – have instituted the “Parent Empowerment” process and 20 other states are considering similar legislation this summer.

But Venice Repubican Nancy Detert, a former Sarasota County school board member, said Florida has already enacted education reforms, many of them promoted by Bush, including a major overhaul just last year.

“We’ve been changing everything year after year after year. And we never give it time to gel,” Detert said. “Why do we want to keep throwing everybody in the bag and shaking it up…I feel so sorry for our teachers and students. They are on an island in a sea of chaos.”

But Benacquisto said the bill would empower parents who might feel helpless when their children are forced to go to school each day in a school with an “F” grade.

“What this bill does at its core is look at a system that already exists to address failing schools in our community and say that we acknowledge the legiimatecy of a parent’s voice when it comes to choosing what is already destined to be chosen,” she said.

Senators take aim at parent trigger

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Senate is poised to close out the 2012 legislative session with a fiery debate over a controversial measure that would let parents decide the fate of failing schools after opponents scored several victories with amendments to the “parent trigger” bill late Thursday evening.

The proposal, based on one pushed in California by the “Parent Revolution,” would allow parents to decide on a turnaround option for schools graded “F” for at least three years in a row if more than 50 percent of parents sign petitions.

The petition process received the most attention Thursday night from opponents, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who say the signature-gathering is rife for shenanigans as experienced in California, which became the first in the nation with its “Parent Empowerment” proposition two years ago.

The parent trigger plan is backed by GOP leaders including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Several Los Angles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists, in the Capitol for weeks advocating for the proposal, were in the public gallery during a heated debate over the bill (SB 1718) Thursday night.

Opponents include teachers unions and a coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA, also watching the two-hour debate from the gallery. The measure has already flared emotions and procedural maneuvering in the Senate.

Proponents beat down several amendments on 21-19 votes – including one that would have criminalized bribing parents to sign the petitions – indicating Friday’s vote will be close. But opponents, including Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, said they believe they have enough votes to kill the measure on a 20-20 tie.

The anti-parent trigger group repeatedly tried to make changes to the signature-gathering process that would have put it on a par with petition-gathering requirements included in a controversial election law passed last year and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

One change would have made it a misdemeanor to take or offer a bribe in exchange for a signature and made it a misdemeanor to falsify signatures. But opponents of that amendment called it overreaching, eliciting outrage from Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

“Are you kidding me? We put this in an election year last year people. We did this. But now it’s overreaching. It’s undemocratic. Are you kidding me?” Smith said. The amendment was defeated on a 21-19 vote.

But Rich scored a win with an amendment requiring that signatures be valid, undoing language in the original bill sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers that would have allowed signatures submitted after the validation period to be accepted.

“If you don’t vote for this amendment, it means you condone fraud,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Accusations of fraudulent signatures and coercion of parents are plaguing a parent trigger effort at a Mojave Desert school in California, where both sides are accusing each other of wrongdoing and a judge is considering open an investigation.

The Florida proposal would give parents a say in federal turnaround options for failing schools that include conversion into profit or non-profit charter schools or hiring for-profit management company to take them over, which critics say is part of an overall effort to privatize Florida’s public schools.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, failed to convince a majority to sign off on her plan requiring the charter schools to pay rent to school districts if they take over a failing school.

But she rallied enough votes to include a provision banning foreign nationals from owning or operating the charter schools.

Before the floor session wrapped up at 10 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner railed against his colleagues for objecting to giving parents more control over poor-performing schools.

“I know it’s late. And I know everybody’s emotional. But keep in mind what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about parents that are sending their children every day to an F school. Every day to an F school,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “We’ve gotten off track here a little bit…These are F schools. These are just parents. Parents that want an opportunity to have their children go to a better school. We want to put a misdemeanor on them?”

Speaking against the bill, Sen. Larcenia Bullard invoked hanging chads, fraudulent petition-gathering campaigns in which dead people’s names were signed on petitions and other horribles.

“Trigger bill is double-barrel Glock,” Bullard, R-Miami, said.

Parents, Democrats bash ‘parent trigger’ proposal

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of parent-led groups, including the Florida PTA, and Democrats bashed a fast-tracked “parent trigger” proposal that would let parents at failing schools determine their fate.

