October 21, 2014

Fact-checking the third Florida's governor debate

The gloves came off in Jacksonville on Tuesday night, as the third and final gubernatorial debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist was marked by insults, arguments and accusations.

The governor and the former governor took each other to task over their respective records, charging each other with mud-slinging and twisting the facts.

CNN moderator Jake Tapper brought up topics like Ebola, executions and Florida State football, but the candidates managed to go back to familiar talking points several times. Both Scott and Crist still talked at length about immigration, the cost of living and believe it or not, jobs.

We took a look at some key claims brought up during the debate, and will highlight some familiar talking points we’ve examined before. In the days ahead, we’ll post fact-checks of new claims from the debate and update this story.

See our fact-checks so far from the debate.

Charlie Crist's minimum-wage job-loss answer could haunt him


It wasn't a flashy, testy exchange. But Charlie Crist's answer at tonight's CNN debate about potential job losses from hiking the minimum wage is what attack ads are made of.

In short: Crist was asked about whether raising the minimum wage was "worth it" if a small business owner has to lay off 17 employees.

Crist's answer: "I think it is worth it because people deserve it."

Rick Scott seized on the significance: "that one employee, Charlie doesn't care."

Continue reading "Charlie Crist's minimum-wage job-loss answer could haunt him" »

When Charlie Crist got under Rick Scott's skin, and left a mark


In the most-animated exchange between the two candidates, Charlie Crist smacked Gov. Rick Scott around over his decision to postpone an execution at the behest of Attorney General Pam Bondi. Here's the CNN debate transcript and video afterward, which the Florida Democrats made sure to post with a screamer of a headline:

Continue reading "When Charlie Crist got under Rick Scott's skin, and left a mark" »

Final Miami congressional debate touches on abortion, education, immigration


U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and rival Carlos Curbelo risked political fatigue by agreeing to seven debates. But crisp performances in their final faceoff Tuesday made a strong case for forcing candidates to confront each other repeatedly, especially if each event appeals to a different audience.

The opponents even managed to reveal new policy disagreements in the Spanish-language exchange that wrapped up the two candidates’ busy debate season.

The debate covered new ground on education, abortion and immigration. Moderators also expanded on the minimum wage, a key issue for Hispanic voters, who make up 59 percent of Florida’s 26th congressional district. It spans Westchester to Key West.

Curbelo said last week he would prefer the minimum wage rise naturally and not by government mandate. When pressed Tuesday by one of three moderators, Univision network anchor Jorge Ramos, Curbelo said he supports a higher, government-imposed wage, but not as high as the $10.10 an hour backed by Garcia. A lower compromise would threaten fewer jobs, Curbelo said.

More here.

SkyRise letter shows developer explained interest in county funds months ago


As he seeks millions in subsidies from the county, the developer of SkyRise Miami has come under fire for campaigning on a promise that the project would be privately funded.

But an April 8 letter to the city shows the developer of the 1,000-foot tower on Biscayne Bay did say he was seeking $10 million to $20 million in public funds, and had applied for a county grant.

An attachment to the letter from developer Jeff Berkowitz, released Tuesday by SkyRise lobbyist Brian May, states:

“The developer is seeking government assistance and/or grants to pay for a portion of the public infrastructure for the Tower, such as the construction of parking garages, extension of a bay walk, public plaza areas, road works and improvements to the adjacent marina. The developer has applied for various grants from Miami-Dade County, Florida and the state of Florida.”

Berkowitz expected to receive the money by the month of May, which didn’t happen.  Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a $2 million commitment by the Florida legislature. And Berkowitz’s application for a $15 million grant from the county was put on hold until after the August referendum.

The county application resurfaced last week, leading Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado -- who told voters in a SkyRise radio spot that “taxpayers win without putting in a cent” -- to call on the county to reject the application for voter-backed economic development funds.

Berkowitz maintains that the SkyRise campaign pledged only that the city of Miami wouldn’t spend public money on the project, and that the county money he seeks will be invested into public infrastructure. He says Regalado is off-base.

