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August 30, 2015

Jeb Bush to welcome donors to Coral Gables amid campaign fundraising questions

@PatriciaMazzei

Tropical Storm Erika nearly forced Jeb Bush's presidential campaign to call off a donor reception planned for Monday night in Coral Gables. But the storm dissipated before reaching Florida and the event will still take place, at the home of auto executive Manny Kadre, one of the donors told the Miami Herald.

The hometown fundraiser comes as Bush tries to contend with slower summer fundraising and the phenomenon of Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential frontrunner whose stunning rise in public-opinion polls has stunned veteran GOP campaign operatives. Bush has seen his popularity slip, in some polls behind both Trump and Ben Carson

Grappling with a tougher, longer slog of a campaign, Bush has started going after Trump. Some Florida donors were eager to see a more aggressive Bush -- like the politician they remember in the  Governor's Mansion -- but the shift in strategy has its risks. Bush used the term "anchor babies," which immigration advocates consider offensive, after Trump did, giving Bush the kind of unflattering headlines that make it more difficult for fundraisers to get donors to open their wallets.

Bush's staff has tightened some of its spending, as the New York Times reported. It also lost three fundraising consultants, as Politico reported, though the trio will remain active with Right to Rise USA, the super PAC backing Bush. (Saint Petersblog has an invitation to the Gables fundraiser here.)

Between the campaign and the super PAC, Bush reported more than $100 million raised last quarter, far more than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat. But he also has a big staff that needs to get paid.

With most of Bush's early donors maxing out their contributions, the campaign has been forced to look for new people to tap for cash. That includes younger, less affluent professionals being courted by Bush's two sons, George P. (who lives in Texas) and Jeb Jr. (who lives in the Gables).

A Sept. 24 Miami event hosted by Jeb Bush Jr. lists 13 elected officials as "honorary co-chairs": U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, state Sen. Anitere Flores, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and South Florida state Reps. Frank Artiles, Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz, Manny Diaz, Erik Fresen, Jose Oliva, Holly Raschein and Carlos Trujillo.

On Tuesday, Bush plans to stay in Miami and attend a back-to-school event at La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Little Havana.

FullSizeRender

How the family of a South Florida journalist slain by the Islamic State is coping, a year later

via @HowardCohen

“I am the mother of Steven Joel Sotloff, who was brutally murdered Sept. 2, 2014, by ISIL. The anniversary of his death is coming up and we would like to write an obituary.”

Since their son was beheaded in a video broadcast to the world, the Sotloff family has grieved privately, working quietly on memorials and scholarships in their son’s memory.

They haven’t spoken much about their son or their own lives after the horror of his murder by an Islamic State executioner. But with the pain and anger still raw, Shirley and Arthur Sotloff feel the U.S. government didn’t do enough to bring Steven home alive.

As the milestone of his death approaches, the Pinecrest couple reached out to the Miami Herald to tell the story of their son, a freelance journalist who covered the Middle East, and the work they have undertaken to honor his life.

They remember Steven as a creative boy who grew up to be independent and passionate about his craft. They have shared his eloquent and subtle farewell to his family. They spoke of his important work in the Middle East. They described their determination to help others. And they told of their pain over the past year.

The couple, along with family friends, created the 2Lives Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation to endow scholarships to students seeking careers in journalism. In mid-September, the Village of Pinecrest, in partnership with the Miami Foundation and Home Depot, will open the Steven Sotloff Memorial at Pinecrest Gardens.

Steven Joel Sotloff worked so hard, for so little — “my son didn’t even make enough money to do a tax return; he was making $150 an article,” his father says — that his life and passion for telling stories had to be honored in some way. And so, the foundation, the memorial, the conversation. 

Few can comprehend what his family has gone through since Sept. 2, 2014.

More here.

August 29, 2015

Impressions of the GOP field running for Florida Senate

via @adamsmithtimes

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday found that about nine in 10 Florida voters did not know enough about the four Republicans running to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate to have an opinion of them. And probably more than a few people in that poll exaggerated their awareness of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, defense contractor Todd Wilcox, and U.S. Reps. David Jolly and Ron DeSantis so they could sound better informed.

