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April 26, 2015

Jeb Bush does South Beach: Eats burger created by semi-retired drag queen

@PatriciaMazzei

IMG_4648

After he had worked a 12-hour shift Saturday working at Burger & Beer Joint on Miami Beach, Tommy Strangie, waiter and semi-retired drag queen, got a special request from his boss: Design a burger to serve Sunday to an important guest who's on the Paleo diet, which shuns dairy, starch and refined sugar.

His boss didn't tell him the guest's name. But Strangie, who about once a year still steps out as alter ego Shelley Novak, figured it was Jeb Bush.

"I don't live under a rock!" Strangie told reporters Sunday.

When Bush showed up Sunday -- pushing away beer-battered onion rings ordered by his staff for the table -- Strangie offered the former Florida governor a lettuce-wrapped bison burger with chipotle ketchup, sautéed onions and jalapeños (no bun, no cheese) and a side salad of chopped vegetables with balsamic vinaigrette. Bush said yes.

Bush treated a couple from Wisconsin to lunch to begin a two-day financial donor conference in preparation for his all-but-declared 2016 Republican presidential campaign. Zeus Rodriguez and his wife, Dana, from Milwaukee, won the expenses-paid trip to South Beach as part of a contest organized by Bush's political action committee and campaign in waiting, Right to Rise.

“I personally have been a fan of Gov. Bush for many years, specifically due to his work in education reform and how it’s positively affected a lot of families that are very underserved in Latino communities,” said Zeus Rodriguez, who heads Hispanics for School Choice, a nonprofit that supports taxpayer –funded subsidies for children to attend private and religious schools.

“And I really like his holistic approach to the campaign,” he added.

“What campaign?” Bush said with a smile, putting his arm around Rodriguez.

“I’m sorry! That’s if he runs,” Rodriguez said.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush does South Beach: Eats burger created by semi-retired drag queen" »

April 25, 2015

Marco Rubio: Governors aren't ready for presidency on Day One

From Bloomberg:

Governors running for the presidency including, potentially, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are inherently inferior because they lack the foreign policy experience held by members of Congress, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said Saturday in Iowa.

“Governors can certainly read about foreign policy in briefings, and meet with experts, but there is no way they'll be ready on day one to manage U.S. foreign policy because the learning curve alone would take a number of years, and you see that reflected in the history of the presidency,” the Republican presidential candidate told reporters and editors for the Des Moines Register.

What about Ronald Reagan, a former governor and Republican icon?

“Ronald Reagan was someone, first of all, that had spent a number of years talking about foreign policy, more than a dozen years after he left the governorship of the state of California, he dedicated to foreign policy,” Rubio said. “He also faced a pretty straightforward threat, and that was the expansion of Soviet-style Communism at the expense of U.S. influence.” Although, Rubio added, Reagan “faced some other threats like the Iranian hostage crisis.”

More here.

Marco Rubio talks same-sex marriage before conservatives in Iowa on Saturday

From the Associated Press:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is speaking up for traditional marriage. But in remarks to social conservatives, he isn’t weighing in explicitly on whether gay marriage should be allowed.

The Republican presidential candidate won a standing ovation at a meeting of the conservative Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition on Saturday night when he declared that marriage between a man and woman has existed as an institution before governments or laws came to be.

But where he stands on the legality of gay marriage did not come up in his remarks. He said that the country should not have policies that stand in the way or marriage or families.

On other occasions, Rubio has said that sexual orientation is something most people are born with, not a choice – a view at odds with that of some religious conservatives. And he’s said he would attend a same-sex wedding of someone close to him.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June whether same-sex marriage, now allowed in 36 states, should be recognized nationwide.

Rubio is playing catch-up in Iowa with some 2016 rivals who’ve been in the state more often. He was the lead-off speaker at the Faith and Freedom gathering. 

 

Former Miami Commissioner Dunn cleared in ethics probe

@NewsbySmiley

An ethics probe into the 2013 campaign of former Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II has been closed without charges.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust began investigating Dunn after receiving a complaint following Miami Herald reports documenting problematic expenditures by Dunn’s campaign. Dunn certified reports as correct when they weren’t, filed late, used petty cash for unauthorized expenses, and listed questionable payments for a campaign headquarters.

The Florida Elections Commission fined Dunn more than $2,000 last year, and Dunn – who lost the election to Keon Hardemon -- admitted to gaffes that led to the fines.

