State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, appears to have stirred a hornet’s nest by announcing publicly that he intends to run for state chief financial officer in 2018.
It’s long been known that Lee wanted to run for the office -- he ran in 2006 -- and he’s made it no secret that he was considering it.
Still, many political insiders expected Lee would eventually decide to run for re-election to his state Senate seat instead of starting a primary fight with the current CFO, Republican Jimmy Patronis. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Patronis to the vacant post in June and solidly backs Patronis to run to hold it in 2018.
But without filing officially, Lee told a local reporter this week he intends to run – and did so on the day before attending a high-profile public event with Scott and Patronis in Brandon.
On Friday, Lee stood with Patronis, Scott and other Republican luminaries at Brandon Honda, while Scott and Patronis touted Scott’s election-year proposal to make it harder for the Legislature to impose tax or fee increases.
Then a reporter asked Scott about the CFO race and about Lee’s announcement, and Scott made it clear where his loyalties are.
“I’ve known Jimmy for a long time,” he said. “I appointed Jimmy because I think he’s going to do a really good job as CFO. I know he’s concerned about whether he’s going to run or not. If he runs I’ll be a big supporter … I’ll do everything I can to see that he wins.”
Patronis hasn’t said whether he intends to run in 2018 to hold onto the CFO post, but he’s acting like a candidate.
He recently founded an independent political committee, Treasure Florida, and Scott will headline a fundraiser for that committee in Orlando in September.
Lee, however, has a substantial head start over Patronis in both statewide name recognition and money – nearly $2 million in his own committee, The Conservative.
Scott, of course, is expected to run for the U.S. Senate next year.
In the past, Lee and Scott have been allies. Scott appointed Lee’s wife, Laurel Lee, to a circuit judgeship in 2013, and Lee took over the Hillsborough County Republican Party, a time-consuming and thankless task, during Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign.
However, the relationship has been less smooth lately. In the 2016 legislative session, Lee opposed Scott’s plans for public school funding, and in the 2017 session, Lee was considered an ally of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who clashed with Scott over economic incentives.
Lee sought the appointment as CFO, but Scott picked Patronis instead.
Also attending the Brandon event were a couple of the local state House members who’d be interested in running to replace Lee in the Senate if he vacates his District 20 seat to run for CFO, Ross Spano of Dover and Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills.
They and Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, all said they’d be interested if Lee left the seat vacant.
That means dominoes lined up to fall. If one or more of the GOP House members run, it will set off a scramble in GOP-leaning East Hillsborough to replace them. If Harrison runs, it would open up a House seat in a swing district that could easily go Democratic.
Florida’s Republican governor won’t take a position on what should be done with a monument that honors slain Confederate soldiers on the state Capitol grounds, even as a growing number of elected leaders around the country take steps to remove such monuments after last weekend’s violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.
Rather than lead on the issue, Rick Scott is deferring to state lawmakers and has remained silent on whether such monuments in Florida — and particularly the one at the Capitol — should be taken down.
After Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, on Wednesday called on Scott to remove the Capitol monument, Scott’s office would only acknowledge they had “received” that request.
His office on Thursday pointed to general remarks Scott had made two days earlier about how federal, state and local officials ought to “review” what should be done with Confederate monuments. “We need to go through a process where everyone comes together and has a legitimate conversation, then we go forward,” Scott had said.
But Scott, through his spokesmen, has repeatedly declined to answer questions from the Herald/Times this week — including again on Friday — about what direction he wants elected officials in Florida to take: Whether monuments celebrating the Confederacy, such as the one at the Capitol, should be removed or kept, and why.
Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times
Democratic Senate candidate Annette Taddeo has denounced as false an explosive Spanish-language radio ad from Florida Republicans casting her as — wait for it — a tax-hiker, job-offshorer, Colombian-guerrilla sympathizer and Fidel Castro apologist.
The ad reflects a tried-and-true campaign tack in Miami politics: paint your opponent as soft on Cuba, or soft on Communism.
Particularly offensive to Taddeo is the suggestion that she wanted to “legitimize” the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Taddeo was born in Colombia and fled as a teenager after the FARC captured her father, an American military veteran, at the family ranch.
