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5 posts from October 28, 2013

October 28, 2013

Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi

Although they announced they were running for the Democratic nod for Florida Attorney General in the same week, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston swear they won’t become bitter rivals.

“If we stay in the race, it will be positive,” said Sheldon, who until last week worked as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.

“A primary isn’t the best thing for the party, and I’m a party guy,” said Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who is the Democratic Leader in the Florida House. “I know the party will make the right decision.”

But the race to challenge incumbent Pam Bondi hasn’t begun yet and they are already disagreeing about what exactly the two talked about when they spoke by phone last week before Saturday’s Florida Democratic State Conference in Orlando.

Sheldon, who announced Oct. 21 that he was running for AG, said Thurston called him and the two spoke for about five to 10 minutes on Thursday. Subsequently, on Saturday, Thurston announced at the convention that he was running for AG.

“I would rather have known he was announcing to run when we talked,” said Sheldon, 66. “I had thought he had ruled it out. His announcement caught quite a few of us by surprise.”

Thurston, however, said he told Sheldon during the phone chat that he was running for AG.

“I’m pretty clear, I don’t stutter or mumble,” said Thurston, 52. “I told him I was running.”

Continue reading "Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi" »

Rep. Williams to attend U.S. Senate hearing on Stand Your Ground

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, announced Monday that he will attend the upcoming U.S. Senate hearing on Stand Your Ground laws.

Here's the press release:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On Tuesday, October 29, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights will conduct a hearing on Stand Your Ground laws at which Florida state Rep. Alan Williams has been invited to attend.

Rep. Williams (D-Tallahassee) is the chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and is the sponsor of a Stand Your Ground repeal bill in the Florida House of Representatives, H.B. 4003.

Webcast and other information about Tuesday’s hearing under the leadership of Subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois can be found at this site: Stand Your Ground Laws -- Civil Rights and Public Safety Implications of the Expanded Use of Deadly Force.

“I am pleased to see Senator Durbin’s display of leadership in conducting a review of Stand Your Ground laws,” said Representative Williams. “The U.S. Senate hearing will be a significant step in the process toward repealing or reforming these laws that are in need of serious legislative review because vigilante justice must not be tolerated.

“In addition to Tuesday’s hearing, I look forward to a discussion about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in the Florida House of Representatives that’s set for Thursday, November 7. Changes to these Stand Your Ground laws are necessary to ensure that we remain a society in which all citizens are treated equally, and to address any unjust application of our laws.”

The hearing in the U.S. Senate will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, October 29. The location of the meeting has recently changed to Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Congressional accord reached on flood insurance rate delay

Flood insuranceA bipartisan group of legislators from the U.S. House and Senate have reached an agreement to delay flood insurance rate increases for at least four years for millions of homeowners.

The agreement, reached between U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, author of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, and other congressional leaders, would delay the rate hikes for four years and require FEMA to complete an affordability study before increasing any flood insurance premiums in the future. A companion bill is expected to be filed by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. 

The tentative deal, which still must be voted on in both the House and Senate, was hailed by Gov. Rick Scott and members of Florida's congressional delegation, which urged a delay in the rate increases.

"This is great news for many Floridians who've been told their flood insurance rates were going way up," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, in a press release. Nelson was among several Florida lawmakers who proposed similar legislation to dely rate increases for at least a year. "If people can't afford the coverage, what good is it going to do?"

Scott urged President Barack Obama to step in and support the deal "or take any other action within the executive branch to undo these insurance rate hikes that hurt Florida families.'' 

Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2012 to make the nation's flood insurance program more financially sound. The program eliminated and phased out subsidies for homeowners in flood-prone areas. But the rate shock was too much to bear for most homeowners, particularly in Florida where consumers hold one-third of all the policies in the national program.

Realtors complained that the rate hikes had a chilling effect on home sales, and Florida regulators said they would consider encouraging private insurers to sell flood insurance as an alternative to NFIP. 

But the conservative R Street Institute, a free-market research group, condemned the proposed rate hike delay on Monday, calling it a give away.

