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14 posts from February 13, 2013

February 13, 2013

Marco Rubio hawks his PAC's "RUBIO" water bottle after Tuesday's SOTUr thirst-moment

Rubio water@MarcACaputo

The Republican savior is trying to turn water into campaign wine. Twitter reader @

After last night's weird moment of thirst during Rubio's State of the Union rebuttal (SOTUr), he started hawking water bottles for his PAC, Reclaim America. In return for $25, it's offering water bottles emblazoned with "RUBIO" in big red letters along with the name of the committee's website, reclaimamericapac.com.

"Quench your thirst for conservative leadership? Order a bottle now http://bit.ly/X9fPjX  pic.twitter.com/jrxWrOvd #tcot #SOTU #gop," Rubio Tweeted this evening, with a link to the photo and website.

Rubio was Twitter's toast (both in the alcohol and bread sense) Tuesday night when he interrupted his live speech for three seconds to gulp Poland Spring water. Hours later, this morning, Rubio faced ABC and FOX and brought along a water bottle for a gag.

If you want to win when you lost or turn a weakness into a strength, this is the way to do it.

Will it be a good way to get money? He's certainly getting the attention.

Prior to being tapped for the speech, Time magazine dubbed Rubio the "Republican Savior" when it comes to immigration, which he's trying to reform with a bipartisan group of fellow senators. Liberals hate the moniker. Republicans like it. Rubio said only Jesus is the savior.

But where Jesus converted water into wine, Rubio's trying to turn it into coin.

Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican rival: Sen. Rand Paul

From the McClatchy Washington bureau ...

WASHINGTON — Sens. Marco Rubio’s and Rand Paul’s delivery of back-to-back rebuttals of President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress – Rubio as the Republican response, Paul as the tea party rejoinder – raises some tantalizing questions:

With Rubio being stamped as the early favorite in the 2016 Republican White House race, is Paul emerging as a leading alternative among tea party faithful and other hard-line conservative activists?

Read more here

Liberal group: Fox radio 'mocked' wait of 102-year-old North Miami voter featured at State of the Union

From the liberal media watchdog Media Matters for America:

After glossing over state Republicans' role in exacerbating long lines at the ballot box, three Fox hosts mocked the hours-long wait and multiple trips a 102-year-old woman endured in order to cast her vote in 2012.

On Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade and Fox's Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer laughed off the difficulties 102-year-old Desiline Victor endured in order to vote in the 2012 election. Victor, who was invited to the State of the Union address and whom President Obama applauded for enduring a long wait to vote, had to make two trips to the polls and wait in line for over three hours before she was able to cast her ballot. Discussing Victor, MacCallum wondered, "What's the big deal?" and said, "This is such a non-issue. Ridiculous." Hemmer added that at the State of the Union, "They held her up as a victim. What was she a victim of?"

Full post, including audio, here. Read The Miami Herald story about Desiline Victor here.

So why did Jim Greer plead guilty?

From Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan:

For three years, former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer denied doing anything wrong and promised a trial that would embarrass a lot of people. So why did he plead guilty to five felonies Monday facing the certainty of spending years in prison?

And who paid Hank Coxe, a widely respected criminal defense attorney from Jacksonville who parachuted in  at the last minute and quietly negotiated the plea that brought the long-running soap opera to a close. Coxe was in the courtroom when Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges but did not speak and did not formally file a notice of appearance with the court.

For more than two years, Damon Chase, the Lake Mary civil attorney who represented Greer, hurled insults at party officials insisting the investigation was an attempt to destroy Greer. Chase even predicted that everyone would die in the end like a Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, Chase stood silently beside Greer as he answered, “Guilty, your honor’’ five times.

Chase said Greer “decided to fall on his sword rather than burn down the house.’’

Coxe stepped in a few weeks ago and reviewed the evidence, talking to prosecutors and Republican Party representatives as he pushed for a plea bargain.

“Hank Coxe was critical to getting the deal done. He is a very experienced criminal defense lawyer and he concluded it would be in Greer’s best interest,’’ said Steve Dobson, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented the party in a civil suit Greer filed in an attempt to collect $130,000 the party promised him in severance pay.

Story here.

Experts question a main premise of municipal pension reform

TALLAHASSEE – Actuarial and financial investment experts told lawmakers Wednesday that an oft-quoted study by two non-profits is exaggerating the problems facing pensions for city and county workers throughout Florida.

The LeRoy Collins Institute and Florida TaxWatch released a report this week that updates its research on 492 pension plans throughout Florida. It concluded that it had detected a “troubling trend” since 2010 where payouts are exceeding contributions in the typical plan. The report is part of a raft of studies that Republican lawmakers are using to warrant an overhaul of state and local government pensions by shuffling employees into 401 (k)-type plans and away from plans that guarantee retirement benefits.

The LCI study isn’t calling for the shutting down of municipal pension funds, but it is recommending some fixes for local governments to adopt to avoid future shortfalls. They are the raising of the minimum age of retirees before they receive benefits; the elimination of overtime pay in calculating pension benefits; the making of pension benefits that are more transparent to the public and changing the interpretation of a 1999 law that would allow cities and counties to more flexibility in negotiating benefits with their police and fire unions.

But Brad Heinrichs, the CEO of a Fort Myers actuarial firm that manages 200 public pensions in Florida, told a House committee on government operations that the premise of the LCI study was flawed. In estimating each plan’s liabilities, LCI was projecting salary increases that hadn’t been awarded yet, giving the impression that the plans had much greater burdens then they do.

