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22 posts from March 6, 2014

March 06, 2014

UPDATED Royal Caribbean calls missing Miami-Dade County lobbyist registration an 'oversight'


This post has been updated twice. See both after the jump.

John Fox, Royal Caribbean Cruises' vice president for government relations, spoke recently to the chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Commission raising concerns about a potential Major League Soccer stadium next to the cruise company's headquarters at PortMiami. (Read the story here.)

Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa recounted her meeting with Fox to the Miami Herald, saying Fox had met with her as a courtesy after Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean's CEO, met with Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Sosa is a leading skeptic of the port soccer stadium Gimenez is discussing with Beckham and his investors.

The problem: Fox isn't registered as a County Hall lobbyist.

Miami-Dade rules require company principals and employees to register if they are going to discuss items pending before the county with government officials.

On Wednesday, the Herald reached out to Fox to ask why he wasn't registered. On Thursday, Rob Zeiger, Royal Caribbean's vice president and chief communications officer, said Fox plans to register.

Fox doesn't usually lobby county officials, Zeiger said, calling the lack of registration an "oversight."

Continue reading "UPDATED Royal Caribbean calls missing Miami-Dade County lobbyist registration an 'oversight'" »

Rivals want to build on PortMiami site eyed by David Beckham for soccer stadium

@doug_hanks @PatriciaMazzei

As he tries to bring soccer to PortMiami, David Beckham might have to outmaneuver a line-up of rivals from Miami to Shanghai wanting to build on the waterfront site.

Royal Caribbean Cruises announced this week its opposition to a port soccer stadium, citing traffic concerns and its own confidential plans to develop the 12 acres that Beckham and his investors want to lease.

And just weeks ago, port director Bill Johnson completed a swing through Asia to pitch PortMiami’s in-house plan for the entire 36-acre site, showing business leaders in Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai renderings for a sprawling commercial complex with hotels, apartments, offices and expo space — but no stadium.

“What we were doing was to literally start to garner interest globally,” in the site, Johnson said. “We were upfront. We said there was a recent interest expressed by David Beckham about a soccer stadium, and that would be addressed in the next six months.”

The growing attention on PortMiami’s southwest corner illustrates the challenge ahead for Beckham as he tries to strike a deal with Miami-Dade County to build a Major League Soccer stadium at the world’s busiest cruising port. Royal Caribbean, whose corporate headquarters overlaps with Beckham’s proposed stadium site, has been privately lobbying to thwart the soccer plan and recently went public with its position.

More here.

Protestors crash Gov. Rick Scott's fundraiser in Coral Gables

Protesters appeared in front of the Coral Gables home of Ralph Garcia-Toledo, who was holding a private fundraiser for Governor Scott and Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Thursday night,  according to the Miami Economic Sustainability Alliance, which organized the demonstration.

Garcia-Toledo is a local businessman who is active in Miami-Dade politics and has been a strong supporter of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“Hardworking Miami-Dade residents looking for good jobs, access to affordable healthcare and reliable pubic services can’t afford the required $3,000 minimum contribution to get into the fundraiser to talk to their Governor,” said Fred Frost, the group's vice president in a statement. 

"We want to properly welcome the Governor to Miami-Dade County, a metropolitan region with one of the greatest wealth inequality gaps in the nation,” he added.

(Photos by Miami Herald's Gregory Castillo)



Teresa Alvarez, 82, stands with protesters in front of the house of Ralph Garcia-Toledo in Coral Gables.




Thrasher says he isn't campaigning for, seeking advice about FSU presidency


Sen. John Thrasher admits to caring deeply about Florida State University and trying hard to improve the school over his many years as a lawmaker and lobbyist. But the 70-year-old is not saying whether he wants to become FSU's next president, though many of his friends seem to think he will apply and is a shoo-in for the job.

In fact, Thrasher says he has not sought advice from anyone about the job or what it would mean for his Senate career. The St. Augustine Republican's current term runs through November, and he is up for re-election.

Thrasher is aware of and slightly annoyed by the buzz surrounding the rumors that he is the front-runner to replace outgoing FSU President Eric Barron. He blames it on friends in Tallahassee who know his affinity for FSU, but says he is not behind the not-so-quiet campaign.