"Delaying the scheduled phase-out of flood insurance premium subsidies amounts to a gift to mostly wealthy homeowners who get to enjoy cheap insurance on their beach homes thanks to taxpayer support," said R.J. Lehmann, a fellow at R Street.

"To the extent that FEMA remapping may result in genuine affordability problems for some homeowners, Congress should look to target those individuals specifically with limited, means-tested support,'' he said. "However, an across-the-board delay in new maps taking effect will only further imperil the program's solvency, while also robbing those policyholders whose remapped properties show a reduced risk of flooding the opportunity to enjoy the lower rates they deserve." 

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John Thrasher as Scott's No. 2? 'I'm not going to speculate'

It has been nearly eight months since Jennifer Carroll resigned as Florida lieutenant governor, and Gov. Rick Scott appears to be in no hurry to name her replacement. But speculation persists that Scott is seriously considering state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine as his new partner, and Thrasher won't completely rule out his interest.

"I'm not going to speculate on that. I'm happy being a senator," Thrasher said Monday. About the chatter that he's Scott's No. 1 choice, he said: "It's all news to me ... I don't know where the speculation's coming from. Nobody has directly contacted me from the governor's office." 

As chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Thrasher wields plenty of power in the state Capitol. But within a year, control of the Senate will shift to Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who last year survived an attempted coup by Thrasher to keep his grip on the presidency. It would surprise nobody if Gardiner has someone other than Thrasher in mind for the agenda-setting Rules chairmanship.

Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, told The Buzz Friday that it would be "not true" to report that Thrasher's selection is imminent. Scott's office said nothing has changed as of Monday. The governor's office dismissed the notion that Scott may want to announce his choice by Friday, just before leaving for a week-long trade mission to Japan, and in an effort to steal the spotlight from Charlie Crist's candidacy announcement next Monday.

Thrasher has the respect not only of Scott, but especially Hollingsworth, a close friend who's in charge of the search. Thrasher also is a consummate deal-maker and effective fund-raiser who played a pivotal role in orchestrating the ouster of former state GOP chairman Jim Greer, who was Crist's hand-picked choice for party chairman.

But Thrasher, 69, a multimillionaire who lives in St. Augustine, would not help Scott expand his base: he's a safe establishment pick who would appease centrists and help Scott govern, as opposed to enhancing his re-election prospects.

After leaving office, Thrasher made millions as a super-lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group, making him an easy mark as a symbol of all that's wrong with Tallahassee and its revolving door culture.

Thrasher's past controversies also will be gleefully recycled by Scott's critics, too. He was twice punished for ethics violations and oversaw a $6 million refurbishing of the House chamber when he was speaker (1998-2000), but that's ancient news.

If he's about to be picked as Scott's running mate, Thrasher said, it's news to him. "I think the Florida Senate is really a fun place to be," he said. "That's where I am now, and that's where I think I'm going to be happy staying."

Now, the plot thickens: Thrasher's departure from the Senate would open his seat and demand a special election, so it could alter the balance of power for control of the chamber in the 2016-18 term, when Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron are both seeking the presidency. (Thrasher is aligned with Negron). 

Scott has to choose someone sooner or later. He's being advised by Republican allies to choose an L.G. soon or wait until next May, after the 2014 legislative session ends, by which time the campaign will be heating up.

-- Steve Bousquet

Marco Rubio now favors piecemeal rather than comprehensive approach to immigration reform

@learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio, who helped write the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, has shifted back to his original position that piecemeal legislation is the way forward.

“We’ve been lectured for the better part of a month now how we need to be realistic, that Barack Obama was not going to repeal Obamacare,” Rubio said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “Likewise, I think supporters of immigration reform need to be realistic. The House is just not going to jump on board whatever the Senate passes.”

That’s been evident for months. But in recent interviews Rubio has sounded more distant from the Senate legislation. On CNN on Friday, a casual viewer could have assumed he had nothing to do with it – the Florida Republican referring to what the “whatever the Democrats in the Senate are demanding.”

Rubio even opposes using the Senate bill as a negotiating point in a conference if the House can manage to pass a limited bill.

More here.