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12 posts from May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014

Joe Garcia gets in America Rising's crosshairs (again) with 'Communism works' line


Beware, Joe Garcia, America Rising PAC is watching.

When the Democratic Miami Congressman appeared to eat earwax during a committee hearing (he didn't, he says), the political action committee was quick to catch it and post the video.

A week has gone by. The YouTube video has 2.5 million hits. And now America Rising is highlighting what came out of Garcia's mouth tonight during a Google Hangout about immigration.

"We’ve proved that Communism works," Garcia said, chiding Republicans for backing big spending on border security that creates loads of government jobs.

So Garcia said much more than these five words. But we're talking campaign season here. Little snippets like that make for good attack ads and mailers. 

"This is an absurdity, accusing the son of Cuban immigrants of believing in Communism is just ridiculous," said Garcia, a freshman who sits in one of the state's most-competitive seats and therefore faces a horde of Republican challengers.

When asked if he could have phrased the line better, Garcia said there's no point: "They would post the video anyway.... I'll continue to say it."

America Rising sure hopes so. Here's his whole hangout riff:

 “When you attract people, you are the dominant culture that people want to emulate and copy what you’re doing because it works. And in America, we are doing a huge disservice to ourselves by not understanding how powerful of a driver in the economy an immigration system that works can be -- and continues to be -- and by not having an immigration system that works. Let me give you an example, the kind of money we’ve poured in: So the most dangerous—sorry, the safest city in America is El Paso, Texas. It happens to be across the border from the most dangerous city in the Americas, which is Juarez. Right? And two of the safest cities in America, two of them are on the border with Mexico. And of course, the reason is we’ve proved that Communism works. If you give everybody a good, government job, there’s no crime. But that isn’t what we should be doing on the border. The kind of money we’ve poured into it, and we’re having diminishing returns. So while we’re doing—we’re spending all of this money here, we have border problems in Puerto Rico. We haven’t been able to set up a system that’s safe there. People are finding alternative routes. The opportunity to get this right and the mistake that Republicans make -- and I say Republicans because it’s Republicans right now -- I’m known to say that Democrats were also possessed by Xenophobia in 2008 and particularly after 9/11 and the economic crisis, but today we’re in a much better place as a party. And the problem that Republicans have is that they’re fighting a battle they cannot win.” 

Note: El Paso is one of the safest big cities in the U.S. (not the safest city of any size) and it looks like San Pedro Sula, Honduras is more dangerous than Juarez.

D'Alemberte promotes Thrasher for FSU presidency

Former Florida State President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte on Tuesday nominated Sen. John Thrasher to be FSU's president, calling him "a joy to work with" when Thrasher was a university trustee during D'Alemberte's presidency.

D'Alemberte's endorsement of Thrasher was first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat. A fixture in legal circles, a former president of the American Bar Association and a well-known liberal Democrat, D'Alemberte sent a letter to William Funk, a Texas headhunter hired by FSU to help find its next president.

Thrasher, 70, is a lawyer and FSU graduate who has been one of the university's biggest champions in the Legislature. He is currently chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign, and Scott appoints the university trustees who will choose a successor to Eric Barron, who resigned to become president of Penn State.

"In an ideal world, I would not say that John was the best candidate, but in the world we live in I would say he is the best candidate," D'Alemberte told the Democrat Tuesday.

In his letter, D'Alemberte wrote of Thrasher: "He insisted on thorough briefings, but wsa respectful to the professional staff. He understood the importance of faculty governance and worked well with faculty, staff, students and other university shareholders. He made himself for anyone who wished to discuss matters. It was, quite frankly, a joy to work with John."

D'Alemberte said Thrasher, as a former House speaker, ex-lobbyist and currently chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has the ability to work the Capitol to bring home more state money for Florida State. Thrasher is an intensely proud FSU alum and is a former chairman of FSU's board of trustees. The campus' medical school building is named after Thrasher for securing the funding for it.

Jeb Bush to raise money Thursday for Iowa's Branstad -- in Coral Gables


Jeb Bush is making an overture to Iowa.

The former Florida governor will host a fundraiser in Coral Gables for Gov. Terry Branstad on May 22, the Iowan's campaign aides confirmed to The Des Moines Register.

It likely will be viewed as a way for Bush to make his Iowa debut for the 2016 presidential cycle - without coming to Iowa. ...

Branstad campaign manager Jake Ketzner told the Register that Branstad admires the work Bush did to manage Florida's finances while focusing on improving the state's economy.

"We are thankful a national leader like Gov. Jeb Bush is hosting this fundraiser for our campaign," Ketzner said. "Given Gov. Bush's popularity and unmatched record as governor of Florida, we believe this will be a very successful fundraiser and the governor is excited to attend."

Full story here.

Pants on Fire for Van Zant's claim that Common Core tests will "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can"

Heads up moms and dads -- a Florida lawmaker has unearthed one moreconspiracy behind Common Core. A companythat has been hired by Florida to give students tests will be recruiting every one of those students to become gay.  

Think Progress, a liberal blog, dug up a video of state Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, speaking about the topic at the "Operation Education" conference -- a gathering of conservative religious groups who met about the theme of "How education reforms are attacking America’s Foundation."

