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13 posts from October 11, 2012

October 11, 2012

State Ethics Commission clears Sen. Gary Siplin in newsletter complaint

The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint filed against state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, that accused him of using a publicly funded newsletter to help promote his wife’s bid to replace him in the Legislature.

At the time, Siplin’s wife Victoria, a political novice, was running to replace him on the Senate since he was barred by term limits from running again. She was beaten in the primary by state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, another Orlando Democrat.

The complaint filed in August by Democratic activist Mary Ritter alleged that a newsletter from Siplin's Senate office mentioned and pictured Victoria several times and was sent to homes outside of Gary Siplin's current district but within the boundary lines of the redraw seat that his wife was seeking.

Without weighing in on the facts of the case, the Ethics Commission ruled last month that the allegations were legally insufficient and therefore dismissed the complaint.

Siplin didn’t announce that he had been vindicated until today. In the process, he attempted to tie Ritter’s complaint to Thompson’s campaign. He said that Ritter is an employee of Susannah Randolph, wife of state Rep. Scott Randolph, a fellow Orlando Democrat and chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee.

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Scott and Perry to Obama: Don't defund army aircraft in our states

Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry penned a letter to Pres. Obama today, asking the Commander in Chief to continue funding for the C-23 Sherpa aircraft, which is currently being phased out by the army.

The C-23 aircraft is used by the Army National Guard, but a new army strategy involves phasing the so-called "Sherpa" out by 2014, with both Florida and Texas losing their two such aircraft this year.

According to Scott and Perry, that would lead to “security risks” in Florida and Texas, which both are prone to hurricanes, flooding and other emergencies.

“Although we understand the divestiture of these aircraft has been postponed by Congress, Florida and Texas have been informed the Department of the Army will not allow the aircraft to operate after the end of the 2012 calendar year,” Scott and Perry wrote to Obama.

They both asked that Obama provide the funding necessary to operate and maintain the C-23 aircraft in their state.

Scott has maintained a thorny relationship with the federal government, rejecting billions of dollars for high-speed rail, Medicaid expansion and child healthcare, and squaring of in several lawsuits about voting rights and other matters. In recent months, Scott has asked the federal government to provide funding aid for Tropical Storm Isaac, fund more customs officials at Miami International Airport and work to avoid the defense cuts that would come along with the so-called fiscal cliff.

Those requests have either been rejected, or remain pending.

See Scott and Perry’s letter, below:

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Miami-Dade mayoral candidate drops lawsuit challenging election over absentee ballots

Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez changed his mind Thursday, dropping a lawsuit he filed challenging the absentee ballots cast in the Aug. 14 mayoral race he lost to Carlos Gimenez.

"Although my intentions were to move forward with this lawsuit to preserve the integrity of the electoral process, certain legal impediments prevented me from continuing to pursue this endeavor," Martinez wrote in a brief statement.

The two-time chairman and 12-year representative of West Kendall said he would continue to work with the mayor and commission as an "engaged" citizen.

In his own statement, Gimenez said he was "pleased."

"I look forward to working with the new Commission on issues that will continue making Miami-Dade County a great place to live, work, and invest in," he said.

Martinez and Property Appraiser Pedro J. Garcia, who also lost, filed complaints after the election, seeking to throw out absentee ballots in light of an ongoing investigation in Hialeah that has netted two arrests for alleged fraud.

Had the more-than 80,000 absentee ballots not been counted, Garcia would have won his election over challenger Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Martinez would be in a Nov. 6 runoff against Gimenez.

A hearing on Garcia’s pending suit is set for Oct. 19.


Debate pushes Romney 7 points ahead of Obama; 51-44% in FL

What a difference a debate makes.

Republican Mitt Romney has opened a large, 7 percentage-point lead over President Barack Obama in must-win Florida, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted for The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.

Romney’s 51-44 percent advantage is just on the cusp of the poll’s error margin — and it marks a dramatic 8-point shift since last month.

“Obama’s now swimming upstream,” said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the survey of 800 likely Florida voters this month and last for The Herald and its news partners, including Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13.

The previous poll, which showed Obama with an inside-the-error-margin lead, was before last Wednesday’s debate when Obama gave a lackluster performance while Romney appeared to excel.

This latest poll showed that 5 percent of those who said they were undecided before the debate say they’ll vote for Romney. And 4 percent of those who said they favored Obama pre-debate moved away from the president — 2 percent toward Romney and 2 percent undecided.

“Obama didn’t flip one voter,” Coker said. “He didn’t gain 1 percent from the debate.”

