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325 posts from May 2011

May 26, 2011

Scott blocking taxpayers from watching him sign state budget

Gov. Rick Scott said this morning that he was going to The Villages to sign the state budget to give people a chance to "answer their questions." But Aaron Sharockman reports from Sumter County that some people aren't allowed into the event.

A group from The Villages Democratic Club was kicked across the street, told by Scott staffer Russ Adams that the event was private. The event space was leased by the Florida Republican Party and sheriff's deputies are escorting from the property people with Democratic-leaning signs.

The move raises questions about whether taxpayer money was used for the private event and why Scott would sign a budget that affects all Floridians at a private event.

"We came here to say what we support," said club president Lawrence Shipley, 68. "We support the police. We support public education."

The club claims 275 members and about 20 came to Scott's event.

"Signs that support the governor are allowed to stay, signs that don't are told to leave?" said Bud Webber, 73, of Orlando, who watched the event unfold. "Come on. That's ridiculous."

We'll update this blog as this story develops. In the meantime, follow Sharockman on Twitter @asharock.

Allen West and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in accord, at least when it comes to Afghanistan

Tea party star Allen West and his Broward colleague from the other side of the aisle, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, don't have much in common. But they both have suggested that it's not time to speed up a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

 At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning with reporters, Wasserman Schultz -- the new chair of the national Democratic party -- dismissed concerns that Democratic angst over the war will dampen enthusiasm for President Barack Obama at the polls - or prompt a primary challenge.

"I think President Obama's responsible position that we should make these decisions based on conditions on the ground makes sense," she said. "That you can't just say 'Hooray we killed Osama bin Laden, so that's it, we're done.' We know in the terrorists attacks that took place in retaliation for killing Osama bin Laden that the war on terror is certainly not over."

Still, she noted that should anyone ask voters in her "very progressive" congressional district whether "they'd like to see us get out of Afghanistan, they would say yes," she said, adding that, "since Osama bin Laden, probably they feel more strongly that we should.

"But," she added, "President Obama has a plan, that they know we're going to begin withdrawing troops this summer from Afghanistan. And so far I've seen the voters being willing to give his plan an opportunity to work."

West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel said the House especially shouldn't be talking about troop withdrawal at this time of year: "That's when the Taliban comes on the strongest," he said. "The snows melt, the passages open up..It's war season. Why would we want to talk about quitting?"

Adoptive father of slain girl: She tried to poison me

Soon after investigators believe Jorge Barahona beat his 10-year-old adopted daughter to death, he unexpectedly showed up to his sister’s house with the girl’s twin brother, Victor.

Victor sported a nasty cut to his lip. His wrist showed strange marks, as if someone had tied them together.

“What happened?” Laura Barahona asked her brother, according to a sworn statement released Wednesday, among 930 pages of documents made public by Palm Beach County prosecutors.

“I lost a child,’’ Jorge told his sister.

Barahona, she told detectives, struggled to explain himself: Nubia, he said, bolted from his truck near a Biscayne Boulevard motel. Then he suggested the girl was at home with his estranged wife. The marks on Victor’s wrists? He claimed his children were trying to poison him and had to be restrained.

“Let’s call the police. Turn yourself in,’’ Laura told her brother, according to a sworn statement. “Let me help you.’’

But Barahona did not turn himself in. Instead, he disappeared as Laura visited three police stations, and asked another brother to call state child welfare investigators in a desperate bid for help. None came.

Continue reading "Adoptive father of slain girl: She tried to poison me" »

Miami-Dade appeals decision to withold election results

The campaigns of Julio Robaina and Xavier Suarez thought they would not know any results in their Miami-Dade County Commission contest Tuesday night. A judge had ordered that the final outcome of the election be kept under wraps.

But word spread quickly after polls closed at 7 p.m.: Printouts of the precinct-by-precinct tallies were posted outside polling sites.

The two camps dispatched volunteers to the sites to jot down as many of the numbers as they could.

