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14 posts from February 10, 2014

February 10, 2014

Scott laps Crist four times in January fundraising


Gov. Rick Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” committee raised $3.4 million in January, but, for the first time, he got an additional boost from his own campaign account, according to finance reports due Monday.

Scott reported raising $734,036 in January, giving his candidacy a combined $4.1 million for the month. It’s the first month his personal campaign account raised money and it’s four times what his rival, Charlie Crist, managed to raise.

Crist raised $636,800 through his "Charlie Crist for Florida" committee. Combined with the $374,767 his own campaign raised, Crist brought in $1,011,567.

Lagging behind Scott is hardly good news for Crist, considering that Scott has already raised $32,262,936 through January, while Crist, who announced his run in November, has raised a total of $5,048,031.

But at least Crist is slow to spend what he’s got, blowing through only $380,237 of his total through January. But Scott has been miserly as well, spending about $519,569.

Attorney General Pam Bondi continued to outpace her three rivals, raising $10,000 in her "And Justice for All" committee and another $178,000 from her "Justice for All committee". Of course, you already read that in this blog post.

Continue reading "Scott laps Crist four times in January fundraising" »

Miami-Dade County mayor reshuffles top aides


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez named a new chief of staff late Monday as part of a reshuffling in his office.

Lisa Martinez, who has been the mayor's senior advisor, will take over as chief of staff, Gimenez wrote in a memo to department directors. The position will no longer be a hybrid job as it had been under Deputy Mayor Chip Iglesias, who will continue overseeing his portfolio of county departments.

Iglesias will also be Gimenez's point man on the negotiations with David Beckham's investors over a potential soccer stadium.

Martinez, a one-time elementary schoolteacher who later worked for the school district's intergovernmental affairs and human resources offices, has taken on special projects for Gimenez over the past two years. Most recently, she has been responsible for a task force examining the future of the public library system.

As chief of staff, she will have to navigate the complicated politics of County Hall, including reaching out to county commissioners who have asserted their power and recently rebuffed Gimenez's request to continue requiring a pay concession from public employees.

Continue reading "Miami-Dade County mayor reshuffles top aides" »

Fundraiser for Carlos Curbelo's congressional campaign draws from GOP establishment


A host of Miami-Dade County Republicans are sponsoring a fundraising reception this month for Carlos Curbelo, who is one of several in the GOP looking to challenge Congressman Joe Garcia this fall.

An invitation for the Feb. 23 event lists no less than 13 current and former elected officials backing the event, including Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and his brother, Lincoln, and all three Miami Republicans in the Florida Senate. Also listed are six Miami state representatives.

The fundraiser will feature as a special guest Bill Bennett, a former U.S. education secretary in the Reagan administration. The suggested per-person contribution to Curbelo's campaign: $2,600.

Curbelo, a longtime aide to Lincoln Diaz-Balart, has been courting the party establishment that he is in many ways a part of, having worked on numerous campaigns. Now a School Board member, he still appears on radio and television as a GOP pundit of sorts -- free airtime that doesn't hurt when one is running for Congress.

Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez, Miami lawyer Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck and Jose Felix Peixoto of Key Largo have also filed to run the GOP primary.

Legislators propose medical marijuana legislation as a "framework" for constitutional amendment

For the fourth year, Democratic legislators and advocates for medical marijuana are pushing for a measure to legalize the drug. What makes all of them more hopeful about success this session is the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative amendment, which will be on the ballot Nov. 4.

“We’ve seen a seismic shift in how the legislature is beginning to look at these issues,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, at a press conference Monday to announce his 157-page bill, the "Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act" (SB 962), with House sponsor Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando.

Clemens pointed to efforts by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, to decriminalize the strain of non-psychoactive marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” to help children with seizures, as a sign of bipartisan progress.

The medical marijuana measure proposed by Clemens and Saunders would be broader than the Charlotte’s Web effort, instead focusing on 24 specific “qualifying medical conditions,” including Alzheimer's Disease, cancer and chronic debilitating pain, plus treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Clemens called it a “tightly regulated framework of oversight” providing guidelines for both the licensing and permitting of dispensaries and medical cannabis farms, requiring registration identification cards, protections for doctors and protections to fight abuse, among other provisions.

