February 28, 2015

As session opens, legislators are forced to confront the 'cannibalizing' of Florida's prisons

Cross City Correctional ceilingThe two DVDs were only minutes long but they depicted deplorable conditions in the state’s prison system: uninhabitable dorms, inmate-on-staff assaults and roofs that were so porous that prison staff rigged sheets of cardboard to serve as makeshift gutters.

It was a vivid example of chronic underfunding and understaffing at the Florida Department of Corrections, and then-Secretary Michael Crews wanted to show them to legislators last year in his effort to make the case for more money.

But the graphic pictures didn’t fit the jobs message of Gov. Rick Scott, who came into office vowing to cut $1 billion from prisons. The governor’s office ordered Crews not to show them. He made copies and distributed them to the chairmen of legislative committees anyway and, while no one agreed to show them publicly, Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, encouraged his budget committee to take a look.

The governor’s office says it doesn’t know who Crews shared the videos with, but it is now embracing the need for more money. Last year, however, the governor’s budget staff downsized Crews’ request for inmate food and for additional corrections staff, and the Legislature gave the DOC only some of what Crews sought. Another year of budget struggles at the troubled agency was underway. Read more here. 

Jeb Bush aims for conservatives conservatives who 'don't know that they're conservative'

via @lesleyclark

Jeb Bush didn’t back down Friday as he faced skeptical conservatives, staunchly defending his stands on immigration and education policy while pointing to his record as a tax-slashing governor as proof of his conservative bona fides.

The former Florida governor’s appearance before the Conservative Political Action Conference served as a reminder of his overall challenge and strategy: working to keep conservatives from rebelling and rallying behind a strong alternative for the Republican presidential nomination but not giving up the positions that could help him in a general election battle with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Bush started down that path with his 26-minute appearance at the conservative meeting, aided by a boisterous crowd of supporters who drowned out the occasional jeer. Electing to take questions from Fox News’ Sean Hannity rather than deliver prepared remarks, Bush didn’t retreat from any of the stances that have made many conservatives wary of his possible candidacy.

Instead, he urged his critics to consider him as a “second choice” and called on Republicans to broaden their tent.

More here.

February 27, 2015

Rush Limbaugh: Jeb Bush thinks U.S. is 'flawed,' wants to make it more like Miami


Miami politicians and civic leaders like to say that their city looks like what the rest of the country will look like in coming decades. What that means in effect is that American cities will have more and more immigrants and people speaking Spanish.

That seems to scare conservative radio host and Palm Beach County resident Rush Limbaugh, who this week used his show to expound on whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appreciates the U.S. enough, as noted earlier Friday by the Miami New Times.

Limbaugh cited a piece in the conservative National Review comparing Bush to President Obama in that they want to "change" the country. But in making that argument, author Mark Krikorian -- and later Limbaugh -- appeared to express a distaste for Bush's ties to Hispanics.

Despite what some might say, the problem here is not that Jeb’s wife is from Mexico, their kids grew up speaking Spanish, and they live in a Latin American cultural enclave in the U.S. — it’s that he wants to use government policy to “fix” America by making it more like Miami. If Jeb had so little affection for and grounding in his own heritage that he wanted to assimilate into a Latin-American milieu, that’s a perfectly legitimate choice; I know a number of non-Armenians who’ve basically chosen to assimilate into Armenian life. But to try to impose that personal choice on the nation as a whole is beyond the pale. We don’t need another president who thinks Americans are defective and need to be fixed by the State.

Here's Limbaugh commenting on the argument:

Okay, so Jeb thinks America is flawed, and he wants it to be something else. He wants it to be more like the place he chose to live, the Latin-American enclave in Miami. But to take that personal emotional choice and to impose it on the nation as a whole is beyond the pale. And Obama is doing the same thing. They have different reasons, but their desired results are the same. I don't know how to react to some of these things that Jeb is quoted here as saying. It's clear that emotion is behind this, not reason. 

That kind of talk could turn off Hispanic voters at a time when Republicans need more -- not fewer -- Hispanics to vote for them to win the White House. As noted Friday morning in Politico's Florida Playbook, Hispanics in the nation's largest swing state comprise an increasingly larger chunk of the electorate, and lean increasingly more Democratic.

