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11 posts from January 6, 2014

January 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Alia Faraj-Johnson, press secretary for former Gov. Jeb Bush, will be joining Hill+Knowlton Strategies as a senior vice president, leading the firm's Tallahassee office.

Prior to joining H+K Strategies, Faraj-Johnson served as managing director of public relations and public affairs at Sachs Media Group. She was Bush’s press secretary and communications director from 2002 to 2007, and managed communications at 18 state agencies.

Faraj-Johnson was previously a television news reporter and vice president of news operations for Capitol News Service in Tallahassee.

New partner at Ballard

The government affairs firm, Ballard Partners, is expanding, adding veteran lobbyist Christopher Hansen, to its Tallahassee office.

Hansen, who will be a partner, previously served as a governmental consultant for Gray Robinson, P.A. and before that, he worked in a similar role at Huey, Guilday, Tucker, Schwartz & Williams, P.A.

Hansen was a legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives' majority office and the executive director of a large political action committee.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Last-minute push for medical marijuana signatures

Working with volunteers and paid petitioners, the group pushing for legalized medical marijuana in Florida is working furiously to get the rest of its petitions delivered to election officials, said Ben Pollara, campaign director for United for Care.

He said about 100,000 signatures were turned in today around the state, bringing the total delivered to nearly 800,000. He expects another 100,000 will be dropped off by tomorrow afternoon, with yet another batch turned in by next week.  The petitions include the roughly 150,000 collected before the group temporarily suspended its drive in the fall.

"We should be close to 1 million," Pollara said Monday. Organizers have until 5 p.m. Feb. 1 to get the required 683,149 signatures. The group is aiming for 1 million signed petitions because the rejection rate can be nearly 30 percent due to issues like duplication or out-of-state signees. 

"Most supervisors have told us that if we get the petitions to them by Jan. 15, they would count them," Pollara said.

Continue reading "Last-minute push for medical marijuana signatures" »

Miami killer to be executed for prison guard murder


Four decades after kidnapping a Bay Harbor Islands couple and shooting them execution-style them in the woods of South Miami-Dade, Thomas Knight will be put to death by lethal injection on Tuesday night.

Only two inmates have been on Florida’s Death Row longer than Knight, 62, who was first sentenced to die in 1975 for the murder of Sydney and Lillian Gans.

Knight, however, will be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a third murder: the 1980 fatal stabbing of Death Row state corrections officer Richard Burke.

Nonetheless, the surviving relatives of the Gans have the option to attend the execution at the Florida State Prison in Starke. But their daughter, Harriet Shapiro, 73, has chosen not to attend because of her ailing health, son Judd Shapiro said on Monday.

Long court battles and frequent delays over the decades have been stressful for his mother, Shapiro said.

“It’s been so many times now, she’s beginning to lose faith in the system,” Judd Shapiro said of the frequent delays and court battles over the decades.

Knight, who legally changed his name years ago to Askari Abdullah Muhammad, was most recently slated to be executed on Dec. 3 for the Burke murder. The Shapiros had planned to attend.

More here.

National Journal: Joe Garcia's congressional seat among most likely to flip to GOP


National Journal took an early election year look Monday at the top 30 congressional seats that could switch political parties in the fall -- and Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia made the list.

The publication placed Garcia at number 15, citing Florida's 26 district as potential pickup for Republicans. Garcia defeated GOP Rep. David Rivera two years ago.

Rivera was plagued by scandals, as the list notes, but the new boundaries -- the district stretches from Kendall to Key West -- also meant President Obama won a majority of the vote in Florida's 26th. Garcia's office has had to deal with a scandal of its own; his former chief of staff was released from jail last month and is still under house arrest.

Though several Republicans have been eager to challenge Garcia, National Journal singled out Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo. Here's the blurb from the magazine's list:

Garcia is raising money hand-over-foot, but he's been dogged by a weird scandal (staffers of his plotted to fraudulently cast absentee ballots, apparently without the candidate's knowledge). Republican Carlos Curbelo could be a strong challenger. One underreported fact about this district: Garcia's 2012 victory is attributed to then-Rep. David Rivera's complete campaign meltdown amidst scandal but Obama's margin over Mitt Romney in the district was almost exactly the same as Garcia's over Rivera. Cuban-heavy Miami is experiencing something of a Democratic shift in national politics. GOP Gov. Rick Scott's approval could also be a problem for Republicans in the Sunshine State in November.

Three other Florida seats also made the list, including Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Jupiter Democrat, at number 19.

Atwater and LeMieux make finalists list for FAU job, Ring gets rejected

Chief Financial Office Jeff Atwater and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux made the finalists list for the presidency of Florida Atlantic University on Monday while the other politician, state Sen. Jeremy Ring, the only Democrat and former founding partner of Yahoo, didn't even get a nomination.

