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13 posts from February 11, 2014

February 11, 2014

Gainesville mayor blasts Crist, Nelson in early-vote dispute

Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy Jr. pushed back hard Tuesday at Democrats who have seized on a legal opinion by Gov. Rick Scott's administration that the University of Florida student union does not fit the legal definition of an early voting site.

"It is disheartening to see Sen. Bill Nelson and the evermore candidate Charlie Crist attempt to turn the serious issue of voting rights into cheap campaign fodder," Braddy said in a release issued by the city. "The fact is Gainesville extended the number of locations for early voting this year and we are continuing to look for additional sites in a manner consistent with the law. We will continue to build on our strong relationship with the University of Florida to encourage student participation in local government.

"For Sen. Nelson to liken Gainesville to a third world outpost is beneath the dignity of a United States senator and more in line with a partisan operative.  The fact is, when Charlie Crist was governor, Florida cities had more restrictive conditions on early voting. The law was broadened in 2013 after Crist left office. It has gotten easier, not harder.

"Although the law is not perfect, it is an improvement upon the past. Every registered voter in Gainesville will have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming elections. I am proud of our city and her efforts to ensure that every voter has a chance to participate our elections."

For the record, Braddy, 42, is a registered Republican.

UF students had asked the city if the Reitz Union could serve as an early voting site for the March 11 city elections. The city sought legal guidance from the state Division of Elections, which said the student union is not a "government-owned community center," one category of early voting sites approved by the 2013 Legislature.

Here's what UF spokeswoman Janine Sykes said about the early voting controversy: "We're not opposed to the concept of hosting early voting on campus, but we are precluded by state law from doing so."

Dems House Majority PAC bashes Republicans? Nah. Obamacare, White House


With friends like the Democratic House Majority PAC, does Obamacare need enemies?

The PAC is up with an ad defending Miami Rep. Joe Garcia, but it's not attacking rivals like Republican Carlos Curbelo. Instead, it's insulating him against claims he's an Obamacare apologist is an object lesson in how Democrats look like they're running scared from the Affordable Care Act.

"Joe Garcia is working to fix Obamacare. He voted to let you keep your existing health plan and took the White House to task for the disastrous healthcare website," the upbeat narrator says.

Just look at that paragraph: First, the ad points out that the act needs to be fixed (yes, common sense). Then it references the keep-your-plan Lie of the Year. And thirdly, it basically says the White House needed to be fought over the disaster.

The ad does go on to tout how Garcia voted to hold insurance companies accountable and make sure that people with pre-existing conditions aren't discriminated against. But would it have been too much trouble for the Democratic apologists to point out that the pre-existing clause was a benefit of Obamacare?

If the act's defenders wonder why the public has a low opinion of the law, they might want to call House Majority PAC.

New soccer stadium subsidy remains on sidelines for Miami-Dade lawmakers


To little fanfare, the Miami-Dade County legislative delegation chose its priorities last week for this year's lawmaking session. Among them: stepping up penalties for hit-and-run drivers; funding programs for people with autism and developmental disabilities; and bringing state dollars back for water projects.

Nowhere on the list is there a mention of Major League Soccer.

Retired footballer David Beckham's investors, who are seeking a state subsidy to build a new stadium and bring an expansion franchise to Miami, didn't go after local lawmakers' group support. And none of the lawmakers brought up the issue on their own.

Last year, the Miami-Dade delegation also steered clear of taking a group position on the Miami Dolphins' unsuccessful push for a subsidy to renovate Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. That decision drew more attention because one the delegation's chairman, Hialeah Republican Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, was sponsoring the legislation himself.

Gonzalez said at the time that he did not consider the Dolphins' bill a strictly local issue, though the football team would have been the only one to benefit last year. Yet the delegation's silence highlighted divisions among the lawmakers and hurt the bill's chances. Legislation that benefits a single local entity faces longer odds in Tallahassee when local lawmakers are not united behind it.

This time, it's Beckham's investors who are pitching the new-stadium subsidy as a statewide issue, not a local one. The legislation would allow a new franchise to apply for the sales-tax subsidy, but Beckham's group, Miami Beckham United, would not be the only one to benefit: MLS has already awarded a new team to Orlando that will begin playing next year.

That doesn't mean Miami-Dade lawmakers aren't involved in the bills. On Tuesday, Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen filed House Bill 887, a version of the stadium-subsidy legislation filed earlier in the Senate by an Orlando-area lawmaker.

This post has been updated to reflect Fresen's bill. Before Tuesday, no Miami-Dade lawmaker had sponsored an MLS-related bill this year.

Why Marco Rubio won't say if he smoked pot: the Dade County boy probably did


At least Bill Clinton said he didn't inhale.

But Marco Rubio? Well, he wouldn't say yesteday if he had smoked pot or not.

My guess: He had. Even Jeb Bush, Rubio's one-time mentor, admitted he had smoked pot as a youth.

