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10 posts from April 17, 2014

April 17, 2014

Senate Appropriations Committee won't hear in-state tuition bill, Negron says

Thousands of undocumented immigrants fighting for in-state college tuition rates might have had their hopes dashed Thursday when a top state lawmaker abruptly announced his committee would not hold a vote on the controversial bill.

The surprise move by Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron — which caught Republicans in the House and governor’s office flatfooted — means the proposal (SB 1400) will be a long shot for passage during the final two weeks of the legislative session.

Negron, R-Stuart, gave a list of reasons for rejecting the bill, including the potential cost.

“If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents?” Negron said in a statement. “I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact.”

But Sen. Jack Latvala, the moderate Republican from Clearwater pushing the proposal, called Negron’s argument a “red herring.”

“Just say it like it is — you don’t like it,” Latvala said. “They’ve got money to do whatever they want to do. To say there’s not money for this is not true.”

Latvala pointed out that 20 senators had co-sponsored his bill, meaning there would be enough votes to pass it on the Senate floor.

“It’s just unfortunate to have one senator stand in the way of a majority of the Senate,” he said.

If the bill were to die, it would be a significant loss for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made it among his top priorities this year.

It would also be a setback for Gov. Rick Scott, who strongly supports a provision preventing colleges from hiking tuition above the rate set by the legislature, and needs the support of Hispanic voters in the November election.

Both men said they would continue to fight for the bill.

Read more here.

Dade Democrats' chair: I didn't break rules by endorsing

Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein sent an email endorsing Joe Geller in his race for State House District 100.

“It's my great pleasure to announce my endorsement of my friend and longtime public servant Joe Geller for State House, district 100,” states the April 15th email from Taddeo-Goldstein. “Over his long career in public service, Joe served as Mayor of North Bay Village and Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and now he is our general counsel — volunteering his time to make sure every vote is counted.” (Geller is also the brother of former state Sen. Steve Geller, an adviser to Charlie Crist’s campaign.)  

Taddeo-Goldstein sent the email after Alexander Lewy, a Hallandale Beach city commissioner, dropped out of the race to take a job at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Lewy didn’t return our calls last week about his new gig, so here is some background from the Sentinel.)

Lewy had raised about $86,000 and was seen as Geller’s main opponent, so now that he dropped out Geller -- who has raised about $104,000 and loaned his campaign $25,000 -- is the front runner.

Taddeo-Goldstein says Geller is now the only viable Democrat -- and the only one from Miami-Dade County for the seat that also stretches into Broward.

But Geller still faces two primary opponents: John Alvarez of Hallandale Beach who has raised about $9,000 and loaned his campaign about $9,000 and Benjamin Sorensen of Hollywood who has raised about $18,000 and loaned his campaign about $8,000. The seat in the left-leaning district is being vacated by term limited state Rep. Joe Gibbons.

Privately, some Democrats said Taddeo-Goldstein was breaking an unspoken party rule or tradition that often keeps Democratic party chairs from endorsing in primaries.

Asked about that unofficial rule, Taddeo-Goldstein said she did nothing wrong.

“It doesn’t break any rule,” she said. “We can endorse in primaries as individuals, and I was happy to do so.”

Taddeo-Goldstein said that the endorsement came from her individually -- not the Miami-Dade Democrats, which as a group hasn’t made an endorsement.

But since the email came from Taddeo-Goldstein, the chair of the party and has the Miami-Dade Democrats logo on it, couldn’t readers interpret that as an endorsement from the group?

“I understand they could read it that way if they don’t pay attention to the first sentence, but I was very clear in my first sentence I was the one endorsing,” she said.

The members of the county party group sign a loyalty oath that is intended to prevent members from endorsing Republicans, Taddeo-Goldstein said. The oath states: “I will not support the election of the opponent of any Democratic nominee, I will not oppose the election of any Democratic nominee, nor will I support any non-Democrat against a Democrat in any election other than in judicial races....”

The word “nominee” refers to the Democrat who emerges from the primary as the winner, so that doesn’t mean members can’t endorse in the primary, Taddeo-Goldstein argues.

Geller says there is nothing unusual about the party chair making an endorsement.

“I used to be the chair of the party. I did it all the time. .... I endorsed Bill Clinton in the primary -- there were five or six Democrats running.”

Lopez-Cantera to Crist: I'll see your Plantation field office opening with a Miami event


So Democrat Charlie Crist is going to open a field office Saturday in the Democratic heartland of Broward County.

What's a Republican to do? Have a field-office event on the same day in Miami in a Republican area.

So, for you political masochists, on Saturday morning from 10-11, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon Day will hold a "volunteer open house" in Miami. Location: 5455 SW 8th St, Suite 265.