"A blanket ban on access to medical marijuana is hurting Floridians," said Saunders. "We believe this bill represents the best course for implementing the constitutional amendment on this November's ballot but also gets help to those patients who simply can't wait."

Saunders and Clemens were flanked by families and patients who use medical marijuana to get relief from pain and disease, including Robert Jordan, whose wife Cathy has been helped by medical marijuana for decades while living with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Saunders was flanked by patients and family members, including Robert Jordan, a Vietnam vet whose wife Cathy has been helped by medical marijuana for decades while living with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. The bill is named for Cathy, who has been fighting to legalize marijuana from her wheelchair and was by her husband's side at Monday’s press conference.

This bill, said Robert Jordan, "puts patients before politics.” 

Continue reading "Legislators propose medical marijuana legislation as a "framework" for constitutional amendment" »

UPDATED Miami-Dade commission challenger raises $140k in first month of campaign


A challenger to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell posted robust fundraising totals Monday in her first month of campaigning.

Daniella Levine Cava, who is running for Commission District 8, raised more than $144,000 between Jan. 3 and Jan. 31, according to a finance report filed with the Miami-Dade elections department. About $4,000 was money Levine Cava loaned to herself.

Political donors often look to a candidate's first fundraising report to determine how serious the contender is taking the election, and whether his or her race appears viable.

"I'm feeling very positive, very optimistic. I'm really enjoying the opportunity to meet with people and learn about the issues in the district," said Levine Cava, a first-time candidate. "Mostly what we've done is introduce myself to the voters."

Continue reading "UPDATED Miami-Dade commission challenger raises $140k in first month of campaign" »

Suspicious package at Florida Capitol garage was a baby bag


We saw a tweet around lunchtime about the parking garage at the state Capitol building being on lockdown because of a suspicious package. It turned out to be nothing dangerous; the owner of what is best described as a baby bag eventually showed up to claim the property.

However, Capitol Police shut down the garage for about an hour while it investigated, keeping people from entering or leaving.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent a message at 1:10 p.m. to people who work in the Capitol complex and signed up for email alerts: "Capitol Police has found a Blue Graco Cargo Bag in Lot 31 parking garage, if this belongs to you please call us asap at 488-1790," it read.

At 1:53 p.m. there was a second message that said the package had been claimed and garage operations were back to normal. Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the unattended bag was first spotted near a vehicle by a worker who reported it to the Capitol Police.

"While I can’t provide investigative techniques, the bag was examined by Capitol Police," Plessinger told us via email. "A message was sent to Capitol employees who have signed up for e-mail alerts asking for more information.  The owner came forward and claimed the bag. The all clear was given around 1:45 and the garage was reopened."

Senate considers lobbying rules for tax districts

The Florida Senate will consider new laws to require lobbyists to disclose how they seek to influence nearly 1,000 single-purpose districts, some of which have the power to levy property taxes.

The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee will advance a bill next week that would allow the Commission on Ethics to initiate investigations in cases of non-compliance with the financial disclosure law and to require local elected officials to take an annual ethics training course. In a meeting Monday, the panel also discussed requiring lobbyists who influence independent special districts to register, as they do in Tallahassee.

Another suggestion is to require those lobbyists to disclose their fees every quarter.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the focus on special districts was prompted by news coverage in The Miami Herald. Latvala said his bill (SB 846) would focus on the state's five water management districts along with hospital districts, children's services districts and others with taxing authority.

The Herald report said Florida has 136 such districts whose members have the power to levy taxes, even though many are political appointees, not elected by voters. Also on the table: a proposed two-year post-employment lobbying ban on appointees to the boards of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Enterprise Florida, Space Florida and the Florida Development Finance Corp.

Gov. Scott and CLC bash Crist over Cuba embargo


Officially the event today at a car dealership in Lighthouse Point was for Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to yet again talk up Scott’s proposal to cut $500 million tax cut -- largely by reducing auto registration fees.

But during the presser after the event, the hot topic was about former Gov. Charlie Crist’s statement Friday night that he no longer supports the Cuba embargo.