But Regalado on Tuesday said he didn’t see the letter, and was never informed about any push for public money beyond the unsuccessful effort at the state.

“I never saw the letter and had I seen it I would not have campaigned in the way I did. It was always represented to me there would be no public money,” he said. “I still hope the county shuts down that project” application.

For the 6th time, at least, Rick Scott tells us there was $80 million in the budget for cancer funding


Gov. Rick Scott sure does love telling people about the $80 million in cancer center funding included in the 2014-15 budget that he signed into law earlier this year.

H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa will get $25.5 million, the University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center will receive $16 million and the University of Florida Health Cancer Center gets $18.5 million. Combined with another $20 million in state dollars for two cancer research grant programs, and that adds up to $80 million in state dollars for cancer research.

Including one sent today, we count six press releases on Scott's flgov.com website about the money. And we're not even counting what he sent the media in January when he first proposed boosting cancer research funding as part of his "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget" proposal.

We start with this news release in March after the governor met with representatives of UF and Orlando Health to talk about the funding.

"I am proud to join UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health to highlight our $80 million commitment for cancer treatment centers across Florida," Scott said in the release. "We must put our state in a position to be on the cutting edge of cancer research, and this investment goes a long way towards that goal." 

A few days later came another press release after he held a similar event in Miami.

Then Scott went to Jacksonville to talk about the cancer funding

Scott met with representatives of the American Cancer Society in April. 

When the governor signed the budget in June, he put out a special press release focused solely on the cancer center dollars. That made 5.

Then this landed in our inbox today: A press release with the headline, "Gov. Scott announces distribution of $60 million for cancer centers."

Here is the first line: "Governor Rick Scott announced today record funding to improve cancer care, increase the number of National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated cancer centers and create a premier cancer research network in Florida." 

We here at the Times/Herald want to acknowledge publicly that, yes, the 2014-15 budget included $80 million in funding for cancer centers. 

Now we'll wait for release No. 7.

Rubio stumps for Steve Southerland, talks 2016


IMG_6184U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican incumbent facing a serious Democratic threat on Election Day, got some help today from one of his party's rock stars.

Sen. Marco Rubio visited Southerland's Tallahassee office this afternoon, meeting with the congressman and campaign volunteers. Both men thanked the staffers for helping with ground game and voter turnout, which will be crucial in this Northeast Florida race against challenger Gwen Graham that is currently too close to call.

"This election here is a choice between those two very different views of the future," Rubio said, "between a Demcoratic Party and a loyal Democrat who will go to Washington and support the Obama agenda that has brought us to this point where millions of people are worse off than they were four and five and six years ago."

Rubio called Southerland an effective lawmaker and encouraged the volunteers to work hard for him in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Continue reading "Rubio stumps for Steve Southerland, talks 2016" »

FSBA Executive Director Wayne Blanton to retire in February

Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton will retire in February, he announced Tuesday.

"It has been my honor and privilege to represent school boards and school board members for the last 40 years," Blanton wrote in an email to school leaders. "My professional career has been dedicated to representing public education and assisting local school boards to be the 'Voice of Education' throughout Florida. The friendships I have made and the professional relationships that have been developed over the past 40 years will never be replaced or forgotten. Upon deep personal and professional reflection, I will be retiring at the end of February, 2015."

Blanton said the FSBA will be establishing a timeline to name his successor.

(h/t to Tampa Bay Times education writer @JeffSolochek for spotting the announcement)


Rick Scott's false claim about utility rates under Charlie Crist

After the brouhaha in last week’s Florida gubernatorial debate over electronic fans, there was a heated exchange between Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist on electric rates.

Crist, who won the governorship as a Republican in 2006 and is now running as a Democrat, said the Sunshine State needs new investments in solar energy, and the next governor must stand up to the "utility companies that keep jacking up your bills."

Scott, the Republican incumbent, shot back that Crist was playing fast and loose with the facts.

"While he was governor, utility costs went up 30 percent and went from below the national average to above the national average," Scott said. "Since I got elected, utility rates have come down 11 percent and now we are below the average."

