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8 posts from February 13, 2014

February 13, 2014

UPDATED South Florida members of Congress weigh in on deadly protests in Venezuela


Amid fears that the Venezuelan government is cracking down on political opponents in the wake of deadly student-led protests, Miami members of Congress criticized President Nicolás Maduro and called for peace to prevail over violence.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Republicans, each issued statements Thursday siding with the protesters. Rubio also directly called out President Obama's administration, urging him to condemn any violence from groups affiliated to the Venezuelan government.

On Twitter, Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, responded Wednesday to a tweet by El Nuevo Herald by saying, in Spanish, "El pueblo venezolano se merece paz, estabilidad, y democracia!" (The Venezuelan people deserve peace, stability and democracy.)

UPDATE: On Friday, Garcia released a full statement of his own, which has been added to the bottom of this post.

The statements are below:

Continue reading "UPDATED South Florida members of Congress weigh in on deadly protests in Venezuela" »

Rick Scott goes for 14: signs another death warrant, this time for 1987 Broward co-worker killer


Less than a day after the 13th convicted killer was executed on his watch, Gov. Rick Scott signed another death warrant, this time for a Broward County man who bludgeoned and burned to death two coworkers in 1987.

If executed, Robert Lavern Henry will be the 84th person put to death by the state since it reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Since that time, Scott has already overseen more executions in his first term than any other governor, which we noted yesterday.

 A copy of the press release:

The attached letter was transmitted today to Warden John Palmer of Florida State Prison. It pertains to Robert L. Henry.

On November 2, 1987, Henry murdered Phyllis Harris and Janet Thermidor in Broward County by attacking them with a hammer and burning them to death.  Henry, who worked at a fabric store with the victims, approached Ms. Harris and falsely claimed that the store was being robbed.  Henry bound and blindfolded Ms. Harris and brought her to the men’s restroom, purportedly on the robbers’ instructions. Henry then went to the store office, struck Ms. Thermidor repeatedly with a hammer, and robbed the store of money.  Henry shortly returned to the office, doused Ms. Thermidor with a flammable liquid, and set her on fire.  Henry then went back to the men’s room, where he struck the bound and blindfolded Ms. Harris repeatedly with a hammer, doused her with the flammable liquid, and set her on fire as well.  Ms. Harris died at the scene, and Ms. Thermidor died the following morning, with over 95 percent of her body burned.

 The execution date has been set for Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 6 p.m.  Attached is the transmittal letter as well as the death warrant.

Carvalho named 2014 National Superintendent of the Year


Continuing on a string of accolades, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has been named the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year.

The award was handed out in Nashville Thursday afternoon by the Association of School Superintendents. Carvalho, who was joined in Tennessee by board members, tweeted out that he is "humbled and honored."

"Today's recognition reflects the dedication, sacrifice and work of every member of our education family, as well as the guidance and direction of our School Board," he posted on Facebook. "I share this award with every teacher, student, employee and community partner of" Miami-Dade schools.

Carvalho beat out 50 state superintendents of the year, and three other finalists. The win follows the district's receipt of the Broad Prize a little more than one year ago, and a recent award from the College Board for major progress on Advanced Placement exams.

There is one caveat, however, that might slow the celebration a little: The only other Florida superintendent to win the national award was Rudy Crew in 2008. Then Miami-Dade's schools chief, Crew was ousted by the school board before the end of the year, and replaced by Carvalho.

‘Pop-Tart’ gun bill would not punish children with simulated weapons at school

The Florida affiliate of the National Rifle Association has a new priority: the right to bear Pop-Tarts.

The group is supporting a proposal that would prevent children from being disciplined for playing with simulated weapons in school.

That includes “brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food,” according to the bill.

The language refers to a Maryland boy who was suspended for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. He was later given lifetime membership to the National Rifle Association.

The Florida bill would protect schoolchildren who play with imaginary guns, miniature toy guns and toy guns made of snap-together building blocks. Children would also be free to draw pictures of guns, or hold their pencils as if they were firearms.

They could still get in trouble, however, if their play disrupts class or hurts a fellow student or teacher.

“Obviously, we don’t want firearms brought to school in a backpack,” said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who introduced the proposal. “But we got into a lot of simulated behaviors and overreacted.”

The proposal won unanimous support on the House K-12 Subcommittee last week, and was immediately christened the “Pop-Tart Bill.”

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said the better name was the “Right-to-be-a-Kid Bill.”

“This is about children and not traumatizing children for doing things that kids do,” she said.

Senate ethics push targets Miami-Dade Xway official

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wants a Miami-Dade road official thrown out of office for repeatedly ignoring the financial disclosure law. But it will take an act of the Legislature to allow it.

In two recent speeches, Gaetz has called for the removal from office of people who willfully ignore the ethics laws, and both times he has referred to a specific scofflaw without identifying him.

The Herald/Times found him: He's Robert W. Holland, a Miami lawyer who has served on the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority since 2005.

"We actually have at least one public official in the state of Florida who's decided he's not going to file financial disclosure, he's not going to pay the fine, and he's going to thumb his nose at the law," Gaetz told business leaders Tuesday at the Florida Chamber's Capitol Days. "As far as I'm concerned, if you don't reveal your assets and liabilities as required by the law and if you don't pay your fines, I want you kicked out of office."

The ethics commission has pursued Holland for six years for repeatedly refusing to file an annual Form 6 financial disclosure form. Commission records show he has been assessed fines totaling $7,500, or $1,500 in each of the past five years.

