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202 posts from July 2012

July 31, 2012

Embattled education commissioner Gerard Robinson resigns

GerardRobinsonAfter a tumultuous year shepherding a series of high profile reforms to the state's education system, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson submitted a letter of resignation Tuesday, citing family reasons.

"After much contemplation and discussion with my family, I want to inform you of my intention to resign as the Florida Commissioner of Education effective August 31, 2012,'' Robinson wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott. "It has been an honor to serve as Commissioner during an unprecedented period in the history of school reform in the state of Florida."

Since Robinson was lured to Florida by Scott from Virginia, where he was that state's school chief, he has been at the helm of some of the most rocky revisions to the state's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test-based school grading system and the introduction of the Common Core Standards.

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Miami-Dade absentee ballot-fraud probe expands

Investigators looking into possible vote fraud in Hialeah are now examining at least 31 absentee ballots collected by a suspected ballot broker in two separate instances last week, according to sources familiar with the expanding probe.

Last week, Miami-Dade detectives questioned a Hialeah woman named Daisy Cabrera, who was found in possession of at least a dozen absentee ballots belonging to other voters. Detectives have also learned of another instance in which Cabrera collected ballots from voters, the sources said.

In all, 31 ballots have been segregated at the Miami-Dade elections department, where the ballots are set aside along with their envelopes bearing the names and addresses of the voters who cast the ballots. Miami-Dade detectives have interviewed many of those voters over the past few days to determine if the ballots correspond to the voters’ intentions, the sources said.

Cabrera could face charges under a municipal ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to possess more than two ballots of other voters. But police and prosecutors are investigating further to determine if voters were misled, or if their ballots were altered — which could be evidence of felony vote fraud, a charge with harsher penalties.

One elderly voter told El Nuevo Herald that Cabrera filled out her absentee ballot for her on July 22. Another voter told El Nuevo Herald that Cabrera filled out ballots for her and her husband twice last year in local elections — and offered to help the voter move up a public housing waiting list. Cabrera has declined to comment.

The investigation was triggered by a Miami private investigator, Joe Carrillo, who followed Cabrera last week as she visited several Hialeah apartment buildings and homes and the Hialeah campaign office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is seeking reelection in the Aug. 14 primary. Cabrera has also been photographed with the mayor at his campaign events in recent weeks. More here.

Smart or nervous or both? Sen. Bill Nelson up on air early.

ObamaNelsonSen. Bill Nelson's campaign is going on air early with a multi-week ad buy, we hear, which is a sign that he's nervous or smart or both.

Nelson is essentially running neck-and-neck with Republican Connie Mack, who's being outraised by the incumbent but has the help of Super PAC third-party groups. They's already spent an estimated $7 million to knock the Democrat down a few pegs.

"After this negative barrage of ads that are untruthful, it's time for people to know the truth," said Pete Mitchell, Nelson's campaign manager.

Mitchell wouldn't confirm the size or style of the ad buy. It's at least two weeks long and could be longer. It could be at least $3 million. One media buyer estimated it was just a two-week ad buy worth $750,000. That's pretty paltry. A top Democratic insider said the ad size and buy would be more robust.

Chances are that a good part of the ad buy will be negative. If so, Nelson's camp probably hopes to tar Mack, hurt him in the polls in time for the August Republican National Convention in Tampa, slow his fundraising (reports are due about the time of the RNC) and hope the Super PACs go somewhere else if they believe Mack's not worth the investment. Florida is a large TV state and it might be more cost-effective for the Super PACs to go elsewhere, say less-expensive and more-competitive Missouri, to pick up a Senate seat.

While there have been Republican doubts about Mack's candidacy, he's nearly tied with Nelson. And that makes Democrats worried about the two-term incumbent.

Mack's camp described Nelson's ad buy as an act of desperation. In an email response about the ad buy, Mack spokesman David James sent the above photo and suggested Nelson will try to hide is record and his association with President Obama:

"I would doubt very much that you will see this [photo above] -- or any other image of Barack Obama thanking Bill Nelson for his lockstep liberal support of stimulus spending, ObamaCare, killing of the Keystone Pipeline and last week's Senate vote to raise taxes in any Nelson ad, and no amount of advertising can airbrush Nelson's voting with Obama 98% of the time."

There's another reason to run ads for Nelson: He has raised at least $1 million from donors who have contributed in excess of the $2,500 per-cycle limit. So the ad buy in some respects represents surplus primary campaign funds. Nelson faces token opposition from Glenn Burkett on Aug. 14.

Mack squares off against former Congressman Dave Weldon, who is little known and entered the race late.

Dave Weldon trying to make a race of it against Connie Mack in GOP Senate primary

Yes, there still is a Florida Republican U.S. Senate primary.

But what once was expected to be an expensive, competitive contest Aug. 14 has instead been pared down to a long shot former congressman vs. someone so sure he'll win that he isn't even really running.

