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July 02, 2015

Hillary Clinton to speak to National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale


Hillary Clinton's coming to South Florida this month -- and this time, not just to raise money behind closed doors.

The 2016 Democratic presidential contender is scheduled to address the National Urban League Conference on July 31 in Fort Lauderdale. It would mark Clinton's first public event locally since becoming a candidate; she came to Florida in May for a series of private fund-raisers.

The National Urban League is a civil-rights organization that, among other things, advocates against racial discrimination and for African Americans. Clinton's speech to the group would be geared at black voters, a key Democratic constituency that helped President Obama win the presidency.

She has already used other speeches to address issues of criminal justice, violence and racism.

Judge lifts stay: Abortion waiting period won't be enforced

A law requiring women to see a doctor 24 hours before having an abortion is no longer in effect, after a judge's ruling Thursday.

After lots of legal back-and-forth, a ruling by Judge Charles Dodson ensures the law won't go into effect -- at least for now.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Gainesville abortion clinic, claiming that the waiting period passed by lawmakers this spring is unconstitutional. While the lawsuit moves forward, the ACLU has asked that the law not be enforced.

For now, they seem to have gotten their wish. But keep in mind that the state could continue to appeal the ruling to higher courts.

Read Dodson's ruling here.

Jim Webb becomes fifth Democrat to announce for president

Former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia announced he will run for president today, becoming the fifth Democrat to announce for president.

Webb served in the Senate from 2007-13. He also served as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs and Secretary of the Navy in the Ronald Reagan administration.

“I understand the odds, particularly in today’s political climate where fair debate is so often drowned out by huge sums of money,” Webb said in his announcement posted on Facebook. “I know that more than one candidate in this process intends to raise at least a billion dollars – some estimates run as high as two billion dollars – in direct and indirect financial support. Highly paid political consultants are working to shape the “messaging” of every major candidate. But our country needs a fresh approach to solving the problems that confront us and too often unnecessarily divide us.”

The other Democrats running are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

See Webb’s Truth-O-Meter record from PolitiFact.

Miami-Dade GOP legislators make a push for presidential candidates to campaign in favor of immigration reform

While presidential candidates who oppose immigration reform may gain support from a slice of GOP voters in early voting states, that stance will cost the GOP in battleground states in the general election, according to a new poll.

A group of Miami-Dade Republican officials hosted a teleconference with reporters Thursday to discuss the results of a poll of likely voters about their stances on immigration and make the case that presidential candidates should campaign in favor of immigration reform.

The poll was conducted in the early primary and caucus states with 400 GOP voters a piece in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. A similar poll was conducted of 800 voters in 10 battleground states including Florida which represented 23 percent of the respondents. The polls took place in April and May.

The poll was done by Burning Glass Consulting and The Partnership for a New American Economy, a group that brings together mayors and business leaders to make an economic case for changing immigration laws.

Rudy Fernandez, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush in the White House, speaking on behalf of the Partnership, said that the poll shows while an anti-immigration candidate may “gain a little bit and win favor with extremists” in early states, “you lost a lot in the general election.”

Continue reading "Miami-Dade GOP legislators make a push for presidential candidates to campaign in favor of immigration reform" »

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes faces challenger

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who has faced heat from some county commissioners about her legal counsel, will face a challenge from Democratic consultant David Brown in 2016.

Brown, who filed his paperwork this week to run against Snipes, ran for the position in 2000 and lost a Democratic runoff to Miriam Oliphant who won the general election. In 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush removed Oliphant from office after she botched the 2002 primary. Bush appointed Snipes who then went on win her next three elections.

Snipes, a 72-year-old Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, told the Miami Herald in April that she decided to seek re-election. Today, she told the Herald that she plans to file her paperwork in the next few weeks.

Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen recently criticized Snipes because her contract attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks, campaigned for his opponent. Snipes said she plans to seek an opinion from the Florida Bar regarding whether Norris-Weeks can campaign.

