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269 posts from November 2012

November 28, 2012

Florida says no to public input on license tags

Florida will not accept license tags offered by public relations professional Kevin Cate, or by anyone else.

The state will stick with one of the four choices up for a vote at vote4floridatag.com.

Cate criticized the tags designed by the department and offered his own. At the very least, Cate said, the state should use the 15 million tags roaming the country to advertise visitflorida.com, which promotes tourism, restaurants and businesses.

Cate created the tag alongside squarefactor, a Florida design firm. It took about an hour and a half.

"It's basic branding," said Cate, founder of Kevin Cate Communications.

But highway safety spokeswoman Kirsten Olsen-Doolan said Florida will not take input from the general public. Instead, a panel of 20 people from law enforcement officers to tax collectors offered ideas for the new tags.

Continue reading "Florida says no to public input on license tags" »

November 27, 2012

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to wrap up term as foreign affairs committee chair due to House limits

Top Republicans in Congress on Tuesday recommended a new chairman for the Foreign Affairs Committee, a position to be vacated by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen due to GOP term limits in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, served two years as chairwoman of the powerful committee, and four years as the ranking GOP member -- the maximum six years party rules allow members to remain in committee leadership positions. 

She backed the new chairman, Rep. Ed Royce of California, and told The Miami Herald on Tuesday night that she cherishes the time she had atop the committee.

"It's been a great privilege and a great honor," she said, declaring herself "very happy" about Royce's appointment.

As chairwoman, Ros-Lehtinen has held perhaps the most visible House leadership position among South Florida Republicans. Ros-Lehtinen, who is Cuban-American, has been particularly outspoken on matters regarding Cuba and Latin America, and she has criticized the Obama administration on its policies in the Middle East.

"What a thrill it has been for me to be both the top Republican in the minority, and the top Republican in the majority" at foreign affairs, she said. "It says a lot about the greatness of the country that a naturalized American could be chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee."

Ros-Lehtinen, who was first elected to Congress in 1989, said she looks forward to whatever role Royce gives her in the committee, be it heading a subcommittee or something else.

"Whatever role he sees for me, I will be pleased as punch," the characteristically cheerful Ros-Lehtinen said. "We want to give the new folks, the new kids on the block, a shot at leadership."

She added: "I didn't come to Congress to chair a committee, or for power or prestige. I came to represent my community ... I love this job."

The headline to this post has been changed to more accurately reflect that the congresswoman is only leaving her post due to term limits. 

CFO Jeff Atwater must testify in 'Taj Mahal' case

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater will have to answer questions under oath in a lawsuit filed by the owner of a Tallahassee art gallery that was never paid for  framed photographs valued at more than $357,000 for the new 1st District Court of Appeal.

Attorneys for Atwater asked Leon Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis to prohibit lawyers for Signature Art Gallery and Peter R Brown Construction Co. of Clearwater from questioning Atwater saying he is a constitutional officer who cannot be forced to testify. But Francis ruled he must testify.

Michael H. Davidson, lawyer for Atwater, indicated he will appeal the judge’s decision and seek a delay in any attempt to question Atwater.

A three-day nonjury trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 17.

Story here.

Congressional Dems want feds to review Fla. voting laws

Six Democratic members of Congress from Florida want the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to hold a hearing on changes to state election laws enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last year.

One of those changes -- a reduction in early voting days from 14 to eight -- is cited as the cause of extremely long lines at early voting sites, especially in Miami-Dade. But President Barack Obama won Florida for a second time, in part due to a stronger showing in Dade this time in comparison to 2008.

In their letter, the members of Congress cite recent statements by former Gov. Charlie Crist (an ex-Republican who may run for governor as a Democrat) and former state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer (awaiting trial on felony charges) that the reason for the voting law changes was to "intentionally suppress Democratic turnout." That assertion is based on a recent article in The Palm Beach Post, which also quoted a Republican campaign consultant, Wayne Bertsch, as saying that a surge in early voting turnout in 2008 "sent a chill down our spines" at the Republican Party of Florida.

"The law limited access to the polls for minorities, seniors and college students," the members of Congress wrote. "We are extremely concerned over the integrity of this law and the justification for its implementation. Therefore, we believe that a hearing must be held as soon as possible."

The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston; Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton; Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville; Kathy Castor, D-Tampa; and Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

-- Steve Bousquet

UPDATED In split vote, Miami-Dade delegation picks chairman

Photo (2)Miami-Dade lawmakers chose new delegation leaders Tuesday, on the heels of a bruising election season.

State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Hialeah Republican, defeated state Sen. Oscar Braynon II, a Miami Gardens Democrat, to become delegation chairman.

At first glance, the 13-10 vote in Gonzalez's favor appeared to have fallen along strict party lines; 13 of the delegation's 24 members are Republicans, and 11 are Democrats. (Rep. Joe Gibbons, a Hallandale Beach Democrat whose district extends into Miami-Dade, was late to the vote.) But Gonzalez told The Miami Herald on Tuesday afternoon he suspected he had not received all of his party's votes.

"I don't believe I had every single Republican," Gonzalez said, noting that hard feelings likely remained from heated GOP primaries.

Case in point: Gonzalez and Rep. Jose Oliva supported newly elected Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. -- who defeated Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's brother, Renier.

