November 27, 2014

PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter tackles a claim about fat turkeys

On one of our regular cruises of political websites, we came across this from Mother Jones:

"Turkeys today weigh 29.8 pounds," the liberal magazine stated on itsFacebook page. "In the ‘30s, they weighed 13.2 pounds."

The claim was posted Nov. 24, 2014, three days before Thanksgiving.

It made our mouths water and, well, whet our appetite for some holiday fact-checking.

The Facebook post linked to an article posted the same day on Mother Jones’ website. The article, in turn, linked to a November 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics & Statistics Administration.

That report contained the figures Mother Jones cited, saying turkeys have more than doubled in weight -- from an average of 13.2 pounds in 1929 to 29.8 pounds in 2012.

We found that, if anything, Mother Jones might be light on its claim.

Turn to Tom Kertscher's fact-check from PolitiFact Wisconsin.

November 26, 2014

Unusual election could lead to longer term

It has been an unusually long and complicated election cycle for state Rep. Jamie Grant. A primary election scheduled for August didn’t happen until November, and even then, the results were thrown out.

But the strange circumstances could benefit the Tampa Republican.

Some elections experts say Grant, whose election is now set for Feb. 10, could be eligible to serve 14 years in the Florida House, despite a state law limiting lawmakers to eight years per chamber. And an elongated tenure could position Grant to become House speaker in 2022.

Grant told the Herald/Times he was not sure how many years he would be able to serve — or if he would want to stay in the Florida House any longer than eight years.

"My focus is on getting re-elected," he said Wednesday. "Anything else is a distraction."

Continue reading "Unusual election could lead to longer term" »

Obama's Half True claim about apprehensions of illegal immigrants at the border

During his speech to the nation about his executive action on immigration, President Barack Obama talked up his efforts to secure the border. Obama argued that those efforts paid off as the numbers of illegal border crossings are the lowest they have been in decades.

"When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history," Obama said Nov. 20.

Then Obama reeled off a few statistics, including this one: "Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts."

We decided to check if those are indeed the facts regarding the number of illegal crossings.

Turn to PolitiFact for the full story.

Vinyard leaves DEP; Scott names interim successor

After a four-year tenure punctuated by considerable controversy, Herschel Vinyard announced his retirement Wednesday as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement praising Vinyard's record and announced that his interim replacement will be Cliff Wilson, deputy secretary for regulatory programs at DEP.

"Secretary Vinyard was instrumental in helping us protect Florida's environment for future generations," Scott said. "Cliff Wilson has helped lead DEP's efforts to protect Florida's natural treasures. With his knowledge and experience, Wilson will ensure that the department continues to support Florida's environment."

Wilson received a civil engineering degree from Florida State University and serves as a mentor to engineering students there. He also has been DEP's deputy secretary of land and recreation and an assistant director in DEP's northwest district office. 

Wilson becomes the third interim secretary of a large state agency, joining Mike Carroll at the Department of Children and Families and Tim Cannon at the Department of Corrections.

Carroll has headed DCF since last spring and Cannon was named interim corrections secretary on Monday, hours after DOC Secretary Mike Crews announced his retirement.

"It's certainly not uncommon when a governor begins a new term that you see new leadership at the agencies," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. Referring to Crews' departure, he said: "It certainly wasn't a surprise."

Rumors continue to swirl in Tallahassee that at least two other state agency heads may be moving on as well: Ananth Prasad at the Department of Transportation and Kenneth Lawson at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Vinyard earned $141,000 a year. The DEP secretary is one of several agency heads who reports to both the governor and the three elected Cabinet members. Wilson currently earns $125,000 a year.


Public administration society asks Miami-Dade mayor to reconsider staff penalties over ad error


When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez found out this month that the county would have to reapprove its 2015 budget and property-tax rate due to an advertising error, he punished three high-ranking budget employees. They were suspended without pay, and the budget director was required to pay up to $12,000 out of pocket for a new ad.

