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213 posts from July 2008

July 29, 2008

Obama to open Miami-Dade office

Democrat Barack Obama is opening "the first of many" offices in Miami-Dade today in Miami Gardens, a heavily black, up-and-coming community where the campaign needs a strong Democratic turnout.

The 5 p.m. event at 640 N.W. 183rd St. is free and open to the public.

"Barack Obama is committed to the state of Florida, and we continue to open offices statewide as we assemble the largest campaign team Florida has ever seen," said Florida State Director Steve Schale.

The campaign is also opening an office this evening in Clearwater.

Cabinet to get more data on mortgage fraud, postpones Saxon's fate

Borrowers_banner A divided Florida Cabinet postponed any decision over the fate of the state’s top mortgage regulator Tuesday and decided to investigate The Miami Herald’s findings further before they move ahead with any sanctions.

The Cabinet ordered Don Saxon, commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, to report back in two weeks with proposed rules to tighten the regulation of mortgage brokers and loan originators and ordered the inspector general's office to coordinate with a plan to further investigate the problems exposed by The Miami Herald series.

Saxon told Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet that he believes The Miami Herald series exaggerated the flaws of his office when it reported that the state granted mortgage brokers licenses to thousands of convicted felons, including bank robbers, racketeers and crack dealers.

"I believe there's been a rush to judgment by the media," Saxon said. "Unlike what's been reported in the media, we do not have a systemic problem of licensing felons."

But Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has called for Saxon to step down, countered his remarks, saying there are provisions in the law that could have both allowed him to issue sanctions against loan originators and others who committed mortgage fraud and that the office "could have been denying more '' brokerage licenses to questionable officials.

"My distress about the situation is that the commission is coming before us today telling us about some of the things his department is going to be doing and he's known about these issues certainly for many months . . . and we could have been doing a lot more before we got to this point today," she said. "To me, it's too little too late."

Sink complained that "this is a much bigger issue'' and said the mortgage broker profession "has been begging for years for tighter requirements."

Crist echoed Sink's concerns and said The Herald's investigative report was "disturbing and distressing," but he ultimately agreed to take more time to check out the allegations before deciding how to proceed.

"I appreciate the press. I understand the media has a function and a job and a duty, but I’m a trust-but-verify guy also," he said "We’ve all had an opportunity since the story broke to review."

The governor said his "confidence was shaken'' and while he appreciated Saxon's service, "we've got to elect to make a difference, not to mark time. . . . All of us have a duty to hear the alarm bells and understand and . . . avoid some of these unfortunate circumstances for the public."

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Attorney General Bill McCollum both defended Saxon and urged the Cabinet to further study the matter before making any decisions on whether Saxon should be held accountable for brokerage licenses falling into the hands of financial criminals.

Bronson said his reading of the law governing Saxon's office was that it was obligated to issue licenses to brokers in most situations. "It doesn't look like it gave you much option," he said.

McCollum said he is aware there were bad characters who have been issued licenses in the mortgage business but wants to clarify "the current state of the law with regard to the powers the OFR has or doesn’t have," McCollum said.

Butterworth announces resignation

Secretary of Department of Children and Families Bob Butterworth announced his resignation effective Aug. 15 this morning at a press conference with the governor.

Gov. Charlie Crist said it was "with mixed emotions'' that he accepted the resignation of Butterworth, Florida's former attorney general and one of two Democrats holding agency secretary jobs in Crist's administration. Crist said Butterworth told him he would serve for 18 months when he took the job and Crist said "I squeezed another month out of him."

"This department has never had better leadership," Crist said, as Butterworth stood at his side. He described Butterworth as "the longest serving attorney general'' in Florida history and someone whose commitment to public service was unwavering. "It's probably the toughest job in government. It's probably why some people think I appointed a Democrat....General Butterworth cares deeply about the people."

