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255 posts from January 2014

January 30, 2014

Florida Supreme Court's next chief justice is Jorge Labarga, first Cuban-American to hold post

From our friends at the Associated Press:

Justice Jorge Labarga will be the Florida Supreme Court's next leader.

The seven-member court on Wednesday elected 61-year-old Labarga to a two-year term beginning July 1. He will succeed Chief Justice Ricky Polstonwho will remain on the bench.

Labarga becomes the first Cuban-American to hold the post. The chief justice serves as the chief administrative officer for the state courts system.

His election followed a tradition of electing the next senior justice who hasn't yet held the position.

Labarga was first appointed to the high court in 2009 by former Gov. Charlie Crist. He will become the court's 56th chief.

Labarga is from West Palm Beach and he served as a trial court judge and then briefly as an appeals judge before he was appointed to the Supreme Court. 

Who's Omar Khan?


This is not officially confirmed yet, but we hear that Charlie Crist is poised to hire veteran political operative Omar Khan as campaign manager for his Democratic campaign for Florida governor, Who?, some of you may ask.

Khan is not an A-list campaign campaign manager that one might expect for a marquee race like Florida's gubernatorial campaign. Not sure he's ever run a campaign, for that matter.

But he certainly knows Florida. Buzz has known Khan at least since he helped Pinellas state Rep. Charlie Jusice win a highly competitive state senate race and since has run into him in state after state covering the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012. We've heard nothing but lavish praise for his political skills and people skills..

Still, this could be his toughest gig yet: Managing a candidate who prefers to call his own shots, answer mainly to his own gut, and take advice from a vast array of advisers.

Khan currently works at EPA as Director of Public Engagement, and we don't know when he formally starts with Crist. Previously he was director of Congressional and Intergovermental relations for Obama's Hurricane Sandy Task Force.

Taxicab concessions: Miami-Dade County will now require cabs to take cash and credit


A passenger stepping into a taxicab in Miami-Dade County will soon be able to track the route electronically, whiz down expressways without stopping for tolls and, at the end of the trip, pay with a credit card.

OK, cutting-edge it is not. But the technological gadgetry, approved Wednesday, will mark the first extensive reforms in years to Miami-Dade County’s highly regulated taxicab industry.

County commissioners, fed up with complaints from tourism and business leaders about Miami-Dade’s lackluster taxicab service, signed off on a slew of measures intended to improve passengers’ experience.

“Changes are coming to this county,” Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said.

For the first time, the county will require all cabs, within two years, to accept credit cards and, within six months, to install SunPass transponders. Passengers will get a discount if they pay cash.

For the privilege of picking up passengers at the airport and seaport, drivers will have to apply for a special decal and wear collared shirts, long pants and closed-toed shoes.

The changes don’t go as far as some industry critics had hoped for when the reform effort began months ago.

More here.

Light rail service to Miami Beach under consideration, again


Transportation planners have unveiled potential routes for a light rail link between Miami and Miami Beach with one line crossing Biscayne Bay over the MacArthur Causeway and another via the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said they prefer the rail go over the MacArthur Causeway, but Miami Beach transportation director José González said his city has not yet settled on a route.

“This is a vital project for Miami-Dade County as congestion between the mainland and Miami Beach grows worse,” Gimenez said. “We don’t want to talk about this for the next 20 years. We want to get this done.”

It was the first time that potential route options for the light rail project were publicly discussed. The discussion came during a meeting of the Beach Corridor Transit Connection Study project executive committee. Gimenez chaired the meeting as head of one of the local governments and state agencies funding the $325,000 project study.

More here.

Q-Poll: Charlie Crist up by 8 over Rick Scott; 54% say gov shouldn't be reelected


So much for Scott-mentum.

Gov. Rick Scott appears to no longer be narrowing the gap with Democratic rival Charlie Crist who leads the Republican 46-38 percent, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that shows the challenger's 8-point margin is essentially unchanged since the firm's last survey in late November.

Two months ago, Crist led Scott by 7 points. Before then, Crist led Scott by 10 in June and by 16 in March.

Still, expect the numbers to change and the race to tighten. If past elections are any gauge, this race will likely be decided by a point or two.

 Perhaps most-troubling for Scott: Only 38 percent of respondents said he should be re-elected; a clear majority of 54 percent said the Republican shouldn't get another term.

And Scott only leads Democrat Nan Rich 41-37 percent, even though 86 percent said they don't know enough about her. Also expect Libertarian backers of candidate Adrian Wyllie to complain his name wasn't included in the survey (although it did give people a "someone else" option if they didn't want to pick Scott or Crist).

Expect the aerial bombardment of Crist to begin soon from the Scott juggernaut, which has the money and the know-how to move poll numbers, especially by way of negative ads.

Meantime, this Quinnipiac poll shows Scott earns his worst job-approval rating in a year, 41-49 percent. 

Almost as troubling for the Republican: Crist narrowly edges Scott on the question of who would handle the economy best; 47 percent say Crist and 42 percent say Scott. Remember that Scott and the state Republican Party have long been raising awareness of the fact that Crist took office with a 3.5 percent unemployment rate and left with an 11.1 percent rate in December 2010. Scott then took over and now the unemployment rate has fallen back to 6.2 percent.

Many voters, like economists, are likely to cut Crist some slack for what happened on his watch, considering the national and global financial meltdown. There's only so much a governor might be blamed, or credited, for the state's economy. But time, and campaigning, will tell.

What hasn't changed: Scott still isn't well liked. Only 38 percent view him favorably, 45 percent view him favorably. That's a negative index of -7. Crist's index is a positive +9 (44-35 percent). 