“How dare my opponent, lobbyist Jose Felix Diaz, use our community’s painful history for political gain?” Taddeo said in a statement. “My father was kidnapped by the FARC and my family had to flee Colombia because of our safety.”
She will face Diaz, a state representative, and independent candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth in the special Sept. 26 Senate District 40 election to replace Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in disgrace in April.
The ad claims that “when [former President Barack] Obama insisted on a peace plan in Colombia that would legitimize the FARC, Taddeo put partisanship over everything else to support it.”
Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s former information technology aide and his wife have been indicted on bank fraud charges.
A grand jury late Thursday returned an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Imran Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, of Lorton, Virginia, on four counts: conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on a loan or credit application and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.
Awan, 37, previously had been charged in a criminal complaint with one count of bank fraud. The indictment expanded on the charges and also added Alvi, 33, as a defendant.
The indictment states that Awan and Alvi conspired to obtain home equity lines of credit for $165,000 and $120,000 from a credit union on two properties. They provided false information that the properties were Alvi’s principal residence and second home when they actually rented out the homes. Then, they transferred the proceeds to Pakistan.
A controversial law banning panhandling in downtown Miami has been struck down by the courts.
In a ruling that could stoke tensions between condo tenants and downtown’s homeless, a judicial panel of the 11th Circuit’s appellate division ruled this month that Miami’s blanket ban on street begging is unconstitutional.
Relying on the Supreme Court’s recent Reed v Town of Gilbert decision rebuking “content-based” messaging bans, the panel found that Miami’s law, passed under the pretense of protecting tourism and downtown businesses around the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the AmericanAirlines Arena, crossed the line by dictating what people can say in public.
To read the rest, click here.
Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS
House Speaker Richard Corcoran released his version of musical chairs on Thursday, giving 21 of the 27 freshman Republicans elected last fall vice chair positions, ousting veterans in many cases and replacing three lawmakers who have resigned since session ended -- Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, Eric Eisnaugle and Dan Raulerson.
The big winner appears to be Rep. Jamie Grant, who lost a bitterly fought race for House speaker designate for 2020 earlier this summer, and was awarded the chairmanship of the Health Quality Subcommittee. As we have already reported, Rep. Paul Renner becomes the new chair of Ways and Means and the Ways and Means Chair, Rep. Jim Boyd, becomes the new chair of Commerce, replacing Jose Felix Diaz.
Republican Reps. Kathleen Peters and Cary Pigman, seem to have gotten the biggest demotions.
Last session, Peters resisted but consented to the House leadership's insistence that the committee hear a high priority bills for Florida Power & Light that would have allowed them to charge customers for fracking operations in other states. Corcoran removed her as chair of the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee and a position on the Ways & Means Committee. She will now have two new committee assignments: Public Integrity & Ethics Committee and Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. The new chair on the utilities subcommittee is Corcoran loyalist Jay Trumbull.
Pigman, a doctor who had an embarrassing arrest for drunk driving last session, lost his chair of the Health Quality Subcommittee.
Here are the other vice chair shuffles:
* George Moraitis, Appropriations Committee, to Jeanette Nunez.
* Larry Ahern, Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, to Thad Altman.
* Ben Albritton, Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee to Ralph Massullo.
* Justice Appropriations Subcommittee to Cord Byrd.
* Elizabeth Porter, Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee to Charles Clemons. She retains Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee vice chair.
* Neil Combee, Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee to Clay Yarborough.
* Robert Cortes, Education Committee, becomes vice chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.
* Jake Raburn, Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee to Byron Donalds.
* Brad Drake, Transportation Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee to Michael Grant.
* Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.
* Careers & Competition Subcommittee to Randy Fine.
* Pre-K Innovation Subcommittee to Jason Fischer.
* Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee to Don Hahnfeldt.
* Gayle Harrell, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to Cyndi Stevenson.
* Sean Harrison lost Health Innovation Subcommittee vice chair to Frank White, but gained the Judiciary Committee vice chair -- previously held by Ross Spano -- and retained the Rules and Policy Vice chair.