Brown promised if elected to establish a policy to prevent employees and contract workers from campaigning for candidates who run on the Broward ballot including in local, statewide and national race. He would also ban donations in such races.

Continue reading "Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes faces challenger" »

Putnam's plea for pre-veto face time with Gov. Scott was ignored

Here's yet another backstory on Gov. Rick Scott's budget vetoes, and this one is likely to give Scott headaches at future Cabinet meetings.

As the budget time clock was ticking, Scott and his staff dissed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

It began to unfold on Friday, June 19. As the Legislature was passing a budget, ending a three-week special session, Putnam immediately sought face time with the governor to argue his case for priority projects."I request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience," Putnam wrote.

Putnam's office hand-delivered a highly detailed four-page letter to Scott asking for "careful consideration" of his priorities, including $4.5 million for water-farming projects, $3.7 million to replace a dilapidated petroleum lab at Port Everglades and $2,000 raises for state forestry firefighters.

Not only did Putnam not get the meeting he wanted, but the request was ignored, and four days later Scott vetoed all three requests, among others.

"We never received a response," said Putnam's spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale.

Even though Scott signed the budget four days later, and a week earlier than required by law, his spokeswoman said there wasn't enough time. (The day before Scott signed the budget, Monday, June 22, Scott was on a prearranged seven-city fly-around to promote the $430 million tax cut package).

"The governor reviewed project information submitted to OPB (Office of Planning and Budgeting) staff during the regular session and during the special session up until the budget was finished by the Legislature," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a written response. "The governor did not take any additional meetings on special projects once the budget was finalized by the Legislature because we were up against a tight time frame to get the budget signed by June 30th.”

County patience wearing thin as Miami Marine Stadium restoration stalls


Five years after giving the city of Miami a $3 million grant to help restore Miami Marine Stadium, patience is wearing thin over at Miami-Dade County.

Approved in 2010, the grant came with a condition that Miami come up with a plan by by April 2015 to fund the rehabilitation of the historic structure on Virginia Key. But, despite plenty of effort, the city has yet to do that, and the waterfront stadium remains vacant and unused.

In April, Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez helped grant a four-month extension. But, as the new deadline looms, the city is focused on preparing the stadium grounds to host the Miami International Boat Show and is tied up in a legal dispute with the Village of Key Biscayne.

Miami has yet to lay out a formal vision for revitalizing the venue. And a second extension doesn't appear to be a lock.

"Mayor Gimenez is not happy that there has been an apparent lack of progress in the City of Miami," said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández. "Certain issues were supposed to be addressed in April and to our knowledge, they have not been. The mayor will be preparing a letter to City leaders in the coming days."

Suarez said he's hopeful that the city commission, which is expected to discuss the stadium restoration next week, will work its issues out with Key Biscayne now that the two sides have settled on a mediator. But he said an incident reported last week by The Herald in which city contractors illegally cut down mangroves by the stadium has embarrassed some elected officials.

"There are people around me who would very much want me to recommend we pull back on the $3 million," Suarez said. "I don’t mean my commissioners. I mean like chief executive of the county ... There’s a lot of impatience on this side of the interlocal government deal."

After Donald Trump bashes Mexicans, PunditFact takes a look at a claim by one of Trump's fans about immigrants and crime

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is standing by his sweeping and negative comments about Mexican immigrants. But the billionaire’s remarks at his campaign announcement speech have cost him: His show contract with NBC has been canceled, Mexico has withdrawn from the Miss Universe contest Trump cosponsors, and Macy’s announced it will stop selling Trump-branded menswear.

Trump blamed the media for taking his remarks out of context. His reference to rapists and drug dealers referred to a failed immigration policy, not all Mexicans he said.

But the blowback aside, Trump has his ardent supporters. Count Gavin McInnes among them.

The flamboyant and purposefully politically incorrect talker appeared on Fox News to defend Trump. In a conversation on The Greg Gutfeld Show, McInnes called Trump an "awesome guy" who "ought to be revered." McInnes said the media was wrong to brush off Trump’s assertions.

