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11 posts from January 16, 2014

January 16, 2014

Sellers, Thrasher to head Scott's campaign

On Monday, we first told you our sources said Carlos Lopez-Cantera would likely be Lieutenant Governor. And the sources were right when his announcement was made official Tuesday. And on Wednesday, we first reported that our sources said there would be some major shifts in Gov. Rick Scott world as early as Friday. Right again: 

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday will announce key members of his re-election campaign team, with communications director Melissa Sellers moving from the governor's office to be campaign manager and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chairman of Scott's re-election effort.

Starting next Tuesday, Sellers, 31, will oversee day-to-day operations of the re-election organization. Before she joined the governor's office in 2012, Sellers was a regional spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention in Tampa and was chief spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal during his campaign for governor in 2007 and his first term. Sellers, a Texas native, originally wanted to be a reporter. The University of Texas journalism graduate was named a rising star by Campaign & Elections magazine six years ago when she was 25.

The announcement ends talk of the possibility that chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth might shift to the campaign.

Scott's other campaign appointments:

* Thrasher, the campaign chairman, will be a key strategist and is an ally of Hollingsworth. Thrasher briefly surfaced in speculation as a possible lieutenant governor. The Senate Rules Committee chairman ran the state GOP following the demise of former chairman Jim Greer.

* Miguel Fernandez and Darlene Jordan will be co-finance chairs. Fernandez is chairman of MBF Partners, a major health care firm based in Coral Gables. Jordan is a former Masasachusetts assistant attorney general who was a national finance co-chair for Mitt Romney in 2008.

* Tim Saler will be deputy campaign manager, overseeing media, voter contact, political and field operations. He has been deputy executive director for political strategy at the Republican Party of Florida and before that, was director of strategy at the Republican Party of Wisconsin and executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party.

* Matt Moon will be the campaign communications director, overseeing messaging, bracketing strategy and handling press, research and rapid response efforts. A native of Alaska, Moon served as a senior adviser to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and was deputy research director at the Republican National Committee.

 -- with Steve Bousquet

Gov. Rick Scott to pitch 10-day sales tax holiday


Florida Gov. Rick Scott will propose a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday in a speech Friday.

Florida families would save an estimated $60 million in state and local taxes under the proposal.

Scott will make the pitch during a speech at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's annual Insurance Summit. He has been rolling out portions of his "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget" in recent days.

Clothing, footwear, school supplies and computers are included in the tax exempt purchases.

His proposal would more than triple the number of days included in the back-to-school event, compared to recent years.

Florida held a 3-day sales tax holiday for the past four years. The economic downturn caused the tax holiday to be cancelled in 2008 and 2009.

The state's first sales tax holiday was a 7-day event in 1998. It grew to 9 days in 1999.

Crist: Rick Scott has 'disappointed' Floridians

Charlie Crist raised money in Tallahassee Thursday with a fund-raiser at the law firm of Parks & Crump, known for civil rights litigation and for having represented the family of shooting victim Trayvon Martin.

Speaking with reporters outside the event, the former Republican governor-turned-Democrat blasted Gov. Rick Scott for his appointments, ethics, voting rights decisions and refusal to accept federal money for a high-speed rail system.

"He's got his record and I've got mine," Crist said, and cited the record $1.7 billion fine for fraudulent health care billings imposed on Columbia/HCA, the hospital company Scott formerly ran. "What is fraud with a health care company? Basically it's called upcoding, which is kind of a fancy word for stealing. That's wrong. It's not the right thing to do."

He said Scott has "disappointed" Floridians, such as by proposing a $1.3 billion cut to schools in his first year and a $300 million cut to universities his second year. Scott has advocated $1 billion increases for schools each of the past two years.

"A disaster" is how Crist described the quality and turnover rate of Scott's appointments to state agencies.

Reporters reminded Crist that under Scott, unemployment in Florida is steadily dropping and state revenues are rising.

His response: "The turnaround started when we were still here." Noting his acceptance of billions in stimulus money, he said: "I did things to keep us from going further in the ditch."

On Scott's pick this week of former Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera as lieutenant governor, Crist said: "Carlos is a fine fellow but he's with the wrong guy. This race is about Gov. Scott ... He's the top of the ticket, and that's really at the end of the day what the race is about."

Crist allowed reporters inside the fund-raiser. Guests included Rep. Alan Williams; lobbyist Sean Pittman; Walt McNeil, who was Crist's secretary of corrections and criminal justice, and state Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who said she was there as a courtesy and has attended similar events for another Democratic candidate, former Sen. Nan Rich of Weston.

 -- Steve Bousquet

In reversal, Miami-Dade will keep key absentee-ballot request information public


Miami-Dade County will no longer block the public from obtaining key information that has helped detect attempted voting fraud.

Overturning a decision by his appointed elections supervisor, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday that Internet Protocol addresses for absentee-ballot requests submitted online are public record.

Gimenez explained his position in a memo to Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who had asked the mayor to use his executive authority to make the IP addresses available. Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley had said she would keep them secret.

Gimenez and Townsley both said Thursday they had spoken earlier and agreed to the policy change.

“After reviewing the policies and procedures, it is clear that the collection of IP addresses is a critical and important protocol in place to detect fraud; however, it is incidental but it is not ‘necessary’ to process an Absentee Ballot,” Gimenez wrote.

State statute allows elections supervisors to exempt from disclosure to the general public — but not to political candidates, committees or parties — any absentee-ballot information deemed “necessary.”

More here.

Garcia offers up proposal as Congress continues to grapple with flood insurance

As Congress continues to struggle over resolving the flood insurance rate hike crisis that threatens thousands of Florida families, Miami Congressman Joe Garcia introduced legislation Thursday to delay the proposed rate increases for at least five years.  

