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10 posts from August 28, 2013

August 28, 2013

Republican Diaz Leyva announces candidacy for House District 112


State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat, has drawn a Republican challenger for the 2014 election: Miami attorney Daniel Diaz Leyva

The two will battle to represent House District 112, which includes Brickell, the Roads, Coconut Grove and parts of Coral Gables and Little Havana.

Both candidates are young, Cuban-American attorneys who are considered rising stars in their respective circles.

Rodriguez, a Harvard grad, is serving his first term in office. He defeated former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla in a hard-fought race last year.

Diaz Leyva works for the law firm Infante Zumpano. He was campaign chairman for state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and was recently named to the Board of Directors of Florida Health Choices by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Diaz Leyva filed to run Wednesday.

“Voters in my district, and across the state of Florida, crave fresh thinking and real leadership to solve our very real problems," he wrote in a statement announcing his candidacy. "I will provide a clear contrast embodied by vision, pragmatism and a set of core beliefs in what I hope will be a spirited campaign."

In damage control, Marco Rubio breaks silence on Syria, wants Obama to "clearly lay out" details

After days of dodging the press over Syria, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finally responded with a public statement over his views once it was noted by the news media.

Here it is:

The United States has significant national interests at stake in the conflict in Syria. First, Assad is a close ally and supporter of the Iranian regime. He has allowed Syria to be used as a staging ground and way station for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda. Second, an unstable Syria threatens to become the premier operational area in the world from which jihadis can train, plan and carry out attacks against our allies in the region including Israel and even the United States.

That is why at the outset of this conflict more than two years ago, I argued that the United States should identify non-jihadist groups in Syria and help train and equip them so that they could not only topple Asaad, but also be the best organized, trained and armed group on the ground in a post-Assad Syria.

Instead, the President chose to lead from behind. The result is that the best funded and armed groups in Syria today are Assad's Iranian-backed killers, Hezbollah fighters aligned with Assad, and rebels with links to al Qaeda.

President Obama's inaction is why we are now left with an an emboldened war criminal in power in Syria, willing to use chemical weapons against innocent civilians. And it leaves us with a chaotic situation in much of Syria that is becoming like pre-9/11 Afghanistan, the premier operational area in the world for foreign jihadist fighters.

Because the President failed to act in the right way at the right time, we are now left with no good options. Failing to act would further embolden Assad and his Iranian sponsors, leaving the impression that America is feckless and impotent. And a limited attack would do nothing to change the dynamics of the conflict, but could trigger a broader and even more dangerous conflict in the region.

Given those harsh realities, if the President concludes that military action is warranted, instead of having administration officials leak details to the press, he must clearly lay out to Congress and the American people why this is in our national interest, what the goals of this action are, and how the military action he is taking would achieve this objective.

I am deeply concerned that so far he has failed to do this. Military action, taken simply to save face, is not a wise use of force. My advice is to either lay out a comprehensive plan using all of the tools at our disposable that stands a reasonable chance of allowing the moderate opposition to remove Assad and replace him with a stable secular government. Or, at this point, simply focus our resources on helping our allies in the region protect themselves from the threat they and we will increasingly face from an unstable Syria.

No surprises: Brise and Graham stay on short list for PSC nomination

From the News Service of Florida

Two sitting members of the Florida Public Service Commission and a former lawmaker who had a short tenure on the commission are among six finalists who will be considered by Gov. Rick Scott for two upcoming openings on the utility regulatory board.

Commissioners Ronald Brise and Art Graham, whose terms expire in January, are seeking re-appointment to the seats. They made the short list after the Public Service Commission Nominating Council interviewed candidatesWednesday in Orlando.

The two positions attracted 23 applicants, with the list whittled to 11 last month. Along with Brise and Graham, the finalists for the $130,036-a-year positions are:

--- Kenneth W. Littlefield, of Wesley Chapel, a former state House member who briefly served on the PSC in 2007 and works as a funeral-home medical liaison.

--- James Baumstark, of Crystal River, a former vice president of central engineering for Con Edison in New York. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Baumstark started at Con Edison's Indian Point 2 nuclear-power plant and later oversaw 400 engineers responsible for New York City's transmission and distribution system.

--- Donald Polmann, of Dunedin, a former director of science and engineering for Tampa Bay Water. He earned a master's degree in engineering from the University of Florida and a doctorate in civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

--- Frank Stubbs, of Fleming Island, a University of Richmond School of Law graduate who was deputy chief of staff for operations at Navy Medicine Support Command. He also was head of hospital operations at Naval Hospital Jacksonville. He is now an adjunct professor, teaching health-care human resources management and health-care marketing at the University of North Florida.

Scott has 30 days to make the appointments once the recommendations reach his desk.

Brise, a former state House member, and Graham, a former Jacksonville City Council member, were both appointed to the commission by former Gov. Charlie Crist in July 2010 and reappointed by Scott. Brise is the current the commission chairman.