“It certainly makes the plans look worse off than I think they are,” said Heinrichs, who said he came to Wednesday’s meeting on his own. “You might call that conservative, but I call it aggressive.”

“What you’re saying is that these numbers are way off,” Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton asked.

“I’ve been trying not to say ‘way off’,” Heinrichs said. “But I would say it’s too strict of a grading scale.”

Heinrichs and Joseph Bogdahn, an investment manager at an Orlando firm, said that a slumping stock market was largely to blame for flat returns from pension funds in recent years. But they both said that was about to change and now was not the time to overreact.

“Sometimes, doing nothing is like taking action,” Bogdahn said. “Most of the funds are doing just fine.”

But Republicans who are pressing for changes were still leaning toward doing something.

The Senate’s efforts to reform municipal pensions is expected to be wrapped into a House bill that would require new school district, county, state, university, and community college employees who now can now enroll in the Florida Retirement System’s pension plan to instead sign up for a 401 (k) plan by next January. That reform is a top priority with House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, chairs the House committee on government operations and said he felt that the criticism of the LCI report was unfair. He said that Heinrichs, who told the committee that actuaries don’t set uniform standards for the solvency of pension plans, had no place to question the findings in the LCI report.

“It’s disingenuous,” Brodeur said. “(The LCI report) will be another piece we’ll use to figure out where we are with funding levels for our municipal pensions.”


President Obama's West Palm Beach-bound Friday


We're hearing President Obama's coming to the West Palm Beach area Friday at 8 p.m. Whether there's a public or private event (likely good time to fundraise), we'll see.

More details later.

DC's Rubio round-robin: Jay Carney whacks Marco Rubio who whacks Janet Napolitano


Another busy day for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Just hours after his State of the Union rebuttal swamped Twitter late Tuesday, Rubio did the media rounds Wednesday morning, poked fun at himself and slipped in some policy. Then White House spokesman Jay Carney criticized him. And then he criticized Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano during an afternoon hearing.

Continue reading "DC's Rubio round-robin: Jay Carney whacks Marco Rubio who whacks Janet Napolitano" »

Sen. Marco Rubio's $675,000 'working class' home


"Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy."---Marco Rubio, Feb. 12, 2013.

That working class neighborhood line jumped out at Jose Lambiet, whose Gossip Extra site offers a tour of Rubio's for-sale home, courtesy of MLS photos.

- Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam C. Smith

To increase online education, one university will lead the way

Although the path is clearer, the state Board of Governors still has some decisions to make when it comes to online education. The board's Strategic Planning Committee decided today that one school should serve as a lead organization, creating new degrees and conducting research on ways to improve online education. But the panel said it's too soon to say which of the 12 state universities that should be.

Creating more online degrees is a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, and the Strategic Planning Committee had several options to chose from based on a report it commissioned. One option was creating a new online-only university, but it was unpopular among existing colleges and universities and Weatherford recently said he would not push for that.

In addition to chosing one of the other options -- letting one university serve as a "lead institution" -- the committee also said it wants Chancellor Frank Brogan to create a workgroup to improve coordination between schools regarding online courses and degrees.

Here is more from a Board of Governors press release:

Continue reading "To increase online education, one university will lead the way" »

To drive his agenda, Scott now turns to lobbyists

After winning election as an outsider in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott initially refused to invite lobbyists into his Capitol office (only their clients). But in his first two years as Florida's chief executive, Scott has steadily developed a closer relationship with the people whose connections, clients and money are virtually impossible to ignore in state politics.

That relationship has just reached a new level, after Scott and chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth quietly invited some of the Capitol's most prominent lobbyists to the mansion over a couple of nights last week, where the governor made a strong pitch for the two prongs of his legislative agenda: a $2,500 across-the-board teacher pay raise and a $141 million sales tax break for manufacturers who buy equipment.

A partial list of the lobbyists invited to the mansion includes Paul Bradshaw, Brian Ballard, Ron Book, Dean Cannon, Steve Dial, Mercer Fearington, John French, Steve Metz, Guy Spearman, J.M. (Mac) Stipanovich, James Harold Thompson and Steve Uhlfelder.  

"The governor talked about his agenda and the focus on his top two priorities. 'Hey, look,' the governor said. 'These are my two priorities for the session, and then he provided the framework for those priorities,'" Hollingsworth said.

Unlike Scott's previous get-togethers with other interest groups -- teachers, a teacher union leader, school superintendents and college presidents -- the hour-long sessions with Capitol lobbyists were not publicized. They did not appear on Scott's official agenda, which would have sent reporters scurrying to the mansion. The meetings were held Feb. 4 and 5.

Hollingsworth -- who once employed lobbyists as an executive for the CSX Corp. -- said inviting lobbyists to the mansion was one element of a broader and deeper "engagement of all the folks who are impacted by the governor's policy agenda," and ensure that as many people as possible know exactly what Scott wants. It was described participants as a businesslike discussion with no wining and dining -- soft drinks only.

"There wasn't even a Saltine cracker served," Hollingsworth said. "This is part of a very broad effort to have the governor share his message and his priorities and the rationale for them as broadly and as widely as possible."

"He (Scott) is figuring it out," said lobbyist Book, who added it was common for form,er Democratic governors Reubin Askew and Bob Graham, who was Book's boss, to hold similar sessions. "It was very smart," Book said. "I think when you're solicitous of ideas, whatever the agenda, it makes a lot of sense."  

-- Steve Bousquet