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272 posts from October 2011

October 26, 2011

Casino bill emerges with no protections for pari-mutuels

In a move designed to shift Florida’s gambling focus, two new bills to be filed Wednesday would award exclusive full-casino licenses to three massive “destination resorts” and leave the struggling pari-mutuel industry to wither.

The goal of the proposals by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, “is to reduce gaming in the state and have the kind of gaming that is actually going to produce revenue,’’ Bogdanoff said.

That would mean no equal treatment for South Florida’s eight racinos, which would pay higher tax rates than the new casinos and be allowed to operate only pari-mutuel and slot machines. It would mean no more monopoly for the Seminole Tribe, which would lose its exclusive right to operate blackjack, baccarat and other table games at their seven Florida casinos and would stop making annual payments to the state.

Instead, the bill would allow full Las Vegas-style games at three locations in South Florida in exchange for a $2 billion investment each in high-end “destination resorts.” Applicants would pay $50 million for the right to compete for the licenses and would be judged on their ability to draw tourists from Latin America, Asia, Europe and across the U.S., Bogdanoff said.

“Florida is considered the fourth largest gambling state in the nation, but it has let the industry drive policy decisions and that has produced the worst kind of gaming,’’ she said Tuesday. “To me, no kind of gaming is good, but we, as policymakers, have to decide, do we want gaming with five-star hotels or Internet cafes in strip malls?”

To that end, the authors have carefully cleansed the bill of any emphasis on gambling. The 142-page overhaul of state gambling regulations never uses the word “casino” but instead refers to the facilities as “limited gaming” and calls the legislation the “Destination Resort Act.”  Story here.

Here are some of the major components of the 142-page bill, which would be taken up when the Legislature holds its two-month session beginning in January: Download Fresen Bogdanoff bill

Continue reading "Casino bill emerges with no protections for pari-mutuels" »

October 25, 2011

Documents offer insight into Rubio's family history but new questions arise

untitled-61.jpgOn May 18, 1956, Mario and Oriales Rubio walked into the American Consulate in Havana and applied for immigrant visas. The form asked how long they intended to stay in the United States.

"Permanently," Mr. Rubio answered.

Nine days later, the couple boarded a National Airlines flight to Miami, where a relative awaited.

So began a journey that seems as ordinary as any immigrant story, but decades later served as the foundation of an extraordinary and moving narrative told repeatedly by their third child as he became one of the most powerful politicians in Florida and then a national figure.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has come under fire for incorrectly linking his parents to the Cubans who fled Fidel Castro beginning in 1959. He insists they are exiles nonetheless, and angrily denounced the suggestion he misled for political gain.

Continue reading "Documents offer insight into Rubio's family history but new questions arise" »

Commercial builders counter Florida Chamber and endorse resort casinos

Just as the Florida Chamber of Commerce was announcing its opposition to resort casinos last week, the Associated Builders and Contractors’ South Florida Chapter voted unanimously to support the proposal -- and work for its passage.

The trade group, which represents commercial, institutional and industrial contractors including those who are members of the Florida Chamber, see the proposal as a salve to the South Florida economy, said Peter Dyga, president and CEO of ABC South Florida chapter. Their resolution is here: Download ABC Destination Resorts letter

“There is a lot of hope that it would have an impact not just on immediate jobs but on the long term impact on the economy,’’ he said. “A lot of people take a lot of pride in South Florida and believe it would be a natural boon if something like this took off.”

The unanimous vote by the board on Oct. 17 came after several members urged the association’s leadership to take a strong position on the issue, even though the group had already formed its legislative agenda, Dyga said.

Continue reading "Commercial builders counter Florida Chamber and endorse resort casinos" »

Jeb Bush: GOP presidential candidates should "categorically reject" birthers

In an interview with the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush denounces fringe claims that President Barack Obama wasn't born in this country. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's "decision to delve back into birtherism — on CNBC and on the day he is rolling out an economic plan — has struck a nerve with responsible GOP officials and insiders," Rubin wrote.

Here's what Bush told Rubin's Right Turn blog, apparently in an email:  "Republican candidates should categorically reject the notion that President Obama was not born in the United States. It is a complete distraction from the failed economic policies of the President."

Here's the transcript of what Perry said today about "birtherism" in an interview with CNBC's John Harwood:

JOHN HARWOOD: Mitt Romney after the President released his birth certificate earlier this year said that issue's done and settled, I accept it. You chose to keep it alive in your interview with Parade magazine over the weekend. Why'd you do that?

RICK PERRY: I-- it's a good issue to keep alive. Just-- you know, Donald's got to have some fun. So-- and the issue is this.

JOHN HARWOOD: But it sounds like you really do have some doubt about it.

RICK PERRY: Well, look, I haven't-- I haven't seen his-- I haven't seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the newspaper. So, let's-- you know, if we're going to show stuff, let's show stuff. So. But, look, that's all a distraction. I mean, I get it. I'm-- I'm really not worried about the President's birth certificate. It's fun to-- to poke and add him a little bit and say hey, how about-- let's see your grades and your birth certificate.

RICK PERRY: But here's what's really serious. Is we got people sitting around watching this interview while the president has killed 2 and a half million jobs. That's serious. And that's what we got to better get right.

JOHN HARWOOD: But are you saying that your comments about that are kind of a joke? Or do you seriously have unresolved questions like Donald Trump has about them?

RICK PERRY: I don't have a clue about where the President-- and what this-- birth certificate says. But it's also a great distraction. I'm not distracted by it. If those of you in the media want to talk about it that's fine, but I hope what you'll really get focused on is how are we going to get this country back on track.

Another day, another detail stalling the release of the casino bill

The authors of the long-awaiting destination resort bill said Tuesday that they have found yet another reason to hold the bill back and work on it some more.

