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15 posts from September 23, 2013

September 23, 2013

House Democrats say finance director fired by Tant may deserve a 2nd chance

After voting to oust Rep. Darryl Rouson as Minority Leader-designate, House Democrats discussed another casualty of his short-lived tenure.

They want to know more about why Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant fired their finance director, Jeff Ryan. They stopped short of demanding he get his job back but made it clear that current Minority Leader Perry Thurston should ask questions and raise the issue.

The loud "aye" vote confirming that directive could be heard on the first floor where the media was assembled even though House Democrats were meeting behind closed doors on the second floor. The Herald/Times didn't learn the subject of this second, less contentious vote until later.

Tant fired Ryan and Chris Mitchell, who served as the political director for the House Democrats, earlier this month after discovering they helped Rouson create a special fundraising committee without her knowledge.

The existence of the secret committee caused Rouson to lose support and, ultimately, his designation as future Minority Leader.

Rouson voted out as House Democratic Leader

House Democrats voted 24-17 to oust Rep. Darryl Rouson as incoming House Minority Leader after a three-hour Monday night meeting.

“I’m a little disappointed but undaunted,” Rouson said after the meeting, saying he supported the party’s decision.

Current House Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Plantation said Democrats would vote on a new leader Wednesday night.

At least one candidate to replace Rouson, Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, confirmed he was going to run.

"There may be squabbles, we're under the limelight," Pafford said afterward to reporters. "But I think we're all on the same page."

Perhaps. But Rouson's supporters left the meeting frustrated by the outcome. As he left, Rouson said he was undecided if he was going to make another run at the post. He said he may file to run again.

Rouson, 59, had struggled to hold onto his post as designated Democratic House leader, where he would oversee the 2014 House Democratic candidates before taking over after next year’s election.  In February, he defeated Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, 23-21, after a second round of balloting when Democrats deadlocked on a 22-22 vote. Although he beat Jones, Rouson had said before that he had a 29-15 lead over her.

“I’m a little disappointed that seven Democrats may have done something differently, secretly,” he said after the initial vote.

That mistrust would prove mutual and haunted Rouson’s brief reign as leader. A trial lawyer with a compelling life story as a recovered crack addict, Rouson is a former Republican who was close to two former governors: Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. One of his chief selling points to Democrats was that he had ties to Crist, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor. Yet Rouson was continually vexed by questions about his loyalties.

During a June caucus meeting, he fended off criticism aimed at his consultant, Barry Edwards, who has worked with Republicans, and a charge that he had not done more to work with key Democratic constituencies like the Florida Education Association.

Rouson’s coalition of younger lawmakers that he campaigned for in 2012 and moderate pro-business Democrats withstood the challenges. But his hold on power slipped away after party leaders discovered he had created a fundraising committee that only he could control -- without telling them. Party Chair Allison Tant fired two staffers, and Thurston called a meeting to discuss Rouson’s future.

Heading into Monday’s meeting, Democrats said they were fed up with internal squabbling.

But hopes that Rouson would step aside were dashed when he said he would try to hang on as leader.

Although he did say that, in hindsight, he should have provided “more clarity” and told others about the committee he was forming, Rouson showed no signs of backing down and blamed party leaders for the situation. He said he was aggressively raising money via the committee because he wasn’t confident in Tant’s leadership.

“Why would you put your money in a failing bank?” Rouson said.

Even before Rouson was forced out, replacements for him had been discussed, including Janet Cruz of Tampa, Jones of Jacksonville, Pafford of West Palm Beach and Alan Williams of Tallahassee.

Reporters were not allowed in the three-hour meeting, but House Democratic spokesman Mark Hollis provided updates. After an introduction by Thurston, Rouson spoke for 20 minutes and then answered questions for another 25 minutes from about seven or eight members. After eating Papa John’s pizza, they reconvened and allowed 2 ½ minutes for each member to speak. Of the 44- member Democratic caucus, three were absent: Betty Reed of Tampa, Kionne McGhee of Miami and Kevin Rader of Delray Beach, a key Rouson supporter who had a family emergency.

The ouster was led by freshman lawmakers, many of whom were involved in tight reelection fights. Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, made the motion to "vacate" the position of incoming Democratic leader. Ricardo Rangel of Orlando seconded the motion.

"Clarity?" Incoming FL House Dem leader Darryl Rouson bends truth about secret committee


Darryl Rouson, the incoming House Democratic leader who's under fire for founding a political committee behind the back of the state party, inaccurately portrayed his motivations for the secretive move before his colleagues tonight decide whether to keep him on the job.

