Sunshine State News Blogs

Banker Jay Fant was declared the winner of the Republican primary to replace Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, in the Florida House on Friday. After the Duval County Elections Supervisor held a machine recount and examined ballots, Fant beat attorney and Navy veteran Paul Renner by 2 votes: 5,962 to 5,960.

“I have to thank my wife, my children, my family, and all my loyal supporters and volunteers who made today's victory possible,” Fant said on Friday after the recount. “I cannot say a word, however, with expressing my full and heartfelt congratulations to Paul Renner for a contest well fought. This was a tough race in which we agreed more than we disagreed, and I want to continue to work with Paul on the priorities that we share, which include the well being of Florida's economy and resistance to so much of the Obama agenda.

“I also want to express thanks to the faithful public servants who conducted this election, including Duval Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, the canvassing board, and the many workers who have worked late hours these past few days,” Fant added.
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With Labor Day being celebrated on Monday, Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch weighed in on Friday, noting an increase of private-sector jobs in the Sunshine State over the last year.

"Monday, Sept. 1st, Americans will celebrate Labor Day, a time to thank our nation's workers for their role in building economic growth and prosperity,” Calabro said. “This year, more working Floridians have reason to relax and celebrate the long weekend. From July 2013 to July 2014, Florida saw an increase of 208,500 private, nonfarm jobs.

"The Florida TaxWatch July Economic Commentary showed the first six months of 2014 saw a 30 percent increase in jobs over the same period from 2013,” Calabro continued. “The highest job growth has occurred in construction, a result of Florida's recovering economy. Since 2010, Florida has been experiencing steady job growth, which indicates good news for Florida job seekers.

 "After the post-recession record-setting job creation from the first six months of 2014, we expect that this trend continues and that even more Floridians are employed and prospering on Labor Day 2015,” Calabro said in conclusion.

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On Friday, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), sent out a fundraising email on Carlos Curbelo’s behalf, attempting to link Joe Garcia with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Walden warned Republicans that Democrats planned to support Garcia with their checkbooks and called for Republicans to open their wallets for Curbelo.
“He’s our candidate to beat Joe Garcia and Nancy Pelosi, but the Democrats have already reserved more than $2 million in advertising against him,” Walden wrote. “His real race has just started.
“Carlos knows what it takes to lead and will fight for the best for South Florida -- but he’s in a tight race,” Walden added.
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The Lee County School Board, which voted to opt out of statewide standardized testing this week, could be pumping the brakes on its decision to leave testing behind. 

The board will be meeting next Tuesday to discuss the vote and consider rescinding its decision. The News Press reported board member Mary Fischer, who served as the tiebreaker for the 3-2 vote, requested the meeting.

The meeting drew some criticism from opponents of high-stakes testing, who contested the meeting time was unsuitable for gathering parent input.

"The Board has every right to hold a meeting to reconsider its vote to 'opt out' of state-mandated testing," wrote Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director for FairTest, in a letter to board members. "But the decision to schedule the special session at 8:30am on a weekday -- when working parents of Lee County public school students and district educators, two groups that apparently support your initial majority vote according to all available polls -- are unable to attend is outrageous."

Schaeffer implored members to reschedule the meeting to a different date and time to maximize public participation.

Check back for updates. 
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Former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich will be attending unity rallies across Florida on Thursday with former Gov. Charlie Crist who beat her in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday. But Rich could not resist a final shot at Crist who refused to debate her during the primary campaign .

“Last night I spoke with Charlie Crist to congratulate him,” Rich posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “It was a brief call, I didn't feel like debating him.”

Rich offered more enthusiasm later on Wednesday in another Facebook post.

“Last night, I called Gov. Crist to offer him my congratulations,” Rich wrote. “He will now bear the Democratic standard in a contest where nothing less than the future of Florida is at stake. It will be a very tough fight to beat Rick Scott. Charlie Crist will need all of our support to win. He has mine.”

“As I traveled across our state these past two years, I met and spoke with thousands of Floridians -- thousands of working men and women, retirees, and students,” Rich added. “Not all of them were Democrats. But almost all of them shared a desire for making Florida better by investing in education and making health care available for everyone. The voters we reached believe in fairness and social justice for all. These are all issues Floridians care about. And they remain an important part of the dialog of this election.