Atwater, who holds two degrees from the University of Florida, surprised the political world on Friday when word leaked that he had placed his name in nomination for the university's top job. If he gets the job, he will leave a safe seat on the state Cabinet. LeMieux also followed up on his promise to seek the job when he place his name in nomination too. 

The committee received 61 applicants and, after discussion of just over an hour, narrowed the list to 10 individuals who will be interviewed on Thursday and Friday. They are:

Continue reading "Atwater and LeMieux make finalists list for FAU job, Ring gets rejected " »

Lawsuit seeks to compel Scott to name lieutenant governor

A Tallahassee activist is suing Gov. Rick Scott for failing to appoint a new lieutenant governor.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by Barbara Devane, argues that Scott has a legal obligation to name a successor to former Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll.

Carroll resigned in March, after being linked to a charity organization at the center of a $300 million multi-state racketeering investigation. She was not accused of wrongdoing.

Scott has said he wants to fill the job, and his office has vetted potential candidates. But the position has remained open.

In the lawsuit, Devane says the vacancy "upsets the order of succession the Legislature established."

"If the Governor (who resigned his previous position as chief executive officer of a company that pled guilty to massive amounts of systemic fraud, including 14 felonies, leading to a historic $1.7 billion fine) resigns amid scandal like his lieutenant or dies, there is not lieutenant governor to fulfill the heavy responsibilities of the office," she wrote.
Devane also notes that the lieutenant governor can take emergency action if the governor is unavailable.
"Thus, at present, if there is another oil spill and the governor is unavailable for whatever reason, the state will be powerless to respond," she wrote.
Devane wants the state Supreme Court to force Scott's hand.
"It is... important to note that Petitioner is not seeking to compel the Governor to choose any particular individual. All Petitioner seeks in this case is an order compelling the Governor to adhere to his duty to make an appointment and do it now."
Devane lobbies for the Florida National Organization for Women and other progressive causes.

PolitiFact checks Sen. Marco Rubio's poverty stat


Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Since then, says Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., taxpayers have spent $20 trillion on welfare and other government programs intended to lift them out of poverty -- yet tens of millions of Americans are still impoverished.

"In my home state, nearly one in five Floridians live in poverty," Rubio said in a Jan. 5 video message. "After 50 years, isn’t it time to declare big government’s war on poverty a failure?"

Rubio called for a new agenda to help people lift themselves out of poverty and create a new "opportunity society" to enable people to live the American dream. Rubio is expected to release additional details Wednesday during a speech at the U.S. Capitol hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Rubio released his video as the Senate returns to take up the issue of renewing emergency unemployment benefits that lapsed in December. Also, Democrats have announced that they will target income equality as a top issue this election year, including a push to raise the federal minimum wage.

Here we will fact-check Rubio’s claim that nearly one in five Floridians live in poverty. Read more from PolitiFact Florida.

Scott to tout proposed auto fee cut -- again

A joke isn’t done until it’s overdone.

For politicians, that maxim also applies to announcing intentions to cut fees during an election year.

Gov. Rick Scott drops by Brandon Honda this Wednesday for what is dubbed a “major announcement” by the Republican Party of Florida.

Since the announcement is staged at a car dealership, odds are that it’s got something to do with Scott’s already announced plan to cut auto registration fees by $401 million -- which would save the the typical motorist $25.

Last month, Scott announced the fee cut plan at Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore. That he’s announcing it a second time in Hillsborough is no surprise -- it’s, a county that is crucial to next year's gubernatorial contest and adjacent to Pinellas, the home turf of his rival, Charlie Crist.

If you want to check it out, it’ll be at Brandon Honda, 9209 East Adamo Drive, Tampa, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Florida moves forward with new standardized tests

The start of the new year means the start of a herculean task for the state education department: choosing, and then deploying, the next generation of standardized tests.

The time frame is tight. But state education officials say they are on schedule to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, within 18 months.

“We are confident that we will have new assessments in place for the 2014-15 school year, and that the assessments will meet the needs of Florida’s students and teachers,” state Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick said.

Read more here.

Conservative Miami-Dade commissioner picks up progressive challenger


Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell, the commission vice-chairwoman who has recently come under political fire, has drawn a reelection opponent in what could become a polarizing race.

Daniella Levine Cava opened a fundraising account Friday and plans to kick off her campaign Tuesday. Levine Cava is the founder and former chief executive of the social services agency Catalyst Miami, formerly known as the Human Services Coalition.

Behind Levine Cava’s campaign is a concerted effort by liberal progressives in Miami-Dade to challenge the conservative Bell, a one-term commissioner whom they view as vulnerable. While the commission race in nonpartisan, Bell is a registered Republican and Levine Cava is a Democrat.

“There’s perception of lack of integrity or corruption in county government generally, so my goal would be to epitomize the opposite of that so that the entire character of local government would change and be regarded with greater respect,” Levine Cava said Monday in an interview with the Miami Herald. 

More here.