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10 posts from July 16, 2013

July 16, 2013

All aboard the SS Crisafulli

Even by Tallahassee’s standards, Steve Crisafulli’s idea for an upcoming fundraiser for House Republicans is pretty showy.

It’s a three-day trip to the Bahamas aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s “Disney Dream” where guests will stay in deluxe oceanview stateroom with Verandah (cabins that usually fetch about $3,000).  

Set to sail from Port Canaveral -- located in Crisafulli’s House district -- the Disney Dream and its 1,458 crew members and 4,000 passengers will anchor in ports of call Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney’s “private island paradise.”

Floating atop international waters, lawmakers will soak in the contributions while luxuriating on the 14-passenger deck ship and its many bars (“Evolution Night Club, anyone?”). Guests will get a $200 onboard credit and all meals included.

When asked about the rumors of the upcoming fundraiser on Tuesday, Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, confirmed the fundraiser is set for an Aug. 1 launch.

All that guests have to provide so they can attend is a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida.

Continue reading "All aboard the SS Crisafulli " »

Holder speaks out against Stand Your Ground

Florida's already-controversial Stand Your Ground law garnered a new critic Tuesday: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Speaking at the NAACP’s annual convention in Orlando, Holder said the time had come “to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.”

“By allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety,” Holder said.

Miami lawyer David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor, called the speech “appropriate” in light of concerns civil rights organizations have raised about the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

To date, more than one million people have signed an NAACP petition urging the U.S. Department of Justice to file federal civil-rights violation charges against George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon in 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter on Saturday.

“The Justice Department has a high burden of proof to meet before they can file any federal charges,” Weinstein said. “His shifting of the focus from an investigation into possible civil rights-hate crime charges to an analysis of self-defense laws was the appropriate response. This approach will keep people’s expectations in check and not create false hope.”

Elsewhere in the country, thousands of consumers took to social media Tuesday to propose a boycott of Florida until Stand Your Ground is repealed.

At least two online petitions on MoveOn.org demanding the law be reformed or repealed have tallied about 7,200 signatures. A separate Boycott Florida page on Facebook has more than 1,300 “likes.”

R&B legend Stevie Wonder announced during his Quebec City performance on Sunday that he will not perform in Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is repealed.

“The truth is that — for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world — we can’t bring them back,” he was quoted as saying in the Hollywood Reporter. “What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.”

Miami Herald staff writers Jay Weaver and Audra D.S. Burch contributed reporting.

Southerland may be a target for Dems, but Graham not taking aim just yet

Gwen Graham, the daughter of former U.S. Senator and governor Bob Graham, is on something of a roll.

She announced in April that she was running for the 2nd Congressional District and has since raised $375,000 in her first quarter (her Republican opponent, Steve Southerland, raised $461,000). The district is considered the the best chance Florida Democrats have of picking up a seat in 2014.

On Tuesday, she announced that she had snared the endorsement of the National Education Association based on a recommendation by the Florida Education Association -- the earliest either has weighed in on a U.S. Congressional race. That will afford her a pool of about 3,000 union members in 14 counties to volunteer for her campaign.

“This endorsement means so much to me,” said Graham, who works in the Leon County School district as chief of labor relations. “I started this race running hard on April 2. I asked the FEA early on. My father’s first endorsement when he ran for governor were the teachers. This is from my heart. My support of teachers is in my heart. They felt my passion.”

But at Tuesday’s news conference, the 50-year-old shied away from confronting her opponent with the same temerity that her party has.

Last month, Southerland became a rallying cry for Democrats after he proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would force food stamp recipients to meet federal work requirements. When Democrats walked away from the bill, they blamed it on Southerland’s amendment.

Asked about it on Tuesday, Graham turned to a supporter and let her speak. After the supporter called the food stamp amendment “disgusting,” Graham started speaking again, adding “We’re getting a little off topic here.”

Her reticence to mix it up with Southerland, especially so early, might be prudent.

Graham is trying to win a district that, despite the numbers, leans hard right. Its official tally actually has Democrats way up in the number of registered voters -- 234,000 to 158,000 Republicans -- but many of those Democrats are conservative, which helps explain why the district backed Mitt Romney in 2012 by a 52 percent to 47 percent margin. Also keep in mind that Southerland beat back a challenge last year from former state Sen. Al Lawson.