The first tell: Rubio sounded like he was pleading the Fifth Amendment when he was asked about the issue at a National Journal forum in Miami. His evasions aside, it's noteworthy that the 42 year-old grew up in pot-friendly Miami-Dade County. Drugs are so prevalent here that, when Rubio was a teen, his brother-in-law got busted in a cocaine-dealing case. This is not to confuse cocaine with marijuana -- the former is far worse -- or to say Rubio ever pulled a Trey Radel (my guess is that he hadn't). 

Also, when Rubio was 21, Dr. Dre dropped "The Chronic," one of the most-influential rap albums of all time that marks a major milestone in the long road of mainstreaming marijuana. Yet this longtime fan of rap never toked? C'mon. And Rubio's autobiography, American Son, mentions how he once went to a South Beach foam-party rave at one point. So maybe we should add ecstacy (now called "Molly" by the young-ins) to our list of drugs to ask about. 

Judging by Rubio's rambling answer to the question about decriminalizing marijuana or legalizing it for medical reasons, it doesn't appear he was prepared for it:

You know why I never answer that question? I’ll tell you why I never answer that question. If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me. And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, “Well, I can smoke marijuana, ‘cause look how he made it. He did all right, so I guess I can do it, too.” And the bottom line is that it is a substance that alters your mind. Now, when I was 17 and 18 and 16, I made dumb decisions as is. I didn’t need the help of marijuana or alcohol to further that. … And I know I’m sounding like a 42-year-old dad, but … Here’s the problem: You can make mistakes at 17 that will be with you the rest of your life, OK? When you go interview for that job, and that thing pops up in your background check, that you got arrested for something dumb, they don’t look at you and say, “Ah, you were just 17.” There are people that won’t get hired because of that stuff. … And that’s the problem with that question. So the answer to your question is, at this point, it’s irrelevant.

Actually, it's not irrelevant. Florida voters will decide in November whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes (that was the point of departure for the question about Rubio's past drug use). As a statewide elected official who often opines about politics, Rubio's personal experience matters.

Indeed, Rubio believes his own story is so important that he wrote an entire book about it.

And last week, after CVS announced it wouldn't sell tobacco, Rubio weighed in on Twitter with this relevant thought: "Many of the same people applauding #CVS for not selling tobacco are ok with making it easier to buy and smoke pot. #makesnosense."

Here's what does make sense: A Republican conservative talking in circles to avoid telling the truth about getting high.

Waldman's Justin Timberlake event is not 'N Sync

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, had an idea to raise money for his 2016 Senate campaign: Hold a fund-raiser as a tie-in with an upcoming concert appearance by Justin Timberlake at BB&T Center in Sunrise. There's just one problem: Timberlake is performing there on March 4, the opening day of the 2014 legislative session.

Legislators are forbidden from soliciting or raising campaign money during regular sessions. But lobbyists all over Tallahassee got solicitations from Waldman's campaign, seeking $1,000 checks to an event that lists Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter as a host.

Waldman says it was a mistake. "It went out in error. I hadn't given clearance," the lawmaker said. "I hadn't approved the invite."

Waldman said he received a verbal opinion from Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, an expert in campaign finance laws, that it would be legal to hold the event on March 4 as long as all contributions were received before that date and no fund-raising took place at the event. (Waldman himself couldn't attend because he has to be in Tallahassee).

Herron confirmed that version of events, and said he was not aware of another candidate who has arranged a fund-raiser in the same manner.

Waldman joked that Timberlake, former lead singer of the boy hand 'N Sync, wouldn't re-schedule his concert tour to accommodate fund-raising rules of the Florida Legislature. Waldman is a candidate for the Northwest Broward Senate seat that will be vacated by the term-limited Democrat Jeremy Ring in 2016.

As questions swirled about the suspect timing of the event, campaign strategist Jeff Ryan sent an email to lobbyists. "Please disregard the flyer e-mailed today for the concert fundraiser," the Monday email read. "The scheduling of this event is not set."

Flip-O-Meter examines Charlie Crist past stances on Cuba, etc.


PolitiFact Florida has been putting former Gov. Charlie Crist's changing stances on hot topics on our Flip-O-Meter. We're not making a value judgment on that flip -- we're merely tracking whether he did indeed flip and to what extent. 

From PolitiFact's principles: "Indeed, voters often like politicians who are flexible and have the ability to compromise or adapt their positions to the wishes of constituents. Still, accusations of shifting positions are so common in politics that it is valuable to have us provide an analysis of a shift and rate the amount of change."

We gave Crist a Half Flip for his stance on abortion and a Full Flop for his stance on the Cuba embargo. Last year we gave Crist a Full Flop for his stance on gay marriage.


Pension reform is back, and so is the opposition

As promised, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, filed legislation this week that will overhaul Florida’s $132 billion pension system.

And already, the obstacles ahead are mounting.