"I can't control what they're doing," Thrasher said today. "I can control what I'm doing." He says his focus is the legislative session, which began this week, and continuing to work to get Gov. Rick Scott re-elected as his campaign chairman.

He denied one of the latest rumors, that he has talked to friends in the governor's office, including Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth, about the FSU job. "I've talked to them a lot about other things, but that is not something I'm talking about," Thrasher said.

He also dismissed a rumor that he has sought advice from the Senate's general counsel about whether ethics rules would allow him to serve as a state university president and in the Senate simultaneously or preclude him from voting on FSU related matters while he pursues the job. A Senate spokeswoman said attorney-client privilege would protect that conversation from public disclosure anyway, if it were to occur.

Continue reading "Thrasher says he isn't campaigning for, seeking advice about FSU presidency" »

The biggest county race in Miami-Dade this year? Campaign cash flowing in Bell vs. Levine Cava


If fundraising indicates which local political contests will be most heated, then look no further than the race for Miami-Dade County Commission District 8.

Incumbent Lynda Bell, who represents South Miami-Dade, faces a challenge from first-time candidate Daniella Levine Cava, who has the backing of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and other liberal-leaning groups.

In her first month as a candidate in January, Levine Cava outraised Bell. But the commissioner wasn't really campaigning. Now, she is. And the numbers show it.

Bell's campaign raised more than $130,000 in February, according to her consultant, Jose Luis Castillo. That's on top of the $25,000 she raked into her electioneering communications organization, Good Government Now, Castillo said. 

"We had a great month," he said.

Levine Cava said she raised around $70,000, which is still a notable figure for a rookie candidate. 

"People have really stepped up early to build the kind of support we need to run a good race," she said.

The numbers, which have not yet been published by the elections department, would bring Bell's total campaign cash to $330,000, plus about $80,000 in her ECO, and Levine Cava's total to nearly $210,000. Those totals don't take into account expenditures, so they're not a true measure of how much cash each candidate has on hand.

It's still early in the race. But if the two women keep up the pace, it looks like they could far outraise any other county commission, School Board, property appraiser or judge races this year. Stay tuned.

Workman: No alimony reform bill in 2014

Remember the controversial alimony reform bill that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed last session?

It won't be back this year.

The organization behind the proposal announced Thursday that there will be no new legislation filed during the 2014 session.

"I am beyond saddened that this bill will not become a reality," Family Law Reform President Alan Frisher wrote in a statement. "Our proposed bill was good legislation. It protected our citizens and corrected inconsistencies in Florida law."

In January, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, told the Herald/Times that he was working on a proposal similar to the alimony bill he sponsored last year. The 2013 bill sought to eliminate permanent alimony, and capped payments based on salary and length of marriage.

But according to a news release issued Thursday, he and Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel have decided to focus instead on tax cuts.

"The legislature is dedicated to creating a broad based $500 million tax cut for Floridians this session," Workman said. "Such expansive efforts tend to consume a session. Hence, I feel this is not the year for in depth reform."

The bill likely fell victim to election-year politics.

Its passage in the House and Senate infuriated women's groups in 2013. Observers at the time speculated that Scott's veto was an attempt to win over female voters. The governor still needs their support heading into November.

At least one group welcomed the news: the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar.

The group fought the proposal last year.

"We will remain consistent in our advocacy for a system of alimony laws that is sensitive to the unique qualities of every family situation and to resist any push toward a one-size-fits-all system with little or no judicial discretion," said the chair, Elisha D. Roy.

Barbara DeVane, of the National Organization of Women, said she, too, was delighted. 

"I'm very pleased that Ritch Workman finally saw the light," she said.


Is a showdown looming over voucher expansion bill?

The House Finance and Tax Subcommittee on Thursday gave its approval to the proposed expansion of the state school voucher program.

The bill will likely cruise through the House. But is a showdown with the Senate looming?

Senate President Don Gaetz has said the proposal won't pass in his chamber unless lawmakers require scholarship students to take the state tests. 

The House proposal makes no mention of the assessments. And after Thursday's meeting, Subcommittee Chairman Ritch Workman said he had no intention of adding that language to the bill.