The bill “has everything with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools throughout Florida, a direct attack on public education,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said at a press conference this morning.

Before the event began, Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists handed out press releases asserting that national Democrats support the controversial measure. The California group called opponents “defenders of the status quo” and accused the Florida Education Association of invoking “new boogeymen” in “an attempt to confuse parents and political observers.” The “parent trigger” is now in place in first-in-the-nation California, Texas and Mississippi.

In those states, Democrats including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have favored the plan. The at-time unctuous, election-year parent trigger debate is pitting teachers’ unions and parent groups against charter schools and for-profit management companies throughout the nation.

At least 20 states, including Florida, are now considering “Parent Empowerment” legislation. The business-backed, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has crafted model bills similar to the one (SB 1718, HB 1191) now on its way to the Senate floor in Florida; the House approved an identical measure last week along partisan lines. The Florida proposal is being pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundation, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other GOP leaders.

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Senate budget committee to meet Saturday morning for ‘parent trigger’ bill

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Unable to withdraw a controversial ‘parent trigger’ bill approved by the Florida House yesterday, Senate GOP leaders instead scheduled an early-morning meeting Saturday to hear the measure, supported by former Gov. Jeb Bush and Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

The “Parent Empowerment” (SB 1718, HB 1191) would allow parents to determine the fate of troubled schools and convert them into charter schools or turn them over to private management companies. Parents could even reject school boards’ recommendations for low-performing turnarounds.

A coalition of parent groups, including the Florida PTA, oppose the measure, saying it makes parents at low-performing schools vulnerable to lobbying by for-profit charter schools and management companies.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was involved in a dispute in a Senate committee earlier this week. Critics of the proposal said a 4-3 vote on the bill came after the “time certain” ordered by Senate Education Appropriations Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

But Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican close to Bush, approved the vote and tried to withdraw the bill from the budget committee, which was supposed to hold its final meeting this afternoon.

Removing the bill from a committee and sending it to the floor requires a two-thirds majority vote. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich objected, D-Weston, objected and asked for a vote. Democrats joined with a group of Republicans led by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, to kill the withdrawal with a 20-19 vote.

That prompted Thrasher to announce an unusual, 8 a.m. Saturday morning Budget Committee meeting to take up the bill.

“I think it’s important to a lot of members that we have a hearing on it,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said after the session ended shortly after noon.

Latvala said he had concerns about the measure’s fiscal impact because, with new grading formula approved by the state Board of Education this week, many more schools may be deemed failing and be eligible for the parent takeovers and become targets of the for-profit charter school industry.

“It’s going to be like union-organizing with petition cards, going to parents and getting them to sign,” the perspicacious Latvala said. “I know how the political process works and they can go out and get signatures. Then they can just add to their empires. I think it needs to be carefully looked at…It’s within our rights to require it to go through all the committees that it’s assigned to.”

But Thrasher – Latvala’s nemesis in a Senate leadership struggle – defended the measure.

“Look, parents want their kids to have a good education. And some people have a different view of where that should take place or how it should take place. And I don’t fault them for that. Any more than I fault folks who believe passionately in the public school system,” he said.

Senate passes prez Haridopolos priority claims bills

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

In the chamber’s first action on the opening day of the 2012 legislative session, the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved two claims bills, priorities of President Mike Haridopolos that failed to pass last session.

One measure (SR 2) would pay $1.35 million to William Dillon, locked up for 27 years before DNA evidence cleared him of a Brevard County murder. Haridopolos, who sponsored the claims bill, said that the compensation would help correct the injustice done to Dillon.

“At least show when you make a mistake, you own up to it and you try to make it right. That’s what being a compassionate person is all about,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said before the 39-1 vote.

The Senate also signed off on a controversial claims bill that would pay the family of Eric Brody $10.75 million. Brody was catastrophically injured in 1998 when a Broward Sheriff’s deputy crashed into his car. Brody, then a high school senior, was left brain damaged and confined to a wheel chair.

A last-minute deal between Brody’s lawyers and insurers was finalized just before the Senate passed the bill (SR 4) with a 37-2 vote.