Rouson said he founded the so-called "Affiliated Party Committee" for two reasons: “The Democrats had a poor fundraising quarter, they had just rolled out a CFO candidate that they didn’t vet.”

Point number one is tough to dispute. But his second issue about the unvetted CFO candidate, Allie Braswell, doesn't pass the straight-face test.

Here's why: time.

The embarrassing news about Braswell dropped on Aug. 16.

But Rouson founded his committee at least three days before, on Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. according to the date stamp from the Division of Elections. Now, it is true that the letter about the committee is dated afterward, but the official record is the date stamp. The document is here: Download Rouson

And beyond the tight time frame of the date-stamp evidence there's this simple fact: establishing something so big as an APC (there can only be four) is not something you do lightly. You don't just decide to do it on a whim. It takes time and legal advice to draft the paperwork and decide to go forward. It's not like this committee was turned in a day or two.

Throughout it all, Rouson was silent.

And now he's saying that, essentially, he predicted the CFO disaster. So he did this proactively.

Rouson has been a controversial figure for some time in the caucus. Smart as a whip, he also has a reputation of being too smart by half. Some say he's not trustworthy. It's one reason he won the post only after a tie vote. It's a reason some fellow Democrats called him a "divider." It's a reason some wondered if he had a trick up his sleave, a secret deal, when he voted against the Democratic-funding trial lawyers and even pushed a fellow member's vote button to do it (Rouson later lost his job at the Morgan & Morgan firm).

In a touch of irony, Rouson this evening said “I should have provided more clarity.” But he then proceded to give this story that conflicts with the time line. A big lie? Not really. A mistake? Maybe. But when significant numbers of your own caucus question your veracity, you can't mess up like this.

Indeed, Rouson noted that his Democratic critics have “attacked my integrity and honor.”

Hmm. Perhaps they need more "clarity."

Broward to defy governor's call to ban navigators from health offices

Heavily Democratic Broward County is expected to join Pinellas County in resisting Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to bar Obamacare enrollment advisors from state health department facilities.

Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs will offer a resolution at Tuesday’s county commission meeting that would allow Affordable Care Act “navigators” and counselors at Florida Department of Health facilities in Broward County. The commission, which is dominated by Democrats, is expected to approve the proposal.

Jacobs has scheduled a news conference after the vote where Obamacare outreach efforts will be publicized.

In her resolution, Jacobs adopted Pinellas County’s argument that the state cannot prevent Obamacare advisors from health department buildings because the county owns most of those facilities.

Of the eight Florida health offices in Broward, the county owns seven of the buildings and leases them to the state Health Department. More here. 


Broward County plans to defy Rick Scott in Obamacare-navigator flap

From Broward Bulldog:

Heavily Democratic Broward County is expected to join Pinellas County in resisting Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to bar Obamacare enrollment advisors from state health department facilities.

Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs will offer a resolution at Tuesday’s county commission meeting that would allow Affordable Care Act “navigators” and counselors at Florida Department of Health facilities in Broward County. The commission, which is dominated by Democrats, is expected to approve the proposal.

Jacobs has scheduled a news conference after the vote where Obamacare outreach efforts will be publicized.

In her resolution, Jacobs adopted Pinellas County’s argument that the state cannot prevent Obamacare advisors from health department buildings because the county owns most of those facilities.

Of the eight Florida health offices in Broward, the county owns seven of the buildings and leases them to the state Health Department.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/09/23/3646362/broward-looks-to-defy-gov-scott.html#storylink=cpy

Expanding gambling along the state line? Senate hearings will get an earful

Imagine Florida with slot machines at several dog tracks, intended to lure Georgians to Jacksonville, Alabamans to Pensacola, high rollers to Palm Beach and race fans to Daytona.

That is one of the ideas gaining steam in Tallahassee as gaming promoters plan ways to expand Florida’s gambling empire in exchange for closing loopholes that have exploded over the past few years.

The Florida Senate Gaming Committee has scheduled a series of hearings next month to travel to Jacksonville, Pensacola, Lakeland and Coconut Creek to hear from the public, as lawmakers embark on an ambitious rewrite of the state’s gambling laws.

“The goal is to reform Florida’s gambling laws in a way that will benefit Florida’s economy and social welfare for years to come,’’ said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the committee.

Legislative leaders have signed a $400,000 contract with Spectrum Gaming Group of New Jersey to assess the economic impact of existing and expanded gambling on communities in Florida. The report, due Oct. 1. will also offer some regulatory options before lawmakers draft the plan. Among the 10 options reviewed by Spectrum, only one would not expand gambling. The others range from allowing two so-called “destination resorts” in South Florida to limited expansion of gambling in certain regions of the state.

