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485 posts from January 2012

January 30, 2012

Gov. Rick Scott orders FDLE investigation into fatal I-75 crashes

Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state's law enforcement agency to investigate what led up to a series of vehicle crashes that killed 10 people on I-75 near Gainesville on Sunday.

The order came Monday as questions surround the Florida Highway Patrol's decision to close and then reopen the stretch of road early Sunday amid heavy smoke from a wildfire, which FHP has said may have been intentionally set. The combination of smoke and fog reduced visibility to zero, which led to fiery crashes involving at least a dozen cars and six semitrailer trucks.

"I have asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the circumstances leading up to this incident," Scott said in a statement. "I will make available any and all resources from the Executive Office of the Governor, as well as any agency under my supervision, as needed. We will also fully cooperate with any federal investigation which may occur. During this tragic time, our thoughts and prayers should be with the victims and their families."

FHP officials on Monday defended the call to reopen the highway at 3:30 a.m., about 15 minutes before the first pileups began, the AP reported. They said visibility had cleared when the decision was made, though it quickly deteriorated.

The National Transportation Safety Board has also sent investigators to the crash site in Paynes Prairie, the natural preserve through which I-75 runs.

Florida GOP consultant poll: Romney over Gingrich by 10

Sure, there have been loads of polls today. This one, a robo-poll of 831 Republicans, carries a little more weight because it's conducted by Randy Nielsen of Public Concepts in West Palm Beach and Pat Bainter of Data Targeting in Gainesville.

Between the two of them, they're probably responsible for helping elect or advise nearly every major Republican in the Legislature. Both are Republican Party of Florida consultants. The results:

Mitt Romney: 40%

Newt Gingrich: 30%

Rick Santorum: 16%

Ron Paul: 8%

Unsure 7%

Nielsen said an intriguing aspect of the poll are the regional breakdowns. Note the North Florida numbers, which help show why Romney spent a little more time there recently.

North/Panhandle: Gingrich (35), Romney (27)

Orlando/Space Coast: Gingrich (30), Romney (44)

South: Gingrich (28), Romney (44)

Tampa Bay: Gingrich (31), Romney (38)


For those who care, South Florida is outside the error margin for the regional subsample.

Don't tell food stamp recipients what to eat, House panel says

A legislative effort to restrict the use of cash assistance benefits for the needy passed its second House committee Monday. But the most controversial portion of the proposal -- a lengthy list of snacks and junk foods that can't be purchased using food stamps -- may be doomed.

Both Republicans and Democrats alike said they were opposed to banning soda, cakes, and candy bars under the food stamp program. Government should not be telling people what types of food they can eat, several members of the House Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee said.

“Even if they happen to be poor, even if they happen to be on food stamps,” Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said. “It’s just not our core mission, and I’m personally offended by it.”

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Congressman hones in on water pollution controversy

The state, and not the federal government, should decide Florida's water quality standards, Rep. Steve Southerland said at a press conference Monday.

He plans to file a bill tomorrow to compel the federal Environmental Protection Agency to sign off on the state's proposed water pollution standards, he said.

Environmental groups vehemently criticize the Department of Environmental Protection's proposal as weak and unenforceable.

But other stakeholders, such as the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Electric Cooperative Associations, and the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association say the state standards strike a balance that would save thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

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Latest, latest poll: Romney in a landslide

From Suffolk University/7NEWS (Miami) poll

BOSTON – Republican hopeful Mitt Romney has opened up a 20-point lead in the final days leading up to the Republican primary in Florida, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WSVN-Miami) poll of likely Republican primary voters in Florida.


Romney led Newt Gingrich 47 percent to 27 percent, while Rick Santorum got 12 percent and Ron Paul finished fourth with 9 percent.  Five percent were undecided.
“It is almost certain that Mitt Romney will top his 39 percent showing in New Hampshire,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “This poll also tells us that Romney could reverse and exceed Newt Gingrich’s percentage and margin in South Carolina – and do it in Gingrich’s backyard.”
Romney led Gingrich 55 percent to 24 percent among those voters who indicated that they had already voted, and he led 56 percent to 23 percent among Hispanic voters.


A lone robocall urges listeners to vote Tuesday on Miami-Dade County charter questions

No one appears to be campaigning for (or against) the two Miami-Dade County charter amendments on Tuesday's primary ballot. And very few people know (or care) about them.

So on Friday, Jorge Luis Lopez, a lawyer and County Hall lobbyist who was part of the 2008 Charter Reform Task Force that called for changes to the way Miami-Dade government runs, took matters into his own hands: He put out a robocall reminding voters to go to the polls.

