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213 posts from August 2013

August 27, 2013

Accused Hialeah ballot broker expected to plead guilty in fraud case


An elderly Hialeah man will accept probation and plead guilty Wednesday to misdemeanor charges he illegally possessed absentee ballots, setting up a legal showdown challenging a Miami-Dade County law governing ballot collection.

Sergio “ El Tío” Robaina, 75, was arrested last year during a much-publicized police investigation into absentee ballots.

The use of the ballots, which voters can turn in by mail or in person to the elections department, has skyrocketed in Miami-Dade in recent years. Allegations of absentee-ballot fraud shook the August 2012 primary as police investigators arrested two ballot brokers, or boleteros, on voter-fraud charges.

That included Robaina, who was accused of illegally collecting absentee ballots, a misdemeanor, and of felony voter fraud charges for allegedly filling out a ballot against the wishes of two voters, one of them a woman with dementia.

Robaina has long admitted to collecting the ballots but merely as a way to help elderly citizens, but he denied filling them out. The felony portion of the case was hampered after the woman with dementia died late last year, leaving only her reluctant adult son to testify against Robaina.

More here.

Candidates vying for Miami commission seat left out in cold after mayoral candidate abandons race


When Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez withdrew from the mayor’s race Monday night, the ripple effect left five civic-minded souls who had spent months raising campaign cash out in the cold.

The field of candidates competing for a much-coveted city commission seat now has no seat to fight for.

“I feel a little jilted. We worked hard,” said Ralph Rosado, executive director for a countywide non-profit who said his campaign knocked on 15,000 doors. “I’m certainly disappointed, but we knew from Day One that this was a possibility.”

Because Suarez quit the race before resigning from his commission seat he can retain the Flagami District 4 post for the remainder of his four-year term, which ends in 2015. Suarez’s decision essentially hands another four-year mayoral term to incumbent Tomás Regalado, who now faces two relative unknowns in the Nov. 5 election.

More here.

Former Brow GOP chair running in Sarasota County

Richard DeNapoli, a former Broward Republican Executive Committee chair, is running for state house District 74 in Sarasota County.

He returns to his former stomping ground to fundraise at an event at Grille 401 in Fort Lauderdale Sept. 10th. Guess who isn't on the host committee for the event?

Tom Truex, the current BREC chair. DeNapoli narrowly beat Truex for the county party post in 2010. DeNapoli moved to the west coast of Florida after the 2012 election and Broward GOP activists elected Truex, former Davie town mayor, rather than Christine Butler who was more allied with the DeNapoli folks. 

Butler is on DeNapoli's Fort Lauderdale host committee as are former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, state Rep. George Moraitis, school board member Katie Leach, Shane Strum and Justin Sayfie to name a few.

DeNapoli, an attorney, jumped into the race in August. He faces Republican Julio Gonzalez, a doctor who has raised about $76,000 since November. The current representative, Doug Holder, is term limited.

Why does DeNapoli think he could pull it off starting behind Holder and as a newcomer to the area?

"There's a lot of time to go," DeNapoli said. "I'm confident I can raise the funds to be successful."

It'll be a busy week for Broward Republicans -- house speaker Will Weatherford holds a private cocktail reception at Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale Sept. 9th. 


Birthday party for Scott aide hosted at home of lobbyist and wife

SellerstexasbirthdayAs Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth seeks to avoid excessive socializing with lobbyists. It's not just a legal or ethical standard, he says, but appearances matter, too.

"We have made it a stated objective to avoid the appearance of impropriety by socializing excessively with the Tallahassee apparatchik," Hollingsworth said Tuesday.

But Scott's top aide was frustrated by questions from the Times/Herald about a weekend party he attended at a lobbyist's home. The "Texas-sized backyard BBQ" was a pot luck event to celebrate the birthday of Melissa Sellers, Scott's communications director, who turned 31 Tuesday.

Invitations showed Sellers posing with former President George W. Bush (she interned at the Bush White House), and told guests "no gifts, ya'll," a nod to the prohibition against staffers receiving anything of value from lobbyists.

It was held at the home of Daniel and Monica Russell. She's the communications director at the Department of Economic Opportunity, and he's a lawyer with the Jones Walker firm and a registered lobbyist for, among others, the Northrop Grumman Corp., a defense contractor that is negotiating economic incentives from DEO in return for creating more than 1,000 jobs.

Hollingsworth said he attended the party assuming it was the home of Meghan Speakes, the spokeswoman at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, and a Sellers friend.

“A fair look at this invitation would have you presume that when you RSVP to Meghan Speakes that’s the home to which you will be arriving,” Hollingsworth said.

Sellers said it’s Monica Russell whom she knows better.  

Continue reading "Birthday party for Scott aide hosted at home of lobbyist and wife" »

The truth-o-meter explores: is Miami-Dade No. 1 donor county?


When politicians gathered in August for the Florida Cabinet meeting in Miami, Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, had a message about how the state treats Miami-Dade County, which we could boil down to this: No fair!

In his welcome to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, Garcia said that Miami-Dade is the "No. 1 donor county in the state."

In government-speak, a "donor county" is a county that gives more revenues to the state than it receives. (Fussing about being a donor county is a common refrain  we’ve heard about Miami-Dade -- as well as about Broward and Palm Beach.)

Is Miami-Dade the chief Santa Claus of Florida, sending generous gifts to the state and only getting back stocking stuffers in return? Read PolitiFact for our analysis and to see how we rated Garcia's claim.


Bullard blasts Gov. Scott's education summit


State Senator Dwight Bullard had some harsh words for Gov. Rick Scott’s education summit, which is entering its second day in Clearwater.