Those penalties were excessive, the South Florida chapter of the American Society for Public Administration said in a statement Wednesday. The group took issue in particular with garnishing Budget Director Jennifer Moon's wages to cover the costs of printing a corrected notice in the Miami Herald. The incorrect ad that ran in September cost about $12,000; the new ad has been quoted at about $8,600, according to the county.

"A human error was made, and the personnel involved have accepted responsibility," said Glenn Joseph, the ASPA chapter's president. "To garnish the wages of an employee, without due process or a court order, greatly exceeds the bounds of fairness and equity in the workplace.

"We are respectfully requesting the Mayor of Miami-Dade County to rescind this unprecedented punitive action."

The group passed a resolution formally asking Gimenez to change his mind -- and asking county commissioners to "adopt legislation to protect" county employees from similar disciplinary actions in the future.

The president-elect of the South Florida chapter is Terry Murphy, a former commission aide who now works as a political consultant and represents several Miami-Dade labor unions, including ones that are at odds with Gimenez's administration over new contracts. All three employees punished by Gimenez are managers who are not union members.

In a memo informing commissioners about the advertising error last week, Gimenez said the mistake was not ill-intentioned but called it "unacceptable." Moon was also suspended without pay for a day, one of her deputies for three days and another one for five days.

Miami Beach, which made a similar error running afoul of Florida law, suspended its budget director for three days.

November 25, 2014

FSU shooting revives debate over guns on college campuses

Last Thursday’s shooting at Florida State University has spurred a renewed call for allowing guns on college campuses.

Among those leading the charge: Nathan Scott, one of three people shot and wounded last week when Myron May opened fire at the FSU library. Scott is part of a group called Students for Concealed Carry at Florida State, which on Tuesday asked state lawmakers to allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry firearms on college grounds.

Their request may resonate in Tallahassee, especially with the powerful National Rifle Association echoing the call.

The NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer said Tuesday that she hopes to have a "thoughtful, deliberative" conversation on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes.

"We're not going to rush into it emotionally, like a lot of people do after a tragedy," Hammer said. “But the reality is, there is a ban of guns on campus, and that did not stop an attacker. The law never stops the bad guy. It only stops the good guys from being able to protect themselves and others."

Read more here.

Miami commission candidate may have to resign to run


The only candidate so far to launch a bid for Miami’s District 2 commission seat in 2015 has been told she must resign her post on an important city board due to her candidacy.

According to a legal opinion issued Friday, Grace Solares’ decision to run for office means she must step down from the city’s newly formed charter review committee, which is tasked with recommending changes to the city’s constitutional document. The opinion from Assistant City Attorney Kerri McNulty doesn’t specifically mention Solares, but states that members of city boards must resign their positions once they’ve filed to run and appointed a campaign treasurer or begun to raise campaign funds.

Solares said she finds it hard to believe the opinion, issued four days after she filed to run, is a coincidence.

“I file on Monday and by Friday I had a legal opinion attempting to remove me?” said Solares, who noted that candidates sitting on previous city boards were allowed to run for office without resigning.

But that’s exactly why the opinion was sought, said City Clerk Todd Hannon, to whom the legal opinion was addressed. Hannon said the issue has been a confusing one ever since the commission voted in 2007 to insert language in a candidates’ affidavit creating new stipulations on when they must resign from city boards. He said he felt it was time for clarification.

“No one requested me to do this. It was of my own volition,” said Hannon. “It’s just good to get this all clarified now.”

Solares’ attorney and employer, Linda Carroll, rebutted the opinion Tuesday, stating that an attorney general’s opinion from 1982 refutes the city's legal opinion. If Solares doesn’t step down, it would be up to Miami commissioners to remove her, should they desire to do so, according to McNulty.

Commissioner Francis Suarez, who sits as chairman of the charter review committee, said he wants to wait and see if the attorneys can agree on what should happen before bringing the issue to the commission.