The acoustics during the press conference -- outside a Sheehan dealership along noisy U.S. 1 -- were lousy, but here’s a partial transcript:

Scott: “America is built on freedom and democracy. Cuba is not free or Democratic. The embargo that’s in place is part of standing up for the Cuban individuals, Cuban families’ freedom. So we need to continue the embargo.”

Lopez-Cantera: “Charlie Crist’s comments just show his ignorance on the issue of what is going on in Cuba.  As a Cuban American I was insulted by it. He should get a little smarter on what’s actually happening....”

Q: "What evidence is there that the embargo works?"

Lopez-Cantera: “The evidence you have down there, the Damas de Blanco, the Ladies in White, constantly rounded up and arrested and harassed. You have Alan Gross who is still in prison. Things like that that are still happening there. Those are the things that need to be getting attention and not this political stuff...”

Q: "So what does the embargo achieve?"

Lopez-Cantera: “The embargo represents this country’s solidarity with the people who are suffering on the island.”

Asked again about Crist’s statement, Scott replied “What he said about the embargo is insulting to the Cuban population. ....”

Q: “Is there evidence though that the Cuban-American population in Florida still supports the embargo?”

Scott: “Absolutely.”

After his one-word answer, Scott was asked about signing a bill cracking down businesses that do businesses with Cuba and then writing a letter saying it wasn’t feasible to enforce it.

Scott: “I signed that bill because it stands with the Cuban population to fight the oppression of Cuba...”

(There was then some back and forth with a reporter that is not clearly audible on my recording but it got testy as a reporter said something about the reporter asking the questions.)

Scott: “I’m going give you the question but you can wait. I signed the bill because I stood with the Cuba population. Cuba has an oppressive government, there is no freedom down there. So the embargo is part of Americans standing with the Cuban population for freedom.”

Scott ended the press conference but as Lopez-Cantera was whisked to his car by a press aide, reporters tried to illicit some more answers. When asked if he supported in-state tuition for Dreamers, Lopez-Cantera replied: “The governor said he will consider it.”

Lopez-Cantera didn’t respond to follow-up questions asking for his opinion on it. A press aide then said “thank you so much” about seven times trying to cut off reporters as he got into the car.


Senate gaming proposal will likely include language about destination casinos

It isn't 100 percent clear what will be included in the Senate's proposed overhaul of gambling laws, due out Feb. 24.

But one controversial element is likely to make the cut: destination casinos.

On Monday, Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said he opposed a "carte blanche expansion of gaming throughout the entire state of Florida." 

But he would like to see one Vegas-style casino in Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County.

"[Miami] attracts people from around the world," Richter said. "Those folks show up with Euro dollars, with yen. Those could be new revenue dollars to the state."

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, raised objections to the idea.

"I think we should let the market compete and decide where they want to put them," Clemens said.

Committee Vice Chairwoman Maria Sachs wasn't sold on Richter's suggestion, either. 

"This is an open-ended conversation when it comes to the number and geographic destination, and the exclusivity," said Sachs, a Delray Beach Democrat. 

The Senate bill is also expected to address other elements, ranging from decoupling to the creation of a "gaming control" department. 

Richter said Monday that he does not want the committee to take a final vote on the proposal during the first week of the session. He would rather committee members spend time deliberating and debating the bill, he said.

Rubio: Crist embargo position "just the latest in a series of flip flops"


Three days after Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said he favors ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, Senator Marco Rubio said the change of heart is just Charlie being Charlie.

“It’s just the latest in a series of flip-flops that he’s undertaken on public policy,” Rubio said Monday after a speech on higher education at Miami Dade College.

Crist, who lost a senate race to Rubio in 2010 after shedding his Republican tag and running as an independent, announced Friday on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher that he’d changed his mind about the embargo. As Florida’s Republican governor from 2007-2011, Crist backed U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

He is now running as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott.

Crist said on Real Time that ending the embargo would be a boon to Florida’s economy. His statements came in a week in which Palm Beach sugar baron Alfonso Fanjul, whose family business was seized by Fidel Castro’s regime in 1959, told the Washington Post relations with Cuba should be eased.

Asked about Crist, Rubio said “my interests in Cuba are about the freedom and liberty of the Cuban people. I wish he’d make that a priority.”

As for Fanjul, Rubio was more measured: “I disagree with his assessment of what we need to do with Cuba policy.”