The timing of the legislative debate is significant. In 2015, the provisions of the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida expire, requiring the state to renew the compact or establish new rules to allow the tribe to operate blackjack and other table games exclusively, in exchange for providing revenue to the state.

The re-opening of the tribal compact, as well as the perception that acceptance of casino games has increased among most Floridians, has made many legislative observers predict that Florida may pass wholesale gambling reforms in the upcoming session.

“It’s much different this year than it’s ever been before,’’ said Al Lawson, a former veteran Democratic legislator from Tallahassee who supports expanding slot machines to North Florida. “Legislators are more open to give consideration to this than before.” More here.

Latvala says state law needs to tighten definition of residency

The 2014 Legislature will take up needed changes in state law to tighten the legal definition of residency, a key senator said Monday. That will possibly include a new provision to bar legislators from claiming the homestead exemption on homes outside their districts.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, said the law is needed in the wake of media reports that "from 12 to 14" lawmakers may have been living outside their districts, in apparent violation of state law. 

Latvala's committee had a brief and muted discussion of the issue Monday. "We've got a long way to  go on this, but I believe they are taking it seriously," he said in reference to Senate leaders. "I will tell you I believe there is going to be a bill on residency."

Latvala said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, wants to file a bill dealing with the homestead-exemption issue, and Latvala said he has agreed to sponsor the Senate version.

Much of the media coverage involving lawmakers' residencies has focused on Democratic House members in South Florida.

Latvala, speaking generally, told reporters: "If you're abiding by the Constitution and taking a homestead exemption somewhere else, or if you're supposed to represent a district and get the homestead exemption somewhere else, that ought to be illegal."

He said the issue would be handled largely by Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who also faced residency questions in 2011 when he won a special election. But none of that was discussed
publicly Monday. Democratic senators were silent after a staffer outlined at least 10 different ways to define legal residency, from a driver's license address to a voting address to where someone gets mail.

-- Steve Bousquet

Rouson: "I should have provided more clarity"

Minutes before he was going to find out if he could save his job as incoming House Democratic Leader, Rep. Darryl Rouson said he should have provided party members with more information about the fundraising committee he created last month.

“I should have pulled in a few more members and let them know,” Rouson said Monday afternoon in his office at the Capitol. “I should have provided more clarity.”

Whether that contriteness will help persuade his colleagues to keep him on as Minority Leader in 2014-2016 will be determined in the next few hours as House Democrats huddle for a meeting on Rouson’s leadership. It was called a couple of weeks ago by current House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation after Rouson agreed to shut down his committee and transfer $147,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

By the end of the meeting, a vote on whether to remove him from his position is expected.

On Sept. 5, Allison Tant, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, fired two House staffers who had helped Rouson set up the fundraising committee. Tant and other Democratic leaders hadn’t been told about it, leading some to suspect Rouson of a power grab.

But Rouson said Monday that he created the committee, a leadership fund that Rouson and other Democrats had opposed when they were created by lawmakers  in 2011, partly because he was unsure about Tant’s leadership.

“The Democrats had a poor fundraising quarter, they had just rolled out a CFO candidate that they didn’t vet,” Rouson said. “Why would you put your money in a failing bank?”

At times emotional, Rouson said he was taken aback by the subsequent storm of criticism leveled at him by other members protesting the creation of the committee. He said while other House members took shots at him, he held his fire.

Rouson’s said his vision for House Democrats, which he said had moved considerably to the right in recent years, was to widen its appeal to pro-business groups. He said the committee was just one tool he had to use to expand the party’s chances of picking up House races.

“If we’re going to be effective and compete, this committee is going to be a tool that we’ll need to use,” Rouson said.

A trial lawyer, Rouson has experience in making his case. He said he wanted to take advantage of interacting with the caucus members in person.

“I wanted a chance to not face my caucus in cyberspace,” he said, referring to at least two e-mails from members, Rep. David Richardson and Rep. Mike Clelland, asking for his resignation from House Minority Leader, that were leaked publicly.

“They’ve attacked my integrity and  honor,” Rouson said.

Rouson made clear he wasn’t going to back down and relent. Although he narrowly won his post by a 23-21 margin in February, he said he was going to make a passionate defense for him to remain as Democratic Leader.

“I have a fighting chance to provide my take,” Rouson said.

An expert at reading juries, Rouson was stumped when asked what he would do if he felt like he lost the support of his colleagues.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.