So we were especially interested in checking out the foursome’s rare joint appearance in Tampa Saturday to see if anyone stood out before a crowd of several hundred activists and gathered for the Republican Party of Florida’s quarterly meeting. Conventional political wisdom has it that northeast Florida’s  DeSantis, an Iraq War veteran and alum of Yale and Harvard Law, is the anti-establishment candidate, while Jolly and Lopez-Cantera are vying to emerge as the mainstream conservative alternative. Wilcox, a Special Forces and CIA combat veteran from Orlando, is a political newcomer and wildcard underdog.

None of these guys stood out Saturday, either as especially strong or especially weak. They spoke for about 10 minutes each, and barely mentioned one another. Some impressions:

Strongest anti-Washington message. Former state House member and Miami-Dade property appraiser Lopez-Cantera, 41 embraced that most effectively. “Washington candidates and Washington elected officials are very good at telling you what the problem is, they’re very good at pointing fingers. ...  What they’re not very good at getting things done. I’m tired of it. I’ve been here in Florida getting things done, I’ve been here in Florida doing things while others only talk about it.”

Most substantive. Jolly, 42, ticked off the most issue positions everything from budgeting intricacies to opposition to Race to the Top education funding, to immigration, to veterans health care and trade.

Most absurd hyperbole. DeSantis, 36, came close: “I am sick and tired of an administration that treats Raul Castro and (Iran’s) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, better than it treats the prime minister of Israel.”

Continue reading "Impressions of the GOP field running for Florida Senate" »

The swift and firm-footed rise of Miami's Speaker-D Jose Oliva

Corcoran and OlivaRep. Jose Oliva kept an icy cool as he verbally sparred with his Senate counterpart Bill Galvano over the redistricting map that would force the Legislature’s special session to end in stalemate.

As the meeting adjourned Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, suggested they might do better to take the meeting to his house, where they could light up a cigar.

The 42-year-old CEO of Miami Lakes-based Oliva Cigar has made ample use of his namesake product as he climbed the political ladder in Tallahassee. He makes his cigars available for fundraisers — like Galvano’s annual charity golf tournament. He uses them to open doors, as he did when he campaigned. And he uses them to build relationships, as he does when he invites legislators to his rented house just blocks from the Capitol in Tallahassee to eat dinner, mingle on the porch, and choose a cigar kept fresh in the humidor.

“What ultimately results is a group of people sharing ideas and understanding each other’s perspective in a very collegial way,” he said, adding that the house bans lobbyists. “It really is a sanctuary.”

Elected in a special, off-year election in 2011 to replace Rep. Steve Bovo, R-Hialeah, Oliva quickly turned his skills to becoming speaker-designate of the Florida House for 2018, one of the three most powerful positions in Florida.

A conservative Republican, Oliva emerged as a thoughtful and unflappable leader in the recent redistricting session, where he was head of the House Reapportionment Committee. Story here. 

Photo: Rep. Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes, right, and Rep. Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes, huddle on the floor of the Florida House before the end of the regular session but after it was clear that no budget agreement was going to be reached. They are the future leadership of House Republicans. Keeler, Scott Tampa Bay Times

August 28, 2015

Florida Lottery secretary resigns

via @stevebousquet

Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s original agency heads, has resigned in the wake of media reports of questionable travel expenses and absenteeism.

Scott announced Friday that he has appointed longtime lottery executive Tom Delacenserie as interim secretary.

The governor said O’Connell announced her Oct. 1 departure to explore opportunities in the private sector.

Yet, O’Connell has been under pressure for some time. Her agency faced severe criticism last year over poor financial management and a fraud investigation into unusual, recurring lottery payouts. The Palm Beach Post, in a series of reports last year, found suspicious patterns of winnings at the same retail outlets.

More recently, Politico reported this week that O’Connell racked up nearly $30,000 in travel bills and took nine weeks of vacation in 2014, the equivalent of 20 percent of all business days, at a time when key staffers in her office were under investigation.

Legislators who oversee lottery operations reacted with surprise.

More here.

UM biotech park seeking $10M from Miami-Dade taxpayers

@MrMikeVasquez

The University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park wants to expand — and it wants county taxpayers to help pay for it.

The university’s partner developer, Wexford Miami LLC, is asking the county for $10 million in economic development grants. In return, the project is promising to create a 14-story, 244,000-square-foot expansion of its biotech park, which first opened in 2011.