Limbaugh and Krikorian may not want Miami's "Latin American enclave" exported elsewhere. But the numbers, at least in Florida, aren't on their side.

CONNECT's unemployment system blasted by Auditor General


Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly refused to answer questions about problems with Florida's unemployment claims system, CONNECT, since it launched in October 2013.

But according to an audit released Friday by the state's Auditor General, there are a number of critical issues with CONNECT, which is now estimated to cost taxpayers $77.9 million.

Chief among them is that the system broke Florida law by requiring its users to log in by using their Social Security Numbers, exposing them to an unnecessary risk. Florida law prohibits agencies from requiring SSNs if it's not imperative.

"The use of SSNs as user IDs is contrary to state law and increases the risk of improper disclosure of SSNs," the audit states.

Another finding by audits concluded there were no controls in place to ensure "the confidentiality, availability and integrity of its data."

In short, the system relies on millions of data records that are neither accurate or secure.

Read DEOconnectREPORT.  

"Oh my goodness," said Ali Bustamante, an economic policy analyst at Loyola University in New Orleans who reviewed the audit for the Times/Herald.  "This just shows (Scott's administration officials) had no idea how bad it was. They kept saying it was under control, but this audit clearly shows it wasn't under control."

On Senate floor, Marco Rubio blasts 'horrifying, human-rights catastrophe that is Venezuela'


Making his pitch as a the foreign-policy go-to guy in a crowded field of potential Republican presidential contenders, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor Friday to denounce the government of Venezuela (and, at one point, of Cuba). He also continued his push for the Obama administration to move more quickly on implementing sanctions against Venezuelan leaders signed into law late last year.

"There's something happening here in our hemisphere that's not getting enough attention," Rubio said at the beginning of his 12-minute speech on what he called "the horrifying, human-rights catastrophe that is Venezuela." 

A high-school student was shot and killed in an anti-government protest in the South American country this week. In addition to saying he was worried about future instability in Venezuela, Rubio laid out a moral argument for opposing President Nicolás Maduro's regime, which he tied to Cuban communists who have advised the Venezuelan government since the late President Hugo Chávez took power.

In a jab at Obama, Rubio said that while he challenged Latin American heads of state to speak out about the Venezuelan situation, those countries might not be moved to action if the U.S. didn't set an example.

"And instead from the White House and the President, there is silence," Rubio said. "There is silence."

The bad news at FDLE traveled fast -- to CFO's office

Florida Cabinet members have said they were blindsided by Gov. Rick Scott's decision to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Dec. 16.

"(It) caught a lot of us by surprise," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater recently told Capitol reporters.

It appears that it wasn't a complete surprise to Atwater, whose office began lobbying for one of his top aides to get the FDLE job before the ink was dry on Bailey's letter of "departure" (he refused to use the word resignation).

Emails show that Atwater's chief Cabinet affairs aide, Robert Tornillo, began promoting deputy CFO Jay Etheridge as the new head of FDLE even before Bailey's ouster was became publicly known. Bailey has said he got a surprise visit from Scott's former general counsel, Pete Antonacci, at about 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 16,and minutes later, Tornillo hand-delivered Etheridge's resume to Attorney General Pam Bondi's office on the first floor of the state Capitol building in Tallahassee.

Asked to explain the timing, Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr said: "At that time, it was known that the Governor's Office wished to make leadership changes at several agencies, including at FDLE. We offered the credentials of an individual who would make a candidate for consideration when the selection process was to begin."

It was nearly four hours later before Scott's office announced that he had appointed Rick Swearingen as interim FDLE commissioner. Atwater later called for a re-opening of the FDLE appointment, but neither his two Cabinet colleagues nor Scott agreed with him.

Here's Tornillo's email:

From: Tornillo, Robert
To: "Kent Perez"; Rob Johnson
Subject: FDLE
Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 11:52:39 AM

I dropped off two folders to Emery containing cover letter/resume for Jay Etheridge. Please call me if you have any questions.