“We got a representative sample — we won every one,” Suarez said Wednesday.

He himself checked a Little Havana precinct. One of his daughters, her fiancé and a couple of volunteers checked out a precinct each in Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Coconut Grove and Kendall, he added, before joining a low-key campaign celebration at Havana Vieja restaurant on Coral Way.

Robaina stayed home but received a couple of reports from precincts in his neighborhood of South Miami, where he is expected to do well. “They were very good,” he said, adding that an additional result in his favor in a precinct in the city of Miami “raises my optimism.”

He heard about the tallies “through a person of a person” and was surprised, Robaina said. “I thought that our stuff was 100 percent hush-hush.”

Both candidates’ numbers are incomplete. Neither collected the results of all of the precincts in the district, and the Election Day tallies don’t include early voting or absentee ballots.

The mad dash by the campaigns to get a feel for how they did capped two whirlwind days in the battle to represent District 7, which stretches from Pinecrest to Key Biscayne.

Late Monday, Circuit Judge William Thomas ruled to suppress the results of the election for at least a week, pending a hearing in a case by a would-be third candidate. The county on Wednesday appealed the decision, and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday before the Third District Court of Appeal. Full story here.

Recount for Miami-Dade charter amendment

A manual recount is planned for the ballots cast in Tuesday’s election in Miami-Dade County to resolve a photo-finish on a charter proposal that would ban former County Hall politicians from returning as paid lobbyists for two years.

The vote on the proposed charter amendment — the only one of six proposals that has a chance of passing — came in at 86,817 in favor and 86,666 against. That’s a difference of 151 votes, or 0.087 percent — less than one-tenth of 1 percent.

“Obviously we’re headed for a recount,’’ said Lester Sola, Supervisor of Elections for Miami-Dade County.

The expected recount on the charter question comes as former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina fine tune their strategies and mull how to expand their bases of support to capture more than 50 percent in the June 28 runoff election for Miami-Dade county mayor.

Full story by Martha Brannigan and Matthew Haggman here.

How Rick Scott vetoes will hit the $500 million mark ($615m?)

Looks like the previous blog we wrote, where sources said Scott was eyeing a minimum of $350 million in vetoes was right (updated blog here). But it could be off by almost half, said one source. Folks close to the governor say there's a path for Scott to cut $700 to $800 million.

But chances are, he won't veto that much. "Little high," said another. Hmm. Key word: "Little."

Another source tells us $615 million.

So $500-$600 million seems like a good number. There's something about "Half a billion dollars" that has a fiscally conservative ring to it. And remember, the budget is as much about policy as it is politics. Still, Scott is taking his time to make sure all the numbers add up.

"He's really impressive. He's really taking his time learning the budget, literally going line-by-line and asking 'What's the purpose of this? Do we need this?'" said one source. "He's more involved than Jeb Bush."

Bush, governor from 1999-2003, loved big vetoes and established a clear process for deciding what projects to keep and what projects to scuttle. He even donned the nickname "Veto Corleone" and would joke that he "whacked" line items in the budget.

But his successor, Gov. Charlie Crist, outdid him with $459 million in vetoes in a single year, 2007.

Now Scott wants the record.

Continue reading "How Rick Scott vetoes will hit the $500 million mark ($615m?)" »

Three weeks after budget vote, Gov. Scott will ask lawmakers to spend more on schools

After initially recommending lawmakers cut education spending, Gov. Rick Scott will now ask legislators to spend more -- three weeks after the final budget vote.

Scott today is expected to veto hundreds of millions of dollars out of the $69.7 billion budget the Legislature approved on May 6. In a radio interview this morning, Scott said he'll ask lawmakers to put that money back into schools.

"I'm going to suggest all that money oughta be put back into education, where we need to make sure we are educating our kids and we have the best educated workforce in the country," Scott said on 92.5 FOX NEWS in Fort Myers.

But Scott can only veto spending, he can't shift money in the budget. To put that money back into schools, lawmakers would have to re-open a contentious budget process.