* Blaise Ingoglia, Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to Bob Rommel.
* Clay Ingram, Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, to Robert Cortes.
* Jennifer Sullivan, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to Thomas Leek. Sullivan, however, is promoted to vice chair of the Education Committee.
* Energy & Utilities Subcommittee to Bobby Payne.
* Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee goes to Mel Ponder.
* Charlie Stone, Government Accountability Committee, to Jayer Williamson. But Stone retains Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Some things will not change. David Santiago will retain the vice chair of Insurance & Banking Subcommittee and Health & Human Services Committee. Mike Miller retains the vice chair of Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. Rene Plascencia remains vice chair of both Health Quality Subcommittee and Pre-K 12 Quality Subcommittee. Julio Gonzalez retains his vice chairmanship of both the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Bryan Avila retains his vice chairmanship of the Commerce Committee and remains as alternating chair of the Joint Committee on Public Counsel. Halsey Beshears loses his place on the Ways and Means Committee.
Colleen Burton is elevated in a couple of ways. She's now chief deputy whip and becomes vice chair of Ways and Means instead of the vice chair of Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. Danny Burgess is added to Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee.
There appear to be only a handful of changes for Democrats. Tracie Davis was added to the Health and Human Services Committee and Emily Slosberg was added to the Judiciary Committee.
Jeb Bush and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will be among the speakers at summit on Iran next month.
The Florida Republicans will appear at the Sept. 19 event in New York hosted by United Against Nuclear Iran and timed for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
"The day-long event of interviews and discussions will examine the political and economic environment since the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran -- with particular focus on Iran's role in the region, its relationship with North Korea, and the future of Iran policy in the Trump administration," UANI said in a release.
Other speakers include David Petraeus; HRH Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies; former Gov. Bill Richardson; John Bolton and Joe Lieberman.
Bush sits on the UANI advisory board.
"Comprised of former diplomats and lawmakers, UANI is spearheading a global education campaign focused on the risks of doing business with Iran, warning hundreds of international companies that may be contemplating Tehran as a new investment opportunity," the group said.
--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times
Echoing a request from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz two days ago, a Democratic lawmaker in Palm Beach County sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday asking for a special session so the Legislature can select a replacement for the statue of a Confederate general that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.
The statue of Edmund Kirby Smith is already set to be replaced, but lawmakers failed to agree last spring on whom to replace Smith with.
“With the recent acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is more imperative than ever that we complete the process we started in 2016 to replace this statue,” state Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said in a statement that accompanied her letter to Scott.
“There is no place for racism or bigotry in our civil society, and Florida certainly should not be represented in our nation’s Capitol by General Smith. Let’s finish the job and get this done immediately,” she added.
Read Berman's letter here.
Scott's chief spokesman John Tupps already rejected the possibility of a special session. He told the Herald/Times in response to Wasserman Schultz's request on Tuesday: "The Legislature meets in January, where they can take up this issue, and Governor Scott has no plans to call a special session."
Photo credit: Florida House
The powerful Venezuelan lawmaker tied to a potential death order against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio dismissed the notion late Wednesday that he has a personal interest in getting the Florida Republican killed.
“The things we’ve said here about Narco Rubio are responses to his attacks,” Diosdado Cabello said, repeating his preferred slur against the senator. “But from my telling you that, to coming up with a plan to assassinate someone — you don’t know us. We always deal with things head on. We don’t use imperialism’s methods.”
Cabello made the comments on his state-run television program, “Con el Mazo Dando” (Hitting with the Sledgehammer), three days after the Miami Herald revealed that U.S. intelligence linked an unverified death threat against Rubio to Cabello last month. A security detail organized by Capitol Police has been protecting Rubio in Washington and Miami since then.
Rubio’s office declined to comment Thursday on Cabello’s remarks. It has also declined comment on the security detail and the death threat.
The U.S. believes Cabello, a former military chief, controls all of Venezuela’s security forces. Rubio, a close White House adviser on Latin America, has forcefully advocated for the U.S. to penalize Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government over the inauguration of a new legislative assembly elected under suspected fraud.