"He just said a bunch of hate facts," McInnes said. "The crime rate with illegals is through the roof."

When Gutfeld pressed McInnes to give some facts of his own, McInnes delivered one.

"50 percent of murders in Texas have been linked to illegal aliens," he said.

"Is that a fact?" Gutfeld asked. "I don’t know."

We can resolve that uncertainty. No, it isn’t a fact.

Turn to Jon Greenberg's fact-check from PunditFact.

July 01, 2015

Jeb Bush below average in giving to charities

Jeb Bush says he’s proud of what he and his wife, Columba, have contributed to charity. But his tax records show they’ve given less than the national average and less than others with similar wealth.

The former Florida governor’s boast that he and his wife had donated $739,000 to charity since he left the governor’s office in 2007 is only one view of his record.

In 2013, the most recent tax year for which his records were available, the Bushes’ charitable contributions of $110,616 amounted to 1.5 percent of an adjusted gross income of $7.3 million. In 2012, their $104,169 in contributions amounted to 1.8 percent of their adjusted gross income.

Bush said he will report contributing $307,944 to charity in his 2014 tax return, but he has filed for a six-month filing extension and his adjusted gross income for that year was not made available.

That’s below the 3 percent national average for charitable giving and the 3.38 percent average in Florida, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

And it’s well below some of Bush’s political peers, who have far outpaced that level of giving, particularly as they made more money or began eyeing an election.

More here.

AP: Jeb Bush's Foundation received donations from businesses, schools

From the Associated Press:

Big-time donors to a nonprofit educational group founded by Jeb Bush, disclosed for the first time Wednesday, highlight the intersection between Bush's roles in the worlds of business, policy and politics years before he began running for president. Bush provided the names to The Associated Press.

After leaving the Florida governor's office in 2007, Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education, with a mission "to build an American education system that equips every child to achieve their God-given potential." With Bush serving as president, the group attracted $46 million from donors through 2014.

That donor list shows the circular connections as Bush moved from governor to education advocate to corporate board member. Supporters in each of those stages of his career contributed to his educational foundation — which, in turn, sometimes supported causes benefiting its donors. They include Rupert Murdoch's media giant News Corp., GOP mega-donor Paul Singer's foundation, energy companies such as Exxon Mobil, even the Florida Lottery.

The voluntary release of the donor names comes less than 24 hours after Bush took the unprecedented step of releasing 33 years of personal tax returns.

More here.

CNN/ORC poll: Jeb Bush rises and Marco Rubio falls but Hillary Clinton ahead of them both

A new CNN/ORC poll shows former Gov. Jeb Bush on the rise and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio down since May while Democrat Hillary Clinton continues to lead all GOP candidates in general election match-ups.

Bush stands at 19 percent, up from 13 percent in May. Trump follows at 12 percent, up from 3 percent before his announcement.

Rounding out the top five were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (8 percent), neurosurgeon Ben Carson (7 percent) and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (7 percent).

Rubio was absent from the top five but just barely: he stood at 6 percent, down from 14 percent in May. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who has not yet announced was also at 6 percent.

Clinton holds wide leads over other Democratic challengers. In a general election match-up, she holds leads over all the GOPers including Bush (54-41), Trump (59-34) and Rubio (56-39).

The poll was conducted by telephone June 26-28, among a random national sample of 1,017 adults. The margin of sampling error for results among the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

New judge to take over abortion restriction lawsuit



Add this to the twists and turns of the debate over a judge blocking a 24-hour, mandatory waiting period before abortions: The case has been handed over to a new judge.

Starting today, a lawsuit alleging that the waiting period, which went into effect today, is unconstitutional has been reassigned to Judge Charles Dodson. According to the website for the 2nd Circuit, the change was planned. All the civil cases that were on Judge Charles Francis' docket have been given to Dodson.

But this introduces a new wrinkle to the lawsuit.