Thanks, rt

Robert Tornillo
Director, Cabinet Affairs
Office of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater

High-level staff changes at McCarty's insurance shop

With Gov. Rick Scott having acknowledged that he wants to show state insurance regulator Kevin McCarty the door, high-level staff changes are afoot at McCarty's Office of Insurance Regulation. But a knowledgeable source says the personnel moves have been in the works for a long time, and are not related to the current turmoil surrounding Cabinet agencies.

McCarty's chief of staff, Rebecca Matthews, will leave at the end of next week to be the executive director of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, and Richard Koon, deputy commissioner of property and casualty insurance, is also leaving for a private sector post.

Matthews' replacement will be Belinda Miller, OIR's general counsel, and Koon's replacement will be David Altmeier, who currently runs the P&C financial oversight unit in the insurance office, and the agency's new general counsel will be Anoush Brangaccio. The Matthews and Koon departures were first reported by SNL, an online news service that covers the insurance industry.

Judge rules taxpayers should cover legal bills for Ray Sansom

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge says taxpayers should pay the legal fees of disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey said Friday that she would side with Sansom.

Dempsey didn't say exactly how much she would award Sansom. He sued the state to recover nearly $1 million stemming from his successful defense of corruption charges.

Sansom was accused of scheming to add $6 million to the state budget for an airplane hangar that would ultimately benefit a political supporter. The charges were dropped by prosecutors after a judge blocked the testimony of a key witness.

His lawyers argued the state should pay his fees because the charges were connected to his actions as a legislator.

In a surprise move Sansom testified on Friday and defended his actions. 

The political importance of the Parcel B park: White voters



Before he was a Meet the Press panelist and presidential strategist, Republican political consultant Mike Murphy helped the Miami Heat win a referendum in 1996 over tax subsidies and public land for the AmericanAirlines Arena. And the guru said a key part of winning that fight was touting a waterfront park to white voters.

"White voters were most excited about a new family-friendly park on Miami's waterfront, including soccer fields and new arena, which would bring in concerts and other entertainment events," Murphy wrote in a 2004 essay for the Sports Business Journal. "Recasting the arena as a waterfront park and arena was to be key to our campaign." 

The blunt retrospective offers a new backstory for the ongoing debate over Parcel B, the five acres of county waterfront promised as a park in Heat campaign materials from nearly 20 years ago. The park never came. After the election, Miami-Dade gave the Heat permission to build retail there. That never happened. In 2003, the Heat gave up the spot but still rents it for valet parking and truck storage at what the county now says are discounted rates.

Through it all, park activists have demanded Miami-Dade deliver the promised park. Last year, County Commissioners endorsed building a Cuban Exile museum there, which the Heat opposes. Park activists, of course, are fighting the effort, too. 

Muprhy's essay highlights the key role the Parcel B vision played in creating the arena. "In late August, the arena project appeared to be domed," Murphy wrote. "We found that to win we had to make the referendum about more than basketball."

His essay also had advice for other sports teams seeking public dollars for stadiums: spend real money and you'll win.

"In most circumstances, the opposition forces to building a new arena will not have the resources to wage a traditional campaign with television ads and the other tactics we used in the Miami Heat campaign. This is a big advantage that owners should fully exploit. For a relatively small investment (we spent $3.5 million to win the Miami campaign), you can run a political-style campaign that will drive the public debate on your referendum." 

In hall packed with conservatives, Marco Rubio brings acclaim and laughter


Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told a gathering of conservative activists from around the country Friday morning that America doesn’t owe him anything – but that he owes a “debt to America that I will never be able to repay.”

Before a mostly-full ballroom at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, the Republican and potential presidential candidate recounted his personal history, one that took his parents – with little money, no connections, and limited education – from Cuba to South Florida.

“Less than four decades later, all four of their children live the lives and the dreams that my parents once had for themselves,” Rubio told the gathering. “For me, America isn’t just a country. It’s the place that literally changed the history of my family.”

The possible path to 2016 is tricky and tight for Rubio, once a darling of the nation’s conservatives but now treated skeptically by many. Despite one of the most-conservative voting records in the U.S. Senate, Rubio lost many of his conservative fans in 2013, when he pushed a bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that made it through the Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives.