Lopez said that he realized after a series of media interviews and a discussion at the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club, that Democrats and independent voters did not know they could vote for the charter questions on the Republican presidential primary ballot.

"My thought was, let's just make sure everybody knows that there's an election, especially for non-Republicans," Lopez said. 

Lopez paid for some 23,000 calls to absentee voters, regardless of party affiliation, who had listed phone numbers and had not yet returned their ballots.

Here's the text of his call:

Good evening. This is an important message for all Miami-Dade County Voters, regardless of political party. My name is Jorge Luis Lopez, a member of the Citizen's Charter Review Task Force calling to remind you of an historic opportunity to reform our County Government. The two reforms relate to citizen petitions, and the salaries, service, and term limits of county commissioners. Please read the amendments carefully and voice your opinion by voting and mailing in your absentee ballot. This message is approved and paid by me personally.

Newt Gingrich, before enthusiastic but not huge Tampa crowd, asks supporters for help

Newt Gingrich -– who is traveling around Florida by plane and was preceded on the stage by Michael Reagan and Herman Cain -- addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd at an airplane hangar at Tampa Jet Center. His campaign had curtained off two-thirds of the hangar, but the crowd didn't fill the remaining third.

He took the stage nearly two hours late, but offered no explanation-– ripping quickly into rival Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

Gingrich called Tuesday a "really, really big day" said a late poll has him tied with Romney at 35-35 -– but didn't name the poll. (Here's the poll, according to his campaign, from the Fort Myers News-Press.) He said he's still fighting after reports of his campaign's demise last summer and a well-financed, well-organized Romney assault. He said Romney has "spent $17.5 million on falsehoods.”

He closed with an appeal for help.

"We really need your help: We need you on Facebook, we need you Twittering, if that's what you do, we need you on e-mail," he said. "We need you calling people, and, to show I'm old-fashioned, we need you talking face to face..."

Gingrich said he's carrying the conservative banner.

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Gov. Rick Scott will vote Tuesday -- in Tallahassee

When Gov. Rick Scott casts his ballot in Tuesday's Republican presidential preference primary, he'll do it in Tallahassee for the first time -- and he'll be the first governor to do that in the capital city in years.

Florida's 59-year-old Republican governor has lived in Naples for eight years, but he recently updated his voting address and changed it to 700 North Adams Street, the address of the Governor's Mansion where he now lives most of the time. That makes him a definite Tallahassee insider, at least on paper.

Scott became a Leon County voter last July, according to Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho's office. A Sancho assistant said it came about through an electronic list maintenance process: Leon was notified by the Collier County elections office that Scott's permanent address was Tallahassee, not Naples.

Interestingly, had Scott's change of address not been processed as it was, he would have been required to cast a provisional ballot under a provision of Florida's controversial election law (HB 1355) that is now enmeshed in litigation. That law says a Florida voter who has moved from one county to another since the last election must vote provisionally.

"But if you change your address before you vote, it's all right," Sancho said. "You have to change your address before you vote."

Scott also updated his mailing address on his driver's license on Jan. 24 to reflect his Tallahassee residency, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. (A little-known state law requires motorists to update their addresses within 10 days of moving).

Scott has not endorsed a candidate in the Republican presidential race, but he can expect to be asked about his decision after he votes Tuesday. The governor's last two predecessors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush, maintained their voting privileges in their hometowns of St. Petersburg and Miami, respectively.

First Lady Ann Scott also switched her voter registration to Leon County when her husband did. Mrs. Scott voted early last week at the Leon County Courthouse.

-- Steve Bousquet

Weatherford to West: Legislative maps are not targeting you

As the House prepares to finish up the congressional redistricting maps later this week, Rep. Will Weatherford stepped in to quash a rumor that's been festering in GOP circles for the past month. The gist: Republicans are not targeting Allen West.

The controversial congressman from Broward County has earned a national reputation as a firebrand conservative. But his district is decidedly getting more liberal. Under the House congressional redistricting map, which is expected to be adopted by the Senate, West's district would move west into Plantation, where he lives, and also pick up a swath of Democratic voters.

A personal appeal from Broward Repubican Party Chairman Richard DeNapoli attempted to persuade lawmakers to shift the lines northward along the Palm Beach County coast, giving West a safer Republican district. His fellow Republicans even launched a web site, saveallenwest.com.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is having none of this. He stepped into to fray Monday and posted this statement on his Facebook page:


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Nobody is safe from House initiation rites

When it comes to rites of passage, not even legislative aides are off limits.

With newly minted Rep. Jose Oliva stuck in traffic on I-75 Monday, assistant Chris Cantens was called upon to present HB 583 to the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

“He’s never presented a bill before,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Rich Glorioso pointed out.

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