But ethics investigator Breno Penichet looked into Dunn’s payments related to his campaign headquarters and wrote in an April 15 closeout memo that “there is no evidence to conclude that [sic] the Dunn’s campaign violated any section of the Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance. Case closed.”

April 24, 2015

Jeb Bush's South Beach confab to draw more than 350 donors

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush will spend Sunday and Monday on South Beach mingling with more than 350 financial backers, who will get a chance to get to know each other -- and the presidential candidate-in-waiting and his team -- before a formal campaign begins.

The two-day donor conference at the posh new 1Hotel, where rooms can go for more than $700 a night, will include briefings with top Bush advisers Sally Bradshaw, David Kochel and Mike Murphy, who head his political action committee, Right to Rise.

Also on the program are panel discussions, including on the PAC's efforts to reach communities outside of the Republican Party's usual comfort zone. In addition to visiting early GOP primary states, Bush , the bilingual former Florida governor, has traveled to less-visited liberal-leaning or purple states, such as Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and, next week, Puerto Rico.

On Sunday, Bush will have lunch with the winner of a contest that, according to the PAC, drew 12,331 entries. Contestants had to enter their name to vie for an expenses-paid trip to the Beach (and "Lunch with Jeb"). 

Despite $600 million offer from House, Florida Senate refuses to back off Medicaid expansion

It was intended to be an offer the Florida Senate couldn’t refuse: Give up the quest to expand Medicaid and the Florida House would set aside $600 million in state money to protect hospitals and county health departments facing extreme budget cuts.

But the Senate did refuse the offer late Friday, thrusting the 2015 legislative session into near chaos with just one week to go before its scheduled end.

Senate leaders had only a few hours to respond to the House proposal, the latest in a round of offers volleyed between the gridlocked chambers. When they did, they made clear they weren’t backing away from their model for Medicaid expansion.

"The Senate is aware of the House’s longstanding opposition to simple Medicaid expansion as contemplated by the [Affordable Care Act]," Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said in a letter to the House. The Senate proposal "is not the simple Medicaid expansion the House has long opposed. [It] is a new, market-based, consumer-driven alternative with conservative guardrails that will protect Florida taxpayers if the federal government fails to meet its commitments."

More here.

Feds charge ex-chief of staff to former Rep. Joe Garcia with secretly financing ringer candidate

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

Federal prosecutors on Friday accused former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia’s ex-chief of staff of secretly financing a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010 to draw votes away from a Republican rival — an illegal scheme that inspired a more serious copycat case two years later.

Jeffrey Garcia was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense. Prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to pose as another challenger to David Rivera.

Arrojo was also charged Friday with the same misdemeanor.

Rivera is suspected of following a similar playbook in 2012 to prop up a Democratic candidate against Joe Garcia. Rivera has not been charged, although two others in that case — the straw candidate and Rivera’s ex-girlfriend — were convicted.

Jeffrey Garcia himself confessed his actions to prosecutors three years after the fact, his attorney said. The charge, filed in U.S. District Court, paves the way for Garcia, 44, to surrender to authorities next week and then plead guilty in the hope of receiving a light sentence. The same outcome is likely for Arrojo, 41.

More here.

The careful line Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush walk on immigration reform

@PatriciaMazzei

NASHUA, N.H. -- Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have turned explaining their similar positions on immigration reform into a political art form.

Secure the border, they grovel to conservatives worried about “amnesty.” Get a better grip on people come into the country legally with visas, in case they overstay them. Give legal priority to immigrants who can contribute to the economy. Then — and only then! — should the U.S. grant legal status to many of the nearly 11 million people inside the country without authorization.

“We need to control our border first of all,” Bush said last week at a political breakfast in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“The American people, they understand we have an issue that has to be confronted,” Rubio said at a Manchester house party a few hours later. “But they’re not willing to do it or even talk about it until you show them — not tell them, you better show them — that illegal immigration is under control.”

That’s what grass-roots Republican voters want to hear. But they remain skeptical of Rubio and Bush, at least in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary next year after the Iowa caucuses. Neither state is known for its demographic diversity: The population of both states is more than 93 percent white in both states, according to the U.S. Census, and only 5 percent of residents are foreign-born.

Immigration presents a challenge for Bush, the former Florida governor who has yet to declare his 2016 presidential candidacy, and Rubio, the U.S. senator who’s already running. Both back granting legal status to the nearly 11 million people already in the country illegally.

More here.