The commission's most recent letter, on Dec. 4, 2013, warned Holland on notice that its next step is to ask a judge for permission to garnish his wages. "As a public officer in Florida, it is imperative that you meet the requirements of your office," the commission told Holland.

A preliminary version of a new Senate ethics bill (SB 846) would allow for the removal from office of public officials who refuse to comply with ethics laws.

A biography of Holland on the expressway authority's website says he specializes in government relations, land use, real estate, contracts and family law and has been a staff member for Miami-Dade Commissioner Betty Ferguson and U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek.

Holland, a county applointee to the 13-member board, did not respond to phone and email requests for comment; expressway authority spokesman Mario Diaz couldn't track him down either.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, have filed bills for the upcoming session that would reduce the authority to nine members and limit its power to increase tolls and issue bonds.

The bills (SB 772 and HB 353) also would prohibit an expressway authority member from also serving on the Florida Transportation Commission. Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre serves on both boards and was appointed to the FTC by Gov. Rick Scott.

Miami-Dade Superintendent in running for nation's top award


Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho could be named National Superintendent of the Year Thursday.

Carvalho caught a flight Wednesday evening to Nashville, where the School Superintendents Association is hosting the National Conference on Education and will announce the award reserved for the nation's top public schools chief.

Carvalho, who was recently named Florida Superintendent of the Year, said Wednesday during a monthly school board meeting that he was confident but also appreciative to simply be named a finalist out of some 15,000 schools chiefs.

His competition: Terry Grier of the Houston Independent School District; Kevin Maxwell of Prince George's County Public Schools in in Maryland; and Michele Taylor of Calhoun City Schools in Georgia.

"I guess I'm feeling good as the other three [finalists]. But look, I'm a realist. The work in Miami-Dade speaks for itself," he said. "Whatever happens tomorrow is the result of great teamwork, great board leadership, a supportive community and the best darn teachers in the country."

He said the nomination is a reflection of five years of accomplishments since he took over the nation's fourth largest district in 2008.

In that time, graduation rates have risen markedly and surpassed the state average, test scores have improved and the district has received recognition for boosting the performance of low-income and minority students. The latter played a large role in Miami-Dade's win of the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education, given to the country's highest performing urban school system.

The win preceded a successful campaign in November 2012 for a $1.2 billion bond referendum to renovate and rebuild aging schools and boost technology. Construction is expected to begin in the next few weeks.

Carvalho also serves as principal for two schools in downtown Miami.

So is he predicting victory?

"I never do that," he said. "But I'm confident of the work we've done."

Charlie Crist's Jeb Bush love-fest irks Bush World -- and Democrat Nan Rich


In listening to Democrat Charlie Crist's media blitz over the past week or so, it seems the former governor can't help but positively reference his predecessor, Republican Jeb Bush.

That's not just irking Bushies, who say Crist has "zero credibility." It bothers Democrats who support Crist's chief rival in the gubernatorial primary, former state Sen. Nan Rich.

So Rich is fundraising off of it in a pitch made by the last Democrat to hold the governorship, Buddy MacKay:

Did you hear or read what Charlie Crist recently said about Jeb Bush?  It’s hard to believe – but, sadly, it’s true.

When a radio host asked Charlie Crist if Jeb Bush would be a good president Crist said “Yeah, I think he probably would. He made a great governor…” (Click here to read the story.)

I can’t understand how Crist, or any real Democrat, could think that Bush’s policies -- policies that hurt our public schools, the environment, and especially the middle class – made him a “great” governor.

Frankly, it was frustrating for me to watch Jeb Bush undo so much of the good that Lawton Chiles and I worked to achieve as the last Democratic Governors of Florida.

I want a real Democrat in Tallahassee because I believe that staying true to Democratic principles is the right path for Florida. That is why I'm standing with Nan Rich, and I hope you will too.


The return of Jennifer Carroll (in CD-18 cameo)


Picture 2Jennifer Carroll, the one-time lieutenant governor forced from office amid a gambling scandal in which she was never really implicated, is hitting the campaign trail again -- but not for herself.

Carroll is scheduled to be a featured speaker on Monday, Feb. 17 at a Stuart campaign kickoff for congressional candidate Carl Domino, her former Republican colleague in the state House.

Telegenic but prone to say some controversial things (e.g., "black women that look like me don’t engage" in lesbian sex), Carroll has maintained a respectful silence about Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff and top lawyer for essentially forcing her to resign as lieutenant governor after she was questioned about the Allied Veterans of the World gambling ring that masqueraded as a charity.

Bottom line: Scott's team was happy to jettison her as soon as possible.

What'll she say in Stuart?

Carroll's appearance as a draw in the CD-18 race is noteworthy as well because of her race. Florida Republicans are disproportionately white, yet she was the first African-American lieutenant governor and Domino is running in a crowded GOP primary against a black candidate, Calvin Turnquest. They're challenging first-term Democrat Patrick Murphy, who narrowly defeated controversial U.S. Rep. Allen West, also Africant-American, by a mere 0.6 percentage points. President Obama lost the district by 1.1 percentage points.

In the 2012 congressional race, West's race likely wasn't his downfall. It was the fact that he just kept saying inflammatory stuff, his campaign at the end was almost all negative and 2012 was an Obama-Democratic wave year.

This election, like other midterms, will likely lean more Republican. Carroll's cameo aside, Murphy is in a dicey position -- especially if he faces a black candidate like Turnquest, who isn't as prone to off-the-cuff remarks as West and can probably draw some crossover votes in a district where almost 10 percent of the registered voters are African-American.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/07/26/2914867/lt-gov-jennifer-carroll-apologizes.html#storylink=cpy