Even Democrats were upset with Obama’s performance.

“I was disappointed,” said Phyllis Apple, a 90-year-old Democrat from Aventura. “He didn’t look like he was ready to fight. Maybe the president thought it wouldn’t look presidential.”

A top political advisor to the president, David Plouffe, acknowledged that the debate was a “wake-up call” and that the race has tightened. But, he said, he believes in the campaign’s message and its vast volunteer army that can turn out nontraditional voters who don’t necessarily get picked up in polls such as this one.

“That’s where there are real gains for us. We’ve got to find them,” Plouffe said. As for Romney’s surge, Plouffe said, “Romney picked up his easy gains ... We think the Romney gains have stopped.”

More here

Nelson out with new Mack attack


The drumbeat continues with a new ad out today from Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is attacking Republican opponent Connie Mack for being a shill for the special interests. The allegations were first reported in a Tampa Tribune story here.

Mack's campaign responded that Nelson is more interested in defending Argentina's dictators than he is Americans. His campaign response follows:

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Obama: Romney's "severely kidding" as part off "extreme makeover."

A cocksure and mocking President Obama gave one of his most sharply worded speeches in Miami this campaign season on Thursday when he accused rival Mitt Romney of engaging in a dishonest “extreme makeover.”

“After running for more than a year in which he called himself ‘severely conservative,’ Mitt Romney’s trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” Obama told a packed arena at the University of Miami.

Obama’s energy level, his zippy quotes and his pithy way of distilling his arguments stood in stark contrast with the lethargic performance that the president gave last week at a televised debate with Romney.

Obama’s performance was so lackluster that it’s costing him deeply in the polls. Obama has suggested that part of his bad performance was his shock at Romney’s capacity for reinvention.

Obama noted that Romney offered few specifics about what he’d cut and noted that the Republican wanted to reduce public-television subsidies that could target Big Bird.

The Romney campaign shot back with a written statement pointing out that Obama was ignoring the situation in Libya, where four foreign-service workers were killed after a Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“Today, after his campaign said that the terrorist attack in Libya is only an issue because of Mitt Romney, the President hit the campaign trail and talked more about Big Bird than his failure to lead at home or abroad,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams.

“President Obama is obsessed with talking about a puppet rather than presenting a vision for a stronger foreign policy and a vibrant economy,” Williams said. “President Obama can continue to launch false attacks and focus on the small issues, but Mitt Romney will continue to address the serious issues confronting our nation and present his bold vision to grow our economy and keep American safe.”

But Obama said Romney isn’t talking boldly as much as he is dishonestly.

“He’s trying to go through an extreme makeover,” Obama said.

“And when he’s asked about the cost of his tax plan, he just pretends it doesn’t exist,” Obama said.

Imitating Romney to a degree, Obama said: “What $5 trillion tax cut? I don’t know anything about a $5 trillion tax cut. Pay no attention to the $5 trillion tax cut – on my website.”

The crowd’s laughter interrupted him.

Obama’s remarks at the University of Miami – his fifth campaign stop in a row at a college – covered all of his administration’s high points: the death of Osama bin Laden, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and the end of the war in Iraq.

Obama never mentioned Election Day, Nov. 6.

Instead, the president repeatedly mentioned Oct. 27 as the day to vote. That’s the first day of Florida’s early in-person voting, when Democrats typically dominate.

When Obama first mentioned Romney’s name, the crowd booed.

“Don’t boo, vote!” Obama said quickly.

The crowd exploded.

By the end of the speech, Obama turned the phrase into a call and response.

Obama: “Don’t boo…”

Crowd: “… vote!”

Sandra Fluke stars in new ‘Vote No on 6’ ad

Sandra Fluke, the women’s health care advocate who gained notoriety after being called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh, is the star of the latest web ad from the “Vote No on 6” campaign. In the ad, Fluke urges Florida voters to reject the proposed constitutional amendment that eliminate privacy rights that protect a woman's right to chose to abort a fetus.

The "Vote No on 6" campaign continues to tie Gov. Rick Scott to the initiative and says it amounts to meddling in a woman's health choices. Proponents say of Amendment 6 say they just want to bring Florida in line with federal law on the use of public funds for abortions and ensure that parents must give permission before a child seeks an abortion.

“Amendment 6 could get in the way of a woman making her basic health care decisions along with her doctor and her family, and it would put politicians like Rick Scott right in the middle of basic healthcare,” Fluke says in the 90-second spot.

Learn more about Amendment 6 and the other proposed amendments on the November ballot here.