Republican feud has shades of Democrat's dissension of two decades ago

Republicans in the Florida Legislature have met the enemy, and it is them.

They can’t agree on using federal money for people with no health care and as a result, budget negotiations are in disarray in a year with a $1 billion surplus. Unable to resolve their differences after months of refusing to compromise, Republican lawmakers will end the regular session next Friday without completing the one task they are required to do: passing a state budget.

The government of the nation’s third-largest state is controlled by one party, yet the standoff is Republican against Republican, in some cases involving members of the same family. House Republicans have been distracted by a leadership coup while Gov. Rick Scott is personally threatening to veto Republican senators’ bills and spending items unless they approve his tax cuts of $673 million.

“This damages our party,’’ said Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon when tensions were at their peak last week. “This makes us look like we cannot govern, that we cannot work out our differences, and the talk about a big tent is cheap.”

Lee likened the bickering among Republicans to the internal dissension that hastened the demise of the once-dominant Democratic Party in Florida two decades ago.

“We’re becoming just like the people we sought to unseat in the mid ’90s,’’ said Lee, a former Senate president. He expressed his disgust as fellow Republicans push for “a seemingly endless stream of budget requests that are only loosely related to the role state government should play.”

More here.

Xavier Suarez building war chest for possible 2016 mayoral bid

Xavier Suarez

@doug_hanks

For someone still deciding on a run for county mayor, Xavier Suarez isn't wavering on raising money.

The Miami-Dade commissioner told supporters Friday he raised "six figures" at an event this week hosted by Mike Eidson, the Miami lawyer who Suarez is helping try to reshape the county's plan for the Coconut Grove Playhouse. 

"I'm trying to prove to myself I can raises funds" needed for a 2016 mayoral campaign, Suarez said in an interview Friday. "A lot of people are responding nicely so far." 

In an email titled "Kitchen Cabinet Update," Suarez noted attendees for Thursday's reception at Coconut Grove's Calamari restaurant included Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, developers Armando Codina and Wayne Rosen, lobbyist Brian May and Eidson partners Dean Colson and Roberto Martinez. The event raised money for Imagine Miami, a Suarez political committee that has collected nearly $120,000 in the 2016 election cycle, according to the latest reports.

"The evening fundraiser was amazingly successful, with six-figure results," Suarez wrote in the email, obtained by Naked Politics. Along with  listed attendees, the event featured "a handful of our kitchen cabinet members, who either shepherded the big donors or brought their own substantial checks."

Continue reading "Xavier Suarez building war chest for possible 2016 mayoral bid" »

Senate counter-offer: Expand health care coverage

The Senate doubled-down on its Medicaid expansion plan Friday, rejecting a proposal from the House to use $200 million in state money to help safety-net hospitals absorb a potential loss of $1.3 billion in federal health care funding.

The House made its offer -- which did not include expansion -- Thursday in hopes of jump starting stalled negotiations over the state health care budget. But Senate leaders insisted that providing coverage to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians was the better solution.

"(The House's) response indicates their continued unwillingness to deal with insurance coverage," said Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon. "And I understand that. I’m not surprised to see that. And our response indicates that we are not prepared to walk away from that."

Lee said using $200 million in state money to replace some of the Low Income Pool, a federal-state program that helps hospitals pay for uninsured and Medicaid patients, would be like charging Floridians twice for the same services, since Floridians already pay federal taxes.

"It is not an optimal situation," he said.

The LIP program is set to end on June 30, unless the federal government approves a proposed successor program. Federal health officials have said they are more likely to extend the funding if Florida expands Medicaid.

Continue reading "Senate counter-offer: Expand health care coverage" »

House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency

The investigative staff at the Department of Corrections would face an overhaul, officers who injure inmates could be subject to felonies, and the state would start a pilot project to put body cameras on prison guards, under a bill set to be given preliminary approval today in the Florida House.

The proposal is the first part of a bi-partisan agreement between the House and Senate to address questions of inmate abuse, allegations of staff cover-ups and evidence of organizational troubles that have been festering in the state’s prison system for years. The agency and its staff are also under investigation by both state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a lot of problems in the prison system and this is a monumental step forward – and it’s only the beginning,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who negotiated the compromise with Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

The changes are included in an amendment by Trujillo to SB 7020. The second element of the deal, not included in the bill, is a promise to create a select committee of legislators to provide oversight of DOC, review treatment of inmates, investigate grievance trends and monitor implementation of provisions in the bill beginning this fall.

