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239 posts from June 2011

June 30, 2011

Tim Pawlenty earns high-marks on low-key trip. But was it too low key?

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty slipped into Florida for a series of low-key events to raise some much-needed cash and make a pitch to the state’s political elite.

With no public notice or events, Pawlenty wooed eight state lawmakers Thursday at the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables and a dozen legislators Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in Tampa. He also met a handful of lawmakers and potential supporters in Orlando. Most will be voters in the Sept. 24 Republican Party of Florida straw poll.

Though he’s polling near the bottom of a crowded GOP field, Pawlenty opted against high-profile events to concentrate on fundraising, organizing and strategizing.

“It’s kind of a buffet of political stuff,” Pawlenty said of his visit to Florida, a must-win state for Republicans seeking the White House.

“We’re not gonna have the Bentley or Mercedes level of funding like some other candidates,” Pawlenty said. “But we will at least have a Buick level to be able to get done in Phase 1, which is the early states, and do it at a competitive level.”

The lawmakers who spoke to The Miami Herald after meeting Pawlenty gave positive reviews, but said they weren’t ready to give endorsements because they wanted to meet all the candidates.

Some wondered why Pawlenty, Minnesota’s governor from 2003-2011, didn’t do more to raise his name-identification by publicizing his trip to Florida.

“He’s got to obviously make a splash going forward, but if he could pull it off he’d make a great candidate for president,” said Hialeah Republican state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez. “He’s not a frontrunner. I’m sure he won’t be. He could be a possible president and hopefully a good one. He’s a decent, honest man.”

More here

Rick Scott signs his first death warrant

Manuel Valle, who murdered a Coral Gables police officer 33 years ago, is scheduled to be executed Aug. 2 under the first death warrant signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Valle, 61, shot and killed Officer Louis Pena on April 2, 1978 after he pulled over the suspect and an accomplice in a stolen car. Valle was convicted of the crime soon after.

But Valle avoided execution due to numerous appeals, reversals and re-hearings that stretch all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He ultimately survived three death sentences. Before one of his convictions, he tearfully pleaded for mercy before a packed court. A Catholic Archbishop asked that he be spared.

Officer Pena’s family, however, were elated with the news of his pending execution.

“Are they going to fry him?” the slain officer’s first wife, Inez Afanador, 73, of Lehigh Acres, said when called by a Miami Herald reporter Thursday night. When told of the death warrant, she cried out “Yippee! On Aug. 2, they’re finally going to give him the great needle.”

For Pena's daughter, Jeneane Skeen, 46, the news was electrifying. She was 13 when he father was murdered. Her three children never got to meet their grandfather.

"It's going to be very important for them. It's significant, he missed out on everything" in their lives, Skeen said.

Skeen said she recently wrote three e-mails to Gov. Scott asking when Valle would be executed, but got no response. It came Thursday. "God, we're finally going to get justice in this case … We're happy another bad guy finally gets what he deserved."

Valle shot and killed Pena after being pulled over for running a red light in a stolen car. As the officer ran the tag, Valle managed to exit the patrol car, walk back to the stolen vehicle and retrieve a gun. He walked back to Pena and shot him in the neck. The officer died in his own blood.

Officer Gary Spell witnessed the killing and was shot by Valle as well. He was saved by a bullet-proof vest. Valle fled the scene, but was arrested two days later in Deerfield Beach. His accomplice, Felix Ruiz, was convicted of an accessory after the fact to the murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Spell recently retired.

"That’s amazing. He lasted more than my entire career," Spell said. "It’s aggravating that it went on so long. I knew it was a 100 percent just sentence. There was no question about his guilt. I witnessed it. I was shot.”

Gov. Scott's SunRail decision will be revealed at 11 a.m. on Friday

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad will make an announcement regarding the SunRail commuter rail project at FDOT headquarters in Tallahassee on Friday at 11 a.m.

The $1.2 billion, 61-mile Central Florida project has been on hold since January, when Gov. Rick Scott started his review of $238 million worth of contracts. Asked Wednesday for a hint of the direction he's leaning in, Scott said: "I'm going to do what's best of the state."

On Tuesday, Prasad participated in six workshops in the Orlando area, where he emphasized that local governments will be financially responsible for the operation of the line and any other obligations after the trains have been running for seven years. Local government are also contributing 25 percent of construction costs. A funding agreement with the U.S. Federal Transit Administration, which is paying 50 percent of construction costs, requires trains to be running by May 2014.