Lawmakers have tried for four years to get the “Brody bill” passed. Last year, the House’s failed to take it up on the final day of session, causing the session to end in chaos and Haridopolos to keep senators on hold until the wee hours of the morning before finally abandoning hope that the House would pass the measure.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, said carrying the bill for two years was a lesson in determination: the determination of Brody’s parents and advocates and of her Senate colleagues in their support.

“But most importantly, it is the determination of one individual who stood so strongly to make sure we would not leave the building until Eric was taken care of,” Benacquisto said, referring to Haridopolos.

Benacquisto first to qualify by petition for ballot

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate District 27′s Lizbeth Benacquisto became the first in her chamber to qualify by petition for reelection, according to a press release issued by her campaign today.

But right now it appears the Wellington Republican won’t be representing Palm Beach County by the time the November election rolls around. Under the proposed Senate maps, Benacquisto’s district would be confined on the other coast to Lee and Charlotte counties. Her district currently stretches from West Palm Beach across the state through Hendry and Glade and winds up in Lee and Charlotte.

Benacquisto is already facing a GOP primary opponent – state Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers – in her reelection bid.

Benacquisto, elected to the Senate last year, gathered more than the requisite 1,580 signatures to qualify by petition, according to the release, a “clear indication that Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto has broad grassroots support.”

Senate president calls Brody bill priority

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 by Dara Kam

In the final moments of the legislative session in May, House lawmakers failed to sign off on a $12 million payment to Eric Brody, a Broward man catastrophically injured after a Broward Sheriff’s Office cruiser crashed into him 13 years ago.

Again this year, Senate President Mike Haridopolos has made the payment to Brody and his family a priority. The Brody’s joined Haridopolos and bill sponsor Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, at a press conference this morning urging their colleagues to agree to the payment.

Haridopolos said the bill (SB 4) would be among the first items his chamber passes when the session begins in January.

“You can never put a price tag on human tragedy,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

Benacquisto’s proposal would allow Brody to get collect $15 million from the BSO and its insurance company. A House proposal, sponsored by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, would allow Brody to get a payment of $30 million. The state would pay no money for the settlement but state law requires legislative approval before local governments can pay claims to individuals in excess of $200,000. The BSO had agreed to allow the Brody’s to pursue the claim with the insurance company earlier this year.

Grant said he hoped this year the two chambers “will put politics aside” and pass the bill.

The 1998 accident left Eric Brody, then 18 years old, with severe brain damage and requiring 24-hour care. His parents said they want the money to ensure he is taken care of after they die. Chuck Brody said he estimates the cost of care for his son to be in the middle of the two bills.

Despite – or perhaps because of – Haridopolos’ support earlier this year, the Florida House refused to agree to the payment. On the last two days of the session, Brody and his family remained in the Capitol, expecting the measure to be passed. But the prolonged session ended in the early morning hours before the measure was even taken up on the House floor.

With their wheelchair-bound son Eric, the Brody’s waited from noon until 2 a.m. the day before the session ended, Chuck Brody told reporters.

“It wasn’t heard at all. It was like he didn’t exist. It was like the bill didn’t even exist,” Brody said.

McAuliffe’s quarterly fundraising plunges from $89,333 to $6,400; Benacquisto adds $106,074

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by George Bennett

McAuliffe

It’s tough to raise campaign cash in the summer, especially in an anemic economy.

Even so, Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe‘s latest campaign finance report stands out. After raking in $89,333 in contributions between April 1 and June 30, the Democratic incumbent collected a mere $6,400 from outsiders between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to a report filed Tuesday.

Benacquisto

McAuliffe added a $100,000 loan from personal funds on the last day of the quarter.

Among those posting strong quarters was state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers. The former Wellington councilwoman raised $106,074 during the quarter and has collected $345,399 overall for her reelection bid.

Benacquisto named to leadership spot

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

State senator Lizebeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was deputized Wednesday by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, with the first-year lawmaker promoted to a high-ranking spot in the 28-member GOP caucus.

Benacquisto, a former Wellington city council member whose district includes northern Palm Beach County, was elevated to the newly created leadership role, under Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

Benacquisto already has two Republicans filed to run against her next year, in what is expected to be a dramatically redrawn Senate District 27. Haridopolos’ move appears to be a profile-raiser.