“I entered this race to defeat Rick Scott and get Florida back on the right track. That is a goal to which I remain committed,” Rich noted. “Tomorrow I’ll be attending Democratic unity rallies in Orange County and Broward County. They will kick off the run to the general election – the run that, with your support, will make Rick Scott a one-term governor.”

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The Florida Association of State Troopers (FAST) endorsed Attorney General Pam Bondi for a second term on Thursday. Bondi, a Republican, faces Democratic nominee former DCF Secretary George Sheldon and Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer in November.

“As a prosecutor in the 18th Judicial Circuit, Pam Bondi proved herself a strong advocate for justice,” said Mike Kirby, FAST’s chairman, on Thursday. “That has carried over into her job as attorney general and she continues her commitment to the safety and well-being of Florida’s citizens and visitors.

“Pam Bondi is a proven friend of Florida’s troopers, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the law enforcement community in our state,” Kirby added. “Under her stewardship, we are confident that we have a strong advocate in the office of attorney general.”

“Thank you to the incredible members of the Florida Association of State Troopers for this endorsement,” said Bondi. “As Florida’s chief legal officer, it has been invaluable to have the collaborative efforts of the state troopers as we work together to target criminal activities and keep citizens safe from unscrupulous offenders. I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to protect Floridians.”

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On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott named Lester Bass, a longtime figure in Jacksonville legal circles, to the Duval County Court, replacing Judge Russell Healey who was elevated to the circuit court.

Bass has been a general magistrate and hearing officer in the 4th Judicial Circuit for more than a decade and worked as an assistant public defender in Hillsborough County and an assistant state attorney in the 4th Judicial Circuit which covers parts of the First Coast.

“Throughout his career, Lester has been committed to his community and public service,” Scott said. “I am confident that Lester will continue to serve families in Duval County with dedication and integrity.”
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With the kickoff of the college football season set for this weekend, including the national champion Florida State University Seminoles starting the season against Oklahoma State, a new study from Florida TaxWatch finds the seven Division I NCAA football teams in Florida help boost the Sunshine State’s economy.

"Florida taxpayers should be cheering on Florida football programs this year, because Florida team wins create value for the state," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday.

The study can be read here.
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The Lee County School District voted Wednesday evening to be the first in the state to opt out of standardized testing. 

By a vote of 3-2, the Lee County School Board decided to pull the district out of statewide testing, effective immediately.

According to the News Press, Wednesday's meeting was full of people both in support of and opposed to opting out of testing. 

Lee County Superintendent Nancy Graham was not entirely pleased with the board's decision, saying opting out of testing would hurt children and leave teachers clueless.

It's unclear what the repercussions of the board's decision will be.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Wednesday he will be filing a lawsuit against the federal government for violating states' rights by implementing the Common Core State Standards. 

Jindal's lawsuit says states were given monetary incentives through federal grants to join in and implement the standards, which Jindal says violates the 10th Amendment. 

In June, Jindal issued an executive order pulling Louisiana out of Common Core, which has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism from parents, teachers and members of the public in recent months. 

"The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative," said Jindal. "Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything. What started out as an innovative idea to create a set of base line standards that could be 'voluntarily' used by the states has turned into a scheme by the federal government to nationalize curriculum."

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After winning the Republican primary on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott reminded Floridians on Wednesday that his $400 million cut of vehicle registration fees, one of his chief legislative priorities this year, takes effect on Sept. 1.

Scott insisted these fees were “tax increases” which then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed off on back in 2009. Despite having spent most of his political life as a Republican, Crist won the Democratic primary on Tuesday and will face Scott in November.

“This year, we set out to cut many taxes and fees on Florida families, and starting next week we are rolling back many of the 2009 tax increases on annual motor vehicle registrations,” Scott said on Wednesday. “This fee cut will result in an annual savings of about $25 per typical motor vehicle. Families deserve to keep more of their hard-earned money, and we will now be able to save Floridians $400 million, because it’s their money!”
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With Tuesday marking the end of primary season in Florida, focus now turns to the general election. That was clear on Wednesday morning as the Florida Medical Association PAC (FMA PAC) announced it was backing Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, over Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan in what is expected to be one of the most competitive legislative races come November.