Rep. Connie Mack IV, the far-and-away frontrunner, is saving his dollars and criticism for incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.

But Mack's chief GOP rival, former congressman Dave Weldon, insists the primary isn't quite settled.

"I'm definitely picking up endorsements, and we're getting more and more volunteers and Web hits every day," Weldon told the Herald/Times. "Can we make up what we need ... ? I don't know, but it's exciting."

Read more here.

PSC Commissioner Lisa Edgar makes short list for a third term

From the News Service of Florida:

Eight candidates have made the cut and will be interviewed to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Florida Public Service Commission, according to a short list released Tuesday by a state PSC nominating council.

PSC member Lisa Edgar, whose expiring term will create the vacancy Jan. 1, is among the candidates on the list. Edgar, who joined the PSC in 2005, was among 23 candidates who applied for the $130,000-a-year job, The PSC regulates a host of utilities including electric-power producers, water suppliers and telecommunications firms.

Also making the cut was Ken Littlefield, a Republican House member from 1999 to 2006 who was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to a PSC term that started in January 2007. Littlefield's tenure was brief, as Bush's successor, Charlie Crist, appointed someone else to serve on the five-member panel shortly after taking office.

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'Millionaires pay a little more' new Obama Florida ad says

President Obama's new-ad-every-four-days campaign continues, this time with a spot contrasting his tax-and-deficit plan with that of Republican Mitt Romney's, whose made out to be a defend-the-rich-and-the-Pentagon candidate.

Mitt Romney's bus tour headed to Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami

CNN's Peter Hamby reports that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans a multi-state and city bus tour annd blitz that includes multiple stops in Florida before the Republican National Convention in Tampa at month's end.

This week, Romney visits Colorado, Nevada and Indiana. Then he stops in Ohio next week before starting August 10th with four-day bus tour "targeting the largest media markets in several of the states that will decide the November election," CNN said.

Starting Aug. 13, Romney plans to hit Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami.

Absentee-ballot race roils Miami-Dade state attorney contest

The Miami-Dade mayoral race is not the only contest on the Aug. 14 ballot embroiled in an investigation over potential absentee-ballot fraud.

Rod Vereen, the criminal defense attorney challenging longtime State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle in the Democratic primary, called on Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday to appoint a special prosecutor from outside the county to handle the investigation.

Vereen and other critics have suggested Fernández Rundle has a conflict of interest in the case because she shares a campaign consultant, Al Lorenzo, with Mayor Carlos Gimenez. One of the women detained and questioned in the fraud case -- Daisy Cabrera, found with more than a dozen absentee ballots -- has been photographed at Gimenez campaign events, and a private eye spotted her entering the building that houses Gimenez's Hialeah campaign office. Gimenez has strongly denied any connection to Cabrera.

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U.S. says Florida's voter purge violates federal law

The U.S. Justice Department has filed papers in federal court in Tampa asserting that Florida's efforts to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens is a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The July 27 filing, known as a statement of interest, asserts that before Florida began scrubbing the rolls in search of non-citizens, it was required to submit the proposal to the federal government. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, five "covered" Florida counties are subject to a process known as pre-clearance: Hillsborough, Collier, Hardee, Hendry and Monroe.

The feds say Florida never submitted the new "citizenship list maintenance practices" to them for approval, even though they did submit an unrelated change for review in 2011 -- the use of Social Security numbers to verify that a voter had died. 

The latest federal action follows a defeat before another judge, Robert Hinkle, who ruled in June that a law that bars the systematic removal of voters less than 90 days before a federal election does not specifically include noncitizens. The same Justice Department lawyer who unsuccessfully argued that case (John Albert Russ IV) filed the latest protest.

Directing its argument at Gov. Rick Scott's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the feds wrote: "The Secretary of State cannot now allege that the voting practice he initiated (and that the covered counties implemented at his direction) is completely abandoned, because the change has already affected voters in the covered counties. The implementation of these new practices and procedures without preclearance violates Section 5."

The federal submission is in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Florida and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law seeking to halt any further purging of the voter rolls in Florida.

In Hillsborough, officials discovered one case in which a non-citizen cast a vote in an election: Ecuadorian national Luis Ortega voted in the 2006 general election. The county elections office referred Ortega's case to the state attorney for review, but State Attorney Mark Ober has decided not to prosecute Ortega because the three-year statute of limitations has expired.

-- Steve Bousquet

PPP: Obama 48%-Romney 47%. Add Rubio as VP: Romney 49%-Obama 47% in FL

From Public Policy Polling:

PPP's first likely voters poll of Florida finds that it's likely to take its customary place as one of the most closely contested states in the country this year. Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney by the slightest of margins, 48-47, but Romney would take a small advantage in the state if he added either Marco Rubio or Condoleezza Rice to his ticket.

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