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218 posts from June 2008

June 30, 2008

Mayoral endorsement already paying off?

It pays to have friends in elected office: Three days after Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez endorsed Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the mighty communications office at County Hall is churning out press releases touting the three Republican incumbents.

The press release notes that "thanks to the support of the Miami-Dade congressional delegation" -- it lists Lincoln and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- $10.8 million for 2 Miami-Dade County projects was included in recent legislation passed by the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee.

The projects -- "two crucial projects that have a tremendous economic and environmental significance to South Florida," the release notes, -- still have to clear the full committee and the Senate, but the release notes that securing the funds "is a great first step." The projects include further dredging of the Miami River and studying the effects of the Central and Southern Florida water canals on Biscayne Bay."

Crist unwinds Everglades deal, says 'writing was on the wall'

Everglades_pinelandsthumb Gov. Charlie Crist told Tallahassee bureau reporters today that negotiations will begin tomorrow to bring the historic agreement he announced last week with U.S. Sugar "in for a landing,'' noting that the "it's not done yet, but the principles are in place and I'm optimistic about it.''

When asked to explain how the deal first came about, Crist said it began when he made his appointments to the South Florida Water Management District.  "I think that sort of the writing was on the wall that this administration was serious about the fact that we wanted to protect those rivers - the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers that flow from either side of Lake Okeechobee - and enforce that,'' Crist said.

When U.S. Sugar lobbyists Brian Ballanrd and Mac Stipanovich asked to meet with him to discuss the issue, he figured "they wanted to have a chance to sort of convince me maybe that wasn't the right thing to do  -- to stop the backpumping -- and that prior administrations had allowed for it.''

Crist stopped short of taking credit for coming up with the idea. He describes it this way: "One thing led to another and I can't remember exactly the circumstances of it. Ultimately, 'Why don't you just sell? Let's consider that as a notion.'''

The governor was asked whether the depletion of the nutrient value of the soil in the Everglades Agricultural Area played a role, and the fact that real estate prospects of converting farm land to development were not longer as lucrative in the down market as they once were. He acknowledged that those and "many factors" probably influenced U.S. Sugar's interest in accepting the offer.

"It's hard to measure how much each individual part played a role,'' Crist said. "I'm sure all those factors contributed to it though. Some as a fallback position, in agriculture in Florida, had gone to real estate development, and a lot of tracts of land (were sold) for large developments. That's obviously cooled at present. So I don't think that's as viable an option for some as it had been in the past.''


Crist vetoes seagrass bill, as promised; signs South Florida wastewater bill

Gov. Charlie Crist just followed through on this promise to veto a bill that woud have allowed developers to destroy seagrass beds if they agreed to replant it somewhere else. The bill, House Bill 7059, was vetoed at the same time the governor signed the measure to extend the Florida Forever program for another decade and signed, Senate Bill 1302, which will impose new deadlines on Miami-Dade and Broward county from discharging their wastewater into the open.

Crist said he opposed the seagrass bill because it would have allowed marine development that could endanger seagrass beds and destroy marine estuaries and delicate nesting grounds for sea life with no guarantee the replacements would survive. Download seagrass_veto_letter.pdf

Crist said he is ready for his first execution

Gov. Charlie Crist said he will be in his office Tuesday night when the execution of child killer Mark Dean Schwab takes place at Florida State Prison in Starke. "I'm hopeful that it goes well -- what I mean by that is that it goes without any difficulties in terms of interruptions,'' he said.

"This is one of the most solemn things you do as a governor,'' Crist said. "I believe in the death penalty, obviously, or I wouldn't sign the warrant. I think it will work well. Justice will be done.''

The governor acknowledge that while the state has been slow to follow through with executions, the number of inmates on death row is growing. He said he is ready to work toward trying to accelerate the pace.

"There is an old adage in law that justice delayed is justice denied,'' he said. "And I believe in that and I'm very sympathetic to the families members of those who've had members of their families taken from them, murdered...I'm in favor of a better carrying out justice if you will than we see today. I want to make sure though that every opportunity is given for justice on both sides of the equation.''

Mark Elliot of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty said in a statement that the cost of carrying out that justice is more expensive than housing an inmate for life.

"While Floridians spend an estimated $51 million a year on our mistake-ridden Death Penalty system (that's over and above the cost of permanent imprisonment), victim's services are being cut-back, crime prevention programs are being disbanded and thousands of murders and violent crimes remain unsolved," he said.

He said the organization has sympathy for the family of Schwab's victim, Junny Rios-Martinez, but added that their wait for the execution has been justice denied. "There are some crimes so heinous that there is no earthly punishment that fits the crime,'' he said. "A sentence of life without the possibility for parole is carried out immediately, with no wait for justice." 


Obama's second ad in Florida

The 30-second spot will air in 18 battleground and red-leaning states, including Florida. Like his other ad, it is mostly biographical.