“Sen. Jeff Brandes has stood up for common-sense legislation and for advancing innovation,” said Dr. Ralph Nobo, the president of the FMA PAC, on Wednesday. “The Florida Medical Association is pleased to support Sen. Brandes’ re-election efforts and looks forward to working with him to improve Florida’s health care system.”

“As a member of the Health Policy Committee, innovating Florida's health care system has been a priority to me," Brandes said. "The Florida Medical Association has been a great resource, and I am honored to have their endorsement. I look forward to continuing to work with them to set Florida apart on the cutting edge of health care."

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John Cortes, the vice president of the Florida Hispanic Caucus and a retired New York City corrections officer, pulled off a major upset in the Democratic primary on Tuesday by beating state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, D-Kissimmee.

With 5,494 votes counted, Cortes had 2,843 votes (51.75 percent) and Rangel had 2,651 (48.25 percent).

“John Cortes has dedicated his career to public service and I know he will bring those same values with him to the Legislature,” said Allison Tant, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, after the results were known. “From his time as a police officer to his extensive work as an activist in Osceola County, John has always put his fellow community members ahead of himself. I look forward to working with John to ensure that the residents of District 43 continue to have representation that puts the middle class first this fall.”

Rangel heavily outspent Cortes in the primary contest, raising $90,325, relying on $4,500 of in-kind donations and spending almost $80,800. Cortes loaned his campaign $8,800, raised $6,865, used $100 of in-kind donations and spent $15,247.35.

Republican Carlos Irizarry awaits Cortes in the general election though this district, which represents parts of Osceola County, is strongly Democratic.
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Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, routed challenger Brandon Cannon in the Republican primary on Tuesday.

With almost 35,500 votes counted, Negron had 85.4 percent while Cannon took 14.6 percent of the vote.

“I really appreciate this community’s vote of confidence in the commitment we share for protecting our environment, supporting our seniors and safeguarding our constitutional rights," Negron said after his big win. “I look forward to continuing our grassroots campaign in the general election.”

Negron takes on Democrat Bruno Moore and a write-in candidate in November in what is a solid Republican district.

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Florida Sen. Geri Thompson, D-Orlando, beat Victoria Siplin to win a seat in the Senate back in 2012 and, on Tuesday, she bested former Sen. Gary Siplin, the husband of her old foe, in the Democratic primary.

With more than 23,400 votes cast, Thompson was well ahead, taking 64.1 percent while Siplin mustered 35.9 percent.

“Geraldine Thompson is a force for good in the community,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant on Tuesday. “Her victory today is a testament to the tireless work she does on behalf of her constituents. The people of District 12 know that Sen. Thompson will be their voice as she continues to fight for better schools, equal pay for equal work for women, and to give working families a raise.”

Thompson will take on Edward DeAguilera who beat Fritz Jackson Seide in the Republican primary. This is a very secure Democratic district, making Thompson the favorite to head back to Tallahassee after the general election in November.
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After losses in state legislative primaries in 2010 and 2012, former state Rep. Carl Domino won the Republican primary to take on U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., in November.

With 75.5 percent of the vote in, Domino took 38 percent followed by former Connecticut state Rep. Alan Schlesinger with 24.7 percent. Nurse and conservative activist Beverly Hires took third with 14.1 percent followed by businessman Brian Lara with 12.6 percent. Former Tequesta Councilman Calvin Turnquest garnered 6.9 percent followed by businessman Nick Wukoson with 3.8 percent.

Despite Murphy beating then-U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., by a narrow margin in 2012, the Democrat starts off the general election as the favorite over Domino.
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With the support of former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo won the Republican primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., in November. Garcia ranks as one of the top Republican targets in the nation.