The last thing Graham would want in running for a district like this is to be portrayed as a radical liberal. So she answers questions like “Would she support Nancy Pelosi as Speaker?” this way:

“I don’t want to take a position in advance of actually knowing who the leadership will be at the time.”

Graham said she wants to be viewed as a moderate who would help end the partisanship that divides Washington.

“My first step will be to reach across the aisle and build friendships with people and start building relationships,” she said. “I’m going to represent all of the people in the second district. When I’m up there and I’m asked to take a vote, I’m going to think about not what my party line is, but I’m going to think about what the people behind me need. That’s what we lost in Washington. When my dad was in the Congress, there was a bipartisan nature. He and Connie Mack worked hand-in-hand.”

The toughest criticism she had for Southerland was reserved for his partisanship.

“He’s definitely an extremist,” she said.

But to prove it to the 2nd Congressional District voters, Graham will have to come across as a "reasonable Democrat" who is probably a bit to the right of her party.

Juror: Trayvon Martin “played a huge role in his death.” (Did prosecution play role in acquittal?)

Update, news story here


Anderson Cooper’s blockbuster interview with Juror B37 continues tonight, and it looks like the anonymous woman has some pretty explosive things to say.

The partial transcript:

Anderson Cooper: Do you think Trayvon Martin played a role in his own death? That this just isn't something that happened to him. This is something he also...

Juror: Oh I believe he played a huge role in his death. He could have... When George confronted him, he could have walked away and gone home. He didn't have to do whatever he did and come back and be in a fight.

AC: And the other jurors felt that as well?

Juror: They did. I mean, as far as my perspective of it, they did.

Beyond the idea that the unarmed victim is to blame for his own shooting death, it's interesting the juror thinks Zimmerman “confronted” Trayvon at one point. If so, that gets Zimmerman closer to being an “aggressor,” a title under Florida statutes that could have denied him a Stand Your Ground defense.

We were the first (April 15, 2012) to note the significance of the statute as it relates to this case and Stand Your Ground. Read that here

Continue reading "Juror: Trayvon Martin “played a huge role in his death.” (Did prosecution play role in acquittal?)" »

Rouson wants Weatherford to order hearings into FDLE probe of GOP voter fraud

Is Gov. Rick Scott covering up GOP voter registration fraud?

The future leader of the House Democrats thinks perhaps he is and is asking Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford to hold legislative hearings on what he says could be an attempt by Scott to “stifle” a criminal investigation.

“I have been following the many news media reports about rampant fraud regarding voter registration drives associated with the company Strategic Allied Consulting and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation that was tasked by Gov. Rick Scott some months ago,” states a letter that Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, sent out Tuesday afternoon.

“The governor, at a recent press conference in June, said that he had not seen or read any reports from his own agency. It is widely believed that a full-faith investigation has not taken place.

“The Legislature is constitutionally tasked with the checks and balances of government. Given that the governor has had adequate time to respond to the FDLE reports and has ordered an inadequate investigation, the House needs to task a committee with holding hearings. Floridians deserve to know if the governor’s office has stifled a law enforcement investigation. The State Affairs Committee seems ideal because the committee oversees the Ethics and Elections subcommittee.”

Continue reading "Rouson wants Weatherford to order hearings into FDLE probe of GOP voter fraud" »

No book from Juror B37

Juror B37 is backing off her plans to write a tell-all book on the George Zimmerman trial.

One day after announcing that she had found an agent -- and appearing on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 obscured by shadow -- the unnamed juror did a quick about-face.

Being sequestered, she wrote in a statement, "shielded me from the depth of pain that exists among the general public over every aspect of this case."

"Now that I am returned to my family and to society in general, I have realized that the best direction for me to go is away from writing any sort of book and return instead to my life as it was before I was called to sit on this jury," she wrote. 

Her agent, Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management in Washington state, Tweeted that she had rescinded her offer of representation to Juror B37.

Juror B37 was part of the six-member jury that found Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. She has not yet revealed her identity.

What is known about her, according to comments she gave during pre-trial interviews: she is middle-aged, has two grown children, once had a license to carry a concealed weapon and worked for a chiropractor for 16 years. She is also an animal lover.

The judge in the case has said the clerk’s office will not make public the names of the jurors for a matter of months. That, however, doesn’t ban jurors speaking out.