Solares was appointed to the committe by Mayor Tomas Regalado. The charter changes she is seeking include stricter term limits and provisions for a more powerful mayoral veto. 

Scott reshuffles press shop, hires new Cabinet aide

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced Monica Russell as his new director of Cabinet affairs and made more changes to his communications shop in advance of his second term in January.

Russell, 31, is a University of Florida graduate who was communications director at the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) before leaving to work as surrogates director for the Scott re-election campaign. John Tupps, 30, will be deputy communications director. A University of Tennessee communications grad, Tupps joined the Scott administration in 2011 and had been serving as press secretary.

That post will be held by Jeri Bustamante, 29, who was campaign press secretary for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. She's a former associate producer for WSVN, the Fox TV station in Miami. The press secretary is the person who most frequently travels with Scott to events around Florida and the U.S. 

Scott earlier announced that Jackie Schutz, 28, his campaign press secretary, will be director of communications.

Other staff changes in the governor's office include the promotion of Frank Collins, 29, from communications director to deputy chief of staff; Dr. Kim McDougal from policy director to deputy chief of staff and legislative affairs director; Brad Piepenbrink, 28, from campaign political director to deputy chief of staff and external affairs director; Karl Rasmussen, 33, from chief Cabinet aide to deputy chief of staff; and Jeff Woodburn, 33, from deputy secretary at DBPR to policy director. 

All staff changes take effect Dec. 1.

The 2014 governor's race votes and ad spending by Florida media market


The race for Florida governor was officially certified last week, so now we have final numbers. By our estimate, more than $103 million was spent on TV ads since March. 

All told, 6,026,802 Floridians cast ballots. Of them, about 53 percent voted early in person or by absentee ballot (1,878,537 absentees + 1,309,198 early votes = 3,187,735).

More people voted in the governor's race than any other contest: 5,951,561. Scott received 2,865,343 votes to Crist's 2,801,198. That's 48.14 percent to 47.07, a margin of 1.08 percent, or 64,145.

Scott's raw-vote margin was 4.2 percent bigger than in 2010, when his margin was 61,550 over Democrat Alex Sink. On a percentage basis, though, Scott did worse than in 2010, when his win-margin was 1.2 percentage points (the overall number of people voting in the governor's race grew 11 percent since 2010).

Here's how the 2014 votes broke down by media market, along with the ad spending:

Florida votes & ad spending




Lawyer Benjamin Crump's Half True claim about Ferguson, police shootings and race

Even before the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., announced its decision in the police shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, the lead lawyer for the Brown family challenged the grand jury process.

Attorney Benjamin Crump said the ground rules were skewed in favor of police officer Darren Wilson. All one needed for proof, Crump said, was to look at the statistics.

"The process is completely unfair," Crump said on ABC’s This Week on Nov. 23, 2014. "Ninety-nine percent of the time police officers aren't charged when they kill young people of color."

We called Crump’s office to learn what statistics he relied on to back up his claim about 99 percent of police killings of minority youth. We did not hear back.

We contacted a number of criminologists and other experts in fatalities at the hands of law enforcement officials. All of them told PunditFact that the data don’t exist to prove Crump right or wrong. At the same time, they said his number probably has a measure of accuracy, even if it doesn’t show what he thinks it does in terms of racial bias.

Criminologist Candace McCoy at City University of New York said a simple fact dominates any assessment of Crump’s statement.

"It is very rare for an officer to get indicted at all, no matter what the race of a victim," McCoy said.

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

Flores to lead Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation

FloresThe Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation has a new leader.

Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, was voted chairwoman Tuesday.

"My goal is for us to speak with as unified a voice as possible," she said.

Flores said she plans to concentrate on issues that affect all of Miami-Dade County, including transportation, education and infrastructure. She will also work to ensure Miami-Dade projects receive funding.

"We've had a great track record the past couple of years," she said. "I'm hopeful we'll continue in that direction."