The bill is an effort to expand beyond the partial delay in flood rate increases included in a massive spending bill sent to the president Thursday. Under that proposal, FEMA would delay rate increases for some properties who were expecting rate increases beginning this fall because of new flood maps but it didn't address properties already hit by huge increases.  Download HOME Act of 2014

The proposal by Garcia, a Democrat, faces an uphill battle, however. House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that the GOP-controlled House is “not going to do that” when asked about the legislation aimed at delaying the 2012 flood insurance fix, although he added he's willing to consider more modest, unspecified changes to the flood program.

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'Groundhog Day': Miami-Dade commission restores workers' pay, again. Mayor vows to veto, again.


Miami-Dade County commissioners insisted Thursday they wanted to resolve — somehow — a contract dispute with labor unions that has come before them for a vote over and over again.

Instead, they wound up exactly where they started.

Commissioners voted one more time to end an unpopular healthcare contribution requiring most county and Jackson Health System employees to give up 5 percent of their base pay. The vote was 8-5, just as it was last month.

And once again, Mayor Carlos Gimenez vowed to veto it.

“You don’t even have to ask me the question,” he told a Miami Herald reporter as soon as the meeting was over, throwing up his hands in the air.

Nine votes were required for the vote to be veto-proof. No one budged from their Dec. 5 position.

More here.

Corrine Brown's snake-like district draws yet another lawsuit

Florida’s famously convoluted congressional district, held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, is under fire again as two Gainesville men have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to order the Legislature to redraw the map before the November election. 

William Everett Warinner and James C. Miller, Sr., both registered voters in Brown’s district, claim that the “serpentine route” of the meandering district violates their constitutional rights to equal protection because it packs blacks into the district in an effort to “bleach” the adjoining districts to benefit Republicans. 

Warinner is among the plaintiffs already challenging Florida’s entire congressional redistricting map in state court, alleging that it violates the redistricting amendments in the state constitutional because the map was drawn with partisan intent. They are represented by some of that same law firms that represent the state and federal Democratic parties. Download Brown Amended Complaint E-Filed

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Sheriff: Trey Radel's coke conviction means he can't drive school bus


U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, is back to work in Congress following a few weeks in rehab after he got busted for cocaine possession in Washington.

He’s lucky he has that job, some say. With a drug arrest on his record, he wouldn’t be eligible for a host of other gigs -- like driving a bus in his own district.

Radel’s conviction prompted some high-profile Republicans to call for his ouster. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, who was mentioned as a potential opponent, announced on Facebook Jan. 11 that he won’t run. But Scott vowed to be a "staunch advocate for his political replacement" and unleashed this attack:

"While Radel returned to his congressional office following a microwave stint in rehab and a gaggle of rehearsed apologies, I have hundreds of inmates in our jail that are unable to return to their home due to similar or lesser drug offenses," Scott said on Facebook. "The sad reality is that Trey Radel does not even qualify to drive a Lee County school bus at this point, yet he occupies a seat in Congress....."

Scott’s Facebook post was reported by multiple news outlets.

Is Scott correct that Radel’s cocaine possession conviction means he would not meet the qualifications to drive a Lee County school bus? Turn to PolitiFact for the answer.

Low-scoring universities will lose state funding under new performance model


State universities could lose a small portion of their state funding under a new performance model approved today that penalizes low performers.

Any university that doesn't receive at least 26 points under the new 50-point system will lose 1 percent of its state funding in 2014-2015. Those schools also would be ineligible to receive any additional money allocated for performance funding.

This is a departure from the model implemented earlier this year, which allowed all active state universities to share $20 million. That ranged from $2.6 million for the top performers, University of South Florida and University of Central Florida, to a low of $434,783 for New College of Florida. (Florida Polytechnic University doesn't have students yet, so it is ineligible for performance funding.)

New College President Donal O'Shea said he ran the numbers on the new model and his school isn't projected to reach 26 points unless one more Pell grant recipient enrolls. Based on its state funding for the current year, New College could be penalized $158,511 if it does not get the extra point.

Even that amount would be a hardship for Florida's smallest university, which focuses on the liberal arts, O'Shea said.

"This is the first year that New College has not used reserves to pay for recurring expenses," he said. "We are down on fumes."

Florida State University President Eric Barron also expressed concerns even though his school is unlikely to face any penalties. "This presents the likelihood that all the universities at the bottom will lose every year," Barron said.

Members of the state's governing body for public universities disagreed. Chairman Mori Hosseini said lawmakers have indicated that the university system would not receive more funding in the state budget that will be crafted during the 2014 legislative session unless universities agreed to take on some risk, too.

"If you want new money, you have to have skin in the game," Hosseini said he was told.

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No Casinos premiers its video talking points in Tallahassee theater


A group aimed at opposing the emergence of new casinos in Florida put its talking points into a slick new video documentary that premiered Wednesday for legislators at a Tallahassee theater.

No Casinos, the Orlando-based group which produced the movie-quality video, invited legislators and lobbyists to attend a showing of the video at the Tallahassee IMAX during the Legislature's committee week, complete with complimentary popcorn and sodas. In attendance were dozens of lobbyists, community members and a handful of legislators, most of whom are perceived to be opposed to the expansion of casinos.

Legislators are attempting to embark on a rewrite of Florida's hole-ridden gambling laws and decide for the third time whether to allow Las Vegas-style casinos into South Florida, where gambling giants Las Vegas Sands, Genting and Wynn Casinos are eager to set up shop.

The video begins with a brief history of gambling in Florida, including an interview with Florida historian Gary Mormino, and tracking many of the themes we wrote about in this story.

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