Specifically, on Tuesday afternoon, Francis issued a temporary injunction, ordering the state not to enforce the requirement that women see a doctor 24 hours before having an abortion. After Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed the ruling, it was automatically stayed.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of a Gainesville abortion clinic, quickly asked Francis to lift the stay and prevent the law from going into effect. Now, that decision rests with Dodson.

Dodson is a graduate of Florida State University College of Law and of West Point. He became a judge in Leon County in 2008 and has presided over criminal, family law and juvenile dockets.

State tight lipped on incentives given to Missouri company to create 15 jobs


No amount of jobs appears too few for Gov. Rick Scott to celebrate with bold headlines and press releases.

That point was obvious today, when Scott sent out a press release applauding the state’s role in luring 15 new jobs that will be created over two years in Suwannee County in north Florida.

"We are on a mission to make Florida the number one destination for jobs, and today we are another step closer as we announce the creation of new jobs in Live Oak," Scott said in a press release.

But what Scott or the state did to lure those 15 jobs is a mystery. That is because neither Scott nor Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, will say what the state gave International Mulch Company, a Missouri-based business, for financial incentives until as late after Christmas.

Continue reading "State tight lipped on incentives given to Missouri company to create 15 jobs" »

Obama announces opening of embassies with Cuba

Casting aside more than a half century of hostilities, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and open respective embassies.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he called the rapprochement “a historic step” in efforts to bring the two countries and their people together. The president said Secretary of State John Kerry would soon travel to Havana to “proudly raise the U.S. flag over our embassy.”

The United States and Cuba held four rounds of talks — two in Havana and two in Washington — to reach agreement on the terms for opening embassies and renewing diplomatic ties after Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro jointly announced on Dec. 17 that the two countries planned to work toward normalization.

He said that since then he was seen “enormous enthusiasm for this new approach.”

Turn to Mimi Whitefield's story here.

Which presidential candidate released the most tax returns in history?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush released 33 years of tax returns, casting it as the high water mark of transparency for presidential hopefuls.

"Today, I’m releasing 33 years of tax returns – more than any presidential candidate in history," Bush said on his website. He also bragged about it on Twitter. The returns run from 1981 to 2013.

We wondered if Bush’s 33 years was indeed the most ever, and that does appear to be the case. We also found it’s highly unusual for a candidate to share so many returns, especially so early in the campaign.

Turn to PolitiFact to see what we found.

Gov. Rick Scott's net worth grows to $147 million

Gov. Rick Scott reports his net worth has grown to nearly $147 million -- an increase of about $14 million or nearly 11 percent more than the year before. The wealthiest governor in Florida history filed his annual financial disclosure statement with the Commission on Ethics, and the agency posted it online Wednesday.

Scott reports that the assets held in a blind trust are worth $128 million and that his Naples home is worth $15.4 million. Most of Scott's assets are kept in a blind trust, a decision that was the subject of much litigation over the past year in a case in which the governor prevailed. Scott has defended the blind trust as necessary to prohibit him from making official decisions that could affect his portfolio. But because the assets are in a blind trust, the public cannot know how Scott got richer over the past 12 months.

Scott did list the assets in the trust when he filed his previous financial disclosure one year ago.

Senate president calls Gov. Scott's UCF veto 'a shot at Orlando'

If Republicans in the Florida Senate are getting over their anger at Gov. Rick Scott's rash of vetoes, they sure don't sound like it.

Appearing on News 13's Political Connections, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, did not mince words in describing Scott's zeroing out of money for programs for people with disabilities and for the start of a downtown Orlando campus of the University of Central Florida.

"It's a shot at our community. It's a shot at Orlando, Orange County, Central Florida, those of us who believe in economic development," Gardiner told the cable outlet in an interview. "While everybody will try to say, 'Oh, this is a shot at Andy Gardiner,' in many ways, it's a shot at our community." 

Scott vetoed $15 million to start the first phase of UCF's "downtown presence," saying it was not on the three-year list of approved projects by the Board of Governors. Gardiner said the BOG backed the project but for less money and he defended the Legislature's right to increase appropriations.