Gov. Rick Scott was for Common Core testing group before he was against it


PARCCGov. Rick Scott today moved to withdraw Florida from its role in the Common Core-connected "Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers."

But before he was against PARCC (and before conservative criticisms over it), he was for it.

Here's the press release with the headline that said "No More Teaching to the Test:"

“I’ve heard the frustrations teachers and parents have with the current FCAT system. I share their concerns. We need our testing system to evolve so there’s no more teaching to the test. That’s why, next year, our schools will move to a “common core” system, developed in part by Florida teachers, that emphasizes analytical problem solving over memorization and simple recitation of facts. The goal of this new testing system is to eliminate “teaching to the test” and instead will accurately measure whether our students are learning the skills they need to succeed in college and their careers. I remain a staunch advocate of student testing. There is no question that testing works and it is needed to hold the system accountable and to measure the progress of our students. But just as our students must learn and evolve, so should the testing system used to measure their progress.”

Background on Common Core Standards And The New PARCC Testing System

Forty-six states have agreed to use Common Core testing standards, which, unlike the FCAT, will allow comparison of education performance across the country and will provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students need to learn to succeed in college and careers. Teachers in Florida have been active in major parts of the development of this new system.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of states working to develop a common set of K-12 assessments for English language arts/literacy and mathematics, based on the Common Core State Standards. PARCC testing will be fully implemented beginning in the 2014-2015 school year for certain grade levels, including high school, in English language arts, mathematics, and end of course exams for high school Algebra I & II and Geometry.


Lawmakers slow to audit lobbyists

Audits of the fees that lobbyists collect to influence the legislative process have been allowed by law since 2005.

But even with Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, showing their support for the audits to finally be done, don’t expect them to begin any time soon, more than eight years after they were approved by lawmakers.

During a Monday meeting of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, co-chair Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, outlined all the steps that need to be done so that the audits can begin, which would only look at three percent of those who lobby the executive and legislative branches.

Abruzzo said the committee, an 11-member board of senators and representatives, would need to establish a system to audit the firms, establish procedures, come up with a list of 10 auditors who qualify for the work, and, oh yeah, find a source of funding.

Confronted with the task ahead, Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, asked if the auditing firms that will do the work have been identified, Abruzzo had a simple reply.

“Nothing has been done,” Abruzzo said.

The audits are already allowed by law. They were originally part of landmark legislation that was passed during a 2005 special session after lobbyists had helped defeat if just a few months earlier.

Pushed by Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon, who was then serving as Senate President, and embraced by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the intent of the audits and reporting requirements was to add more transparency in how much lobbyists make to represent clients and influence legislation.

But the new rules, which were passed along with a gift ban, had some wriggle room. Lobbyists were required to report the fees they collected only in $10,000 increments. So if Lobbyist A was paid $1,000 by Company A, and Lobbyist B was paid $9,000 by Company B, it would appear in the same $1 to $9,999 range that lobbyists are required to report.

That impreciseness bothers both public records advocates and lobbyists, but in different ways. For those wanting more open records, the wide range hardly makes it easier for the public in figuring out how much lobbyists actually make and who pays them. For lobbyists like Southern Strategy Group and Ballard Partners battling for bragging rights, the rough reporting ranges allowed some lobbyists to inflate how much they were actually making, exaggerating their influence. It also isn’t clear if some lobbyists were purposefully redundant in calculating their fees by counting their fees twice, once through the legislative branch, one through the executive branch.

Yet even though the law allows audits to answer such questions, no audits were ever done of the lobbyists. Gaetz and Weatherford have said they support auditing the fee reports filed by lobbyists, prompting a letter last week from the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, requested that the group be allowed to "provide input and offer our assistance."

“While Florida lobbyists are regulated by several sections of Florida law - specifically s.112.3215(5), F.S. and 11.045(2), F.S. - our members have gone above and beyond what is required by Florida law and created and pledged to abide by a self-imposed code of conduct that is signed by and adhered to by each member of our organization,” said the letter from the association’s board of directors.

The board includes The association's board includes Chairman Hubert "Bo" Bohannon;  Vice Chairman David Mica, Secretary-Treasurer Michael Hightower; executive committee representatives Jose Gonzalez and Lori Killinger; Andrea Becker; Michael W. Carlson; Eric Eikenberg; Candice Ericks; Paula Fillmore-Mateo; Susan Goldstein; Jennifer J. Green; Frederick Leonhardt; John Sebree; and John Wayne Smith.

They need not worry that lawmakers will act rashly.

Monday's meeting addressed the audits in under five minutes. No one spoke and no action was taken.