"I don't think it's necessary," Workman said.

Continue reading "Is a showdown looming over voucher expansion bill?" »

The latest Obamacare facepalm: HHS not closely tracking enrollees who were uninsured


Love it or hate it, Obamacare was proposed and passed with a pretty laudable goal: Get everyone insured so no one lacks appropriate healthcare.

So the federal government would track the number of uninsured people who sign up, right?


Here's the National Journal on comments today at a conference from Gary Cohen, outgoing director of the Health and Human Services Department's implementation office

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the health care law will reduce the number of uninsured people by about 24 million over the next few years, and that about 6 million previously uninsured people will gain coverage through the law's exchanges this year. So, is enrollment on track to meet that goal? Overall enrollment is looking pretty decent, but how many of the people who have signed up were previously uninsured?

"That's not a data point that we are really collecting in any sort of systematic way," Cohen told the insurance-industry crowd on Thursday when asked how many of the roughly 4 million enrollees were previously uninsured.

Considering the administration's failure to initially launch a halfway decent website to enroll people, perhaps the failure to track a core goal of the program is no shock.

But, as a result, outside groups are doing their own analysis on the uninsured sign-up rate, and it's not encouraging. The Washington Post reported today that just 10 percent of the uninsured who qualify for Obamacare plans have enrolled, according to surveys.

There's a possibility, then, that enrollment will be anemic overall and that only those previously uninsured who were very sick will sign up. Healthy people who don't want to pay for insurance might not enroll. So insurers would have to deal with what's known as "adverse selection" where high-cost people are being treated and there aren't enough low-cost people paying in to keep the insurance plans afloat. Plans won't fail in the short term. But there's a chance rates could rise, or plans could look as if they're in trouble.

And that could usher in another round of bad headlines for a program that has become, at times, a political albatross for President Obama's administration.

A few more snippets from The Post:

One of the surveys, by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., shows that, of people who had signed up for coverage through the marketplaces by last month, just one-fourth described themselves as having been without insurance for most of the past year....

The second survey, by researchers at the Urban Institute and based on slightly older data from December, shows that awareness of the new marketplaces is fairly widespread but that lower-income Americans and those who are uninsured are less likely to know about this new avenue to health coverage than other people.

“If there is one point to the law, it is to lower the number of uninsured,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy organization. “Ultimately, that has to happen for the law to be judged a success.”


Sen. Marco Rubio says President needs to pay more attention to crisis in Venezuela

Franco Ordoñez in our Washington Bureau writes: 

WASHINGTON As violence intensifies in Venezuela, Sen. Marco

Rubio faults the White House for being preoccupied with the crisis in Ukraine and not paying appropriate attention to our much closer neighbor.

The Florida Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate has been one of the most outspoken proponents in Washington for imposing deep economic sanctions against Venezuela. But he said Thursday he hasn’t heard anything from the White House on his and others’ proposals to cut off resources to what he calls an illegitimate government.

“We’ve heard nothing new since last week,” Rubio said. “We wish they would make it more of a priority. I understand there are other parts of the world that are receiving a lot of attention. But they both deserve equal attention. This situation in Venezuela is rapidly escalating in a very dangerous direction.”

Continue reading "Sen. Marco Rubio says President needs to pay more attention to crisis in Venezuela" »

Donald Trump, Giuliani fundraise for Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi in Palm Beach


Picture 15Donald Trump and former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani plan to attend a Friday, March 14 fundraiser for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi at Trump's Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach.

Minimum contribution: $3,000.

The host committee represents a broad spectrum of political powerbrokers [Note to organizers: Mike Haridopolos is a FORMER Senate President, as noted below]:

Sebastian Aleksander, Brian Ballard, Mark Belissimo, Brad Bondi, Gaston Cantens, Capital City Consulting, Jorge Chamizo, Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Kalinsky, Abate & Webb, P.A., Dickstein Shapiro
Pepe Fanjul, Jr., Nat’l Committeeman Peter Feaman, Florida Chamber of Commerce Murray Goodman, [former] Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, Finance Chairman Mike Hightower, Lori Kalani, Syd Kitson, GOP County Chair Anita Mitchell, Bernie Nash, Ambassador John Rood, Carol Stewart