 ”Sen. Benacquisto embraces her role as state senator wholeheartedly, and I know her colleagues in the Senate majority will benefit from her characteristic focus and drive,” Haridopolos said in announcing her appointment.

 

Palm Beach County lawmaker proposes military funeral ‘do not disturb’ measure

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Pat Rooney, R-Palm Beach Gardens, has proposed a bill that would create a 500-foot buffer around military funerals.

Florida already has a law on the books making it a misdemeanor to disturb military funerals, but the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that such laws are an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

The court in March ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topkea, Kan., was exercising its right to free speech when its members held anti-gay protests at military funerals.

Rooney sponsored a new measure (HB 31) that would make it a misdemeanor to protest, picket or hold other similar demonstrations within 500 feet of a cemetery, funeral home or residence from one hour before to an hour after a funeral for a veteran, emergency response worker, elected official or minor.

The majority decision in the Westboro case made clear that states may regulate funeral protests in certain situations. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that demonstrations may be regulated if the laws are not aimed at any particular views and narrowly crafted. Dozens of other states and federal lawmakers are now considering proposals similar to Rooney’s. The key difference with the new proposals, including Rooney’s, is the creation of buffer zones around military funerals. In his opinion, Roberts wrote that the Westboro protestors were not in violation of Maryland’s 100-foot military funeral buffer zone.

“A funeral is a time meant for family and friends to grieve and remember, it is not a time for a spectacle to be made,” Rooney said in a press release. “For those suffering the terrible loss of a loved one, unwarranted harassment some may attempt compounds the grief and already strained emotions. This just is not acceptable.”

Rooney’s staff said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, would file a companion bill.

Rooney’s aide Andrew Watt said the representative decided to run the bill after learning that the Westboro group planned to protest the funeral of a nine-year-old girl murdered during the attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. In addition, the Kansas-based Westboro group has protested at least one military funeral in Port St. Lucie within the past two years.

Pro-Rader committee faces $15,250 fine for tardy report; appeal planned

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 by George Bennett

Rader

A committee that boosted former Democratic state Rep. Kevin Rader‘s unsuccessful 2010 bid for state Senate is facing a $15,250 fine for failing to file a campaign finance report just before last year’s Aug. 24 primary.

The Florida Elections Commission approved the fine Tuesday against the Committee to Improve Florida’s Economy. The committee plans to appeal the fine, attorney Mark Herron said this morning.

Johnson

The committee is chaired by veteran Democratic operative Eric Johnson. Johnson was also Rader’s consultant last year.

While the committee was two months late filing a report that was due Aug. 20, Herron argued that a “significant portion” of the information required on the report had been mistakenly included in a previous report that was available for public inspection on the Division of Elections website.

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Benacquisto and Palm Beach County immigrant women shed tears over domestic violence

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Dozens of immigrants from Palm Beach County, accompanied by their children and grandchildren, got on a bus in Lake Worth at 11 p.m. to travel to the Capitol as part of a week-long effort by hundreds of immigrants now swarming the Capitol.

The immigrants, their children and advocates are pleading with lawmakers to abandon an Arizona-like immigration reform now under consideration in both the House and Senate.

More than a dozen women and children met with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, for nearly 30 minutes. Both the women and the senator emerged in tears.

Leonila, an undocumented restaurant worker from Mexico who lives in West Palm Beach, shared her story with Benacquisto. The mother of five, who would not give her last name, told the senator that she was a domestic violence victim who fears that women like her will be even more afraid to get help after they are sexually or physically abused.

“One doesn’t have to think too hard about how that would affect me,” said Benacquisto, who during her campaign last year disclosed that she was raped at the age of 19.

Benacquisto pledged to work with the sponsors of the bill (SB 2040) to include provisions for women who are domestic violence or sexual abuse victims.

“Any victim who needs to ask for assistance at that time needs to have the confidence they can go to someplace safe,” Benacquisto said.

State Sen. Benacquisto raises big bucks early for 2012 reelection

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by George Bennett

Benacquisto: raised $177,200 in first quarter

Freshman state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was one of Florida’s top money-raisers during the first quarter of 2011, raking in $177,200 for her 2012 reelection bid, according to the newest batch of campaign reports.