There’s two parts to this fact-check: Under which administration were electric bills higher, and how does that compare to the national average?

It’s clear from the conversation and the evidence we received from the Scott campaign that he was talking about residential rates. So that’s what we’ll focus on.

Turn to Steve Contorno's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

Pro-immigrant groups rally voters in Miami-Dade, Polk counties

The Florida Immigrant Coalition is coordinating an effort to mobilize immigrant and low-income voters in advance of the Nov. 4 election.

Last week, volunteers with the Haitian Women of Miami knocked on more than 5,000 doors in Little Haiti, Miami Shores, North Miami and North Miami Beach. They both encouraged residents to vote on Election Day and collected absentee ballot requests.

"Our communities, black and latino, are not minorities any more, and we want to make sure our votes are felt as a growing new majority and a decisive voice this election," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami. 

Two additional groups -- the Young American Dreamers and WeCount! -- have knocked on doors in Homestead, Florida City, Lakeland and Auburndale. They estimate they've visited at least 20,000 homes.

"Our canvassers are knocking on doors to encourage black and latino voters in Polk [County] to make their voices heard," said Daniel Barajas, of the Young American Dreamers. "Our communities have been ignored for decades, but through our efforts we will show them that our votes count and that they matter."

Opa-locka city commission candidate on rap sheet: 'All good leaders have been arrested'

via Marisol Medina

Opa-locka, a city in Miami-Dade County, holds municipal elections Nov. 4. And the candidates are nothing if not quotable.

One of them is Terence Pinder, a commission candidate who once held a seat on the board. He was removed from office by then-Gov. Jeb Bush following Pinder's arrest on charges of theft and official misconduct for illegally using his city-issued credit card. Pinder was arrested again in 2007 under charges of bribery and unlawful compensation.

Asked about his record, Pinder said: "All good leaders have been arrested. I'm wiser now and I understand that sometimes bad things happen to good people."

He wasn't the only candidate whose background check was worth mentioning.

Mayoral candidate Rose Tydus, another former commissioner filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013.

"Business people do it all the time," she said. Donald Trump has filed for bankruptcy several times."

More from Marisol Medina here.

Miami-Dade mayor loses policy director


Carlos Gimenez's policy and legislative affairs director is leaving the Miami-Dade mayor's office to take another job at County Hall.

Inson Kim will become intergovernmental and external affairs director for the Regulatory and Economic Resources Department, she confirmed Tuesday. Her first day in the new job will be Nov. 10.

Her departure is the third among Gimenez's top staff in the past four months. But unlike former deputy Chip Iglesias and ex-chief of staff Lisa Martinez, both of whom left the government altogether, Kim plans to stick around -- in a higher-paying job. She will now make an annual salary of about $128,000, up from about $105,000.

RER recently lost its economic development chief, Josh Gelfman, after only 18 months.

Kim's RER position is a new one, budgeted as part of the wide-ranging department's ongoing reorganization, Kim said. She will be tasked with bringing together people in several divisions who handle legislation, reporter requests and public relations. Among those divisions are the environmental regulations office and the building department.

This year's county budget laid off more than 100 people.

For Gimenez, the loss may be difficult to get used to. Kim has worked for him for nearly a decade, since Gimenez was a county commissioner. While she doesn't have the most high-profile job in his office, Kim has a reputation for knowing how to read the sometimes-fickle mayor.

The mayor's spokesman, who is in Washington D.C. with Gimenez, did not immediately respond to an email asking if Kim will be replaced.

TV personality and veterans crusader Montel Williams makes FL medical marijuana pitch


Montel Williams, the former host of his eponymous show, has become a full-time veterans' rights crusader recently and now he's wading into Florida politics with a pitch for the medical-marijuana constitutional amendment.

Unknown to many, Williams suffers from multiple sclerosis and, he says in this fundraising pitch, marijuana works better than opiates for pain management. Here's the email:

Continue reading "TV personality and veterans crusader Montel Williams makes FL medical marijuana pitch" »

Democrats try new jab against Carlos Curbelo after GOP shifts criticism of Joe Garcia


The physics law that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction may also apply to politics.