The $112 million plan includes a hotel and a 646-car parking garage. In the developer’s application with the county, it promises the biotech project would create 476 jobs by the end of 2022. The UM biotech center is located near Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The proposal had its first public unveiling on Thursday, when an economic development committee of Miami-Dade County commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the project’s request. Commissioners Xavier Suarez, Bruno Barreiro, and Audrey Edmonson voted in favor, Commissioners Dennis Moss and Rebeca Sosa voted against.

“It’s bringing a lot of jobs,” said Edmonson, who sponsored the proposal.

More here.

Jeb Bush, consensus-builder? Florida remembers differently

Bush

via @adamsmithtimes

Jeb Bush says he’s the man to fix the partisan gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. It just takes a willingness to find common ground and reach across the aisle to work with people who may often disagree with you.

“I don’t assume it’s my way or the highway,” Florida’s former governor recently told a woman who asked at the Iowa State Fair how his style differs from Donald Trump’s.

Jeb Bush, consensus-builder? That’s not the leadership style most people remember from his eight years as governor.

“His style is my way or the highway,” said former Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, a Republican who supported most of Bush’s agenda but is undecided for 2016. “The whole time I worked with him, he never listened to me or anybody else in the process. If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner think they’re going to have a great relationship with President Jeb Bush, they better watch out.”

Former Republican state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, who several times opposed pieces of Bush’s agenda, recalled little appetite for compromise or negotiation from the governor: “If you don’t agree with him on something, there is no making it better. It’s my way or hit the highway.”

A central part of Bush’s campaign argument for the Republican presidential nomination is that he has what it takes to fix what’s wrong with Washington: Barack Obama failed to deliver on his promise to end gridlock; Bush can do it.

“I know how to do this. Because I was a reform-minded governor who got things done in a very purple state — Florida,” Bush said, contrasting his record with Obama’s.

But President Obama faced something Gov. Bush never did: Divided government.

More here.

Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Galvano redistricting prediction: The court is going to give us some time

Bill GalvanoAs the afternoon fades on this Friday in August, the Florida Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling as to how it wants to proceed in the redistricting impasse over the congressional maps.

Senate Redistricting chief Bill Galvano told the Herald/Times he believes the court is prepared to give the Legislature more time to work out differences between the House and Senate, if they can soon agree to reconvene in special session. 

"The door is still open to talk and reconvene, although that hasn’t been agreed to,'' said Galvano, R-Bradenton, in an interview. "There was a misunderstanding that the court was going to order or issue a statement today. The Supreme Court operates on its own time schedule. We still have until Oct. 17."

Meanwhile, Senate President Andy Gardiner on Friday formally requested a meeting with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli to discuss convening another special session to discuss the alternate map offered by Galvano.  Download 8 27 15 Speaker Crisafulli

Nearly a week after the last legislative session ended in stalemate, Galvano offered up a "compromise" map on Thursday that attempts to appease many of the concerns the House had with the final Senate map. On Friday, House Redistricting chairman Jose Oliva responded in a letter to House members that the Senate map had promise -- but also warned that it may be too late.

"If the Senate had offered an amendment like the map filed by Chairman Galvano yesterday afternoon, that map would have been given serious consideration,'' Oliva wrote.

On the same day Galvano offered up his new plan, the challengers to the redistricting map asked the Supreme Court to take over the map-drawing process, saying that after three attempts and three failures the court should no longer trust lawmakers to work it out. 

But Galvano believes the court may be a bit more open-minded and may be willing to give lawmakers more time. If lawmakers can agree to convene again in special session and pass the compromise map, the challengers will have an opportunity to raise questions in court about whatever legislators pass.

"It’s not as if the plaintiffs need a whole lot of discovery,'' he said. "What we’ve done in two weeks can be figured out very quickly."

But, Galvano, added, "it's not just Chair Oliva and myself making decisions and working with each other. What makes it so difficult is there are lawyers from each chamber and the lawyers don’t always agree on how everything is interpreted." 

Still, with the stakes so high and the intense desire to avoid setting the precedent of turning over redistricting to the courts, Galvano remained optimistic that lawmakers would return. "I'm sure I'll see you soon,'' he said.