Continue reading "UPDATED In split vote, Miami-Dade delegation picks chairman" »

Crist, literally, hovering over Scott (near Mansion)

mm.jpgThose Morgan & Morgan billboards aggressively promote the profile of the law firm's best-known member, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

The "It's about the people" signs have become a ubiquitous presence along I-75 and Florida's Turnpike. But now one has appeared in a most interesting location: a short city block from the Governor's Mansion, of all places.

Talk about product placement! Gov. Rick Scott can't leave "home" without seeing Crist's smiling face towering over him near the corner of Monroe and Brevard streets, a few blocks north of downtown Tallahassee. (Does this strike you as prime advertising territory for an Orlando personal injury law firm?)

Crist, a former Republican, lost an independent bid for the U.S. Senate to Marco Rubio in 2010, and endorsed and campaigned for President Barack Obama's re-election in Florida. Crist appears to be weighing a run for governor, possibly as an independent, in 2014.

In his most recent remarks on the subject, about a week ago, Crist said of his political plans: "I don't know. There's a thought process that has to go into that. I'm not ruling anything in and I'm not ruling anything out." He added: "It's something that you talk to your family about, listen to people, and the community that you live in. I'm going to let the dust settle after this campaign that we've just come through."     

-- Steve Bousquet

PR firm offers license tag alternative

Unhappy with the license plate redesigns offered by the state, public relations professional and former CFO spokesman Kevin Cate has offered his own.

Alongside squarefactor, a Florida design firm, Cate asked the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to consider his plate, which he says would improve the state's national branding effort.

In-house designers at the state highway agency created four potential plates that are up for a vote at Vote4FloridaTag.com, but Cate said the state can do better.

Continue reading "PR firm offers license tag alternative" »

Sen. Bill Nelson: We're still pushing for more customs agents at Miami International Airport

Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday that he is continuing to ask for additional federal agents for Miami International Airport, which for months has had a shortage of officers at its new, $180 million immigration and customs facility.

Nelson, a Florida Democrat, told members of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce who were visiting Washington that 65 new customs agents have been added at MIA in the past year, and 93 over the past two years, according to a news release issued by his office.

But the chamber representatives said the airport still needs more federal personnel to keep up with the expanded facility and increase in cargo and international passengers.

"The first thing people see when they get off a plane is a long line to go through customs," Nelson said in the statement. "That's no way to foster tourism."

Republican Gov. Rick Scott made a similar request for additional customs agents to the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, in September. Nelson's office said he also called Napolitano about the matter in April.

Citizens attacks media after watchdog reporters uncover scandal

“Preposterous” “absurd,”  “disgusting” and “shameful” were words used Tuesday by the president of the beleaguered Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Was he talking about the bra-stripping human resource executive who got drunk at the Coyote Ugly Bar during a business trip? No.

Was he referring to the underwriting executive who received more than $80,000 in severance after being accused of having an affair with an underling? Nope.

Could he have been talking about the Citizens’ employee who ran a sex toy operation out of Citizens’ mail room? Not at all.

Gilway reserved such harsh language for members of the media, whose watchdog journalism uncovered these and other improprieties that have taken place at the taxpayer-backed Citizens in recent years.

During a special hearing to address many of the allegations of corporate misconduct at Citizens, Gilway and members of Citizens board spent considerable time attacking the reporters and columnists that have written about the scandal surrounding the company.

While the reports have been poignant enough to spur two investigations by Gov. Rick Scott’s chief Inspector General in the past three months, Gilway and board members spent much of Tuesday’s launching thinly-veiled attacks against the authors of those reports.

The board also pointed out that many of the allegations—including huge severance payments to disgraced employees, sexual improprieties, employee favoritism and the altering of incriminating documents—had occurred under a previous president.

“I feel bad about what happened in the past administration,” said board member Carol Everhart.

Gilway joined Citizens in June.

Blame was also deflected to the Office of Corporate Integrity—which uncovered piles of incriminating evidence against top executives and was disbanded last month.

Gilway said the explosive 73-page report drafted by the Office of Corporate Integrity was riddled with inaccuracies and unworthy of being presented to the board. Instead, boardmembers were presented with a 5-page report, omitting many of the specific details in the longer draft by OCI.

Gilway did take a bit of blame for closing the Office of Corporate Integrity at a time when Citizens’ was being investigated for lavish executive spending on travel and meals. Gov. Scott, Chief Financial Officier Jeff Atwater, and other top elected officials have openly criticized that decision.

“The bad decision was not to eliminate the Office of Corporate Integrity,” said Gilway.  “The bad decision was how we did it. Dumb.”

Soon to be ex-Broward Sheriff Lamberti shows interest in DOC job

Republican Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti who lost the November election to Democrat Scott Israel has expressed interest in the Secretary position at the state Department of Corrections. Secretary Ken Tucker recently announced that he was retiring.

"The sheriff had expressed interest to Steve Casey [executive director]  at the Sheriff's Association about the DOC job," said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott.

Casey provided Lamberti's bio and contact information to Scott's office last week and Casey provided Lamberti's resume last night. However Scott's office hasn't asked Lamberti to interview for any position.

"We haven't had any direct contact over this issue" with Lamberti, Schutz said. 

Lamberti did not respond to a text asking him about his interest in the position. Lamberti has worked for the Broward Sheriff's Office for decades and rose through the ranks until then Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him in 2007 to replace Ken Jenne who went to prison. Lamberti beat Israel in 2008 when about 50,000 Broward voters skipped the sheriff's race on their ballot. When Lamberti lost this year, about 29,000 voters skipped that race.

The Sentinel's Broward Politics blog previously reported on Lamberti angling for the job.