“Floridians deserve a Governor who will work with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and restore deep cuts to public schools,” said Crist. “We are committed to having the boots on the ground to make that happen and that starts in Broward County.”

Then, at 12:30, Crist opens his first field office at 320 South University Drive, Plantation, FL 33324. Crist's press release came with a statement from campaign manager Omar Khan: “We are a metrics and data driven campaign and a huge part of that will be our grassroots field operation. Broward County is critically important to Governor Crist, so we’re excited to get started there." 

Earlier in the week, Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager, Tim Saler, said the GOP data effort was, well, bigger.


NRCC gives boost to Carlos Curbelo over 4 other Republicans in Miami congressional race


National Republicans have taken sides in the primary to for Florida's 26th Congressional District.

On Thursday, the National Republican Congressional Committee moved up Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo in its "Young Guns" program, which identifies and helps top first-time candidates for Congress. The program has three tiers; Curbelo is now in the second one in the race against Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia.

"Carlos Curbelo has reached the 'Contender' status because he is exemplary of the new leadership needed in Washington D.C. to turn our country around and provide a check and balance in Washington," NRCC Chairman Greg Walden,an Oregon Republican, said in a statement.

Democrats fired back by calling Young Guns a "dog and pony show."

"If Republicans think that voters will elect Curbelo to join them in Congress while he is supporting policies that hurt middle class Floridians, they're in for a surprise in November," the DCCC's Josh Schwerin said in a statement.

Partisan shots aside, it seems clear that the GOP is sending a message to the other four Republicans in the race -- Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, attorney Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck and Key Largo resident Jose Felix Peixoto -- that party leaders have a favorite candidate, the one who has raised the most among them in campaign contributions.

In Miami, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson renew call for U.S. sanctions against Venezuela


Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, joined forces Thursday in Miami to call for stepped up attention and potential U.S. sanctions against Venezuela for repressing political protests.

They also suggested that Venezuelans should become eligible for special U.S. immigration status.

To try to persuade their colleagues, Rubio said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to hold a hearing soon on the ongoing unrest, with as-yet unnamed leaders of the Venezuelan opposition invited to testify. Rubio is a committee member.

“What we want to do is build a case,” Rubio said — not only for sanctions against members of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, but also perhaps against private Venezuelan citizens tied to the government.

That possibility has drawn particular interest in South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelans outside their country, including some rumored Maduro allies. Miami and Orlando remain frequent destinations for Venezuelan tourists, among them government officials.

More here.

Don Gaetz: "I will vote against SB 1400"

The holiday break didn't stop Senate President Don Gaetz from weighing in on one of the most controversial bills of the session.

On Thursday, Gaetz sent an email to his constituents in Northwest Florida voicing opposition to Senate Bill 1400. The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. 

A version of the bill has already passed in the House.

The Senate bill has 20 co-sponsors, meaning it has enough support to pass on the upper chamber floor. But in order for that vote to even take place, Latvala must first secure a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has had issues with the bill since the beginning of session.

He made his position clear in his electronic newsletter Thursday.

"Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature on this matter, I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students," he wrote.

Gaetz acknowledged that the issue was politically charged.

"I am told it is 'good politics' to support Sen. Latvala’s bill, that it will help Republican candidates appeal to Hispanic voters in the 2014 and 2016 elections," he wrote. "Perhaps. It is certainly true that the Republican Party has lost much of the Hispanic support President Bush earned in 2000 and 2004 and that Gov. Jeb Bush still has in our state and across the nation."

But Gaetz argued that SB 1400 is "not limited to Hispanics." 

"It casts a blanket of approval over non-citizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence," he wrote. "There is no improper or careless intent behind the legislation, but this bill goes much further than merely reaching out to Hispanic voters."

Gaetz later pointed out that undocumented students are able to enroll in public universities.

"The question posed by SB 1400 is not whether undocumented students will have access to a Florida public college or university education that is supported by Florida taxpayers -- they already do," Gaetz wrote. "The question is the extent to which parents, struggling to save for their own children’s education, and taxpayers, slowly recovering from a deep recession, should be mandated to pay for substantially increased tuition subsidies for non-citizens, who have not attained legal status in our country."


2nd mysterious departure: Crist's new spokesman leaves


Something's weird in Charlie Crist's campaign.

His new spokesman, Eric Conrad, just left after less than a week on the job "to pursure other opportunities," said de-facto spokesman Kevin Cate. The pro-Crist Saint Petersblog noted the departure first.

Cate has said as much before when Bill Hyers, Crist's here-today-gone-tomorrow campaign manager quit before/around the time he started.

Gov. Rick Scott, too, has had his share of shakeups. So it's not as if these things don't happen. They do.

But Crist is walking a tight rope. He doesn't have the money that Scott has. Florida Democrats don't have the organization Republicans do. And for a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, having Democrats in good standing suddenly up and leave your campaign with no explanation looks a lot more damaging.