Many conservatives lambasted him for his role, and to this day some hold it against him. In a potentially crowded GOP presidential field – some with conservative credentials superior to Rubio’s – standing out before this important constituency could be difficult.

Continue reading "In hall packed with conservatives, Marco Rubio brings acclaim and laughter" »

The Invitation Imbroglio in Miami-Dade: A follow-up


Yesterday, we reported on a County Hall dust-up between a prominent lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez and Michael Hernández, communications chief for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. 

The gist: Lopez sent out invitations to Gimenez's State of the County address. Hernández objected, saying it looked like the emails were sent on the mayor's behalf. Words were exchanged, whispers leaked, text messages screen captured, and apologies demanded. 

Now the lawyers may be getting involved. On Wednesday, Lopez sent Hernández an email suggesting he might sue over the allegations of improper conduct. Some excerpts (and, yes, your blogger is mentioned):

Mike, please be advised that Doug Hanks of the Miami Herald texted me the following link yesterday and requested my comments:

As you are personally aware, the allegations contained therein are clearly false based on the nature, tone and subject of our communications late Friday, past.  I clarified this matter to Doug and further provided him with evidence to substantiate the truth in the form of screen-shots of our text messages, Mayor’s SOC invitation to me and our standard Evite...

Additionally, as you may have read (link above) Mr. Horta has published false allegations sourced by someone in your employ and control and who claims to have relied exclusively on your account of the nature, tone and content of our communications.  I respectfully request that you – as the only other witness to our conversation, as evidenced by the text messages -- immediately address with Mr. Horta these false statements in a fashion and form that will mitigate any further damage.

I am confident that you have not directly nor indirectly contributed or consented to these acts of defamation.  Your prompt attention to this very serious matter is not only appreciated to avoid any further actions.  This isn’t personal, it’s the legal. 

Neither side would comment on the email.

In a separate statement, Gimenez Chief of Staff Alex Ferro said this:

Mike was doing his job, he was trying to ensure that everyone who attended had a seat. The Mayor is very happy with Mike's performance. 

February 26, 2015

And now, the unofficial response to the State of the County address


Needless to say, local versions of the president's annual State of the Union address never quite capture the pomp of that Congressional moment. But Miami-Dade's State of the County speech can now boast one presidential flourish: a video response from the opposition.

Hours after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez delivered his 45-minute speech before a crowd at Florida International University, likely challenger Raquel Regalado posted a two-minute response on her Facebook page. 


"Sadly, there were more questions than answers at today's speech as many of us wondered about these big projects and how we're going to be paying for them," the radio and television host said in the video, filmed in a studio with a backdrop of Miami. "There is a need for leadership in Miami-Dade County, but we did not see that today in today's State of the County."

Miami FDLE chief suspended with pay

via @DavidOvalle305

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s top agent in Miami has been put on administrative leave with pay as the agency investigates a “citizen’s complaint,” a spokesman said Thursday.

Troy Walker, the special agent in charge of the Miami regional field office, had only been on the job for two months after arriving from a high-ranking role in the Tampa field office.

FDLE declined to discuss the allegations against Walker. “Because this is an open investigation, no further details are available,” said agency spokesman Steve Arthur.

The suspension adds another twist to turmoil in FDLE’s high-level ranks.

More here.

Obama commemorates 3rd anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death


President Obama used part of his remarks in a reception Thursday honoring African American History month to remember Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens teenager killed three years ago in Sanford.

"Today, on the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death, showing all of our kids -- all of them -- every single day, that their lives matter -- that's part of our task," the president said, according to a White House transcript. "I want to thank Trayvon's parents for being here on what's a very difficult day for them." 

Trayvon's parents were in the White House East Room for the event. The man who shot the unarmed 17-year-old, George Zimmerman, was acquitted by a jury. The U.S. Justice Department announced this week that it would not charge Zimmerman with a federal hate crime.

The boy's death set off a national debate on racial profiling and self-defense laws.

NYT: Jeb Bush demands 'monogamy' from advisers

From The New York Times:

Mr. Bush has vowed to run a “joyful” presidential campaign free from the seamier sides of party politics, projecting the air of a cerebral man almost effortlessly drawing together Republicans eager to help him seek the White House. But behind the scenes, he and his aides have pursued the nation’s top campaign donors, political operatives and policy experts with a relentlessness and, in the eyes of rivals, ruthlessness that can seem discordant with his upbeat tone.