Dems issue robo-calls to attack West on social security

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is releasing a robo-call in U.S. Rep. Allen West's Broward/Palm Beach district. The focus of the attack: social security -- a crucial topic in a district home to many seniors. Republicans recently unveiled the "Savings Account for Every American" Act that would allow seniors to opt-out of social security and into a "SAFE" investment account.

Both parties have a laser focus on Congressional District 22 because it is a swing district and West has become a national, well-funded figure expected to raise millions of dollars.

Here is the text of the call:

"Hi, this is Clare calling on behalf of the DCCC.  What does Congressman Allen West have against seniors? 

 First West voted with his Republican leadership to end Medicare while protecting subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for billionaires.  Now, they are trying to privatize Social Security.

 Republican leaders’ scheme to gamble the Social Security that seniors worked a lifetime to earn on Wall Street is way too dangerous.  One bad market could wipe out years of savings, putting generations of retirees at risk.  

 Call Congressman Allen West at (561) 655-1943 and tell him not to gamble Social Security on Wall Street."

The robocall doesn't name H.R. 2109 -- the SAFE Act -- specifically and the bill hasn't come up for a vote yet. But West's spokeswoman Angela Sachitano told us in an e-mail today:

"Congressman West did not support this and would never support this.The robocall is disingenuous, and refers to “they”, trying  to trick the constituent."






Rick Scott, Michelle Rhee praised charter school that just got an F (partly)

When Gov. Rick Scott unveiled some of his education policy proposals with school-choice celeb Michelle Rhee this January, they paid a visit to a second-grade class at Florida International Academy in Opa-Locka to showcase the successes of school choice.


The school rankings are out. And the academy's new elementary school just got an F.

The middle school, though, earned a B. Last year the middle school was an A. Before then, the academy was an F school based on the students' performance on Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test. Based on that F-to-A performance of the middle school, Scott decided to travel to the site to tout its successes, but they also highlighted the new elementary school as well.

"We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy, " Scott said to a group of parents, students and teachers, according to this Miami Herald story.
Rhee said the Opa-locka school was a perfect example of how charter schools can accomplish things quicker and at a lower cost than typical public schools because there is less paperwork involved.
For example, Florida International Academy built an expansion -- scheduled to open later this year -- for a one-third less than a comparable public school because it did not have to follow the same procurement and other policies when it comes to construction, Rhee said.
"There needs to be more accountability, " she said. "We spend more money per child than any other nation, and the results do not come with it."

Staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report


Tim Pawlenty's travel aide tries to squelch Michele Bachmann question

Boy, the surly body man named Paul who tries to keep Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty on schedule sure didn’t want him to answer any questions – especially one about fellow Minnesota Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann. Here’s a near-complete transcript of a brief interview with the former Minnesota governor as he left a meeting at the swank Coral Gables Biltmore.

Paul the body man: We’ve got a live interview, we gotta go….

Q to Pawlenty: What brings you to Florida?

Pawlenty: Campaigning. We were in Tampa, Orlando, and today South Florida. We’re heading back

Q: Fundraising?

Pawlenty : “It’s a mix. We did some fundraising. We did some political meetings… It’s kind of a buffet of political stuff.”

Q: How’s fundraising?

Pawlenty: “We’re not gonna have the Bentley or Mercedes level of funding like some other candidates. But we will at least have a Buick level to be able to get done in Phase 1, which is the early states, and do it at a competitive level.”

Q: What will differentiate you from the other candidates in Florida and in the nation?

Pawlenty: “Everybody’s got a different personal background and story. Mine is not better or worse than anybody else’s. It’s just different. I grew up in a meat-packing town. I grew up in a blue-collar environment. It’s an up-from-your-bootstraps kind of story. Mom died when I was relatively young. My Dad was a truck driver and faced some other life challenges. So I think that helps as a connection and a point of being able to relate to people who have had some life challenges.”

“I’ve got a record like all the other candidates do. And I think mine’s the best in the field when it comes to taxes, spending and healthcare reform the right way, and taking on the tough issues before they became popular like dealing with public-employee benefits and pay… and lastly your ability to present the conservative message effectively in places that are swing areas. And everybody’s going to say they can do that, but I’ve actually done that.”

Q: What about the estimated $5 billion deficit that Minnesota now faces? Is that your fault?

Pawlenty: “The Democrats are spinning it that way. The last budget cycle for which I was responsible ends tomorrow. It’s going to end in the black with a big surplus. And that’s a good record. That’s a good result. Now what they’re talking about in terms of a projected deficit is for the period of the next two years coming up and that’s based on a 20-plus  percent projected increase in spending that I never would have allowed had I been in as governor.”

What about Bachman?

