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13 posts from October 1, 2012

October 01, 2012

Fort Lauderdale judge hears arguments in Florida voter-purge lawsuit

A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale heard arguments Monday — but likely won’t rule until later this week — in a lawsuit challenging Florida’s contentious noncitizen voter purge.

At the heart of the case is a question of timing: Is it OK for the state to remove voters who are not citizens from the rolls 90 days before an election?

A coalition of liberal voting-rights groups, citing the risk of purging lawful citizen voters, says it’s not. Gov. Rick Scott’s elections department says it is — and last week produced a new list of 198 potentially ineligible voters to be reviewed by independent county elections supervisors.

Federal law generally prohibits purging voters 90 days from Election Day. That prohibition, which lists a few exceptions, is so broadly written that it should apply to noncitizens, argued Marc Goldman, an attorney for the coalition.

“If you do a big government program, the list is going to be inaccurate,” Goldman said. The law, he added, “is intended to bar any systematic purge.”

But Michael Carvin, an attorney for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, whose department created the list of potentially ineligible voters, said the state has discretion when dealing with noncitizens.

He countered that the 90-day prohibition applies to purging once-eligible voters who are no longer eligible — and not to noncitizens who were never supposed to register in the first place.

“If Fidel Castro showed up to vote, we couldn’t remove him from our rolls,” Carvin said, calling the coalition’s argument “absurd.”

Citizens gets (another) tongue-lashing over $350 million loan to insurance industry

Citizens Property Insurance continued to receive sharp-tongued backlash this week over its plan to loan out $350 million from its surplus to private insurance companies.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, wrote another scathing letter calling the plan a wasteful inside deal for insurance lobbyists, and Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate penned a lengthy list of unanswered questions about the high-risk program.

“Quite simply, it is reckless to rush the [surplus note] program through without taking the time to vet the program and make sure that it works,” wrote Artiles, who believes the plan is against the law and has spoken out forcefully against it.

The surplus note program is the latest in a series of ambitious moves by Citizens board in response to Gov. Rick Scott’s mandate to shrink the size of the government run insurance company.

The plan provides low-interest, forgivable loans to private companies who agree to take policies out of Citizens for 10 years. Last month, the board unveiled and approved the plan over the course of two days, with little public input and without legislative approval.

The lack of details and the speed of the approval set off red flags for Artiles, Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott and other critics who believe the unprecedented new program is being rushed through without adequate transparency.

In his letter, Artiles notes that several of the private insurers that are looking to participate in the program have troubled financial records and could go belly up after a major storm. That would leave Citizens on the hook for multimillion-dollar losses when the loans go into default. He also points out that several insurers have agreed to take over Citizens’ policies without any cash incentive, drawing into question the need for a new loan program.

“It appears that Citizens has been heavily influenced by lobbyists, as there is no rational explanation for such glaring violations of your fiduciary responsibilities to Floridians,” he said in a letter that followed a lengthy public records request seeking more details on the program. “Perhaps this is why Citizens is blindly rushing the SPN Program through with no public input or substantive changes.

Citizens has argued that the program is a revolutionary way to reduce its risk at a low price, and avoid the “hurricane taxes” that would be caused if the state-run insurer ran out of money.

“We have to reduce the overall size of Citizens,” said Barry Gilway, president of the state-run insurer, during a September meeting of its Depopulation Committee. “If we are to be successful in moving a large number of Citizens’ customers to financially secure markets, this program is compelling.”

Westcott has a number of questions about the program, and is asking Citizens to do a better job of proving that these loans make sense financially and won’t end up costing the company millions.

Continue reading "Citizens gets (another) tongue-lashing over $350 million loan to insurance industry" »

Police and fire unions blast GOP attack on court

The Republican leaders in two police and firefighter unions warned Monday that their party's attempt to oust three of Florida’s sitting justices is a “chilling’’ development that could lead to trouble for law enforcement.

“If successful, it could put active law enforcement officers in harm’s way,’’ said Jeff McAdams of the Gainesville Police Department, a Republican and the legislative chair for the Fraternal Order of Police. “Any time the courts, our judicial system, is challenged in such a fashion to bring discredit upon it, the public loses trust in government.”

