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12 posts from August 9, 2013

August 09, 2013

On SYG, Democrats no match for Republican unity

Friday came and went without Democrats filing the necessary 32 letters, a first step state law requires from lawmakers for a special session on Florida’s stand your ground law.

They have until October to get the letters in, but the House Democratic Leader, Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, predicted last week that at least 32 letters would be filed at the Secretary of State’s office by now, enough to trigger a poll of the lawmakers to order a special session. (It's a longshot, with 96 lawmakers needed to agree to it).

Instead, according to Secretary of State spokesman Mark Ard, the department had received 28 letters, all Democrats.

They are:


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Playboy-affiliated social networking company among Scott's investments

From our friends at AP:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday turned over additional details on his personal fortune in order to make sure he is complying with a new state law.

The multi-millionaire governor turned in to the state's ethics commission a list of nearly $74 million assets he placed in a blind trust more than two years ago.

It shows, for example, Scott transferred into the trust $1.42 million in shares he owned in a social networking company that came under fire from some conservatives because it had partnered with Playboy magazine in Mexico.

Scott established the trust to remove direct control over his finances and avoid questions of conflicts of interest. But when he set it up, he was not required to disclose what his money was invested in. A new sweeping ethics law passed this year by the Florida Legislature says that public officials who set up blind trusts now must disclose the initial assets placed in the account.

Scott is not bound by the new law since the Florida Commission on Ethics had previously approved his blind trust. But Scott's general counsel said the governor is turning over the information now in "abundance of caution."

Scott is also requesting the commission to confirm that he is compliance with the new law. But the filing makes it clear that there are no plans to divulge what assets are held by the trust currently and whether there have been any changes in the last two years.

The trust is managed by a New York firm that includes two of his former business associates. Pete Antonacci, Scott's general counsel, said that disclosing the current assets would defeat the purpose of making sure that Scott is unaware of how the money is being invested.

Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, a group that has called for greater disclosure by public officials in the state, praised Scott for handing over the information.

"Gov. Scott has taken the appropriate action to ensure his blind trust complies with the new ethics law," Krassner said in an email. "More transparency and accountability about the governor's blind trust assets is in the public's best interest."

Scott, who had never run for public office before, is far wealthier than previous governors — including Jeb Bush, who had been a successful businessman before entering politics. Scott is refusing his $130,000 salary, as his trust paid him $3.1 million last year. He uses his family's personal jet to fly around the state, saving taxpayers the expense.

He reported a net worth of $218 million right before he mounted his campaign in which he spent $70 million of his own money to get elected. Scott reported a net worth of $103 million as he took office, while the filing he turned in earlier this summer showed that his net worth was nearly $84 million as of the end of 2012.

The filing he turned in Friday shows that the blind trust has declined in value by roughly $1 million between April 2011 and the end of last year.

Scott's annual financial disclosures also don't include anything about the assets owned by his wife of 41 years, who contributed nearly $13 million out of her trust account to help her husband get elected. Ann Scott was running an interior design company when her husband was elected, but tax returns show it wasn't making any money.

Right before he was sworn into office, Scott transferred to his wife shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent care clinics he started. Those shares were later sold to a New York investment firm after the governor was criticized for potential conflicts of interest.

Atwater names Winter Park insurance broker to chair Citizens board

Chris Gardner, a member of the board of governor's for Citizens Property Insurance was named chairman of the controversial board on Friday by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. He replaces outgoing chairman Carlos Lacasa of Miami.

Gardner, who was originally appointed to the board by former House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, is a Winter Park insurance broker whose firm does not have any business interests with Citizens, Atwater said in press release. 

From Atwater's press release:

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater today announced the appointment of Chris Gardner as Chairman of the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Gardner, a resident of Winter Park, has 20 years of experience in the retail insurance brokerage business with a specific focus in Commercial Property and Casualty Insurance. He has served as a member of the Citizens board since his appointment in July 2011.

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Lobbyist Michael Kesti tipped off FBI in Miami-Dade corruption probe

@jayhweaver @ChuckRabin @PatriciaMazzei

On May 26, 2011, a South Florida lobbyist approached the FBI with a tip: He suspected that another lobbyist he knew was in bed with corrupt local politicians, and that they would be open to lining their pockets.