Butterworth thanked Crist "for giving me this opportunity. He described it as "the greatest job" and one in which he believes "we have accomplished a lot under your tenure, governor...with the greatest leadership team." He said he hopes DCF will continue to strive to be "the best agency of our kind in our country."

Crist said he has no plans yet for a replacement.

Butterworth touted the accomplishments, including the fact that there are now 20 percent fewer kids in foster care than when he arrived.

"I did not have one idea," Butterworth said. "Every idea we have done came from this team...to make sure we can make children of this state safe...You can never say mission accomplished, because  you can never have every child safe but you can say keep it going."

Martinez and Kosmas make the top 10 of House $$$ raisers

According to CQ Politics, Democrats -- including Florida's Raul Martinez and Suzanne Kosmas -- "comprise nine of the 10 most cash-rich challengers to incumbents of the opposite party.

"The large cash-on-hand totals posted by these Democrats are one sign party officials are hopeful of a number of seat takeovers in November," the site says.

Martinez, who is challenging Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart for relection, placed sixth with $1.08 million. The article notes Martinez is the former mayor of Hialeah, "a south Florida city of 226,000 residents, most of whom live in the 21st." It notes that Diaz-Balart, who has $1.8 million cash on hand, "has run without Democratic opposition in six of his eight elections. One of the exceptions was in 2006, when Diaz-Balart took 59.5 percent of the vote against a little-known Democrat."

Kosmas, who is challenging Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, ranked 9th with $936,000. Feeney is unopposed in the Aug. 26 primary, while Kosmas is favored against Clint Curtis, who took 42 percent of the vote as Feeney’s 2006 Democratic opponent.

"Recruiting Scandal: The House GOP's desperate choice for desperate times"

So says the New Republic about Allen West, the Broward Republican and Iraq war veteran challenging Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, for re-election.

West, the article says, is getting little help from national Republicans who were once focused on ousting Klein: "The GOP's greatest embarrassment of all might seem to be Florida's 22nd, where the party that Iraq destroyed is running a candidate charged with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice," the article notes.

It says that West "was on track for a generalship when his unit was assigned in August 2003 to interrogate an Iraqi policeman who had supposedly turned Benedict Arnold. The policeman refused to cooperate, so West dragged him outside, pushed his head into the sand, and fired a gun next to his face to get him to sing. 'I'd do it again if I had to,' West told the New Republic. 'It wasn't torture. Seeing Rosie O'Donnell naked would be torture.' "

West got plenty of attention last night. His talk of spurning Al Jazeera earned him a spot on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann as "Worst Person in the World."

West fans consider the diss by the hero of the left a bit of a coup: "A friend e-mailed to tell me that...West, Republican candidate for Congress in Florida’s 22nd District, has been named "Worst Person in the World" by Keith Olbermann," West's campaign blog notes. "Congratulations to all those who’ve worked so hard to help Colonel West win this prestigious honor."

July 28, 2008

Ros-Lehtinen teams up with Hillary Clinton

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has taken pains to distance herself from President Bush, has teamed up with Sen. Hillary Clinton on legislation aimed at helping newly-arrived immigrants make the transition to life in the U.S.

Clinton said the bill invests in civics and English language education and provides incentives for businesses that help educate their non-English speaking employees.

"By investing in English language education, community support, and other important tools, this legislation will help new Americans become part of the American family," Clinton said.

The bill would increase funding for the Department of Education's family literacy program and offers tax credits to English language learners. It also creates grants for English literacy and offers tax credits to employers who provide workers with English literacy and GED training.

"This act will certainly improve the tools families have at their disposal so that they can truly succeed and incorporate themselves into the fabric of the United States," Ros-Lehtinen said.

Martinez: Let's debate

Former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez -- who is challenging Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart for re-election -- says he's accepted an invitation from Univision-23 (WLTV Miami) to participate in a congressional debate Oct. 1st.