Filed as a bill by the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee, which he chairs, SPB  7046 prohibits most state workers from enrolling in the state’s pension plan after July 1, 2015, forcing them instead to enroll in 401 (k)-style investment, which doesn't have a guaranteed return, or cash balance plans, which have lower guaranteed returns.

Yet the same bill allows “special risk” employees -- firefighters, police, deputies -- to continue to have the option of enrolling in the state’s pension plan, of which more than 600,000 current state, county and local employees contribute to for their retirements.

That “carving out” of special risk employees is a sop to the Senate, which last year defeated Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s effort to close out the pension to all future employees by a 22-18 vote. The theory goes that without the opposition from police and fire unions, at least two senators who voted against it last time, Greg Evers and Charlie Dean, might be swayed this time.

Weatherford told the Times/Herald last week that this carving out provision is intended to make it more palatable for senators.

But it’s not clear if that will be enough, at least for all of the pension reform legislation Simpson filed Monday. One of his bills, SPB 7040, which creates a trust fund to finance the cash balance plan, needs 24 of 40 votes to pass. Without it, can Simpson actually accomplish the pension reform simply by getting his SPB 7046 approved?

Yes, according to Simpson’s office. Simpson’s chief legislative assistant, Rachel Perrin, said that if the new trust fund isn’t approved, payments to those enrolled in the cash balance plan will be simply paid from the existing pension fund.

Continue reading "Pension reform is back, and so is the opposition" »

Obama, Pelosi to fundraise for DCCC at Alonzo Mourning's Miami manse


ImageMarch in Miami. Perfect weather. And an ideal time for President Obama to fundraise for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the Miami home of former Heat basketball star Alonzo Mourning.

The event, set for March 20, will feature Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, DCCC chair Steve Israel and Boca Raton Rep. Ted Deutch.

While the House might be tough for Democrats to win back, the DCCC's fundraising receipts aren't showing a struggle, according to Roll Call, which noted yesterday:

The DCCC’s receipts total last year was larger than in the previous midterm (2011: $61.4 million), the midterm before that (2009: $55.6 million), the midterm before that (2007: almost $67.9 million) and even the midterm before that (2005: almost $43 million). In both 2007 and 2009, of course, Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives. (All data before 2013 in this column came from Federal Election Commission reports collected by the John Grotta Co., a Republican direct-marketing firm.)

The rival National Republican Congressional Committee’s numbers were not bad either, though they did not equal the DCCC’s haul.

The NRCC raised $60.5 million during 2013, ending December with $21 million in the bank. The NRCC’s receipts for 2013 were also better than its end-of-year numbers in 2011, 2009 and 2007, and its final cash-on-hand figure for 2013 was better as well. But NRCC receipts in 2005 ($65 million) — when the party held the White House and both chambers of Congress — were greater than last year’s receipts.



Atty. Gen. Holder calls for end to felons voting ban

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday called for Florida and other states to repeal laws that revoke voting rights of felons after they are released from prison.

The New York Times reports that Holder, in a speech to a civil rights conference at Georgetown University, claimed that 10 percent of African-American voters in Florida have been permanently stripped of their voting rights in Florida.

"The impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable," Holder said, according to the Times account. Holder was appointed U.S. attorney general by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Florida is one of four states where convicted felons are permanently stripped of their civil rights and must petition the state to have them restored.

Gov. Rick Scott and the three-member Cabinet enacted a policy in 2011 that requires felons to wait for five years in most cases after leaving prison before they can petition the state for restoration of their civil rights -- including the right to vote. The Florida Parole Commission has a backlog of thousands of cases, and it can take a petitioner 10 years or more for a case to work through the bureaucracy. 

Scott's predecessor, Charlie Crist, and the previous Cabinet had streamlined the restoration process and made it easier for felons to regain their rights.

Lopez-Cantera chides crowd of bored biz leaders

Florida business leaders weren't very interested in hearing from Gov. Rick Scott's new lieutenant governor Tuesday, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera decided to let them have it.

Lopez-Cantera was apparently expecting more enthusiasm from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a group that strongly supports Scott's re-election. But some were more interested in answering their emails.

In his eighth day on the job, the new L.G. gave a morning speech Tuesday at Florida State's Turnbull Conference Center at the Chamber's 2014 Capitol Days, a pro-business pep rally at which business leaders convene at the capital for seminars, speeches and social events.

Lopez-Cantera was ticking off  the great things he says Scott supports -- cutting fees, spending more on schools, attracting jobs -- when he discovered he was losing his audience.

"And I, you know, I look around this room and I see the eyes starting to, maybe you guys are thinking about a meeting that you have," he told the group. "I don't see you guys excited about these things. I mean, this is stuff that really affects your bottom line, in your businesses every day, and that's why the governor is so passionate about it, and that's why I'm excited to be part of the team. But if you guys have better ideas ... "