The House's openness to a new Senate plan comes after Galvano offered a map that for the first time appeased the House's call for consistency. It also comes after the Senate announced it has resolved its leadership battle for the 2016-18 legislative session with Sen. Joe Negron amassing more pledges among Senate Republicans than Sen. Jack Latvala.  For many in the House leadership, Negron is the preferred candidate. 

 

Miami's Latin Builders Association breaks up with Donald Trump resort citing Trump's 'bigoted, sexist and ignorant' remarks

Trump

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's Latin Builders Association, which bills itself as the nation's largest Hispanic construction trade group, has dumped Donald Trump over Trump's strident remarks on immigration.

The LBA planned to hold its biennial gala for its new president at the Trump National Doral resort in November. The group gave the hotel notice Thursday that it is rescinding its contract.

"Most regrettably, Mr. Trump's recent pattern of bigoted, sexist and ignorant verbal assaults on immigrants, women and veterans have made hosting the installation gala at the resort unfeasible," LBA Executive Director Melissa Tapanes Llahues told members at a luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. 

"It is unfortunate that such a majestic location is now inextricably associated with someone who is simply antithetical and repugnant to the LBA's legacy and mission."

A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The LBA reserved the Trump venue last December, Tapanes Llahues said. Once Trump launched his presidential candidacy in June -- saying Mexico sends "rapists" and "criminals" to cross the U.S. border illegally -- group leaders began private discussions over what action, if any, to take, as first reported by Politico. The talks intensified as Trump's remarks turned into a "pattern," according to Tapanes Llahues. The group reached out to the resort to relay its concerns before rescinding its contract, she added.

Continue reading "Miami's Latin Builders Association breaks up with Donald Trump resort citing Trump's 'bigoted, sexist and ignorant' remarks" »

'Alarming' lag in Sunshine Law training for Scott, Cabinet

A little more "sunshine" in state government is proving tough to accomplish.

It has been nearly six months since Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members agreed that they needed a refresher course in Florida's public records and open meeting laws. They agreed to do it by the end of the year at a public Cabinet meeting but the training has not been scheduled and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's office calls the foot-dragging "alarming."

At a meeting of Cabinet aides this week, Putnam's Cabinet aide, Brooke McKnight, raised the issue.

"It's a little alarming when you look at the calendar and we are running out of dates," McKnight told her colleagues. "I thought it was important to bring it up today."

The extra training was one of many official responses to the uproar that followed the forced ouster of the former commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Gerald Bailey, last December. Bailey's removal was orchestrated in secret through back-channel discussions among Cabinet aides with no public discussion or vote. Scott and the Cabinet agreed to the extra training two weeks after a coalition of Florida news outlets alleged in a lawsuit that the four officials broke the law. Both sides settled the suit in June and the elected officials acknowledged no wrongdoing but agreed to a number of open government reforms.

By custom, the governor's office controls the contents of Cabinet meeting agendas. Since Scott became governor, there have been fewer Cabinet meetings. Five more are scheduled for this year, but two of them are out of town: next Tuesday in St. Augustine, Sept. 29, Oct. 27, Nov. 10 in Palm Beach County and Dec. 8.

At a Cabinet meeting last March, Attorney General Pam Bondi said the additional trip to Sunshine school would be in addition to a standing requirement to watch a two-hour DVD every year. Bondi said assistant attorney general Pat Gleason, considered an authority on sunshine issues, would direct the refresher course for Florida's top elected statewide officials. 

"We are ready at any time," Bondi announced at the March 10 Cabinet meeting.

Bondi's spokesman said this week that the training will be "scheduled and completed in the required time frame." 

Donald Trump keeps jabbing Jeb Bush on 'low energy'

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush may be the hardest working candidate out there, a constant presence on the town hall and fundraising circuit. This week alone he was in Texas, Colorado, Utah, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

But Bush, the self-styled “joyful tortoise," keeps getting attacked by Donald Trump as “low-energy." Morning Joe Scarborough actually posed it as a serious question today.

“Are you doing that just to provoke him or do you really think the fact that you say he's a low energy would prevent him from being an effective president?” Scarborough asked Trump.