This is a potential leading indicator of why some establishment Democrats, namely those who wanted Sen. Bill Nelson to run, were so nervous about Crist. Like a gifted athlete, Crist relies on his own talents. But he resists coaching. He doesn't always take good advice. He acts spur of the moment. His campaign is more of a cult of personality compared to Scott's campaign, which is more like a disciplined business start up.

"Charlie thinks he can do everything on his own. For a certain type of personality, that can be frustrating," said one Democrat familiar with the campaign. "It's not really weird that this stuff happens because, if you think about it, Charlie's a weird guy."

UPDATE: The shakeup led to the inevitable smack-talk when Susan Hepworth, Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman, trolled Crist adviser Jim Messina, who was President Obama's campaign manager in 2012.

Hepworth: "Has anyone asked @Messina2012 how he thinks the @CharlieCrist campaign is shaping up? http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/...."

Messina: ‏".@shepworth I feel great about .@CharlieCrist campaign! Especially w u doing the same great work u did for Romney in FL."

Pockets of anti-Crist resistance visible in Broward

As the Democratic Women's Club of Broward gathered for its monthly meeting Wednesday, a table was filled with flyers promoting Nan Rich's candidacy for governor but not a piece of Charlie Crist literature could be seen.

Long-time club member Joanne Sterner greeted guests as she stood in front of a sign that read "Stand with Nan." Sterner says she's scared by the talk that Crist, a former Republican governor, is the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

"He's going to get killed," she said, because of his history of shifting positions on key issues. This feisty crowd of determined liberal activists made it clear Crist has a lot of work to do to unite Democrats in the state's most heavily-Democratic county.

Broward is the home turf of Rich, a former Senate Democratic leader from Weston. Among the club's 35 members, there was strong support for her and a visceral dislike for Crist, who plans to open his first regional campaign headquarters in Plantation on Saturday.

"I don't have respect for him," said Barbara Ruge, vice-president of the nearby Oakland Park Democratic Club. "He doesn't know what he's doing. He's just on his own political agenda."

Patricia Golay pinched her nostrils at the suggestion that Crist is destined to be the Democratic nominee. "I'll hold my nose," she said with a laugh.

Some elected officials in Broward are more pragmatic about the Crist-Rich competition. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, a former Democratic House member, praised Rich's record as a lawmaker, but he said she faces an "impossible time" winning statewide and that Crist's "dynamic personality" makes him the best candidate against Gov. Rick Scott, who Seiler said has been unable to connect with real people.

Broward has nearly 564,000 registered Democrats, more than any other county. Unaffiliated voters have passed Republicans in registration there as well. Taken together, the "big three" counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach account for about one-third of Florida's 4.6 million Democrats.


CD19 donnybrook, part XXVII: Connie Mack vs. Brian Hughes


DonnybrookEver since cocaine Congressman Trey Radel resigned his Southwest Florida seat, the Republicans vying to replace him have torn each other up.

Today, their backers got into it on Twitter: Former Congressman Connie Mack (Curt Clawson's supporter) and consultant Brian Hughes (a former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott who's running Lizbeth Benacquisto's campaign).

Hughes kicked it off last night with this Tweet: "Lobbyist @ConnieMackIV 's other disgraced, hand picked candidate returns donor cash. http://www.politicalfixflorida.com...."

This morning it was Mack's turn:

Continue reading "CD19 donnybrook, part XXVII: Connie Mack vs. Brian Hughes" »

At predecessor's trial, Hialeah mayor admits to have taken part in city's 'shadow' banking


Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, testifying under oath Wednesday in the tax-evasion trial of his predecessor, acknowledged that he too had taken part in the city's “shadow” banking business that charged astronomical interest rates on loans.

That under-the-radar industry has put former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina in the cross-hairs of federal prosecutors. They have charged him and his wife with hiding some $2 million in income to avoid paying taxes — including secret cash payments from 36 percent interest charged on $750,000 in loans made to a convicted Ponzi schemer.

Hernandez doesn’t face any charges himself, but under questioning he admitted he collected the same inflated interest on $180,000 in loans he made to con man Luis Felipe Perez — contradicting denials he had issued during the 2011 mayoral campaign.

Back then, Hernandez had angrily denounced a Miami Herald story that reported he was paid about $100,000 in interest by Perez, calling it an attack on his integrity. He claimed that Perez had only repaid him part of the loan principal.

But at the Robainas’ criminal trial, Hernandez testified that he was paid a monthly rate of 3 percent interest — 36 percent annually — on a series of loans between 2007 and 2009. He answered “Yes, sir,” when questioned by prosecutor Richard Gregorie about his high-interest terms and payments.

More here.