"In the convening of this most recent education summit, Gov. Scott, [interim Education] Commissioner [Pam] Stewart and others will once again miss the opportunity to properly serve the students of Florida,” Bullard wrote in a statement Tuesday. "This missed opportunity stems from the 800-pound gorilla in the room -- admitting you've adopted bad policies."

Bullard, a Miami Democrat who sits on the Senate Education Committee, has been a vocal critic of many state education policies, ranging from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests to performance-based pay for teachers. 

"In order to get it right you have to recognize where you went wrong," Bullard wrote. "Over testing, misdirection of dollars, failure to listen to stakeholder input, and countless other misfires that have now muddied the water of education. Clean up the mess and start from a good place in which all ideas are weighed on the value of their merit and not the size of their checkbook or political affiliation."

Bullard also criticized Scott for inviting a disproportionate number of white men to the summit.

Other lawmakers, however, have praised Scott's education summit, including Senate President Don Gaetz and Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg.

“Governor Scott should be commended for elevating the conversation on education in the State of Florida,” Legg wrote in a statement last week. “It is of utmost importance to convene the stakeholders to create a comprehensive strategy and I am honored to take part."

Gaetz said the summit would "provide the leaders of our Senate committees on education and education appropriations the opportunity to collect various perspectives and ideas."

He added: "The Senate looks forward to working with the Governor to build on the gains Florida’s public education system has made over more than a decade and we appreciate the opportunity to have a seat at the table for this significant event."

Safety net failing for many Florida senior citizens who are going hungry

When the bus that ferried him to a congregant lunch center for seniors lost its funding — a result of the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration — Wencelao Gonzalez of Miami lost something, too: almost 10 pounds in less than two months.

“If I’m left alone, I have to remember to prepare something,” said the 78-year-old retired bakery plant worker. “I probably don’t eat so good.”

Gonzalez, who is diabetic and has Parkinson’s disease, now eats lunch at the federal hot meals program at the Olga Martinez Center in West Kendall only when he can find a ride.

The bus that carried him and about 25 other older adults to the center, one of 15 run by the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center, is not likely to be reinstated any time soon.

Stories like this one, senior advocates say, are all too common. At a time when the stock market has reached record highs and housing has rebounded, research shows that there are still plenty of people, many of them older adults, who are struggling. Some are going hungry. More from Ana Veciana-Suarez

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/26/3587801/senior-hunger-has-more-than-doubled.html#storylink=cpy

August 26, 2013

Sources: Commissioner Francis Suarez to abandon Miami mayoral race


Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez will pull out of the race for mayor on Tuesday, after a series of miscues by staffers set the fledgling campaign on its heels, sources said Monday.

Suarez has until Tuesday evening to inform the city clerk’s office of his intent to resign his commission seat to run for mayor in order to qualify for the Nov. 5 mayoral race.

Suarez didn’t respond to calls or texts by late Monday afternoon. The city clerk’s office said it had no indication of Suarez’s plans.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Suarez’s main opponent in November, said he bumped into Suarez at a Starbuck’s coffee shop on Coral Way Monday morning and that they spoke briefly. The mayor said Suarez told him he was mulling over his choices and would make an announcement of some type Tuesday.

“He said he’d get back to me,” said Regalado. “He said he was considering his options.” Without Suarez in the race, Regalado is expected to coast to victory. The only rivals left are relative unknowns.

The Suarez campaign, though flush with cash, has been mired in missteps over the past few months.

More here.

Smith seeks changes to SYG law

For the second year in a row, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith will try to amend Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.

Smith's proposal, SB 122, would prevent individuals from initiating or "unreasonably escalating" a deadly conflict -- and then claiming immunity from prosecution under the self-defense law. Immunity would also be denied to individuals who left a place of safety or chased someone down.

"The ‘Last Man Standing’ escape hatch would finally close with the passage of this legislation,” Smith wrote in a press release.

Additionally, Smith's proposal has language requiring sheriffs and municipal police departments to craft guidelines on neighborhood watch programs.

From the bill text: "The guidelines must include, but not be limited to, prohibiting a neighborhood crime watch patrol participant who is on patrol from confronting or attempting to apprehend a person suspected of improper or unlawful activity except in those circumstances in which a reasonable person would be permitted, authorized, or expected to assist another person."

That language, of course, is a reference to Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who fatally shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder earlier this year.

Smith said the Stand Your Ground law had a "troubled track record in Florida" long before the shooting in Sanford.

"This law is neither working as intended nor protecting those it was intended to protect," Smith said. "Unless the critics are comfortable with continuing to give deadly aggressors a free pass from prosecution, these long overdue and reasonable changes need to be made.”

PolitiFact Florida looks at pro-marijuana ad

Just as fans were filing into the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a big television screen by the entrance displayed a pro-pot ad with the headline "A new beer?"

The ad, which opens with smiling young adults hoisting their brew mugs, drew outrage from lots of sources, including the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation. The TV screen company, Grazie Media, pulled the ad after a few hours.

The ad said: "If you’re an adult who enjoys a good beer, there’s a similar product you might want to know about, one without all the calories and serious health problems. Less toxic so it doesn’t cause hangovers or overdose deaths. And it’s not linked to violence or reckless behavior. Marijuana. Less harmful than alcohol and time to treat it that way."

The ad is interesting in the context of an effort in Florida to get a proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot. People United for Medical Marijuana has collected enough voter signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the proposed amendment language.

The ad addresses many issues, but in this fact-check, we decided to focus on the idea that marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol.

Read on for the fact-check and rating.  Leave a comment here.