Flores, who has served in the Legislature since 2004 and works as the president of Doral College, won the unanimous support of her colleagues.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, said he expects her to reach across party lines.

"She always been inclusive of me, Dwight [Bullard] and Gwen [Margolis]," he said, naming the other Senate Democrats from Miami-Dade. "I'm happy to have someone from our Senate group to spread the unity to our entire delegation."

Flores replaces former Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, who could not seek re-election due to term limits.

Rep. José Félix Díaz, R-Miami, will serve as vice chairman.

The 24-member delegation from Miami-Dade is the largest in the state. 

Miami Commissioner Hardemon says Ferguson grand jury "sabotaged"


Miami Commissioner and former public defender Keon Hardemon took to Twitter Tuesday morning to blast the tactics of a St. Louis County prosecutor before a grand jury that declined to indict the white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.

The grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, announced by prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch during an 8 p.m. press conference, led to clashes between police and protestors on the streets of Ferguson, where Wilson shot Michael Brown, 18, following a scuffle.

Locally, Miami officials braced for potential protests Monday night. But all was quiet.

On Tuesday, however, Miami’s only African American commissioner -- and the son of a Miami police officer -- spoke out. He reacted to the release of details and transcripts from the grand jury proceedings by saying that the indictment was “sabotaged” and that “the grand jury was used.” He said McCulloch's presentation of conflicting testimony and the decision to allow Wilson to testify was telling.

Here are Hardemon's tweets, presented in order:

"#Food for thought:a prosecutor under normal circumstance would not present conflicting evidence to grand jury if he is seeking an indictment"

"A #prosecutor only puts on enough evidence to get an indictment. No more. No less. It's not about fairness. It's about the charge."

"Presenting the potential #defendant's testimony is a tactic used by prosecutors to have the jury rule against the indictment."

"Probable cause is the only hurdle at the grand jury stage. I hate to say it but the truth is the truth. This was sabotaged."

"The defendant doesn't have the right to testify to grand jury. He was allowed to create doubt. The grand jury was used."

November 24, 2014

Gov. Scott signs death warrant for 21st execution

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed the death warrant for Johnny Shane Kormondy, who killed a Pensacola banker and repeatedly raped his wife as the couple returned home from her 20th high school reunion in 1993. Kormondy is set to die on Jan. 15, 2015.

In a summary of the case, the governor's office said that Kormondy shot Gary McAdams in the back of the head, killing him, and was the leader of the attack on the McAdamses, having recruited accomplices, provided transportation and cased the neighborhood prior to the crime. Kormondy also threatened to kill witnesses who testified at his trial -- including Cecilia McAdams -- if he were released from prison.

Kormondy was convicted of first-degree murder and three counts of sexual battery. The jury recommended a death sentence by a vote of 8 to 4 and he received life sentences on each of the sexual battery counts. Kormondy, 42, has spent half of his life on Death Row at Florida State Prison in Starke.

Kormondy would be the 21st person to be executed since Scott took office as governor in January 2011. That would tie the number of executions ordered by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who served two terms for a total of eight years from 1999-2007.

Miami-Dade County commission elects first Haitian-American chairman


Jean Monestime, who left Haiti alone at 17 to move to the United States and went from washing floors at a doughnut shop to running his own real-estate business, was elected Monday as the first Haitian-American chairman of the Miami-Dade County commission.

His colleagues chose him by acclamation, voting unanimously in what they said was a show of unity for a board sometimes pulled apart by ethnicity and race. Monestime represents one of the poorest commission districts, a Northeast Dade corridor that includes portions of Little Haiti, Liberty City, North Miami, North Miami Beach and Biscayne Gardens.

“What an honor this is,” the 51-year-old Monestime said, his voice breaking. In his two-year term as chairman, which will begin Jan. 1, he promised to “allow our diversity to strengthen our community, instead of divide us.”

Esteban “Steve” Bovo, 52, was elected — also unanimously — as the board’s vice-chairman. He represents areas of Hialeah, Miami Lakes and Palm Springs North.