He said Scott vetoed other university projects that had the BOG's support, saying: "That's where the inconsistency comes in from our members. They kind of wonder, what are we playing with here?"

Gardiner also accused Scott of vetoing projects that were supported by the governor's own agency heads. He called out by name Barbara Palmer, director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, saying she "advocated for" Senate-backed projects to help people with special needs enter the work force. APD did not respond to the Times/Herald's request for a response.

Gardiner is term limited. But he has another full year as president of the Senate and his staying power may be enhanced by the fact that Senate Republicans have not yet coalesced around a successor in the competition between Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Joe Negron of Stuart.

On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a key voice opposing the United States’ opening to Cuba, reacted to the news that the two nations are set to establish their embassies by repeating his vow to oppose one of the next steps in the thawing process -- the confirmation of an ambassador to the island nation -- until certain conditions are met.

The opening to Cuba was first announced in December. It is a multi-pronged effort that has already relaxed some travel and financial restrictions and is quickly moving toward the establishment of a greater diplomatic presence in Havana. On Tuesday, word leaked that the two nations were planning to open embassies in their respective capitals; a formal announcement on that is expected Wednesday.

The thawing could eventually lead to a full lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and open travel there. The White House can accomplish some steps on its own, while Congress would need to weigh in on other aspects.

Rubio, a Republican from West Miami who is in the top tier of GOP presidential candidates for the 2016 nomination, is a leading voice against the Cuban opening. While the politics of the Cuban opening are somewhat mixed, other GOP lawmakers tend to defer to Rubio on the issue.

Continue reading "On Cuban embassy news, Marco Rubio restates vow to oppose ambassador " »

Miami politicians, Billy Corben team up for swimming fundraiser


It's not the most anticipated sporting event in Miami. But it will surely be among the most, um, unique.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and County Commissioner Xavier Suarez are teaming up Friday morning to take on Suarez's son, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, and local filmmaker Billy Corben in a relay race at the Elizabeth Virrick Park pool.

The elder Suarez coordinated the 11:45 a.m. event as a fundraising effort to avoid a summer fee for use of the West Grove pool at 3255 Plaza St. Kids were going to be charged $1, and adults $3 to swim, Suarez said, so each participant is contributing $1,000 to keep use of the pool free of charge.

"The idea that kids are going to get charged for the summer ... is absolutely ridiculous," the county commissioner said.

The race is just for show. Corben will be doing the breast stroke, competing against Xavier Suarez, who will break out the butterfly. The two city commissioners will swim freestyle.

Corben said there is a "strict no Speedo policy."

June 30, 2015

Raquel Regalado seizes on tax-district flub by Gimenez administration


The 2016 Miami-Dade mayoral race ran into some close quarters on Tuesday.

Raquel Regalado waited through hours of the County Commission meeting to speak out against a plan to increase fees on more than 100,000 properties within special taxing districts that fund security guards, lighting and landscaping for some communities. Mayor Carlos Gimenez's administration proposed the rates, saying there has been widespread under-billing thanks to a faulty accounting system. 

Regalado, a two-term school board member, is running to unseat Gimenez in 2016, and Tuesday was her first time addressing county commissioners as a candidate. 

"This is a clear case of mismanagement," Regalado told commissioners. Ten feet away on the elevated dais, Gimenez leaned back on his chair and stared intently as she spoke. "This commission has the opportunity to regain the public's trust and create a better process."

Regalado did not appear to make eye contact with Gimenez, who listened without expression during most of her remarks. (He chatted with an aide for a small part of it.) She spoke during a public-comment hearing that occurred before Gimenez and commissioners discussed the issue later in the meeting. 

Gimenez apologized for the need to raise fees, saying his administration moved quickly once the long-term problems were discovered. His Public Works department said a $2 million deficit needs to be closed in 2016 to make up for past under-billing. 

"I really do apologize to all impacted residents," Gimenez said. "This is a problem we uncovered recently."