As Republicans shift their line of attack against Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, Democrats have also added to their message criticizing Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released two Spanish-language television commercials Tuesday. One maintains the party's chief jab against Curbelo, over a secretly recorded comment in which he said Medicare and Social Security amount to a "Ponzi scheme." Curbelo has said the phrase was a figure of speech and "of course" he doesn't think the federal programs have anything to do with criminal operations.

But the other ad focuses on education, which Garcia only touched on in a prior campaign spot. Curbelo is a Miami-Dade school board member who has trumpeted how the board has helped Superintendent Alberto Carvalho shrink the size of the school system.

"Carlos Curbelo voted to cut 1,000 positions from our schools, including guidance counselors and college advisors," the ad says. Later, it adds: "Carlos Curbelo co-authored the agenda that cut $1.3 billion from our schools."

The later claim is an apparent reference to Curbelo's participation four years ago in Florida Gov. Rick Scott's education transition team. Scott later backed statewide education budget cuts. What the DCCC's ad doesn't say is that Curbelo wrote in 2012 that those cutbacks represented a "colossal" reduction leading to an "untenable" situation for public schools.



GOP defends Carlos Curbelo on Medicare, pivoting away from ethics attacks against Joe Garcia


National Republicans are coming to the aid of Carlos Curbelo in countering attacks over his criticism of Medicare and Social Security. Democrats and U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia have bashed Curbelo over his secretly recorded comment that the federal benefits amount to a "Ponzi scheme."

In a sign that their efforts might be working in the close race, Curbelo and the National Republican Congressional Committee have released a new set of political commercials touting Curbelo's support for the entitlements, at least for current and soon-to-be seniors. Republicans had focused their earlier attacks on the criminal investigations that engulfed Garcia's 2012 and 2010 campaigns. Those ads are still running.

A Curbelo spot on Spanish-language radio features the candidate, a Miami-Dade County school board member, telling voters Garcia has lied about his opponent's stance.

A new television ad unveiled Tuesday by the NRCC takes a similar tack. It refers to Garcia's ads as "misleading and false" -- an apparent reference to a PolitiFact Florida "False" rating for an early Garcia spot that accused Curbelo of wanting to "end the Medicare guarantee." That ruling came before the Democrats recorded Curbelo saying he backs several reforms to the program.

"The truth? It was Garcia who supported Obamacare, cutting $700 billion from Medicare," the NRCC's new ad says. "And it was Garcia who supported a plan to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69, and cut benefits."

Those claims actually stretch the truth, as we detailed last week when Curbelo unveiled a similar TV commercial.


1m in FL have voted early; GOP well ahead and says Charlie Crist 'in complete meltdown'


More than 1 million Floridians have cast pre-Election Day ballots now that early in-person voting began Monday while mail-in absentee ballots continued to pour in.

Right now, it looks like good news for Republicans. They're still out-voting Democrats, who tend to dominate early voting just as Republicans do at absentee voting.

"The first day of early voting is in the books, and Charlie Crist’s campaign is in complete meltdown," Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager, Tim Saler, wrote in a memo this morning to donors.

Saler says Democrats only edged Republicans by 2 percentage points in early votes cast, a far smaller advantage than in prior years. We're double-checking (the state doesn't report all of its early voting data in one big file, so it takes broke reporters with laptops a little more time to assemble the 67 county text files and run the numbers).

The memo doesn't point out, however, that the real test comes this weekend, when working people can show up at the polls and vote without having the pressures of getting to and from work or home.

African Americans, who have made early voting after church a tradition, are expected to come out in force this Sunday and next. This is where a visit from President Obama could pay more dividends for Crist than cost him. Crist is leaning toward having the president come down but, in a twist, Obama advisors think that might not be a good idea.