"I look forward to the opportunity to present my vision for change to the voters of District 21," Martinez said. "South Floridians need solutions to lower the cost of healthcare and gas and get us out of Iraq, not a rubberstamp for President Bush's failed policies."

Diaz-Balart cited a scheduling conflict for turning down a May debate planned by the South Florida AFL-CIO, and Martinez says he's suggested to Univision that if Diaz-Balart doesn't want to participate, "the debate should still occur with 'una silla vacía' or an empty seat.

Diaz-Balart's campaign says it's been in touch with Univision about the prospects for a debate.

Ros-Lehtinen: Just say No to Amendment 2

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is among those opposing Amendment 2 - the "Florida Marriage Protection Amendment."

"In Florida, the term marriage is already defined as a relationship between a man and a woman," she said in a release sent by Florida Red and Blue, the group that opposes the amendment. "Amendment 2 will involve the government in our personal lives by dissolving locally recognized domestic partnerships, endangering the legal rights of unmarried couples and weaking business responsibilities such as healthcare and retirement benefits."

Read more here.

McCollum: mortgage fraud felons shouldn't be allowed back in business for 7 years

Borrowers_banner_2In a letter to Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today, Attorney General Bill McCollum remained silent on the question of whether the state's top mortgage regulator, Don Saxon, should keep his job but he proposed new rules to create a new class of felons in the clemency process.

McCollum proposes a seven-year ban on felons who seek to have their rights restored from entering the mortgage brokerage and lending industry. "Such a rule would provide further limits to ex-felons who seek occupation in the mortgage brokerage and lending industry,'' he wrote. McCollum noted that a federal mortgage fraud bill, expected to be signed by the president, would do the same thing and he wants other provisions of the federal bill to be adopted by rule asap.

McCollum was one of the most rigid opponents to the existing changes to the clemency process that allowed for automatic restoration of rights for many felons and a 15-year waiting period for those that committed the most violent crimes.

The attorney general also told Sink he wants his office to conduct the investigation into the licensing practices of the Office of Financial Regulation. "We need to understand the extent of the problem in order to modify existing rules or to propose legislative remedies to strengthen our efforts," he wrote. Maybe the investigation buys Saxon more time.

Here's his letter: Download mccollum_728.pdf


50 applicants for Florida's top court jobs

From child advocate Karen Gievers to the governor's Solictor General Scott Makar, to UF Professor of Law Stephen Willis, there are insiders, long shots and assumed favorites on the list of 50 applicants to the Florida Supreme Court.

The choice to replace retiring Justices Raoul Cantera and Kenneth Bell will be one of Gov. Charlie Crist's most important appointments during his entire term as governor. Next year, he will get two more picks, to replace retiring Justices Charles Wells and Harry Lee Anstead.

The deadline to apply to the job was Friday at 5 p.m. Here's the list:Download fifty_apply_for_supreme_court_vacancies.htm

Who are the insiders? There are those with Republican creds like Tallahassee attorney Kenneth Sukhia who served on President George W. Bush's recount team and L. Clayton Roberts, the First District Court of Appeals judge who was general counsel to Katherine Harris.

Who are the favs? We're going to guess Judge Angel Cortinas, 3rd District Court of Appeals and Miamian Frank Jimenez, former general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush and now general counsel to the U.S. Navy and Judge Charles Canady, 2nd DCA in Lakeland.

From South Florida: H. Scott Fingerhut of Miami; Michael D. Gelety of Fort Lauderdale; Judge Israel Reyes of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court; Ladd C. Brown, Boca Raton; Manuel Farach, West Palm Beach; Perry Adair, Coral Gables; Edward G. Guedes, Miami; Judge Juan Ramirez, 3rd DCA Miami; Judge Jorge Klabarga, WPB, 15th Judicial Circuit; Paul R. Regensdorf, Fort Lauderdale; Judge Kevin Emas, 11th Judicial Circuit; Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely 11th Judicial Circuit Miami; and Judge Leslie Rothenberg, 3rd DCA Miami.