Daily Show: “Florida: the worst state” for Zimmerman verdict


Daily Show host John Oliver took aim at the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict and Florida’s self-defense laws, saying the state has rebranded itself into the worst of the 50.

“I think it might honestly be time for the Sunshine State to officially change its motto,” Oliver said.

“Welcome to Florida: The worst state,” a graphic of a mock roadside welcome sign said as it flashed on the screen behind him.

“Of the many truly depressing things about this case, where a man was found not guilty after admitting pursuing and shooting an unarmed teenager, one is just how unsurprised people seemed to be about the verdict,” Oliver said.

He then played news clips of pundits explaining Florida’s self-defense laws and why a not-guilty verdict was likely in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an armed 17-year-old from Miami Gardens.

Continue reading "Daily Show: “Florida: the worst state” for Zimmerman verdict" »

UPDATED: Protesters crowd governor's office, demand an end to Stand Your Ground law

More than two dozen of the protesters who crowded Gov. Rick Scott's office Tuesday planned to spend the night in the Florida Capitol.

The activists, known as the Dream Defenders, want Scott to convene a special session of the Florida Legislature to address the state's controversial Stand Your Ground law. They also want Florida lawmakers to consider passing a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.

"If the courts aren't going to deal with these issues, we have to call upon our elected officials to make changes," said Nailah Summers, 25, a Miami Beach native and president of the University of Florida chapter of the Dream Defenders.

The demonstration came three days after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The protesters flooded Scott's office early Tuesday, and pledged to stay until they could meet with the governor.

There was just one problem: Scott was in New York.

The activists decided to wait. 

"We're hoping [Scott] sees the seriousness of the issue and hurries home," said Ahmad Abuznaid, 28, the Dream Defender's legal and policy director. "We know New York is a great place to visit, but we have business to take care of here at home."

When the Capitol closed at 5 p.m., about two dozen protesters were allowed to stay inside. They planned to dine on leftover pizza and sleep on the tile floors. Sleeping bags are not allowed, a Capitol police officer said.

It wasn't clear when Scott would return to his office, or if he planned to meet with the students.

But Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers pointed out that the governor had already convened a task force to review the Stand Your Ground law last year.

“The task force recommended that the law should not be overturned and Governor Scott agrees,” Sellers said.

Still, the protesters vowed not to give up.

"We are here because we need justice for Trayvon," said Estefania Galviz, a 22-year-old student from Jacksonville, who traveled to Sanford to hear the verdict and then made the trip to Tallahassee. "Trayvon represents the black and brown community and the youth of this country. Clearly, we are not treated equally."

“Miami girl” Rachel Jeantel tells the world “nigga” is ok, not racist


Rachel Jeantel, who popularized the phrase “creepy ass cracker” in uncomfortable testimony that added a new racial dimension to the George Zimmerman trial, gave a lesson about Miami urban culture on CNN Monday night when she said that the word “nigga” isn’t a racist term.

Jeantel, 19, also discussed her feelings, marijuana use in her urban Miami community and the reaction to her testimony about talking by phone with 17-year-old Trayvon Martin just before Zimmerman shot and killed him in Sanford.

Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday and one juror had said earlier on the network that Jeantel’s slang-filled testimony – crucial for the prosecution -- was both not credible and hard to understand.

Asked by CNN host Piers Morgan: “Is there’s anything you wished you said” on the witness stand?

“Nigga,” Jeantel responded.

“The whole world say it’s a racist word,” she said, adding that she believed people changed it around [and] It start spelling N-I-G-G-A…”

What’s that mean to you? Morgan asked her.

“That mean a male,” Jeantel responded, “any kind of male. Any kind. Chinese can say nigga. That’s my Chino, nigga. They can say that.”

Continue reading " “Miami girl” Rachel Jeantel tells the world “nigga” is ok, not racist" »

Jury talked Stand Your Ground before not-guilty Zimmerman verdict, juror says



Jurors discussed Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law before rendering their not-guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial, one of the jurors told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

The jurors struggled with the law and the jury instructions, said the juror, who spoke anonymously and was identified only by her court ID, B37.

“The law became very confusing. It became very confusing,” she told Cooper Monday night. “We had stuff thrown at us. We had the second-degree murder charge, the manslaughter charge, then we had self defense, Stand Your Ground.”

Continue reading "Jury talked Stand Your Ground before not-guilty Zimmerman verdict, juror says" »