With 47.7 percent of the votes in, Curbelo led the five-candidate field with 47.4 percent. Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall placed second with 25.4 percent followed by former Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez in third with 16.9 percent. Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., flopped in his comeback bid taking fourth with 7.6 percent. Attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck lagged in fifth with 2.7 percent.
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U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings easily bested two candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

With 21.6 percent of the vote, Hastings was cruising with 78 percent of the vote. Jean Enright stood in distant second with 15.8 percent while former heavyweight boxing contender Jameel McCline was in single digits with 6.2 percent.

Hastings, who was first elected to Congress back in 1992, will be a heavy favorite in November in this strongly Democratic district. Jay Bonner has the Republican nomination while Luis Fernandez is running with no party affiliation.
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Carol Platt from the Osceola County Realtors Association won the Republican primary on Tuesday night to challenge U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla. 

With 96 percent of votes in, Platt, who had the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush, took 54.4 percent in the primary. Navy veteran Jorge Bonilla came in a distant second with 29.8 percent and businessman Peter Vivaldi took third with 15.8 percent of the vote.

Grayson easily beat Nick Ruiz on the Democratic side, taking more than 74 percent of the vote.

Businessman Marko Milakovich, who is running with no party affiliation, will also be on the ballot come November.
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U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., easily bested Republican primary challenger John Krause in Tuesday’s primary. With more than 44 percent of votes in, Miller had 77.4 percent and Krause 22.6 percent.

Miller will face businessman Jim Byran, who has the Democratic nomination, and businessman Mark Wichern who is running with no party affiliation. This Panhandle district is a Republican stronghold, making Miller a heavy favorite come November.

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It's finally official: former Gov. Charlie Crist will face Gov. Rick Scott in November's general election.

According to the Florida Division of Elections' website, Crist had snagged 74 percent of the vote. Former Sen. Nan Rich took 26 percent of the vote.   

"Democrats across Florida are ready to work harder than we’ve ever worked to elect Charlie Crist governor of Florida,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant on Tuesday evening. 

This is a developing story. Keep checking back for more details.  
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A member of Congress for more than two decades, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., easily bested three Republican opponents in the primary on Tuesday. With more than 63 percent of the vote in, Mica took almost 72 percent while his closest opponent, David Smith, took 19.1 percent. Don Oehlrich stood in third with 5.1 percent and Kelly Shirley lagged behind with 3.9 percent.

Mica will be a heavy favorite in November over Democrat Wes Neuman and Al Krulick, who is running with no party affiliation, in this secure Republican district.
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Former gubernatorial aide Glo Smith beat businesswoman Twee Lowe on Tuesday in the Republican primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., in November. With more than 63 percent of votes counted, Smith took 63.5 percent while Lowe garnered 36.5 percent of the votes cast.

Smith will have an uphill climb against Brown who has represented parts of North Florida in Congress since first winning her seat in 1992. Brown represents a solidly Democratic district.
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With 83 percent of precincts in, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., held off a spirited Republican primary challenge from retired Navy Capt. Ryman Shoaf. Crenshaw took more than 71 percent of the vote while Shoaf took less than 29 percent of the vote.

Crenshaw should be secure in November though he does face challenges from two candidates with no party affiliation: Gary Koniz and Paula Moser-Bartlett. Deb Pueschel will be running as a write-in candidate. With no Democratic challengers, Crenshaw should easily hold on to his congressional seat which he first won in 2000.
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Freshman U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., won the Republican primary on Tuesday, easily holding off attorney Jake Rush. With almost 14,000 votes in, Yoho had 73.4 percent of the vote. Rush had been agressive, hitting Yoho on a number of fronts, but he never recovered from stories and photos showcasing his role-playing hobby that made national headlines.

Yoho faces Democratic candidate Marihelen Wheeler and term limits activist Howard Wheeler, who is running with no party affiliation, in the general election. This is a solidly Republican district and is not expected to be competitive in November.
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As primary voting began to wrap up Tuesday afternoon, Florida's chief financial officer focused his efforts on ripping the likely Democratic nominee to face Gov. Rick Scott in the general election.

CFO Jeff Atwater ripped into former Gov. Charlie Crist for "walking away" from thousands of needy Floridians during his time in office, leaving behind his responsibilities as governor for higher political ambitions. 