Other polls show different results. PPP had Crist up just 43-41, with Scott narrowing the gap by 10 points since September. But another poll from a Democratic-leaning firm, Hamilton Campaigns, showed Crist up 49-44 over Scott, an increase of about 5 for Crist. An internal Rick Scott poll late last year of likely voters showed Crist up 49-45 over Scott (Note: PPP uses robo-polling technology, Quinnipiac, Hamilton and Fabrizio, McLaughlin don't.)

Here's the Q poll and crosstabs:  Download JanQPoll

January 29, 2014

Scott and Crist use budget rollout to snipe at each others' records

Florida’s race for governor hit full throttle Wednesday as Gov. Rick Scott seeded his budget announcement with attacks on his opponent and predecessor Charlie Crist, while the former governor used the event to bash Scott’s policies and ethics.

Speaking to reporters and editors at the annual legislative planning meeting sponsored by the Associated Press, Crist lashed into Scott’s past at a fraud-riddled hospital chain, blasted his previous budgets for cutting education spending and accused him of reversing course because an election is approaching.

“He’s trying to make up for it in an election year transformation, but the people of Florida are smart,” Crist said. “I don’t believe Florida is going to get fooled a second time.”

It was an unusual ending to what is a traditionally tame budget rollout as the two men compete in what is expected to be one of the most bitterly fought races for governor in decades.

Scott was the first to start swinging. The Republican governor announced his $74.2 billion budget plan early Wednesday, then declared that his fiscal record “represents a sharp contrast to the four budgets before we took office.” Story here. 

Bondi fundraising draws fire from Democratic challengers


Do we have a real race for Attorney General?

It’s early, but according to a Jan. 16-24 Public Policy Voting survey of 591 voters, Attorney General Pam Bondi is running 37 percent to 34 percent against George Sheldon, and 37 percent to 35 percent against Perry Thurston.

Despite those numbers, Bondi has one insurmountable edge: a huge and largely untapped campaign warchest of about $2 million. Sheldon, a former secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families, and Thurston, who is House Minority Leader, D-Fort Lauderdale, have raised a mere fraction of that, some of which will be diverted in the contest for the Democratic nomination between the two of them.

But during Wednesday’s annual AP Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee before editors and reporters, Sheldon and Thurston attacked Bondi's strength by strongly criticizing her campaign fundraising.

In answering a question about what he would do different than Bondi, Sheldon said he would focus his attention on white collar crime.

“I’m very concerned, for instance, about the open investigation on a cyber university involving Donald Trump and that investigation kind of evaporated after a $25,000 contribution was made,” Sheldon said. “We have to be very careful not to adopt a pay-for-play mindset. If you open an investigation, I think an attorney general should not accept any contributions from that company even if you close it with no findings because it taints the appearance of the action the attorney general takes.”


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Putnam wraps up trip to Panama

While Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and lawmakers addressed reporters during the annual AP Legislative Planning Session on Wednesday, state Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was wrapping up a four-day trip to Panama.

His traveling companions: PortMiami Director Bill Johnson; Plant City strawberry grower Gary Wishnatzki; Robert Behr and Joel Sellers, of Florida’s Natural Growers; and Richard Gaskalla of the state agriculture department.

The purpose of the trip was twofold, Putnam explained before leaving on Sunday.

For one, Putnam wants to help Florida growers expand their footprint in the Panamanian retail market.

"We think that because of our proximity [to Latin America] and our quality product, we can be on the leading edge of opening up these Latin American markets," he said.

The delegation also intended to explore ways Florida could capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Said Putnam: "Florida is betting big on being the first stop for these giants ships after the Panama Canal has doubled in size."

The group was scheduled to meet with Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano and Minister of Agriculture Oscar Osorio, among others. 

The trip was Putnam's first trip abroad as agriculture commissioner.

Andy Tuck *officially* appointed to state education board

Gov. Rick Scott has made his next pick for the state Board of Education: citrus grower and former Highlands County School Board Chairman Andy Tuck.

The formal announcement came Wednesday, one week after state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand jumped the gun and broke the news during a public meeting. 

"It's only appropriate that on the Florida Board of Education we have a citrus grower," Chartrand said.

Tuck served as a member of the Florida School Boards Association from 2012 to 2013.

He replaces former state Board of Education member Sally Bradshaw, who resigned in October. 

His term begins Wednesday and runs through Dec. 31, 2017.

Scott must still appoint one member to the state education board.

Former member Barbara Feingold asked not to be reappointed when her term ended last month. Personal reasons drove the decision, she said.

Weatherford, Gaetz propose lower cap on tuition hikes; Scott outlines higher ed budget


Calling it an effort to reduce the burden on the state's prepaid tuition program, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have proposed limits on future tuition increases.

They would accomplish this by capping the tuition differential that state universities are allowed to request from the Florida Board of Governors. Under current law, the universities can requested additional tuition increases beyond whatever is approved by the Legislature as long as the total net increase does not exceed 15 percent.

During the economic downturn, many universities requested and were approved for tuition differential up to the 15-percent cap.

With Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to tuition increases well known, that has become less of an issue in recent years. Last year, tuition was held flat and no universities asked for any differential. A few also went so far as to reject a 1.7 percent tuition increase tied to inflation per state law, but most did not.

This morning, Scott also outlined his higher education budget proposal for 2014-2015. It reflect far less money than what the Board of Governors requested, and state universities are likely to continue lobbying the Legislature for more money.

Continue reading "Weatherford, Gaetz propose lower cap on tuition hikes; Scott outlines higher ed budget" »