“You know, I like him,” Trump replied. “He's a nice person. He is a low energy person.  There's no question about it. And, you know, I think we need much more than a low energy person right now to put this country back in shape. We need tremendous energy and tremendous smarts and tremendous cunning and all of the things that other countries have.”

Jeb world is supposedly irked by the low-energy stuff and it showed in Bush’s town hall in Pensacola on Wednesday. “We need leadership in Washington, D.C. High-energy leadership,” the former governor said.

Trump is playing to Bush’s steady, wonky demeanor not his work ethic. While Bush has tried to show more passion on the stump, he’s seeking to avoid the anger-driven campaign of Trump, Ted Cruz and a handful of other Republicans and present  an optimisitc vision for America.

That may prove the best strategy — Marco Rubio is doing the same — but Bush wasn’t counting on Trump, whose outlandish behavior is manna for Morning Joe and the rest of the cable news circuit.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Jose Oliva: New Senate congressional map proposal is too late

@MichaelAuslen

At this time last Friday, House and Senate negotiations over new congressional district maps were falling apart, as the chambers approached a noon deadline without a compromise.

Now, House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, says he likes the latest map proposed by Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Thursday.

But it's too late.

"If the Senate had offered an amendment like the map filed by Chairman Galvano yesterday afternoon," Oliva wrote in a memo to House members, "that map would have been given serious consideration."

At issue has been the configuration of a district in southern and eastern Hillsborough County, which the Senate pushed for but House members wouldn't agree to, saying it didn't use "consistent" methodology to draw boundaries and could be thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Galvano's latest map addresses other concerns of the Senate (including putting all of Sarasota County within one district) but doesn't create a southern Hillsborough seat.

Still, Oliva says the best path forward is to continue supporting a map that passed the House. That map made minor tweaks to a "base map" drawn by House and Senate staff before the redistricting special session began.

Environmental groups seek budget surplus funds to buy land

@MichaelAuslen

Environmental groups are asking a Leon County judge to intervene in how the state will spend a large chunk of the $700 million in funds set aside by voters for conservation.

If granted, the injunction, filed Friday by environmental law group Earthjustice on behalf of four nonprofits, would force the state to put more than $200 million from the state budget surplus into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The state budget, passed by the Legislature in June, uses some of the money in the trust fund to fund existing projects like administration of the Department of Environmental Protection or firefighting by the Department of Agriculture.

Critics say this flies in the face of what three-quarters of voters demanded when they supported Amendment 1 on the ballot in November.

"We're not saying that those things aren't appropriate for funding," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. "We don't think they're appropriate for Amendment 1 funding."

Environmentalists, including Fuller, want to see the $700 million from the trust fund in this year's budget spent on land acquisition in the interest of conservation.

"We think theat the public spoke when they voted for the amendment. We think in these areas, the Legislature misapplied the funds," he said.

But legislators argued in June that their spending falls in line with vague guidelines written into the constitutional amendment.

They did set aside some funds for land buys in the budget, but it falls far short of what environmental activists have asked for.

Four of the same groups behind Friday's injunction request -- Earthjustice, Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida -- filed a lawsuit in June, asking a judge to determine how future trust fund money set aside by Amendment 1 can be spent. The Sierra Club joined the lawsuit Friday. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Sierra Club was part of the original lawsuit in June.)

Gov. Rick Scott puts all of Florida in state of emergency

@MichaelAuslen

Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency throughout all of Florida after the latest forecasts show Tropical Storm Erika could rip through the middle of the state.

At about 8:45 a.m., Scott announced the order, which puts Bryan Koon, director of the state Division of Emergency Management, in control of emergency response and initiates a number of state laws allowing aid to come in to Florida from the outside in the event that it's needed and for state agencies to react.

The latest forecast by the National Hurricane Center at 8 a.m. Friday says Erika is no longer expected to become a hurricane. However, the tropical storm's path is forecast to go right up the middle of the state. At 2 a.m. Monday, the current forecast shows Erika making landfall in South Florida. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, it could be in the middle of the state, not far from Lakeland.

After a briefing from emergency management staff Thursday, Scott spoke to reporters, urging Floridians to start making preparations now using resources at floridadisaster.org and to ensure loved ones are prepared as well.