Cabello, a delegate to the new constituent assembly and top leader of the ruling socialist party, spent most of his Wednesday program lashing out at President Donald Trump for saying offhandedly last week that his administration might consider a “military option” against Venezuela. But Cabello also devoted some time to needling Rubio, one of his favorite U.S. targets.
“I’m not the one who has a brother-in-law in prison for drug trafficking, and I’m not the one who as a senator has stuck his hand out to help him,” Cabello said. “That’s you.”
Photo credit: Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press
Manolo Reyes is 73 years old, the loser of six political campaigns over three decades and, according to recent polls, the frontrunner to replace Francis Suarez on the Miami City Commission.
A Mason-Dixon poll conducted in late June for Miami’s firefighters union found Reyes, a Westland Hialeah Senior High government and economics teacher, held a substantial lead over the field heading into a November special election triggered by Suarez’s run for mayor.
The results are consistent with two other polls conducted this summer, according to a source with knowledge of Miami’s political campaigns.
Visitation to all Florida state prisons has been canceled this weekend after evidence surfaced that inmates are planning possible uprisings to coincide with Saturday’s march for prisoners’ human rights in Washington, D.C.
Julie Jones, Secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, announced the move as a precaution, given the agency’s staff shortage and “credible intelligence’’ that groups of inmates at several institutions were planning disturbances.
“There’s no reason to be alarmed. We are just being proactive,’’ said Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the department. The agency is taking preemptive steps to secure facilities so that staff and inmates will be secure, she said. Story here.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott will have lunch Thursday with President Donald Trump, according to both men's schedules.
The private lunch will be held at 1 p.m. at Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, N.J. The president doesn't have any public events planned Thursday.
Before sitting down with Trump, Scott is scheduled to meet at 12:15 p.m. with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command in Miami.
On Wednesday, Scott denounced white supremacists and indirectly challenged Trump's contention that there were "fine people" joining neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups during a violent rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va. Scott said there is no "moral equivalency" between the racist groups and counter-protesters, as Trump indicated, but did not directly criticize the president, as other local Republicans did.
"Last week, President Trump invited Governor Scott to lunch," Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement. "As Governor Scott always does when he meets with administration officials, he is going to advocate for priorities important to Florida families. Florida taxpayers send billions of dollars to Washington and Governor Scott always wants to make sure issues important to Florida are at the forefront."
This post has been updated with Tupps' comment.
President Donald Trump issued a late-night tweet Wednesday thanking Miami-Dade’s mayor for a January decision to drop the county’s “sanctuary” protections for immigration offenders, praising Carlos Gimenez “for following the RULE OF LAW!”
It was the second time Trump used a tweet to praise Gimenez, a Cuban-born Republican who backed Hillary Clinton last fall. The latest presidential tweet came at the end of a day that saw Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions visit Miami to personally thank Gimenez for his January decision to drop a 2013 county policy that had Miami-Dade declining requests from immigration officers to hold people booked on local charges while being sought for deportation.
Read the story here.
A monument honoring slain Confederate soldiers in front of Florida’s Old Capitol is the latest subject of debate by politicians seeking to act against racism in response to a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.
Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Florida’s capital city and a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, called on Gov. Rick Scott to remove the monument from the Capitol grounds, where similar memorials honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., veterans and firefighters, among others.
“In the wake of Charlottesville, people all around the country are grappling with how we deal with our nation’s history and its uglier elements, including slavery, racism and the Confederacy. Floridians must be a part of this work because our own history is checkered,” Gillum, who is black, said in a campaign statement Wednesday.
“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to acknowledge that while we cannot change history, we do not have to glorify its ugliest moments with displays on public lands,” he said. “And most certainly not in our state’s capital, and not in front of our historic state house. This weekend’s tragedy calls all decent people to act with courage, and I hope the governor will do so.”
Scott spokesman John Tupps would not comment about the possibility of removing the monument, stating only: “We have received the Gillum campaign’s press release.”
Earlier Wednesday, the governor again condemned the rallies in Charlottesville, calling them “disgusting.”
“There’s no place in our country for racism, bigotry, the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists. There’s no moral equivalency between the two sides,” Scott said.
Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times
Everybody agreed: When Gladys Coego covertly filled in other people’s absentee ballots while working at the Miami-Dade elections headquarters, she chipped away at the integrity of the voting system.
But at 74 years old, Coego is elderly, diabetic and depressed, her relatives told a judge on Wednesday.
She had no previous criminal record. And nobody – not detectives, prosecutors and or even Coego herself – could say why she filled in the ballots. She had no known ties to any campaign, there was no evidence anyone paid her and she illegally filled only a few ballots before being spotted. Yet her small-time case led to bigly national headlines, coming as then-candidate Donald Trump railed about widespread national voter fraud.
“Emotionally, I am destroyed,” Coego said in Spanish. “I have no explanation for what I have done .... no one offered me anything in exchange for what I did.”
For those reasons, a Miami-Dade judge on Wednesday declined to sentenced Coego to jail, instead ordering her to serve two years of house arrest, plus three years of probation.
Circuit Judge Alberto Milián acknowledged “there is a perception in this community that there is a lack of integrity in the election process, especially in the issue of absentee ballots.”
“This appears to be an isolated incident,” Milián said, adding: “I don't want to make this defendant a poster child or scapegoat for the perceived inequities of the system.”
After violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend prompted a national conversation about public symbols of the Confederacy, law enforcement in charge of the Florida Capitol took preventative steps to watch over one very prominent symbol right in downtown Tallahassee.
A monument honoring slain Confederate soldiers — described as a “Civil War marble obelisk” by the state Department of Management Services, which oversees the Capitol Complex — sits in a lawn in front of the Old Capitol along Monroe Street, a main thoroughfare in Florida's capital city.
Wednesday afternoon, an unmanned patrol car was parked on the public sidewalk near the monument, which isn't a common sight.
FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told the Herald/Times that Capitol Police made the decision as a deterrent “to prevent vandalism” in the wake of “a national event.”
The monument is easy to overlook as one associated with the Confederacy because it does not specifically reference it.
It reads: “To rescue from oblivion and perpetuate in the memory of succeeding generations the heroic patriotism of the men of Leon County who perished in the Civil War of 1861-1865, this monument is raised by their country women.”
Florida fought on the side of the Confederacy after state leaders voted to secede from the Union in January 1861.
Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet unanimously voted Wednesday to continue to refrain from allowing state investment managers to use Florida funds to invest in companies controlled by the Nicolás Maduro regime or companies that violate federal law by doing business in Venezuela.
The state currently has no direct investment with the government of Venezuela and the proposal will continue that, but the resolution falls short of a plan initially pitched by Scott that would have required the state to divest its assets in companies that do business with the Maduro regime, including Goldman Sachs.
Instead, the mostly symbolic measure is designed to send a message to the emerging dictatorship that Florida will not sanction the regime’s brutality. Story here.
Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday repeated his condemnation of the actions in Charlottesville and indirectly contradicted President Donald Trump, who said Tuesday the people protesting the white supremacists were members of the "alt-left" and also deserved blame.
"I watched what happened on Saturday and it's disgusting,'' Scott told reporters after the August Cabinet meeting at the state Capitol Wednesday. "It's evil. There's no place in our country for racism, bigotry, the KKK, neonazis, white supremacists. There's no moral equivalency between the two sides.
"Let's remember what happened on Saturday: a white supremacist murdered a young women -- about the same age as my daughter,'' he said. "19 individuals were harmed.
"I served in the Navy. My dad served in the second World War. I didn't serve to defend neo-Nazis. I've met and recognized Holocaust survivors in this state. This state is a state where people work together. I urge all political leaders -- at the state and local and federal level, including the president -- to focus on unity, how do we come together, how do we create more love and less hate. We've got to eliminate the divisiveness in our country."
But when it came to directly criticizing Trump, Scott refrained and repeated his talking points.
"If you want to ask Pres. Trump what he said, you can ask him but I'm telling you right now I don't believe in racism. I don't believe in bigotry. What happened in Charlottesville was evil. There's no moral equivalency between the two sides. A young lady was murdered. We lost two law enforcement officers. Every elected official needs to figure out how to bring our country together."