Labor's unexpected picks in 2008

The South Florida AFL-CIO has announcement its endorsements, and the overwhelming majority of the names, as expected, are Democrats.

But there are a few exceptions among the Republicans running for the state Legislature in South Florida: Hialeah Council President Esteban Bovo, Rafael Perez (co-endorsed with Democrat Frank Morra) and incumbents Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Julio Robaina and Juan Zapata (co-endorsed with Democrat Michael Calderin).

Deborah Dion, the union's political director, said the endorsements are made on the basis of issues, not party affiliations. The No. 1 litmus test: The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill in Congress that would make it easier for workers to unionize.

The union is slated to meet Wednesday to discuss their strategy for the 2008 campaign, which will focus on making sure all of its half million members statewide vote by absentee ballot.

"If Joe tells the shop steward he's going to send in an absentee ballot, the shop steward can follow up by going back to Joe if he doesn't turn it in,'' Dion said. "We learned a valuable lesson with strong major campaign. On Election Day we were dead even,  but the mayor had almost 20,000 absentee ballots banked.''

'The Boy Scout of the Democratic campaign machine'

588steve_schale_03embeddedprod_aff_2Don't let Steve Schale fool you, just because he looks like the kid who won the spelling bee, in wire-rimmed glasses and rumpled khakis. Or because Tallahassee is the biggest city he's ever lived in. Or because he lists Eagle Scout on his resume.

Recently tapped to lead Democrat Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Florida, Schale may be the savviest Democratic operative in the state.

He helped his beleaguered party do something it hadn't done in more than 20 years: pick up a seat in the Florida House. Under his steady hand, Democrats netted nine seats in the last two years, the biggest sweep in state history.

Statewide, the latest polls show Obama with a slight edge over Republican John McCain, foreshadowing a knock-down, drag-out fight in the nation's largest battleground state. The Republican party has already begun trying to undermine Obama among the state's Hispanic and Jewish voters, and it's easy to picture attack ads questioning his willingness to meet with hostile governments in Cuba and Iran.

Schale, 33, is a southern gentleman who hasn't been in the trenches for very long. But he'll likely have more money, staff and volunteers than McCain's team at his disposal -- "the largest and most comprehensive organization that my side of the aisle has ever seen in Florida,'' he said. His allies warn: don't let the nice-guy demeanor fool you.

"Steve does best when people take him for granted,'' said former state Rep. Doug Wiles of Jacksonville, who gave Schale his first job in politics. "I would never want to be on the other side of him in a campaign. He's very competitive, very focused and very driven.''

Story here.

June 29, 2008

McCain and Obama court Hispanic voters

With an estimated 9.2 million Hispanic voters poised to play a critical role in November, John McCain and Barack Obama each pledged Saturday to make immigration overhaul a priority as they courted influential Hispanic leaders whose votes could be pivotal in key swing states like Florida.

''It'll be my top priority yesterday, today and tomorrow,'' McCain said.

Speaking an hour later, Obama credited McCain with championing immigration reform that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but accused his rival of abandoning the cause as he courts the conservative base of the Republican Party. The rivals both support comprehensive reform, though McCain has lately emphasized a need to first secure the nation's borders.

''What [McCain] didn't mention is when he was running for his party's nomination, he walked away from that commitment,'' Obama said. ``If we are going to solve the challenges we face, we can't vacillate, we can't shift depending on politics.''

Read more here.

Pitts: Obama must confront Muslim issue

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts says Barack Obama needs to address his campaign's "standoffishness toward American Muslims.

"Until Sept. 11, 2001, that community was poised for assimilation, poised to submerge itself in the American mainstream like the Jews, Irish and Italians before them," Pitts writes. "The actions of a handful of their co-religionists on that fateful day wrecked that trajectory beyond recognition and unleashed something base and ugly in the American character.

"Muslims were snatched from the threshold of acceptance, painted once again as the alien and vaguely threatening Other. Can you imagine how that must feel? It is galling and painful to see yourself reduced to a caricature based on someone else's fears."

"And Barack Obama should know that better than most."

Read the full column here.

June 28, 2008

Diaz-Balart kicks off re-election campaign with a mayoral endorsement

Lincoln Diaz-Balart kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday with a luncheon at the Sheraton Mart Hotel and the endorsement of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

The Miami Republican is facing his first significant re-election challenge in the form of former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez.

Diaz-Balart's campaign said Alvarez attended the luncheon and recognized Diaz-Balart's work on securing federal funding for Miami-Dade.

Diaz-Balart said he was honored by what he called "constant demonstrations of support" and said he would "continue working intensely to achieve a great victory in November."

Alvarez would appear to have a considerably easier election: His sole opponent is Helen Williams, a former teacher who reported raising $50 by the end of March, compared to the mayor's $720,000.