Doctors accuse Florida of purging sick, disabled students from treatment program

via @Marbinius

The medical directors of a Florida agency that treats some of the state’s sickest and most disabled children — kids with conditions ranging from HIV to cleft lips to diabetes to malfunctioning hearts — are accusing healthcare administrators of “dismantling” the program amid a controversial overhaul that already has purged close to 6,000 children from enrollment.

In a strongly worded letter to state health administrators, at least 14 medical directors or assistant directors from throughout Florida say recent changes to the Children’s Medical Services program risk diluting the medical care for thousands of children. And, while the new program is being implemented, the doctors say, all new enrollments have been halted, forcing even the most frail children to wait.

“Pediatricians and pediatric specialists who have spent years caring for Florida’s children with special healthcare needs at CMS are alarmed at the vast changes that have taken place,” the Aug. 20 letter states.

The doctors who signed the letter — they compose the lion’s share of the program’s medical directors — accuse the state of gutting the healthcare program without first explaining why or seeking input from the doctors who provide care in the trenches.

Administrators have so diminished CMS, the doctors wrote, that it no longer meets the criteria for accreditation, a formal endorsement. Under federal law, CMS will need to secure accreditation once it operates fully as a Medicaid managed care agency.

More here.

U.S. considers building 'Guantánamo North' from scratch

via @carolrosenberg

The Obama administration is considering the option of building a “Guantánamo North” from scratch as it writes a proposal to Congress on how to close the controversial prison camps in southeast Cuba by moving some captives to lockups in the United States, a Defense Department official with knowledge of the plan says.

While the Pentagon has only acknowledged scouting U.S. military lockups in Kansas and South Carolina — to the consternation of those states’ governors — the administration is considering other sites and communities across the United States.

“We’re working with the inter agency [other government departments] to come up with some other ideas, some other places we’ll visit,” the official told the Miami Herald. “Of course, Gitmo was built on a place where there was no detention facility. So there is the option of what you could call a greenfield at a location where there is nothing now.”

The draft plan is being written for Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s signature, according to those who have seen it, and includes legislative fixes that would allow construction or renovations of facilities in the U.S., transfers of detainees and might include housing for guards. Such a move would likely require fast-track appropriations for military construction.

More here.

Operatives engaged in 'shadow redistricting' sue to invalidate Fair Districts

A group of Alachua-based Republicans calling themselves the "Conservative Coalition for Free Speech and Association" filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the Fair Districts amendments of the Florida Constitution as unconstitutional.

The group is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner in an attempt to invalidate the anti-gerrymandering amendments approved by voters in 2010. Several members of the group have fought the release of their private emails in pending redistricting lawsuits, claiming it violates their First Amendment right to free speech and association.

Meanwhile, the release of a limited number of those documents showed that many of these individuals were engaged in what the court called a "shadow redistricting" process that aimed to influence the Legislature's drawing of its maps in a way that favored Republicans. 

Led by Stafford Jones, head the Alachua Republican Executive Committee, the group echoed many of the complaints of Florida legislators in its lawsuit, and blasted the Florida Supreme Court for violating their First Amendment rights. 

The court's 5-2 ruling invalidating the congressional map because it showed improper partisan intent was "overreaching,'' said Jones in a statement. The court "quite cynically, if not dangerously, redefined protected political free speech and the anonymous petitioning of government as a 'conspiracy'; a conspiracy to commit Democracy?"

According to documents filed in the current redistricting lawsuits challenging the congressional and state Senate maps, Jones and other members of the group involved in the lawsuit were instrumental in recruiting Republicans with scripted talking points to appear at the Legislature's public hearings across the state.

They also actively worked on and submitted Republican-leaning maps as part of the public submission process, pieces of which were included in the final versions of the maps adopted by lawmakers, court documents show.

This is the second lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Florida that attempts to invalidate the state Supreme Court's ruling. The district is believed to be most favorable to conservatives. 

Documents obtained by the Herald/Times show that taxpayers have already spent $11 million in legal fees for the legislature's defense of its redistricting maps. The Democratic Party has used that to launch a campaign and distribute mailers targeting individual lawmakers for wasting taxpayer money. 