“Our actions today show that the American Dream...continues to live on,” said Bovo, who is Cuban-American. “Many have come from abroad to establish themselves in this community.”

More here.

Legislators launch plan to rewrite enviro laws to deal with Amendment 1

Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now — even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote — the Legislature will get the last word.

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state’s existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.

How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which both proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or whether the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits. 

“In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,’’ said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday during the swear-in ceremony for members.

Gardiner conceded that the proposal to generate between $10billion to $20 billion for environmental causes over the next 20 years could “make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources,” but emphasized that “implementing this amendment will be a challenge.”

Amendment 1 is expected to raise between $300 million and $500 million a year for projects intended to preserve environmentally-sensitive land and protect and improve water quality. At its core, the amendment weakens the Legislature’s most coveted power — the power of the purse — by taking away the ability of legislators to control a small piece of the state’s $75 billion budget.

As a result, Gardiner’s message was directed at both environmental advocates, who drafted the amendment, and his fellow lawmakers, whose power has been clipped by the proposal. Story here. 

Gov. Scott's prisons chief, Mike Crews, resigns

Michael-CrewsGov. Rick Scott's corrections chief, Mike Crews, told his staff Monday that he's resigning. The News Service of Florida first reported Crews' decision to quit at a time when his agency has been in turmoil as a result of widespread reports of abuse by prison guards, charges of retaliation against whistleblowers and a chronic multi-million dollar deficit.

The News Service said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary confirmed that Crews told his senior staff Monday that he's out.

Crews, 53, won praise from state legislators for his handling of cases in which inmates walked away from a work release center in Pinellas County last year and in one case resulted in a murder being committed. He began a high-profile effort this past summer to clean up the prison system after The Miami Herald reported on a series of cases in which inmates died or were abused at the hands of prison guards.

Crews is the first state agency head to step down since Scott's re-election on Nov. 4. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard is also expected to depart in the coming weeks.

FEC asks Carlos Curbelo's campaign to explain finance report errors


Carlos Curbelo was elected to U.S. Congress earlier this month, but his campaign work is not over.

The Federal Election Commission has asked the Miami Republican to respond to a series of questions for omitting or mislabeling more than $93,000 in campaign contributions, which Curbelo has blamed on a computer software problem.

The federal agency issued Curbelo’s campaign two notices last week — one of them 11 pages long — that, if not answered adequately, could result in audits or fines.

Nicole Rapanos, Curbelo’s campaign manager, said Monday that the campaign plans to respond as early as this week with a complete accounting of contributions and donors omitted or mislabeled.

“Once we get everything answered, we should be OK,” she said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.”

More here.

Broward lobbyist Bill Rubin hires former Scott aide

Tallahassee lobbyist Bill Rubin, an early supporter of Gov. Rick Scott four years ago, has hired former top Scott policy advisor Chris Finkbeiner to help expand the firm's operations. Rubin also announced Monday that his long-time associate, consultant Heather Turnbull, has been promoted to executive vice president and partner in the firm. 

Finkbeiner, who turned 30 on Monday, most recently was policy director for Scott's re-election campaign. His name was in circulation as a possible chief of staff in a second term but Scott named campaign manager Melissa Sellers to that position. Adding Finkbeiner to his roster strengthens Rubin's connections to Scott's office, even though Finkbeiner is prohibited by law from lobbying the governor's office for two years.

ScottrubinRubin, 61, a Fort Lauderdale resident and founder of The Rubin Group, has been a fixture in Tallahassee lobbying circles for three decades. He was named last week as one of the chairs of Scott's second inaugural.

Rubin (at Scott's left in photo from the 2010 campaign with Scott, running mate Jennifer Carroll and the governor's late mother, Esther) is now a Republican. But he got his political start working for two prominent Democrats, first as an aide to Attorney General Bob Shevin in the 1970s and later as a top aide to former state Insurance Commissioner Bill Gunter. As a lobbyist, Rubin first came to prominence when two close friends, Bob Crawford and Tom Gustafson, simultaneously rose to power as Senate president and House speaker in the 1988-1990 cycle.