Judge: Carroll, potentially, may be called as witness in illegal taping case

A Leon County judge ruled Thursday that attorneys for a former aide of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll could probe the governor's office if they can prove the information they seek is relevant to a case that has spiraled into allegations of illegal taping, a sex scandal and an arson attack at the state Capitol.

The defense team for Carletha Cole, a criminally-charged one-time aide to Carroll, has been trying to question Carroll and members of her staff after claiming that the governor’s office was plagued by sexual improprieties, illegal audio recording and bribery.

Lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott's office got involved in Cole’s illegal taping case, asking a judge to enter an order barring Cole’s defense team from “harassing” Carroll in an attempt to smear her in the media.

Circuit court Judge Frank Sheffield reached for a compromise Thursday, saying he would allow the probe, but only if Cole’s defense team convinced him that it was relevant and not a “fishing expedition.”

“If he can give me a reason to depose the lieutenant governor, I’m going to let him depose her,” Sheffield said of Cole’s defense attorney, Stephen Webster. “I’m not going to let people hide behind their office if they’re involved in a case. On the other hand, just because she’s the lieutenant governor, I’m not going to allow him to depose her if it’s just a fishing expedition.”

Lawyers from the Leon County state attorney’s office and Scott’s office say Cole’s probe—which includes subpoenas for surveillance videos, hotel records and text messages—is an attempt to slander Carroll.

Cole, 49, is fighting a third-degree felony charge that she distributed an illegally taped recording to a Florida Times-Union reporter. She was fired last year from her role as Carroll’s aide, and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Cole’s lawyers have fought back against the criminal charges by saying that Carroll’s office had a culture of covert audio taping, and the lieutenant governor has been gunning for Cole ever since Cole walked in on her in a sexually “compromising position” with a travel aide. Carroll has denied the allegations.

Cole’s attorneys also allege that the travel aide, Beatriz Ramos, set a trash can ablaze near Cole’s desk in the state Capitol, and Carroll used her position to smother an investigation into the fire.

In August, Cole’s defense team demanded that the governor’s office turn over loads of information—hotel records, surveillance tapes from Carroll’s office, a “smart pen” allegedly used by Carroll’s chief of staff to secretly record conversations and audio tapes. It also called Carroll, her chief of staff John Konkus, Ramos and other staff members in for depositions.

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Interim ed commish responds to strategic plan dustup, doesn’t rule out keeping job

Interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart went on the defensive today, saying she needed to clear up misconceptions about the five-year strategic plan approved by the Florida Board of Education earlier this week. The plan includes academic goals based on ethnicities and race through 2018.

Education leaders around the state pounced on the numbers, saying the varied goals allowed disparities, and therefore the achievement gap, to perpetuate. Even state House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston weighed in, urging the Board of Education to reverse course.

“An appropriate vision should focus on improving student performance across the board instead of one based on race and ethnicity," he said in a news release. "It is inappropriate to suggest, as the Board of Education has implied, that one race is academically inferior to another."

Stewart defended the targets, saying that the Board of Education believes all students can achieve academic proficiency and is setting yearly goals toward that end.

“We feel that it’s very, very important to have these goals so that we can draw attention to where our students are now, where each of our subgroups are so that schools and parents and teachers can all focus on where we are and where we need to be eventually,” she said.

If the subgroups achieve the goals outlined in the strategic plan, each will reach 100 percent proficiency levels by the 2022-2023 academic year, she said. People may not have understood that the current strategic plan is just one part of a longer journey, Stewart added.

“If we were to carry it all the way out that certainly will happen if we look at that trajectory,” Stewart said.

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Barack Obama is loving some Rick Scott

Our former colleague Mark Silva reports on Bloomberg's Political Capital blog today that the White House was reminding the reporters aboard Air Force One about a Twitter message that Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued last week:

“Tampa-St.Pete.-Clearwater and Miami area experienced largest unemployment rate declines in country,” tweeted @FlGovScott.

The governor linked to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report in that Friday message: “Unemployment rates were lower in August than a year earlier in 325 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in 40 areas, and unchanged in 7 areas.”

“Twenty-seven of the metropolitan divisions recorded over-the-year jobless rate decreases in August, while seven registered increases. Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla., posted the largest rate decline from a year earlier (-2.0 percentage points),” the BLS reported Oct. 5.

Josh Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary, who made note of Scott’s Twitter report today, told the press pool that the president would be talking about this today when he visits the University of Miami.

“You’ll hear from the president a little bit more today about what he believes that we should do to build on that progress and to build on what we can do to help our economy in south Florida and communities all across the country recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Earnest said.