The informant was brought on board to make introductions. He hooked up undercover FBI agents with the suspect lobbyist, Richard Candia, and set up meetings between them and Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.

Then the agents, who posed as Chicago businessmen, bluntly made their pitch: Let’s all join forces in a lucrative kickback scheme disguised as a legitimate federal grant program.

Thus began a two-year investigation that culminated Tuesday with the arrests of Pizzi, Candia and two others accused of involvement in the fraud: Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño and his close friend and business partner, lobbyist Jorge Forte.

The arrests rocked Miami-Dade politicians and the county’s robust lobbying corps, whose members spent days wondering: Who broke ranks and turned one of their own into the feds?

The informant was Michael Kesti, a Palmetto Bay-based lobbyist with ties to the healthcare industry and a long history of civic engagement in South Miami-Dade, sources familiar with the investigation have confirmed to the Miami Herald.

Kesti, 52, played a far more significant role in the Pizzi investigation than the Maroño probe. In the Pizzi case, Kesti not only discussed the purported grant scheme with the Miami Lakes mayor and Candia but also vouched for the undercover FBI agents who said they operated a grant-application company called Sunshine Universal.

More here.

Former education commissioner: I never believed I would love Scott the way I loved Bush

Before tendering his resignation to Gov. Rick Scott last week, former state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett sent a two-page email to a pair of former governors.

"First, words can never express how much I respect, care for and love all of you and everything you stand for," Bennett wrote to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on July 31, the day before his resignation was announced.

Patricia Levesque, who runs Bush's two education foundations, was also included on the email.

Bennett, a former state schools superintendent in Indiana, went on to explain why he had accepted the top education job in Florida.

"While I was never so Pollyanna to believe that I would love Governor Scott the way I love you guys, I came here to help him nonetheless," Bennett wrote. "I believed and still do that following the path you guys so bravely and astutely trailed was his ticket to a lasting legacy. I also believed that if I could help Florida recapture the lightning in a bottle that you guys caught while re-establishing your model, it would further validate you guys and your work as a model for America."

Bennett likened the school-grade controversy that consumed his last few days as education commissioner to "a living hell" for him and his family.

He went on to say he planned to resign.

Read the email below.

Download Bennett_email

Really? Wasserman Schultz channels SNL in bashing Scott's voter purge

Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to resume a purge of non-citizens from voter rolls has sparked a strongly-worded rebuke from Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Here it is, one long homage to the Seth Meyers/Amy Poehler bit on SNL:

Really? Governor Scott's renewed efforts to purge Florida voters not necessary 

By Chair Wasserman Schultz

Governor Scott is back at it.  In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, Governor Scott announced he is taking another shot at purging Florida’s voter rolls of ‘noncitizens.’

Just to be clear, we’re talking about Republican purging efforts botched so badly that Governor Scott himself had to vote by provisional ballot in 2006 because the purge had determined he was dead.


You’d think that would have been a wake-up call that this sort of purging is deeply flawed and unnecessary.

Governor Scott and his Republican Administration claim this is simply an effort to suppress voter fraud, but Floridians know better.  This shameful attempt to shrink the electorate was highly controversial in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, when the Department of Justice sued the state of Florida for attempting to disqualify thousands of voters less than 90 days before an election.

The ability to cast a vote and have one’s vote counted is central to the functioning of our democracy.  But too often, Republicans have systematically turned how ballots are cast into a manufactured issue in swing states across the country.  Too often, these Republican-led so-called anti-voter fraud efforts are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to disqualify voters that reek of politics.

Such is the case in Florida.  Of the 180,000 potential noncitizens identified for purging in 2012, less than 0.02% were actually ineligible. Nearly 60 percent of those included in the initial list were Hispanic – meanwhile, Hispanic voters make up only 13 percent of Florida’s electorate.

 Unfortunately for Governor Scott and national Republicans, Florida’s voters won’t be fooled again.   Attempts like what is now happening in Florida, and what is happening in many states across the country, go against the spirit of our democracy and are exactly why Congress must answer President Obama’s call to restore the Voting Rights Act to its full authority

Donald Trump: Florida would make a mistake not to bring casinos to Miami

Donald Trump, the new owner of the Doral Golf Resort & Spa, is barreling ahead with his $250 million remake of the once-troubled facility, but is he also ready to pave the way for casinos in Florida?

