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178 posts from November 2008

November 20, 2008

Crist has competition: U.S. Sugar has offer from another suitor

A Nashville-based owner of farmland announced today that it is preparing a hostile bid to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp., potentially dislodging Gov. Charlie Crist's plans to purchase the sugar giant's farming empire to save the Everglades.

The Lawrence Group, which made two previous offers to purchase Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar, said it has offered to buy the company for $300 per share. That offer would come to about $588 million -- significantly less than the $1.34 billion that state leaders have suggested paying for U.S. Sugar's 181,000 acres.

But The Lawrence Group argued that its offer would be a better deal for U.S. Sugar's shareholders, giving them a guaranteed price without any of the long-term uncertainties involved in the proposed deal with the state. The private bidder said it is appealing to the shareholders directly. Read more here.

The ghosts of 2000

John Kerry is using the prospect of Florida 2000 to raise money for Al Franken's squeaky close election fight in Minnesota.

"Picture this," says an e-mail from Kerry. "A razor close election, and the Republican holds a tiny lead after the first count of millions of ballots. And, once again, he goes to court - repeatedly - to try to
shut down the recount.

"Not Bush v. Gore in Florida - this is Franken vs. Coleman in Minnesota..."

He asks contributors to "make sure Al Franken has the resources he needs to continue to keep up the fight to make sure each and every valid vote is counted."

Graham worries that tuition hike could become another 'bait and switch'

Support for Gov. Charlie Crist's announcement today to allow universities to raise tuition 15 percent a year to reach the national average seems to be getting its support along party lines. While House Speaker Ray Sansom and Senate President Jeff Atwater remained positive but non-commital, Bright Futures protector Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, likes it.

“I am proud to stand with Gov. Crist in support of this proposal that will boost the quality of our higher education system in Florida," said Pruitt (the new majority leader?) in a statement out of the Senate Republican office. "I truly believe this plan will succeed because it is motivated by a heart for our students and their success.”

Former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, however, is not feeling too warm and fuzzy about the plan. Graham, a Democrat who has sued to keep the Legislature out of the higher education system, said state lawmkers have no place in this debate because voters approved a constitutional amendment transferring oversight to the university system's Board of Governors.

Graham also suggested he didn't trust the Legislature, which has a bad track record of bait-and-switching taxpayers over education. “I’m just concerned that the increase isn’t part of a larger strategy to reverse this decline we’ve seen in the last 20 years in higher education,'' he said. "It could become almost a narcotic to cover up the real problems by shifting more of the total cost of education to students while the state does not keep up it’s end of the bargain.”

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee blasted the idea and urged the governor to rethink his position which, he noted, is a reversal of his previous stances for the past two years.

“This move puts higher education even further out of reach,” Lawson said. “Florida ranks among the highest for foreclosures, job loss, and bankruptcies. Dumping tuition hikes into the laps of students and their families is the wrong move at the wrong time.  It’s the latest in a long line of bad moves shifting the state’s funding obligations down to the people, and the people are suffering enough.”

Manny still in the mix

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz still appears to be in the running for heading up the federal housing agency, the Washington Post says today as it profiles potential candidates for Obama administration jobs.

The Post notes his appointment would give Obama a "prominent Latino in the Cabinet." But it also notes that Diaz's "housing director, whom he had long defended, was ejected from her job last year after the Miami Herald reported on cronyism and botched housing projects. Prosecutors also were investigating reports that she had steered work to employers of her son and ex-husband."

November 19, 2008

21-year old college student to replace Bovo's former Hialeah seat

On the very day that recently elected State Rep. Esteban "Steve" Bovo headed to Tallahassee to be sworn in, his former colleagues on the Hialeah City Council were faced with picking his replacement.

Robaina_cueForegoing a field of interested political heavyweights, the council opted to appoint a political novice who some quipped just turned the legal drinking age -- 21-year old St. Thomas University student Katherine Cue. Cue served as Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina's educational liaison and her mother serves as the city's communications director. The former "Little Miss Hialeah" pageant winner is familiar with being in the city's spotlight, often singing at city events.

"I was a little reluctant to let go of someone who has served so well as my educational liaison, but its good for the city,'' Robaina said at Tuesday's meeting. "I'm losing someone who I've seen grow and helped mold.''

