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  1. Florida Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz feels heat for vote on medical marijuana issue

BT_302422_OROU_Fest_1 of 1 TP  (02/26/2009 Plant City)   For a what can you do with a strawberry at the Strawberry Festival which runs through March 8. Today was opening day.
BT_302422_OROU_Fest_1 of 1 TP (02/26/2009 Plant City) For a what can you do with a strawberry at the Strawberry Festival which runs through March 8. Today was opening day.
Published Jun. 8, 2014

Pot politics can get messy, as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz learned last week.

A pro-medical marijuana group launched a TV ad against her after she was one of a handful of Democrats to vote against an amendment barring the federal government from interfering with state decisions on the issue. Wasserman Schultz said as a general principle she doesn't think the executive branch should be limited from enforcing federal law.

In a carefully constructed statement to the Tampa Bay Times, the South Florida Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee said she supported evidence-based uses of medical marijuana. But she also raised issues with the ballot initiative before Florida voters in November.

"I have concerns that it is written too broadly and stops short of ensuring strong regulatory oversight from state officials," she said. "Other states have shown that lax oversight and ease of access to prescriptions can lead to abuse, fraud and accidents. Also, given Florida's recent history in combating the epidemic of 'pill mills' and dubious distinction as having among the highest incidents of fraud, I do not believe we should make it easier for those seeking to abuse the drug to have easy access to it."

Soon, United for Care, a group supporting the initiative, issued a statement blasting Wasserman Schultz's positions as "puzzling, unfortunate and wrong."

It got worse.

The DNC issued a statement saying Wasserman Schultz's comment was her own and that the committee did not have a position on the pot ballot measure. Then Democratic fundraiser John Morgan blasted the lawmaker in an interview with the Miami Herald. "I know personally the most-powerful players in Washington, D.C. And I can tell you that Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn't just disliked. She's despised. She's an irritant," said Morgan, an outspoken Orlando trial lawyer who is close with Charlie Crist.

"Why she's trying to undermine this amendment I don't know," said Morgan, who has spent millions in support of the amendment. "But I'll tell you I will never give a penny or raise a penny for the national party while she's in leadership. And I have given and helped raise millions."

Jeb out front

Good news for Jeb Bush in South Carolina. A new poll shows him leading the pack of possible GOP presidential candidates. Bush got 22 percent of the vote, more than double the 10 percent Rand Paul and Chris Christie received. Ted Cruz got 9 percent, Marco Rubio 6 percent and Bobby Jindal 3 percent. But 33 percent were undecided and 7 percent did not know.

Dual-purpose shindig

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan will be in Tampa this afternoon for a re-election fundraiser, reflecting the North Carolina Democrat's ties to Florida but also her vulnerable status. Alex Sink and former Rep. Jim Davis are among the hosts. Sen. Bill Nelson told us he'll attend as well. Nelson has a keen interest in his party retaining control of the Senate; he is poised to take the chair of the Commerce Committee from retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Hagan grew up in Lakeland and attended Florida State before finishing law school at Wake Forest. She got her start in politics helping her uncle, former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Reporter will run

It's hard to know who is held in lower esteem, Washington politicians or journalists. But Alan Cohn, an award-winning former investigative reporter for WFTS-Ch. 28, is convinced his background could prove to be a big help challenging U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland.

"For 10 years I've uncovered political corruption and fraud. I'm a problem solver," Cohn said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "People will be attracted to that in comparison to a guy who has served two terms in Congress and a long career in the Florida Legislature. I can't find a single thing he has ever done for this community."

Cohn, 51, won a Peabody Award for outstanding journalism and broke the story about former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman's wife receiving an undisclosed $500,000 from a Tampa businessman to buy a vacation home.

Cohn, a Democrat, is the clear underdog.

Congressional District 15 leans decidedly Republican, with Barack Obama losing by more than 6 percentage points in 2008 and 2012. Cohn notes that the majority of the district now includes his home base of Hillsborough County, unlike in 2010 when Ross initially won the seat.

"Dennis Ross is part of that small belligerent tea party group that is saying 'no' to anything, who would rather see the ship sink than reach across the aisle and solve problems," said Cohn, arguing the right candidate with the right message can win regardless of party affiliation.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz.

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