"Charlie Crist walked away in our toughest hour and didn't give a care in the world about suffering Floridians because he thought it was in the best interest of his political future to avoid the hard times and hard decisions," said Atwater in a statement. "Now that Floridians have picked themselves up and made their own tough choices, guess who is back and hoping they forgot about his great political escape at their expense?"

Atwater had a message for Crist: The people of Florida, he said, would not be too quick to forget Crist's abandonment of the Sunshine State.

"You proved to all of us that the only decisions you are willing to make are the ones that are best for your own political future," Atwater continued. "This time we know better, Charlie."  
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Despite his leading role with the “Gang of Eight” on immigration reform, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned President Barack Obama that any efforts he makes on immigration reform should be done with the approval of Congress. Rubio wrote Obama on the matter on Tuesday.

“It is my sincere belief that if we can bring illegal immigration under control and modernize our legal immigration system, then the American people and a majority of their representatives in Congress would be willing to reasonably and responsibly address the issue of millions of people currently in this nation illegally,” Rubio wrote. “It will not be easy. And it will not be unanimous. But if we can make real progress on stemming the tide of illegal immigration, I am convinced we will have the support necessary to address this serious issue once and for all. All of this is why I have grown increasingly alarmed by news that your administration is considering sweeping executive action to give work permits to millions of people here illegally. If indeed you move forward on such a decision, I believe it will close the door to any chance of making progress on immigration reform for the foreseeable future.

“I know you are receiving tremendous political pressure from certain activists to grant another unilateral, temporary and uncertain legal status to millions of additional undocumented immigrants,” Rubio continued. “But to do so, without first taking any serious steps to address the border or protect American workers, will increase the perception of ambiguity in our laws, incentivize more people to immigrate here illegally, and significantly set back the prospects of real reform.

“As someone who believes sincerely in the need for reform, is the son of immigrants, and lives in a community of immigrants, I still reserve some optimism that you’ll reject the politics of the moment and remember that the decisions you make will impact the people at the heart of this issue long after your duty to serve them has come to an end,” Rubio wrote.
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The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched a new ad on Tuesday hitting Democrat Gwen Graham on President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. Graham represents Democrats’ best chance to flip a congressional seat in Florida as she runs against U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla.

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“Gwen Graham has made it clear that she wants to keep Obamacare even though it’s causing North Florida families to pay more for health care coverage and caused some families to lose the coverage and doctor they liked,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, on Tuesday. “Sending Gwen Graham to Congress is a risk North Florida families can’t afford.”
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U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., cheered Monday’s news that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will send $6.3 million in disaster assistance to Apalachicola Bay’s oyster fishing industry which has dropped 60 percent in the last two years.

“I am thrilled that these relief funds are now on their way to helping the hard-working people who rely on Apalachicola Bay,” said Southerland. “While these resources represent an important victory, more must be done to save this cherished community. I look forward to building off today’s news and continuing our fight to restore Apalachicola’s oyster industry.”

The funds will be released later this week, with $2.8 million going for shelling by oystermen and $1.75 million for shelling by barge. The state Fish and Wildlife Service will get $415,000 to monitor the bay while $770,000 will go toward updating facilities and $540,000 for education and training.
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From his perch on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., teamed up with three of his colleagues -- U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and U.S. Sen. James E. Risch, R-Idaho -- in sending a letter to five Latin American leaders, asking them to restore full diplomatic ties with Israel by returning their ambassadors to that nation. The senators wrote the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru, all of whom recalled their ambassadors from Israel in protest of that nation’s recent actions in Gaza.

“All loss of innocent lives during this conflict is tragic, but your government’s decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel at this critical time will only embolden Hamas leaders to continue on the current course of indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli civilians rather than working with the Israeli government to achieve a sustainable cease-fire arrangement,” the senators wrote on Monday. “Your actions send a troubling message to the United States about your government’s commitment to long-lasting peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“We encourage you to return your ambassador to Israel, as a symbol of your country’s steadfast commitment to achieving an enduring peace in the Middle East and the fight against the scourge of international terrorism,” the senators wrote.

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