The Fraternal Order of Police joined with members of the Florida Professional Fire Fighters to speak out against the decision by the Republican Party of Florida last month to oppose three justices who are up for merit retention.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince go before voters for a yes or no vote in November. Voters must decide whether they should be allowed to stay on the bench and, for the first time since the merit retention system was begun in 1976, a political party has taken sides on the issue.

Continue reading "Police and fire unions blast GOP attack on court " »

Gov. Scott on Fox News: Mitt Romney needs to 'do what I did' and focus on jobs

Gov. Rick Scott was in New York today making the media rounds and offered up a bit of advice for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

“I think the race is going to come down to one thing,'' Scott told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "If Gov. Romney explains that his plan to get jobs going, it’s no different than my race in 2010. All I talked about was what I was going to do to turn the economy around and it worked. Unemployment’s dropped faster than any other state, down 2.3 percent. Last month we were second to Texas in job creation.’’  

He suggested that Romney can't get distracted and predicted: “If Gov. Romney talks about jobs, he will win Florida....I’m optimistic he’ll put all his effort into how he can get jobs going because that’s the biggest issue in our country."

Scott repeated his mantra that things are looking up in Florida, a conclusion that depends on which numbers you're looking at.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott on Fox News: Mitt Romney needs to 'do what I did' and focus on jobs" »

Video: Marco Rubio mum on David Rivera questions, Jeb Bush Jr. floated as future replacement

Sen. Marco Rubio preferred to get rained on Monday than answer questions about a criminal investigation into his long-time friend and ally, Congressman David Rivera.

Rivera is the subject of a federal grand-jury investigation into whether he steered tens of thousands of unreported cash to a Democratic congressional candidate who ran against a rival of the Republican.

The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald first reported the allegations when two longtime Rivera campaign vendors said he was behind the effort that’s now under federal scrutiny.

Rivera has attacked the vendors’ credibility, but Rubio had nothing but good things to say about the two.

“I’ve always had positive dealings with them,” said Rubio, who tried to say as little as possible about Rivera before an aide whisked him away in the rain at an event.

Meantime, top Republicans from Washington D.C. to Tallahassee to Miami are laying the groundwork to field new challengers for the District 26 Congressional seat in the event that Rivera loses the race to Democratic challenger Joe Garcia.

A powerful new name, meanwhile, is being floated in Miami-Dade: Jeb Bush Jr., son and namesake of the popular Florida governor who lives in Coral Gables.

State Sen. Anitere Flores is at the top of the list as future congressional candidates as well as Marili Cancio, an attorney who ran against Rivera in the Republican primary in 2010.

Continue reading "Video: Marco Rubio mum on David Rivera questions, Jeb Bush Jr. floated as future replacement" »

Revolving door continues in gov's office: Wright out, Yu in

Gov. Rick Scott's new chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth continues to re-shape the inner workings of the governor's office with the latest announcement today from Lane Wright, press secretary for the governor, announcing he will be leaving his post to go to work at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Wright will be replaced by deputy press secretary, Jackie Schutz.

Arriving is Tom Yu, former Director of Research for the Republican National Committee, who will work on research and writing for the governor. Yu has been a producer and researcher for Mary Matalin and first worked as an intern for former U.S. Rep. Bill Paxon (R-NY) and the NRCC in the 1994 cycle.

Wright's departure follows that of Brian Burgess, who left the governor's office in September, to become spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida.

Burgess was replaced by Hollingsworth recruit, Melissa Sellers, a veteran of Louisianna Gov. Bobby Jindal's communications staff who also most recently worked at the Republican National Convention.

Continue reading "Revolving door continues in gov's office: Wright out, Yu in" »

Miami-Dade commissioner's ex-aide embroiled in Hialeah absentee ballot probe did political work on county time

Like many Hialeah ballot-brokers, 25-year-old Anamary Pedrosa began collecting absentee ballots this summer from those close to her, including her mother and a cousin’s boyfriend.

At the same time, the former aide to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo was establishing herself as a sophisticated campaign worker in a world that is dominated by her elders.

During county work hours, Pedrosa coordinated and attended campaign events for at least one candidate for the state Legislature and four judicial candidates. She told candidates she would introduce them to elderly Hispanic voters, and took them to meet her grandmother’s neighbors in a low-income apartment building in Hialeah Gardens.