Here's the press release and lawsuit:  Download Federal_Complaint

Continue reading "Operatives engaged in 'shadow redistricting' sue to invalidate Fair Districts " »

Marco Rubio to deliver China policy speech

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio previewed his China policy speech, scheduled for Friday in North Charleston, South Carolina, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Over the past week, we have been dealt a painful reminder of just how important U.S. policy toward China is in the 21st century. On Monday, due largely to a crash in China’s stock market, U.S. markets suffered their worst day in four years. Insecurity and anxiety about the future—already high for American families—climbed even higher. It was a jarring illustration of how globalization is changing the U.S. economy.

China presents both opportunities and challenges. Trade with its growing middle class has opened American businesses to hundreds of millions of new customers. But Beijing’s protectionist economic and trade policies increasingly endanger America’s financial well-being. China is also a rising threat to U.S. national security. Earlier this year, it was behind the largest cyberattack ever carried out against the United States.

President Obama has continued to appease China’s leaders despite their mounting aggression. In addition to his insufficient responses to economic and national-security concerns, he has ignored the Chinese government’s mass roundups of human-rights advocates, oppression of religious minorities, detention of political dissidents, ever-tightening controls on the Internet, and numerous other human-rights violations. He has hoped that being more friendly with China will make it more responsible. It hasn’t worked.

The U.S. must continue to pursue cooperation with China when possible, but we can no longer succumb to the illusion that more rounds of cordial dialogue with its rulers will effect a change of heart. That is why President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington next week should not be canceled, but rather downgraded to a working visit from a state visit. This is an opportunity to speak bluntly to this authoritarian ruler and achieve meaningful progress, not to treat him to a state dinner.

More here.

Update: Below is Rubio's speech, as prepared for delivery.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio to deliver China policy speech" »

Latvala's lost Senate pledge: 'He's never looked me in the eye'

State Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, may prove to be the decisive vote to break the deadlock for Senate president in 2016 between Sens. Joe Negron of Stuart and Jack Latvala of Clearwater. But tensions continue to simmer.

It was an open secret in the 2015 session that Altman had flipped his support from Latvala to Negron, but it wasn't official until Negron issued a statement Wednesday listing the senators (including himself) who make up his 14 supporters in the 26-member Senate Republican caucus.

"He flipped before the session," Latvala told the Herald/Times. "But he's never looked me in the eye and said he flipped. I still have a signed pledge card from him."

Latvala says Senate President Andy Gardiner's call for a December caucus vote to make Negron president is premature and ill-advised. He said Altman and two other Republican senators are termed out in 2016 and can't run for new terms and the Senate is "dysfunctional" over the need to redraw its own districts, which requires Supreme Court approval.

Altman declined to discuss his change of heart in the closely-fought battle for the presidency. "That's a member to member thing," Altman said. "I have a great regard for Jack Latvala and he's a very talented person. But with Joe, we share a lot of the same values,and I feel he's the right person to lead us at this time."

Latvala insists the power struggle is not over, but Altman sounded convinced that it is. "It's a relief," Altman said. "It's a tough decision and it's one of the most important decisions we make as a body."

August 27, 2015

For Miami-Dade mayor, a clash over animal-shelter funds

@doug_hanks

Mayor Carlos Gimenez sparred with the leader of an animal-rights group Thursday in what turned out to be the tensest  exchange during eight town halls dedicated to his proposed 2016 budget for Miami-Dade County.

Rita Schwartz, a founder of the Pets' Trust advocacy group, was called as the last speaker at the West Dade Kendall Library when she began an extended critique of what she called the county's "watered down" plan for reduce stray cat and dogs.

"If you want to know the truth of what is really happening, Mr. Mayor, we've been asking you for over a year to meet with us," Schwartz replied.

He responded: "Ma'am, I've met with your group on a number of times. We disagree. And we will continue to disagree."

'You have to understand that we have to prioritize the money that we have," Gimenez continued. "I've had pets all my life. I've had cats. I've had dogs. I'm just as much of a pet lover as you are. But I have different priorities."

The exchange at Gimenez's final town hall came a day after the Pets' Trust failed to win support from a County Commission panel for adding $13 million to the 2016 Animal Services budget.

In 2012, the group successfully passed a non-binding ballot item that endorsed a special property tax for animal services, but Gimenez joined commissioners in declining to create the tax.  But recent budgets saw a 50 percent increase in Animal Services spending, and survival statistics are up in the county shelter.

  

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