Evers began investigating DOC in January in the wake of several reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations that exposed suspicious inmate deaths, questionable use of force and allegations of agency cover-ups. 

Faced with opposition from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, the proposals no longer include elements that would have taken authority over the agency away from the governor. Evers originally proposed creating an independent oversight commission that would have the ability to investigation allegations of wrongdoing at the state’s largest agency. The Senate plan also would have required that DOC secretary to be appointed by the governor and Cabinet, with confirmation by the Senate. 

Continue reading "House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency " »

Lawmakers push to extend statute of limitations on rape cases

Lawmakers have voted to extend the statute of limitations for rapes to be reported and prosecuted.

Dubbed the 43 Days Initiative Act in honor of Danielle Sullivan, who reported a rape 43 days too late, the bill (SB 133) will up the amount of time after a crime is committed that victims can report a rape and see the state take action.

The legislation — sponsored by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando — has passed both chambers, but lawmakers need to iron out the length of the new statute of limitations before it can be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto.

Senators on Friday passed an eight-year statute of limitations. The House had already passed a six-year time frame. The Senate's version has been sent back to the House for approval

Right now, victims have four years to report rapes. When the victim is a minor, charges can be filed and prosecuted at any time, and the bill doesn’t change that.

Supporters say the statute of limitations extension is important because victims often struggle with coming forward for some time.

The bill also corrects a 2011 error by the Legislature that made sexting an unenforceable crime. Attempting to stop charging minors with child pornography for sending inappropriate pictures of themselves, lawmakers made sexting a civil offense. No court has jurisdiction over juvenile civil crimes.

Now, sexting will be punishable by a small fine and community service for a first offense.

PolitiFact looks at claims by Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders

While Hillary Clinton has the Democratic field to herself right now, there are other Democrats making waves that they might run for president too -- and PolitiFact is keeping an eye on them. We have been busy fact-checking claims by Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Clinton said during an event at a college that "The United States invented the community college. Nobody else had ever done anything like it." This is largely correct, though Clinton’s terminology could have been more precise. Also, other types of institutions in Europe share characteristics of community colleges. Still, the specific U.S. system is was an innovation. Keep reading here.

O'Malley said on NPR "We're not allowed to read it (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) before representatives vote on it." 

Strictly speaking, he’s wrong -- Congress, and the American public, will be fully informed of what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership before lawmakers vote to make the agreement part of United States law. But he has a point that lawmakers won’t know what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership before they cast a separate, precursor vote -- the vote to authorize Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a fast-track basis in the first place. Continue reading here to see how we rated O'Malley's claim.

Sanders said on Fox News that "99 percent of all new income today (is) going to the top 1 percent." 

Sanders is referring to pre-tax, pre-transfer income growth during the economic recovery from 2009-13.We found consensus among economists that the statistic and calculation offered by Sanders is credible, but it’s just not the only way to consider income inequality. Other measures may be equally valid and produce different results. But economists say specific data does not yet exist. Continue reading here to see how we rated Sanders' claim.

(Fact-checks by Louis Jacobson and Katie Sanders.)

Party-line Senate vote sends abortion waiting period to Gov. Scott

After the most emotionally-charged debate of the session, the Florida Senate on Friday passed a requirement for a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can undergo an abortion. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it.

The vote was 26-13, as every Republican voted for it and every Democrat present voted against it. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, was excused Friday to attend a funeral.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, revealed for the first time that his wife Victoria was seriously ill 29 years ago and was four months pregnant at the time and was advised to have an abortion. She considered it, refused to have an abortion and gave birth to their daughter, Erin.

"I'm glad she had 24 hours to think about it," Gaetz said.

Democrats said the bill represented the annual assault on women's rights by the Republican controlled Legislature.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, called the bill "unnecessary government intrusion into the lives of women." Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, criticized a provision that a woman who was raped must prove it with a police report to obtain a waiver from the 24-hour wait.

The House passed the bill earlier on a 77 to 41 vote. The version headed to Scott's desk, HB 633, is sponsored by the Legislature's youngest member, freshman Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a 23-year-old Republican from Mount Dora. Sullivan's mother, Patricia, is a long-time conservative activist in Central Florida who founded the North Lake Tea Party.

PolitiFact looks at one of Rick Scott's environmental promises

As part of his environmental agenda during his re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would "issue an executive order to provide a foundation for bringing together stakeholders to plan with his administration for additional needed actions."

We'll note that he didn't promise to create a foundation as in an organization -- he put that promise under the header "executive order to protect water quality" in his environmental campaign plan.