"When you see the bill, you will know why it took so long,'' said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff on Tuesday, the Senate sponsor.

The bill has grown to more than 150 pages, much of it devoted to establishing the Florida Gaming Commission, a new state agency  whose role will be to license, regulate and enforce gambling throughout the state. The separate state agency will be run by a seven-member commission, appointed by the governor. The House speaker and Senate president will recommendation the list of candidates from whom the governor can pick to make his appointments to the board.

The bill will allow the commission to award three casino gambling licenses in South Florida in return for an investment of $2 billion in a resort complex.

The delay is simply because the House and Senate bill drafters  are "dotting every 'i', and crossing every 't', and making sure all statutory references are correct,'' said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the House sponsor. "I wish there was a sexier reason but there isn't."

Inmates can't smoke, but now officers can

Score another political victory for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents correctional officers.

The PBA's lawsuit successfully stopped the state from privatizing prisons in South Florida, and now the union has convinced Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker to relax a statewide ban on smoking in prisons.

Tucker's predecessor, Ed Buss, ordered the smoking ban last spring, and instructed that prison guards and other employees had to exit the gates of a prison to smoke -- a highly inconvenient solution and a time-consuming one at that. After the PBA complained, Tucker issued a memorandum on Oct. 4 that allowed wardens at all prisons to designate outdoor areas for smoking by "employees, contractors, volunteers and official visitors."

PBA general counsel Hal Johnson said the union notified Tucker that whether employees can smoke is an issue that should be negotiated by contract, not set forth in a management edict. "We sent him an email saying, 'You need to talk to us. We're the collective bargaining agent,'" Johnson said. "I think this is a fair resolution for everybody." 

-- Steve Bousquet

Mitt Romney campaign picks up new endorsements from Florida lawmakers

The Mitt Romney presidential camp put out a list Tuesday of new backers from the Florida Legislature. The include Miami Republican Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, Eddy Gonzalez, Ana Rivas Logan, Jeanette Nuñez, and Jose Oliva (whose name is misspelled in the release). A slew of lawmakers had already backed Romney. See the press release and all the names after the jump.

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Former aide to Lt. Gov. Carroll arrested over illegal taping

carlethacole-mug.jpgCarletha Cole was arrested and released after being charged with a felony count of illegally taping a conversation in Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll's office, according to Leon County Sheriff's Office records. She turned herself in on Thursday.

Cole, 48, was let go from Carroll's office after she went public to the Florida Times-Union, Carroll's hometown paper, about drama inside the office.

After she was fired, an audiotape surfaced on the Times-Union web site between Cole and Carroll chief of staff John Konkus whispering about creating a new state website that caused tension between the offices of Carroll and Gov. Rick Scott.

More here.

Top Senate Republican says investment money should be returned to state

jobsgraphic.jpgSen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican expected to take over the Senate president's suite next year, said if companies took taxpayer money from the state without creating jobs they should return the cash.

"If we have players out there who have not done what they said they would do, I want the money back to invest in more promising companies," Gaetz said in an interview today.

Earlier today, Gaetz posed a list of questions to one of Gov. Rick Scott's top economic development officials over the performance of the state's incentive programs.

Gaetz has asked Department of Economic Opportunity Director Doug Darling to produce the "Discussion Papers" related to six companies that took $23.4 million from the state without fulfilling promises for 3,260 jobs and $273 million in capital investment.

Gaetz has also asked for any information related to any other companies that have failed to meet their contracts.

"I can tell you every investment doesn't hit a home run," Gaetz told the Times/Herald. "But my experience in having taken venture capitalist dollars in the private world is that investment money depends upon the company hitting very specific performance milestones. If you don't hit the milestone, you get the investment liquidated or the reins pulled in very hard."

Gaetz said he wasn't sure what would come back from the Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency created this year to streamline incentive projects for Scott, but expressed confidence that  CEO-turned-investment manager-turned-governor would right the ship.

"This governor we have is a very serious and very successful business person who understands term sheets and performance contracts. And I would expect out of the Scott administration we're going to see a very disciplined approach to economic development," Gaetz said.

2012: A good year for women to run for office, boosters say

Next year is an especially auspicious year for female political candidates to run -- and win -- seats, says the Center for American Women and Politics. Whenever presidential elections overlap with redistricting. women candidates see their chances dramatically improve, according to analysis by The 2012 Project, a non-partisan campaign to elect more women to office, with the catchphrase "Don't get mad. Get elected."

"The election of 1992 -– known as 'The Year of the Woman' -– was not an accident," said Mary Hughes, founder and director of The 2012 Project, which is affiliated with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. "Voting patterns unique to presidential elections, combined with new and open seats resulting from redistricting, created a perfect storm for women candidates. It’s about to happen again, and we need to make the most of it."

They’ve found that new candidates, including women, are historically more likely to win newly drawn seats and open seats created by term limits or retirements. In 1992, 22 of the 24 new women elected to Congress won open seats, according to The 2012 Project. Also, in presidential election years, more people vote.

The 2012 Project, a campaign of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, says it will take advantage of these opportunities by "educating and inspiring women to run for Congress and state legislatures." It has launched a statewide initiative in Florida along with Illinois, Alabama, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Iowa, Nevada, Missouri, South Carolina, Washington, Georgia and Arizona. 

"We’re helping to set off an unprecedented level of collaboration around the country," said Debbie Walsh, director of CAWP. "Our campaign is marking the one-year countdown to Election Day with this urgent message: State candidate filing deadlines begin in December and go through next summer. Women considering a run for office should do it now."
Women now make up 17 percent of Congress and 24 percent of state legislatures. But the 2010 elections saw the first significant decline in women state legislators in decades, and the first drop in the number of women in Congress in more than 30 years.