Pedrosa, who received immunity from prosecution after giving a sworn statement to authorities, is a key figure in a growing criminal investigation that began in late July after she dropped off a bundle of 164 absentee ballots at a post office. Those who know the young Cuban immigrant do not understand why she was gathering the ballots in Bovo’s office or getting involved with political campaigns.

More from Melissa Sanchez and Enrique Flor here.

RPOF opposes justices but takes 'no position' on amendment to give power to Senate

In an interesting turn of events, the Florida Republican Executive Committee that voted to oppose the retention of the three Florida Supreme Court justices in November has also voted to support all but one of the 10 amendments on the ballot.

Which amendment did they take "no position" on?

The board voted to support all but Amendment 5 -- the one that would weaken the governor's powers over the judiciary by requiring that all justices to the Florida Supreme Court, as well as judges to the appellate courts, come before the state Senate for confirmation. The amendment placed on the ballot by legislative leaders as a compromise in a broader effort to reshape the Supreme Court.

Republican Party of Florida spokesman Brian Burgessconfirmed the board decided not to vote on the proposal but would not offer a reason why. "It's a grassroots vote,'' he said. He noted that the decisions to oppose the retention of R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince was unanimous. He said he did not know what the vote was on the decision to take no position on Amendment 5.

If the RPOF succeeds and the three justices are removed from the court, Gov. Rick Scott would have the power to appoint three replacements. If Amendment 5 receives 60 percent of the vote and becomes law, his appointees would have to also be confirmed by the state Senate.

If Amendment 5 fails, the existing process would remain in place: a panel of legal experts screens candidates and chooses nominees to send to the governor for each opening on the court. The governor's selects from that list and his appointee would not face a confirmation vote by the Legislature.

Opposition to Amendment 3's spending caps rallies at state Capitol

Florida religious leaders, labor unions and senior citizens marched to the state Capitol on Monday to protest a proposed constitutional amendment they say will lead to massive cuts to education and crucial social services.

Calling the revenue-capping Amendment 3 a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the group of about 50 said the proposal would slash education funding and pit seniors against the poor in a scramble for limited state dollars.

“This will not be good for the great citizens of the state of Florida,” said Rev. Richard Dunn, a Miami pastor and former city commissioner. “It will not be good for our children, it will not be good for our seniors and it will not be good for the middle class people.”

Amendment 3 proposes to change the way state revenue caps are set—using a formula based on population size and inflation, rather than personal income growth. Once state revenue from taxes and other sources exceeds the new caps, excess money would be used to shore up a budget stabilization “rainy day” fund.

Proponents of Amendment 3—which include business groups—say it will force state lawmakers to spend more wisely and avoid overspending during times of economic growth.

"The less government takes, the more Floridians will keep," said Edie Ousley, a spokesperson for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "Voting yes on Amendment 3 will send a message to our state leaders that the size of Florida’s government shouldn’t grow faster than the taxpayers capacity to pay for it.”

Outgoing Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, was a major backer of the “smart cap” amendment, saying it would lead to “less, government, less taxes and more freedom.”

After the proposal was approved by the Senate last year, Haridopolos released a video calling it “a common sense idea that finally makes sure that government spending never grows faster than family income, meaning when the economy recovers we will not overspend.”

But opponents—who have begun to mobilize in religious groups, labor unions and senior communities—predict a much grimmer scenario.

Continue reading "Opposition to Amendment 3's spending caps rallies at state Capitol" »

McCain will campaign for Romney in Pensacola Tuesday

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost to Barack Obama in 2008, will return to Florida Tuesday to campaign for Mitt Romney at one of his favorite spots: Pensacola.

McCain wowed crowds in military-friendly Pensacola in 2008 running for president, and enjoyed reminiscing about his days in flight school in the 1960s, before he became a prisoner of war in Vietnam. (McCain also was the star of a memorable rally in Pensacola in Charlie Crist's campaign for governor in 2006).  

Romney's chances of a Florida victory depend on running up overwhelming margins in the state's most strongly Republican areas -- beginning in Escambia County on the Alabama border.

McCain's appearance at the Fish House restaurant in downtown Pensacola begins at 1:45 p.m. central time. 

-- Steve Bousquet