Rubin's clients include Aetna, Automated Healthcare Solutions, Dosal Tobacco Corp., Embraer Aircraft Corp., The GEO Group, Nova Southeastern University and Wal-Mart. He still represents HCA Healthcare Corp., the hospital empire that Scott built and that hired Rubin as a Tallahassee lobbyist more than two decades ago.

Daniella Levine Cava taps commission veterans for two top posts


Miami-Dade's newest commissioner has staffed up her District 8 office.

Sean McCrackine, who worked in the District 8 office when Katy Sorenson held the seat, left Commissioner Jean Monestime's staff to join Levine Cava as chief of policy and planning. Maria Elena Levrant jumped from Miami International Airport's media office to be Levine Cava's chief of constituent affairs. Before heading for the airport, she worked 12 years in the offices of Sorenson and then-commissioner Jimmy Morales (now Miami Beach's city manager). 

The long-time president of Catalyst Miami, an non-profit she founded in 1995, Levine Cava did not name a chief of staff. The third "chief" position went to Adele Bagley, a lawyer and former Catalyst intern, who will serve as chief of community engagement.

Jason Smith, director of intergovernmental affairs for the county's Public Works department, was hired as Levine Cava's legislative director.

Johanna Cervone will handle communications and outreach, Rick Morgan is community liason and special-projects coordinator, Rahel Weldeyesus will coordinate community service and Martha Ochoa is Levine Cava's new executive assistant.  


Big Miami-Dade donor Wayne Rosen wants another shot at county money


[Updated at 8:57 a.m. with news of a delay in the re-vote plan.]

Wayne Rosen gave more money to Miami-Dade commissioners than almost anybody did, but the generosity failed to win him the vote he wanted three weeks ago. Now he's trying to reverse that unfavorable decision regarding a $5 million grant request for his Palmetto Bay charter-school complex. 

"I need two votes" to flip, Rosen said last week during a visit to the vacant lot that would house a school, shops, evening vocational center and condos. He's hoping to get a re-vote when commissioners convene Monday for a meeting that's supposed to be devoted to swearing-in the six commissioners who started their new four-year terms last week and electing a new chair for the 13-member panel. 

[Update: Rosen wrote Naked Politics Monday morning to say he won't try for a re-vote on Monday. Instead, he's going to wait to see if his candidates  win in Tuesday's Palmetto Bay election. He's backing former mayor Eugene Flinn over the incumbent, Shelley Stanczyk, a chief Rosen critic. "I will wait until the Palmetto Bay run-off [and] then  regroup," Rosen wrote.] 


Facing Palmetto Bay's city hall, Rosen sees the Parkside at Palmetto Bay project reviving an area bereft of restaurants and foot traffic. The development effort has languished for more than a decade, and he sees the county help a good use of resources to boost hiring in a population center in need of a downtown.

"It's been 11 years," he said. "This is just a catalyst."

Rosen's critics in Palmetto Bay see him using his political standing to win a hand-out from taxpayers. Palmetto Bay's city council declined to back his grant application before Nov. 5 commission vote, which was part of the heated debate on a county economic-development fund. The most high-profile seeker of the money, the proposed SkyRise tower, also failed to win approval for a $9 million grant thanks to a 6-6 tie. A revote on the SkyRise project is expected next month. 

Rosen donated $60,000 to incumbent commissioners up for reelection this year, and his charter-school partner in Parkside, Academica, gave another $43,500. Combined, that would  make them the second-biggest contributor in the cycle, just behind Turnberry's $109,600. By himself, Rosen tied lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez for the No. 3 slot, according to our latest analysis of campaign-finance data. 

Continue reading "Big Miami-Dade donor Wayne Rosen wants another shot at county money" »