That's unlikely for a number of reasons, including this one: Lawmakers spent more on schools this year than Scott recommended in his budget proposal. Plus, Scott did not once publicly ask lawmakers to increase education spending. Instead, he spent the final weeks of the legislative session threatening to veto the entire budget if it did not include tax cuts.

Scott, however, is probably feeling the pressure from parents. Districts around the state are laying off workers. One district in the Panhandle, Santa Rosa County, is shortening the school day because of state budget cuts.

But Scott says its not his fault if teachers get fired. He suggested in several interviews this week that school district officials are too worried about their own jobs. "Our local school districts have got to focus on putting teachers in the classroom and not focus on administration," Scott said this morning on Orlando's AM 580 WBDO. "We've got to make sure that in every one of our school districts the money is spent well."

Other notes from this morning:

Continue reading "Three weeks after budget vote, Gov. Scott will ask lawmakers to spend more on schools" »

Obama approval ratings jump in Florida

President Obama's approval rating is 51 percent in Florida, a spike of 7 points, after announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden, according to a new poll this morning from Quinnipiac University.

Other notes from the poll:

• U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, has a 20-25 point lead over three potential Republican challengers: former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and former state Rep. Adam Hasner.

• In a match-up between those three Republicans: LeMieux 14; Haridopolos, 13; Hasner 4; undecided, 64.

• Nelson has an approval rating of 51 percent while fellow U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, is at 49 percent. (Nelson has a 39 percent approval among Republicans; Rubio's approval among Dems is 28 percent.)

• 42 percent of Floridians don't like Gov. Rick Scott as a person and disapprove of his policies.

• 61 percent of Floridians support more offshore drilling.

• 57 percent say the U.S. should not be involved in Libya; 56 percent say the U.S. shouldn't be in Afghanistan.

• 49 percent say Congress should repeal the new health insurance law.

GOP Medicare plan emerges as a flashpoint in Florida Senate race

The House's controversial Republican budget plan, one that would dramatically revamp Medicare, emerged as a flash point in Florida’s Republican Senate primary Wednesday even as Democrats pointed to the plan as a factor in helping them win a House seat.

Democrats seized a surprising victory in upstate New York as evidence that their intense campaign against the House Medicare plan is working. But Republicans in Florida looked to double down on support for the plan and it emerged as an issue in the competitive Republican primary for Senate, with Adam Hasner, looking to appeal to conservatives in the GOP base by challenging his rivals to embrace the plan. Hasner said his only criticism would be that the plan "just doesn’t go far enough, fast enough." Rival George LeMieux, praised the House plan, but said he preferred his own plan which he said would balance the budget faster.

Senate president Mike Haridopolos has praised the budget plan but wouldn’t say Wednesday whether or not he’d vote for it.

Continue reading "GOP Medicare plan emerges as a flashpoint in Florida Senate race" »

As House looks to speed up Afghanistan exit, Allen West suggests his colleagues should "get shot at a few times" to realize the threat posed by the Taliban

With Osama bin Laden dead, the House is considering two votes to force President Barack Obama to establish clear, expedited timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, where about 100,000 are now.

Obama plans to begin withdrawing some forces in July, and he aims to have most of them out by 2014. And while the efforts to speed up his  timetable are expected to fail, thanks largely to strong opposition from Republicans, the votes could be close.

Some members, though, remain steafast: Florida Republican Rep. Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who trained Afghan officers, soundly denounced efforts to withdraw, calling the threat there a "multi-headed Hydra.

"Is the Taliban still fighting? I spent 2.5 years in Afghanistan. Just because you kill Osama bin Laden does not mean that the Taliban has stopped fighting," he said. "Now can we fight a little smarter? Absolutely."

Asked about efforts to curb U.S. involvement, West said, "I would take these gentlemen over and let them get shot at a few times and maybe they'd have a different opinion."

He later left the House floor to show a reporter his Blackberry: On it, notification of the death of four service members in Afghanistan.