The Donald this month hired Tallahassee uber-lobbyist Brian Ballard to represent him in the Capital City and, he told the Herald/Times, Florida would be foolish to not let Miami compete with Las Vegas.

"If Miami doesn't do casinos, that would be a terrible mistake," Trump said in an interview on Friday. "Taxes would be able to be reduced substantially and Miami is the only place that Las Vegas is really concerned about -- in the United States."

Florida legislators are expected to piece together some sort of gambling bill when the legislature begins its session next March but the scope of it, and whether it will include destination resorts that expand casino gambling in South Florida, remains to be seen. Lawmakers postponed plans to do a series of hearings around the state this summer and are awaiting an information-gathering report from the Spectrum Gaming group to be completed this fall.

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Florida's economy a comeback, but no boom, say budget forecasters

Florida’s infamous boom-and-bust economy could be entering a more moderate phase in the next few years, according to chief state economist Amy Baker.

“We’ve finally entered a period of stability,” Baker told reporters Friday. “Between the great recession and the boom before that, it was like one shock after another, either an extreme positive or an extreme negative. So finally, we’ve entered a period where everything is still gradual compared to past recoveries. But it is clearly on the steady, upward path, so we’re able to see that and predict that much better.”

That could mean larger budget surplus, which will feed of projected available general revenue of $27.3 billion for 2014-2015, a 4.4 percent increase from this year, or an additional $1.15 billion.

“The big financial shocks that we’ve been having aren’t there in the most recent data,” Baker said during a Friday meeting of state budget officials establishing quarterly projections for the state’s $74 billion budget. “So this gives us a lot more certainty in making the forecast.”


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Florida Sheriffs Association: We back Stand Your Ground as written


Remember when we wrote that Florida Gov. Rick Scott was probably on safe political ground by backing  Stand Your Ground? Here's this Florida Sheriffs Association press release is more evidence:

FSA President, Sheriff Grady Judd, today announced, “The right to self-defense is well-established in law.  The Florida Sheriffs confirmed this position by voting unanimously, at the 2013 Florida Sheriffs Association Summer Conference, to support the Stand Your Ground law as it is currently written.  Our current judicial system is comprised of multiple checks and balances to ensure fair and equitable application of all laws, including Stand Your Ground.”

Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law:

"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity, and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
F.S. §776.013(3)

UPDATE: Is Senate presidency race down to 13-13 tie with Fasano no longer a Negron threat?

Ex-Rep. Mike Fasano's appointment as Pasco County tax collector didn't just end his legislative career. It also put an end to an intriguing scenario that he might have sought a return to the Senate by taking on fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next year -- which would have improved Sen. Jack Latvala's chances of becoming Pinellas County's first Senate president.

Fasano shares Latvala's moderate philosophy and he's very popular in Pasco, so Simpson would have been in big trouble. But Fasano says Simpson is "doing a wonderful job" and never seriously considered a Senate run, though he said there was "a big push by some people."

Simpson has heard the story that a privately commissioned poll showed Fasano with a huge lead over Simpson. Simpson calls that "a myth," but he'd like to know why anyone would have wanted Fasano to take him on. "I would love an answer to that question," Simpson said.

Simpson and the other 25 GOP senators must choose between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the presidency in 2016, following Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The Latvala-Negron race is described as close. "It's basically tied," Latvala said. (Negron could not be reached; 16 of the 20 senators facing re-election in 2014 are Republicans).

UPDATE: Negron supporters however, disagree. They claim the numbers are closer to 13-10 with three holdouts: Sens. Tom Lee of Brandon, Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Gardiner.

They are also confident that three of the open seats in 2016 -- Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville, Garrett Richter of Naples and Charlie Dean of Inverness will go to Negron supporters. Who? Matt Gaetz has already announced he's going to replace his dad. Former state Rep. Tom Grady is said to be considering a run to replace Richter and state Rep. Dennis Baxley is considering seeking Dean's seat. 

Continue reading "UPDATE: Is Senate presidency race down to 13-13 tie with Fasano no longer a Negron threat?" »