Continue reading "1m in FL have voted early; GOP well ahead and says Charlie Crist 'in complete meltdown'" »

CNN lays down the law for final Florida debate

In CNN's amateurish early days as a 24-hour cable news outlet, critics called it the "Chicken Noodle Network." CNN has come a long way, but for tonight's final debate in the Florida governor's race, those three letters might as well stand for "Can't. No. Nope."

Political debates in Florida are a big deal, especially in a neck-and-neck race like this one between Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, and CNN is the sponsor of a live one-hour faceoff at 7 p.m. at WJXT in Jacksonville. The network is determined to protect its place as the exclusive host.

It's common for TV stations to let reporters watch the debate from a room near the studio so that both sides can grade their own and their opponent's performance afterward in a "spin room," but CNN said no. News outlets asked to stake out the candidates in WJXT's parking lot afterward and CNN said no. It's providing a filing room at a downtown hotel several miles from the TV station.

Because of space constraints at WJXT, the Associated Press asked if it could cover the event with a single pool reporter and photographer. CNN initially said no, but agreed Monday to let AP take pictures of the two candidates on stage just before airtime, in what AP's Miami photo editor calls "an unusual and unfortunate situation."

And with all the controversy over Crist's use of a fan at last week's debate, the Times/Herald asked CNN for a copy of the debate rules. The network's response: No. It referred us to a CNN memo of last week that said no opening or closing statements, "no notes, no props and no electronic devices," including no fans.

Fact-checking Rick Scott's claim about driver's licenses for Dreamers and whether the bill he vetoed would have changed "nothing"

Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are competing for the Hispanic vote, leading the candidates to argue about their stances on everything from the Cuba embargo to rights for illegal immigrants.

During the Telemundo debate Oct. 10, the debate moderator asked the candidates to explain their conflicting views on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.

In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill to give driver licenses to those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, sometimes called "Dreamers." Scott vetoed it.

Crist, a Democrat, said during the debate: "I’m in favor of a driver’s license for Dreamers. The governor recently signed a bill where they can have in-state tuition. And that was a good thing to do. But if you can’t drive to school, or you can’t drive to your job, good luck getting to work."

Scott, a Republican, responded: "The driver’s license bill that was passed, nothing changed. Those same individuals have the right to get a Florida driver’s license today."

Scott was partially correct and partially misleading. Floridians who get Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, called DACA, generally get work permits, which they can use to get driver’s licenses.

But he is overstating the situation when he says "nothing changed," because that bill would have affirmatively given those immigrants the right to use their DACA forms to get a driver’s license, even if their work permit didn’t arrive simultaneously. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read more.

October 20, 2014

Clean energy group delivers 92,000 petitions to governor

A group of clean energy advocates continued the drumbeat against Gov. Rick Scott's on Monday and delivered more than 92,000 signatures urging him to develop a strong plan for Florida to meet the requirements of the EPA's Clean Power plan. 

The group, called Florida’s Clean Future coalition, had school children, college students and parents pull red wagons with boxes of petitions to the governor's office at the state Capitol as part of an aggressive initiative by climate change activists to keep a focus on the issue in the governor's race. The EPA requires the state to have a plan to reduce carbon emissions in place by 2030 and the first deadline is in 2015. The governor has remained silent about his plans to address the issue. 

Last week, scientists, business and community leaders called on Scott to listen to their climate change solutions. Meanwhile, NextGen Climate, the political committee founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer to target climate change skeptics, has spent more than $12 million in Florida for a campaign to defeat Scott's re-election bid.


Miami-Dade mayor heads to D.C. for meetings


There's a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting Tuesday, but Mayor Carlos Gimenez won't be there.

Instead, he'll be traveling to Washington D.C., where he has been invited to a transportation and infrastructure briefing by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the National Economic Council, Gimenez's office said.

Before that, the mayor will participate in a forum titled "Fix My Commute." The event, hosted by the Washington Post, is part of a series -- "America Answers" -- on tackling local government issues.

Later, Gimenez is tentatively scheduled to meet with the Federal Transportation Administration.

Gimenez will be traveling with his spokesman, Michael Hernández, and the trip will be paid for by the mayor's office travel budget, Hernández said.