Their message, according to dozens of interviews, is blunt: They want the top talent now, they have no interest in sharing it, and they will remember those signed on early — and, implicitly, those who did not. The aim is not just to position Mr. Bush as a formidable front-runner for the Republican nomination but also to rapidly lock up the highest-caliber figures in the Republican Party and elbow out rivals by making it all but impossible for them to assemble a high-octane campaign team.

More here.

Tea-partier calls for walkout during Jeb Bush CPAC speech

via @lesleyclark

William Temple, a tri-corner hat wearing Brunswick, Ga., man who bills himself as the “Colonial face of the tea party,” is urging attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference to take a stand when Jeb Bush shows up Friday -- head for the exits.

“I’m asking for a mass bathroom retreat, nice and polite,” said Temple, who dresses as Button Gwinnett, one of three Georgia signers of the Declaration of Independence. “I like Jeb as a friend, but I don’t like CPAC inviting non-conservatives.”

Temple, who has also pressed for walkouts of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and others, said he opposes Bush’s stand on the education standards known as Common Core and on immigration.

“It’s pretty clear the Republican side wants none of that,” Temple said. Several attendees said Temple had approached them and asked them to boycott but said they’d decline.

“It’s not polite,” one woman told a reporter.

--LESLEY CLARK, McClatchy Washington Bureau

Rand Paul slams Jeb Bush over marijuana 'hypocrisy'

via @seancockerham

Sen. Rand Paul slammed Jeb Bush for "hypocrisy" as both prepare to make the case that conservatives should support their presidential aspirations.

Paul, R-Kentucky, noted that Bush opposes legalizing medical marijuana despite admitting that he smoked marijuana as a prep student at the elite Phillips Academy.

"When Jeb was a very wealthy kid at a very elite school, he used marijuana but didn’t get caught, didn’t have to go to prison." Paul said in a Wednesday night interview on the Fox News show, "The Kelly File." "I think it shows some hypocrisy that’s going to be difficult for young people to understand why we’d put a 65-year-old guy in jail for medical marijuana."

More here.

--SEAN COCKERHAM, McClatchy Washington Bureau

At CPAC, Chris Christie takes aim at Jeb Bush

via @learyreports

Chris Christie appeared at CPAC today outside Washington and took several shots at Jeb Bush, who is working to stifle Christie's support among center-right Republicans.

“If the elites in Washington make backroom deals to decide who he next president is going to be, (Bush) is definitely the front-runner,” the New Jersey governor  said. If voters choose “somebody who looks them in the eye, I’ll do OK.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Fact-checks about the Florida Legislature including claims by Badass Teachers, Jeff Clemens and Eckerd prof

When the Florida Legislature convenes March 3, it will kick off a 60-day session during which legislators and Republican Gov. Rick Scott will fashion a budget and set policies on topics including K-12 tests, guns on college campus and whether to allow online voter registration.

At PolitiFact Florida we have fact-checked claims related to the state Legislature since 2011. In years past, we have fact-checked claims about the state’s Stand Your Ground lawMedicaid expansionCommon Core environmental spending and Sharia law.

We have our ears open for claims this year, and not everything has to be wonky. In 2012, one of our most-clicked on items was a claim by then Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, that Tampa was "the strip club capital of the world." We rated that claim False.

During the session, we will be tracking Scott’s progress on many of the 20 promises he made  for his second term that we’ll rate on our Scott-O-Meter. We have already rated some of his promises -- including those to increase school security spendingand funding for springs -- as In the Works.

In the weeks leading up to the session, we’ve fact-checked a few claims related to bills proposed this year. Here’s a look at our fact-checks so far.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'

At a congressional hearing reviewing President Barack Obama's Cuba policy, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told members of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee that the Castro regime "undermines our national security at every turn."

"Let me be clear," Ros-Lehtinen said in prepared remarks. "Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States."

Read her complete remarks after the jump.

Continue reading "Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Cuba poses a clear and present danger to the United States'" »