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213 posts from August 2013

August 29, 2013

Gov. Scott’s private meeting with Jeb Bush irks parent activists, Democrats

After failing to show up at the three-day education summit he convened in Clearwater this week, Gov. Rick Scott held a private meeting in Miami Thursday night to discuss the future of Florida’s schools.

The guest list: former Gov. Jeb Bush, state Sen. John Thrasher and state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.

The dinnertime meeting was cloaked in extraordinary secrecy. Scott’s schedule did not list a location other than “Miami, FL,” and his chief spokeswoman, Melissa Sellers, couldn’t provide any other details.

That infuriated parent activists, who said Scott shouldn’t have called three dozen education leaders to Clearwater if he intended to make decisions with a small group of advisers out of the public eye.

“This is how education reform gets done in Florida,” said Rita Solnet, founder of the advocacy group Parents Across America. “The summit was a façade. The real decisions have always been made by Jeb Bush.”

Bush, who has played a dominating role in determining Florida’s education policy for nearly two decades, declined comment through a spokeswoman. Chartrand and Thrasher did not return calls from The Herald/Times.

The Scott/Bush huddle comes at a time when Scott must make several key decisions about Florida’s public education system.

Read more here.

DEO aide vows neutrality in deals involving husband's lobbying clients

The communications director at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Monica Russell, wrote a letter this week to her supervisor that states she will recuse herself from any issue relating to clients of her husband, the lobbyist Daniel Russell.

“Although no matter or issue has come before me to date, in the unlikely event that an issue or decision directly involving one of these clients were to come before me, in an abundance of caution and to avoid the appearance of any impropriety, I will immediately recuse myself from such issue or decision and delegate responsibility to the appropriate DEO staff member,” Monica Russell wrote to Jesse Panuccio, the DEO’s executive director.

Download Letter from Russell to Panuccio

The date of the letter is Aug. 27, the same day the Times/Herald reported that a birthday celebration for Melissa Sellers, Gov. Rick Scott's communications director, was held Saturday at the Tallahassee home of the Russells. Sellers and Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s chief of staff, were among those who attended.

On Monday and Tuesday, they told the Times/Herald that at the time of the party they didn’t know that Daniel Russell lobbied for the Northrop Grumman Corp., a defense contractor that is negotiating up to $19 million in economic incentives from DEO in return for creating more than 1,000 jobs.

Hollingsworth said Thursday that Monica Russell wasn’t involved in negotiating deals. He said that when she was hired in January, she was counseled about conflicts of interest and gifts and disclosure laws, which was highlighted in a second letter written Tuesday by the DEO’s general counsel, Robert Sechen.

Download Sechen letter

Hollingsworth called the letter Russell wrote Tuesday a “belt-and-suspenders” action: Not necessary because of its redundancy, but taken to avoid any appearance of conflict.

Asked why she wrote the letter, Russell told the Times/Herald in an e-mail: “I wrote the letter to formalize the fact that I have not been, nor will I be, involved in any issues or meetings involving any of my spouse’s current or future lobbying clients.”

Democrat Alan Grayson: Obama’s case for striking Syria “flatly false.”


U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson criticized the case for war being made by his fellow Democrats in the Obama Administration by saying it’s not telling the truth that Syria’s use of chemical weapons is "undeniable."

“To say that it’s 'undeniable' is flatly false,” Grayson said Thursday on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper. “The administration is only giving one side of the story." 

A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Orlando Democrat's comments were in direct response to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent claim that it’s “undeniable” Syrian President Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons against rebels in his country.

Continue reading "Democrat Alan Grayson: Obama’s case for striking Syria “flatly false.”" »

Gunter treks north to raise Tally money in bid to replace Fasano

Although new to state politics, Bill Gunter looked like a seasoned politico Thursday at the Governor’s Club during his first Tallahassee fundraiser in the House District 36 race.

Held in the private club’s Capital Room on the third floor, the fundraiser saw a light stream of lobbyists walk in and hand Gunter envelopes filled with checks from clients. Many of them gave Gunter the envelopes while introducing themselves. A handful lingered, nibbling on a noon snack of cheese cubes, bruschetta, and pigs-in-a-blanket.

“We feel like he’s a strong candidate,” said Teye Reeves, who works for Florida Partners, a lobbying firm with clients that include the Florida Family Insurance Co. and the Florida Insurance Council. “From a personal and professional standpoint, he’s established himself as a leader in his community.”

Like most of those who attended, it was the first time Reeves had met Gunter, whose day job is pastor of Redeemer Community Church, a Presbyterian church in New Port Richey. He filed three weeks ago to replace Mike Fasano, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to be Pasco County Tax Collector.

In a crowded race with two other Republicans and a Democrat, some Tallahassee money is already betting on the pastor and former University of Florida defensive end. One reason why is who attends his church: Richard Corcoran, who is slated to be House Speaker in 2016.

Continue reading "Gunter treks north to raise Tally money in bid to replace Fasano" »

PolitiFact: Is the IRS 'in charge' of Obamacare?

In a YouTube video published Aug. 22, theNational Republican Congressional Committee took a swipe at U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, for his vote against an attempt to derail the Affordable Care Act.

The video’s message: "The most dreaded return address in America. The IRS. And just days ago, Congressman Patrick Murphy voted to keep the scandal-ridden IRS in charge of enforcing Obamacare. Just what you need. To owe more to the IRS. Under Obamacare, your insurance premiums could double and your personal data could be at risk. Call Patrick Murphy. Ask him to get the IRS out of your health care."

The NRCC published the same YouTube video about U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and William Enyart, D-Ill.

In this item we’re focusing on whether the IRS is "in charge" of enforcing Obamacare. The video leaves the impression that the agency is the chief enforcer over the whole shebang. PolitiFact investigates.

FHP joins 8-state effort to beef up enforcement during Labor Day weekend

The Florida Highway Patrol is launching a beefed-up enforcement effort over Labor Day weekend in collaboration with seven other southern border states that line the 2,460 miles of I-10.

The campaign, called "10-08 on 10, One Road, One Mission" is an "intensified enforcement campaign to keep the roadway safe with zero fatalities," FHP Director Col. David Brierton said at a press conference Thursday morning at an I-10 rest stop.

Florida is partnering with Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California in what Brierton called a "first-time" collaboration between the states, in effect from Aug. 30 to Sept., 2.

Continue reading "FHP joins 8-state effort to beef up enforcement during Labor Day weekend" »

A private education summit? Scott, Jeb, Thrasher, Chartrand

A day after an education summit ended in Clearwater with more questions than answers, the question is how Gov. Rick Scott will respond to the concerns raised over student testing, school grades, teacher evaluations and other hot-button issues. Scott called the summit but did not attend.

The governor apparently has decided to seek education policy advice from the man who started the revolution: former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Scott plans a private dinnertime meeting in Miami Thursday with Bush, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and Gary Chartrand, chairman of the state Board of Education. The 6 p.m. session is at a location as yet undisclosed by the governor's office.

Scott faces a simmering controversy among conservatives in his party who don't like the new Common Core learning standards. The Sarasota Republican Party on Thursday launched an online petition drive to stop Common Core in Florida, calling it "a federal takeover of the education system, bad for students," and "just another failed Washington 'one-size-fits-all approach."

-- Steve Bousquet

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.