We how PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress and here is our entire Scott-O-Meter.

After three years of debate, Legislature passes growler bill

On Friday, the Florida House voted unanimously to legalize 64-ounce growlers, which, though a standard size in the industry, have long been illegal in this state. The Senate approved the legislation (SB 186) last week.

The legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature or veto, allows craft breweries to sell the half-gallon jugs of beer, a move they say is necessary to foster growth.

“This day has been a long time coming,” House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said on the floor Friday. “It was a lot harder than it should have been, and a lot of you have lived through this craziness with me.”

The bill passed Friday does more than allow growler sales, although that’s where the debate started three years ago. Beginning July 1, breweries will also be allowed to open up to eight tap rooms, where customers can sample beer, buy a pint or fill their growlers.

Brewers have been doing this for some time by way of an exemption in state law meant to encourage tourism.

Limits to purchases from craft distilleries will also be raised under the bill.

Growler legislation has been a priority for Tampa Bay legislators for three years. The bill passed Friday was sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and in the House by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Young.

Mayor would take over MDX chairmanship under state plan

Miami-Dade's mayor would seize the chairmanship of the county’s controversial toll authority under a Tallahassee proposal that is part of a larger fight over how Miami-Dade makes decisions on transportation funding.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday he backs the idea of becoming chairman of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, a panel better known as the MDX and best known for recent toll expansions on the county’s main east-west highway.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican and chair of the Miami-Dade delegation, would shuffle membership of the authority, which uses toll revenue for highway construction throughout Miami-Dade.

"I think it needs some accountability," Gimenez said of MDX during a County Hall interview Thursday. "My presence would bring the MDX more into the sunshine."

As of Thursday night, the MDX plan appeared stalled in Tallahassee as Flores hit opposition when she tried to add language to a bill involving the Central Florida Expressway Authority. She said she would explore other ways to get the legislation onto the Senate floor for a vote.

The effort is the latest twist in a legislative session that has local state lawmakers trying to change the make-up of county transportation boards.

The county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which maps out spending priorities for federally-funded transportation projects, on Thursday formally objected to proposed state legislation that would sharply reduce the number of county commissioners who serve on the board. Sponsored by Miami Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, the proposal by the Republican lawmaker so rankled the commission that one commissioner this week briefly threatened to pull funding of a county staffer that runs the Miami-Dade delegation office while the Legislature is in session.

"We are paying for staff for a delegation that doesn't even support us," Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

More here.

Florida House makes offer to help hospitals

In a last-ditch effort to end the budget stalemate, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Thursday offered to set aside $200 million in state money for the hospitals and county health departments that would be hurt by the end of a federal-state program known as the Low Income Pool.

It doesn’t back down from the House’s position, now 3 years old, to not expand Medicaid.

The House offer of extra money, which would come from reducing proposed tax cuts and spending on K-12 education, could be used to draw down an additional $305 million in federal funds, Crisafulli said, meaning about $505 million would help hospitals shoulder the cost of treating uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.

Crisafulli conceded that the amount would be less than the $1.3 billion Florida hospitals had hoped to receive from the federal government.

"It's a conversation starter," he said.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said that Senate President Andy Gardiner hadn't yet had time to review the proposal. But earlier in the week, Gardiner recommended dedicating as much as $600 million in state money in the absence of the LIP dollars.

Read more here.

House postpones vote on Uber insurance bill

After the Senate passed a bill Thursday requiring drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to be insured, House leadership on Friday postponed a vote on its version.

The two plans present starkly different visions for regulating ridesharing companies in Florida. And House sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he was unwilling to change much of what’s in his bill.

Under both proposals, drivers would need to secure up to $1 million in coverage. That's where the bills' similarities stop.

The Senate plan (SB 1298), which passed by a 28-12 vote Thursday, requires ride-sharing drivers to have insurance regulated by the state, starting next year. It also requires insurance for properties listed on short-term home rental companies like Airbnb.

In the House, proposed legislation (HB 817) has a much wider reach, requiring deep background checks for drivers and opposing local regulations.

Gaetz is entering a larger debate, pitting Uber and Lyft against taxi companies and local governments.

Cities and counties, including Hillsborough County, have for the past few years tried to regulate or get rid of Uber and Lyft.

But Gaetz's bill bans local governments from doing that. It also allows ride-sharing companies to use insurers that aren't regulated by the state.

More here.