The only state Senate candidates to raise more in the quarter were Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who collected $307,810, and state Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who topped $400,000 as she seeks the seat of term-limited Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Benacquisto’s District 27 now stretches from West Palm Beach to Fort Myers. Many expect it to be significantly altered in the 2012 redistricting. Benacquisto, a member of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, appears to be focusing on the district’s more Republican-leaning western half. A former Wellington councilwoman, she has switched her residence to Fort Myers.

Hot trend: GOP chair’s suit seeks to knock Dem Rader off ballot; Rader might sue back

Friday, October 22nd, 2010 by George Bennett

Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Sid Dinerstein has filed a lawsuit seeking to get Democratic state Rep. Kevin Rader removed from the ballot over alleged financial disclosure failures in the highly competitive state Senate District 27 race against Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto.

It’s part of a new trend inspired by a judge’s decision last week to toss Tampa-area Republican state Senate candidate Jim Norman off the ballot because of disclosure deficiencies. Backers of Democratic congressional candidate Joe Garcia are trying the same legal strategy against Republican David Rivera in Miami.

Dinerstein’s suit follows the lead of a tea party activist’s ethics complaint that accuses Rader of trying to hide his ownership interest in an insurance underwriters group when he filled out financial disclosure forms.

Rader consultant Eric Johnson told The Post‘s Jason Schultz that a Rader supporter has filed an ethics complaint against Benacquisto and the Rader campaign might file a lawsuit over her use of campaign funds to pay rent on an apartment in Lee County.

GOP state Senate candidates face off Thursday in West Palm Beach

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 by George Bennett

Republicans running for the Florida Senate District 25 and 27 seats are scheduled to appear at a “Town Hall Debate” Thursday sponsored by the Republican Club of the Palm Beaches and South Florida 912. The event is at 6:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church at 1101 South Flagler Drive.

In District 25, state Reps. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale and Carl Domino of Jupiter are running for the GOP nomination to succeed Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, who is running for chief financial officer. The Republican winner will face Democratic state Rep. Kelly Skidmore and no-party candidate Miranda Rosenberg in November.

The District 27 GOP race features former Wellington councilwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, retired pilot Michael Lameyer and former state Rep. Sharon Merchant. The seat is now held by state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, who is running for attorney general. Democrats Pete Burkert and Kevin Rader are also running.

Abortion bill divides GOP candidates; Newell’s ‘humble’ letter; the WPB poll; Santamaria’s advantage

Monday, May 17th, 2010 by George Bennett

In this week’s Politics column, find out where GOP state Senate primary rivals Lizbeth Benacquisto and Sharon Merchant stand on the abortion ultrasound bill. Find out what motivated disgraced former Palm Beach County commissioner Warren Newell to break out the typewriter. Also, Mary Brandenburg on the West Palm Beach mayor’s poll and Michelle Damone on why she hasn’t filed against Commissioner Jess Santamaria.

Dem Sheriff Bradshaw endorses GOP state Senate hopeful Sharon Merchant

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 by George Bennett

Bradshaw

Bradshaw

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, a registered Democrat whose office is nonpartisan, is endorsing Republican Sharon Merchant’s bid for a state Senate seat that’s expected to be a partisan battleground in November.

Bradshaw said his endorsement of Merchant is for both the GOP primary and for the general election if Merchant advances.

Former state Rep. Merchant faces a tough GOP primary against former Wellington Councilwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto for the seat of state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. Aronberg is leaving the seat to run (also with Bradshaw’s endorsement) for attorney general.

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State Senate hopeful Merchant taps Mark Foley for host committee for Palm Beach fund-raiser

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 by George Bennett

Foley

Foley

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned in a 2006 Internet sex scandal that helped bring down the GOP majority in Congress, is on the host committee for a Palm Beach fund-raiser next week for Republican state Senate hopeful Sharon Merchant.

Merchant

Merchant

Foley has been raising his public profile — a weekly local radio show, a recent Forum Club lunch appearance, last week’s Radio and TV Correspondents dinner in Washington — but this is the first time a political candidate has publicized Foley’s support to try to raise campaign cash. Merchant is running in a GOP primary against former Wellington councilwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Read about it in this week’s Politics column.

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