Meanwhile, this is not the first time Scott will be asked to consider Littlefield.

Littlefield, who spent nearly eight years in the state House, was appointed to the PSC by former Gov. Jeb Bush in September 2006 but was replaced by Crist in January 2007 shortly after being sworn in. Crist contended Littlefield was not consumer-friendly enough.

Several tea-party groups unsuccessfully urged Scott to return Littlefield to the commission last year, imploring the governor to replace Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who faced criticism that she did not adequately represent ratepayers. Scott reappointed Edgar.

Crist will headline Marion County Democrats' dinner

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist will headline the Marion County Democratic Party's fifth annual "Proud to be a Democrat" fund-raising dinner on Sept. 8 at the Hilton in Ocala, as the calendar creeps toward October and his anticipated declaration as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014.

Sally Smith of the Marion Democratic Party says about 200 tickets have been sold, and the ballroom's capacity is 340. The dinner will be preceded by a silent auction and cocktail hour. Tickets are $50.

Medium-sized Marion, bisected by Interstate 75 and home to Florida's vibrant thoroughbred horse industry, used to have a reputation as a bellwether county in statewide elections, but it has been very unfriendly to Democrats in recent cycles. It is solidly Republican by voter registration, and Crist, as a Republican, carried it by a slightly bigger margin against Democrat Jim Davis in 2006 than Scott did in 2010. Scott got about 57 per cent of the vote against Democrat Alex Sink in Marion.

Last year's keynote speaker at the county's big Democratic bash was Grace Nelson, wife of three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who won Marion by about 1,000 votes last fall as he easily defeated Republican Connie Mack IV statewide.

-- Steve Bousquet

Marco Rubio’s deafening silence on Syria


**Update: Rubio issued a statement hours after this blog was posted.

From threatened oyster habitats to the problems with Obamacare, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has commented on the headlines of the day recently.

Except one: Syria.

Though a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio hasn’t issued any statements about this most-important of topics now that President Obama is weighing military action after what appear to be chemical-weapons use in Syria.

Should Obama strike Syria? How? And does the president need Congressional authorization to do so? Rubio (or his office) isn’t ready to say. It's a notable silence because not only is Rubio voluble, he has made an effort to showcase his chops on foreign policy.

We've asked for two days for a statement, but nothing. Rubio's Reclaim America PAC, though, just sent out a message from Rubio about the need to help Ken Cuccinelli, a Virginia candidate for governor.

Meantime, other Florida congressional members are weighing in on Syria policy.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said in a just-released statement that Obama needs congressional authorization for a strike on Syria. Ros-Lehtinen sounds willing to vote for “multi-lateral airstrikes” as long as the United States exercises “extreme caution when weighing our options in Syria. Putting boots on the ground is not an option.. At this point there’s no easy decision. We’re stuck with the least worst option.”

Continue reading "Marco Rubio’s deafening silence on Syria" »

Scott announces commitment to fixing water flow in Everglades with new bridge

Gov. Rick Scott announced today that he will dedicate $90 million over the next three years to draw down federal matching funds to build a 2.5 mile bridge along the Tamiami Trail in Miami to reduce water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

Scientists have identified the need to reduce water flows from the lake as crucial to repairing the damaged ecosystem that 7 million Floridians depend on for water. The existing bridge on the Tamiami Trail blocks water flow from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and the money would go into the Department of Transportation to build a new bridge.

The project would deconstruct a section of the berm that Tamiami Trail road is currently built on, and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road could flow into the Everglades, providing needed water to the Everglades National Park, the governor's office said. The end effect would be to keep more high nutrient water from entering the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries.

“This $90 million investment will be a huge step forward in our efforts to restore water quality throughout South Florida,'' Scott said in a statement. "Every drop of water that we can send South and keep out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is a win for Florida families. My message to families being impacted is that we will not give up on you. We are putting forward strategies each and every day to address the water quality issues that are impacting families in our state.”

Continue reading "Scott announces commitment to fixing water flow in Everglades with new bridge" »

Gov. Scott seeks new ethics opinion on Florida's blind trust law

Gov. Rick Scott placed his extensive portfolio of personal investments in a blind trust in 2011, even though he was not required by law to do so.

Now, Scott is asking the Commission on Ethics for advice on whether the blind trust he created then complies with a new law passed by the 2013 Legislature. A draft legal opinion from the agency says Scott is in compliance -- now that he has provided specific information the law requires, including the name of his trustee, a two-year-old list of assets and a statement that the trust meets state law.

Citing the new blind trust provisions in the ethics law (SB 2) Scott signed May 1, the draft opinion says: "The law recognizes that a certain lack of knowledge, a 'blindness,' of a public officer as to the particular nature of his holdings inherently fosters an objectivity, or lack of conflict, as to public responsibilities or decision making he may have, which possibly would be affected if the officer personally managed his investments."

The opinion also notes that law prohibits officeholders such as Scott from trying to influence trust decisions. Previous reporting on Scott's investments is here.

Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, requested the opinion along with an outside counsel for the governor, James Fuller of Williams & Connolly in Washington. The ethics commission will formally vote on the opinion at its next meeting Sept. 13. Five of the commission's nine members are Scott appointees.

Scott's trustee is Hollow Brook Wealth Management LLC in New York City. Attached to Scott's letter is a list of "substantially all of" his financial assets he placed in the blind trust in April 2011 when he created it, with a total value at that time of more than $72 million.

As his letter reads, "Any public reporting of the current assets in the trust would be contrary to the purposes and terms of the blind trust, this new legislation, and the Commission's advisory opinions." 

-- Steve Bousquet

With state under fire from feds, nursing homes are quietly closing kids wings

Even as Florida health regulators vigorously defend against two federal lawsuits accusing them of warehousing sickly and disabled children in geriatric nursing homes, the homes themselves are quietly getting out of the kids business.

The most recent nursing home to abandon the pediatric market is Orlando Health & Rehabilitation Center, which operates a 40-bed pediatric wing called “Grandma’s House.” Orlando Health & Rehab, in Orlando, notified the state Agency for Healthcare Administration last week that it will voluntarily close the wing, said Michelle Dahnke, an AHCA spokeswoman in Tallahassee. Earlier this year, a troubled Miami Gardens nursing home, Golden Glades Nursing & Rehabilitation, shuttered its pediatric wing after the Miami Herald reported extensively about the deaths of two children who had been admitted there.

In July, the Lakeshore Villas nursing home in Tampa announced it would shut its doors after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cut off all federal funding. At the time, AHCA had also announced its intention not to renew the home's license. Lakeshore Villas had been one of the state’s most troubled nursing homes, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

The latest closure comes at a time of significant change and controversy over Florida’s methods for financing the care of severely disabled and medically complex children, whose housing and treatment can be enormously costly. More here from Carol Marbin Miller.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/27/3589764/florida-nursing-homes-under-fire.html#storylink=cpy

FL education chair and Rick Scott pick: I didn't call for screening books about homosexuality, socialism


File this one under the perils of reporting, politics, education and maybe bad acoustics.

On Tuesday, during a day-long education summit, politicians and educators grappled with an increasingly divisive political issue: the Common Core standards. It's opposed by a vocal group of conservatives as well as a few liberals and libertarians.

Sometimes, however, it was tough to hear exactly who said what during the meeting in Clearwater. The acoustics were bad. So there's no recording.

In the midst of a good explanatory piece, the Tampa Bay Times wrote this State Board Chairman Gary Chartrand recommended that reading lists for students be screened to avoid potentially upsetting subjects such as socialism and homosexuality. Later, his group suggested that instructional materials be "aligned with Florida's values and culture."

But Chartrand is adamant: He never said this.

Instead, Chartrand said, he was explaining to the group why some others oppose aspects of Common Core.

"Some people are anti-Common Core, and particularly on the far right, because they object to some of the reading materials that would reference such things as homosexuality or socialism or some contentious issues," said Chartrand, recalling his comments. "That’s all I said. That was my comment."

A major reason Chartrand wanted to clear the air is that he's a solid supporter of equal treatment for gays and lesbians. His group, The Chartrand Foundation, has supported JASMYN, devoted to ending bullying of LGBT kids. And he backed a Jacksonville human-rights ordinance as well.

But the Times stands by its story as well, specifically that Chartrand used the word "screen." Indeed, the group recommendation implicitly calls for screening by saying the state should "proactively look for ways to provide curriculum and instructional materials (eg reading lists) that align with Florida's culture and values while allowing local control."

Of course, if there were a recording, this wouldn't be a mystery. So who knows?

**Note: blog has been updated, headline changed.


Homestead's Bateman becomes 3rd Miami-Dade mayor busted for corruption this month


First, Miami Lakes Mayor Mike Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño were busted in a federal corruption case this month.

Now the State Attorney's Office has busted Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman in an unrelated case. Background is here and the breaking news story from David Ovalle is below:

Authorities early Wednesday arrested Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman in connection with a secret $125-an-hour secret consulting gig for a nonprofit organization.

Bateman, cuffed at his home, was charged with unlawful compensation.

The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office was probing Bateman’s deal with Community Health of South Florida Inc., which secretly paid the mayor $125 an hour while it needed the city’s blessing to help expand its chain of health clinics.

Bateman, who has a county license to install awnings, shutters and screen enclosures but is not a general contractor or registered lobbyist, never publicly disclosed the lucrative arrangement to his colleagues on the City Council, which holds sway over CHI’s plans.

Bateman also never informed the county of his employment with the nonprofit, even when he met with Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his top aides to personally plead for Miami-Dade to fast-track a multi-million-dollar Homestead sewer system expansion that would facilitate construction of a proposed CHI children’s clinic in downtown Homestead.

Bateman, 58, is running for reelection in November.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/28/3590925/homestead-mayor-bateman-arrested.html#storylink=cpy