Cue's appointment isn't official until a second vote is taken on Nov. 25th, but this wouldn't be the first time a twenty-something gets a chance to make decisions in the county's second largest city --  former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas was elected to the Hialeah council at the age of 25 and former State Rep. Rene Garcia was 23 when first elected to the dais.

Cue knocks down any notions that she's too green for the position: "I've been involved in this city since I was very young, since the age of seven when I won the Little Miss Hialeah contest," she said. "I've grown up in this city and I know what the needs are."

She said she also plans on running for the seat when it opens up in 2009.

End of Tally turkey season? Or just bull?

Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Ray Sansom issued a letter 6,000 blog years ago saying legislators can't have hometown spending projects - known to some as "turkeys" (kind a like D.C. pork). If past is prologue, though, some hometown spending will probably slip in when next year's budget is approved this spring.

The two new honchos also sent the tax department a letter to help out corporations with potential tax troubles (interesting timing concerning the Nov. 21 revenue estimating conference). That letter and the unThanksgiving Day letter are below.

Download 2009_cbirs_memo.pdf

Download Echeverri.pdf

Ex-FL enviromental official on Obama team

Carol Browner, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will lead President-elect Barack Obama's policy working group on energy and the environment.

Browner served as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Regulation under former Gov. Lawton Chiles. She grew up in Miami and received her bachelor and law degrees at the University of Florida.

Q poll: most worse off but optimistic, want tax cuts and fewer services

Florida voters say they are worse off than a year ago but upbeat about the year ahead, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released today. These track previous polls the Miami Herald has done that show most voters managing their own situation well and think things will turn around.

The poll shows that 56 percent say family finances are “excellent” or “good,” and 43 percent say they are “not so good” or “poor.” A majority, though smaller at 31 percent, expect things to get better in the next year, while 21 percent say they will get worse and 44 percent say they will stay the same.

The message to legislators, however, is that 55 – 30 percent say they want to cut services rather than raise taxes to balance the budget. But voters don't like the across-the-board approach. By a 73 – 21 percent margin, voters prefer those cuts on a case-by-case basis. As for property taxes, 73 – 22 percent say it's time for another property tax cut and they want it through another referendum, rather than leave the job to the state Legislature.

Voters also blame local tax officials for failing to keep up with the real estate market: 64 percent say they are slower to reduce taxes than they were at raising them during the real estate bubble -- a clear indicator that voters wish they'd seen tax rollbacks during the boom years.

GOP passing the torch in Miami-Dade

The Republican leadership in Florida's biggest county is on the verge of a changing of the guard just as the GOP struggles to reinvent itself as the minority party in Washington.

Miami-Dade County Chairwoman Mary Ellen Miller, who has led the local party for most of the past 17 years, is stepping down at the end of this month. Since former Gov. Jeb Bush recruited her to become active in the party when he served as chairman in the mid-1980s, Miller's departure at the same time President Bush leaves the White House is yet another sign of the end of an era.

In a new age of texting and Twittering, the 80-year-old Miller is a throwback. She gives out her cellphone number only to family members. The home page of the local party's website still carries pictures of Jeb Bush and Ronald Reagan --  none of Gov. Charlie Crist -- and a link to 2004 election results headlined "Florida is Bush country.''

Vying to replace the grandmother of 10, who's too modest to list her accomplishments, are two media-savvy, young guns: 43-year-old state legislator David Rivera, who worked on the January referendum to expand slot machines in Miami-Dade, and 28-year-old political consultant Carlos Curbelo, who helped steer the reelection campaigns of U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Full story here.

Attys who sent Elian back headed for White House

Two veterans of the Elian Gonzalez saga are expected to be named to top posts in Democrat Barack Obama's administration, infuriating some Cuban-American Republicans who haven't forgotten the 6-year-old boy seized in Miami and sent back to the communist regime.

The Associated Press is reporting that Obama's top choice for U.S. attorney general is Eric Holder, who served as deputy attorney general during the 2000 raid in Miami. Greg Craig, who represented Gonzlez's father in the custody battle, is expected to be named White House counsel.

Both were advisors to Obama during his presidential campaign, prompting a small contingent of Cuban exiles to protest outside of his speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami in June.

President-elect Obama has not made the appointments official, but both the Republican National Committee and some Cuban-American leaders in Miami are already signaling their disapproval.

Full story here.