Paul, the body man: “We gotta go. We’re live. We’re live.”

Pawlenty: “Right now? OK. I’m sorry I’ve got to do...”

Q: Well, I’m going to put you down for no answer on that one

Pawlenty: Just. Just

Paul, the body man: "Call our campaign. We organized this…"

Q: I’m right here, man….

Paul, the body man: “We’re live. We’re live.”

Q: Just answer the question

Pawlenty: “I like Michele. I respect her. I’ve campaigned for her. Every candidate brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table. That’s what campaigns are about. I like her. I respect her.”

Another possible challenger for David Rivera?

Politico is reporting that Democrat Annette Taddeo -- who ran a failed campaign against U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008 and an unsuccessful bid for an open Miami-Dade County Commission seat last year -- is considering challenging U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Taddeo, a Colombian-American businesswoman, is the second Democrat reportedly mulling over a run for the seat. Democrats also have their eye on state Rep. Luis Garcia, a retired Miami Beach fire chief.

Neither Taddeo nor Garcia live in Rivera's western Miami-Dade district, which also includes portions of eastern Collier County. Those boundaries are likely to change in redistricting next year -- but possibly not enough to include Pinecrest (Taddeo's home when she ran for Congress last time) and certainly not Miami Beach.

Last year, Taddeo attempted to replace County Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who retired. But despite raising the most money in the race, Taddeo didn't even make the runoff. (The ultimate winner of the race was now-Commissioner Lynda Bell.)

The Bono-Diaz Balart connection: a free Cuba, Dr. Biscet

At last night's U2 concert, surrounded by Amnesty International candles, Bono told the crowd of the struggles of Dr. Oscar Biscet, doing 25 years time in a Cuban prison for human-rights work. Background here. Bono has been personally lobbied on the Biscet's cause by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, who met with the rock star last week and last year to raise awareness of human-rights issues, Biscet and Orlando Zapata, another jailed activist who died in 2010 after staging a hunger strike on the island. Diaz-Balart's brother, former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, has also met with Bono (who paid a visit last week to Sen. Marco Rubio in D.C.).

After the shoutout, Republican fundraiser Ana Navarro told Rep. Diaz-Balart about it via email.

Navarro says Bono didn't limit his song to Cuban political prisoners. He also highlighted the plight of Myanmar's jailed moral leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

"He also dedicated, It's Beautiful Day to Gabby Giffords and featured a video from Mark Kelly which was recorded when he was on space shuttle, some weeks ago, where he sent a message of optimism to the world and a special message of love to his wife. It was quite moving," Navarro said in an email.

Giffords is one of the few survivors in the Tucson shooting rampage earlier this year.

Miami police chief: I was offered $400,000 to quit

Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito, who has been in a heated, yearlong dispute with two elected leaders seeking his resignation, said Wednesday that city officials offered him $400,000 in January to “leave his position as chief quietly,” a year before his expected retirement.

Exposito would not say who made the offer, referring only to “representatives of the city of Miami” in a statement he made through his spokesman.

Larry Spring, the city’s recently departed chief financial officer, confirmed parts of Exposito’s account. Spring said that at the request of Mayor Tomás Regalado and former City Manager Tony Crapp Jr., he set up a meeting with the chief to discuss Exposito’s possible departure from the city.

Spring said he didn’t know who proposed the $400,000 figure, though he was aware of the amount.

“No one from the administration came up with the figure for the chief, that I’m aware of,” Spring said.

In his statement, the chief said he was offered $200,000 up front to leave, with another $200,000 to come after he became a civilian again. The chief said he turned down the offer. Full story here.

Gimenez relied on broad coalition for win

Carlos Gimenez’s narrow victory over rival Julio Robaina for Miami-Dade County mayor combined three key ingredients: A solid showing among the county’s crucial Hispanic majority, respectable support from black voters and overwhelming backing from non-Hispanic white voters, who favored the former county commissioner by a three-to-one margin.

According to a post-race analysis by Bendixen & Amandi International, Gimenez won 47 percent of Hispanic voters to Robaina’s 53 percent, better than expected after his showing during the first-round election in May. Gimenez won 44 percent of the black vote, to Robaina’s 56 percent. Yet among white non-Hispanic voters, Gimenez scored 75 percent to Robaina’s 25 percent.

“Carlos had solid support in all three ethnic groups,” said Dario Moreno, who conducted polling for the Gimenez campaign. “Julio had stronger support in the Hispanic community, and support in the African-American [community] but very little with non-Latin whites.”

“Julio might have had a deeper base, but Carlos had a broader base,” Moreno added. Full story here.