The Orlando conference was in March, but Think Progress posted a video clip of Zant on May 19, and the video then spread to other blogs.

We listened to the full speech. Here is the portion that drew attention:

"Our new secretary of education in Florida recently appointed AIR to receive the $220 million contract for end-of-course exam testing and to prepare those tests. Please -- go on their website. Click the link to what they are doing with youth, and you will see what their agenda really is. They are promoting as hard as they can any youth that is interested in the LGBT agenda and even name it 2-S, which they define as having two spirits. The Bible says a lot about being double-minded.

"These people that will now receive $220 million from the state of Florida, unless this is stopped, will promote double mindedness in state education, and attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can. I'm sorry to report that to you. ... I really hate to bring you that news, but you need to know."

Van Zant encouraged listeners to research AIR, so we took him up on his suggestion and decided to check if AIR plans to "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can." We contacted Van Zant’s office and asked him to provide evidence to support his claim and did not get a response.

Read more from PolitiFact.

Sorting out tax breaks for David Beckham's soccer stadium

Tax deal" and "stadium" are fighting words if you put them in the same sentence in Miami-Dade County.

Taxpayers were so angry over the public financing that paid for most of the Miami Marlins ballpark -- which failed to produce big crowds or revitalize the area -- that they recalled County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas.

Now opponents of David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium at PortMiami are trying to tap into voters’ distaste for tax breaks in a TV ad that shows concerned looking couples paying bills:

"Why won’t the out of town port stadium developers tell us about the special tax deal that lets them off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years. You think you could not pay taxes for 30 years? Now we find out it's Miami-Dade families who have to pay taxes to help give them parking garages."

The music then turns sinister as a photo of the boogeyman in Miami sports -- the Marlins’ stadium -- appears on the screen.

"Remind you of anything?" the narrator asks. "Miami deserves better."

The ad is paid for by the Miami Seaport Alliance, led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, which fought against the stadium site at the port close to the cruise line’s headquarters.

PolitiFact Florida previously fact-checked an alliance ad that the port stadium proposal "threatens the 207,000 jobs and $27 billion economic impact tied to the cargo and cruise industries" and rated it False.

Here we will fact-check the statement that Beckham will be "off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years."

The ad ran on TV in mid-May days before Beckham announced that he would drop the port site in favor of a site downtown. The tax deal that the ad mentioned still exists regardless of the site, however.

Continue reading what PolitiFact Florida found here.

Yoo hoo, Gov. Scott? Veto this one over here!

Gov. Rick Scott won't have any shortage of line items to veto as he peruses the proposed $77.1 billion budget, which landed on his desk Tuesday.

But a surefire leading candidate is $750,000 for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to "directly contract with appropriate counsel to defend the state in litigation related to the suit filed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in the U.S. Distrct Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee (Case No. 4:08-cv-00555-MCR-CAS)."

Sounds official enough, and the money will be used to defend a state law. But even the biggest apologists for this line item, which include Senate President Don Gaetz and auto dealers, have to acknowledge that the 2008 law it defends is a classic example of governmental regulation of the private marketplace. The law allows car dealers to charge a higher retail rate for repairs in warranty and recall work, which the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers argues steers undue profits to local dealerships while costing car producers and consumers.

It's a technical debate that underscores the historical tension between car dealers and the auto manufacturers. In other words, it's a dispute between private business interests. So why then are taxpayer dollars asked to finance the lawsuit, especially after the car dealers essentially have taken over the litigation from the state since 2009?

Continue reading "Yoo hoo, Gov. Scott? Veto this one over here!" »

Weatherford: I never asked staff to make Brown's district more compact

Weatherford redistricting trialFor the first time in state history, House Speaker Will Weatherford took the stand in the redistricting trial over the state's congressional districts Tuesday and defended the congressional map the Republican-controlled legislature drew. Story here. 

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, defended the map, and the decision to boost the black population in the meandering congressional district held by U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. He acknowledged he never asked his staff to make the district more compact but supported the Senate version in a compromise that brought the number of black majority voters in the district over 50 percent. 

The distict, which stretches through several counties, was first drawn by a federal court in 1996 to increase the odds of electing a black to Congress and has been a central objection in the now-pending lawsuit against the congressional districts drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature. Brown has held the seat since then.

Plaintiffs allege that Republicans sought the district and Brown, the incumbent, supported it because it helps to pack Democrats into a district in a way to make adjoining districts stronger for Republicans. The multi-county district became the foundation of the map that legislators ultimately approved in 2002 and again in 2012. The 2012 map came despite new constitutional guidelines approved in 2010 that Florida's districts be compact -- and not reduce minority representation.

Weatherford, who headed the House redistricting effort, testified on Tuesday that the compromise "made the map better" because it reduced the number of cities and counties that were divided. When pressed under questioning, he also said he never asked staff to try to make the Jacksonville-based minority district more compact. 

"We relied heavily upon counsel and staff to make sure it was drawn in a legal manner,'' he said. It was the first time a sitting legislator has been called to testify in a pending lawsuit and the first on redistricting. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in December in a landmark decision that legislative privilege is secondary to the protections in the constitution, which prohibit legislators from redrawing maps with the intent of favoring for an incumbent or political party.

Plaintiff's lawyer David King pressed Weatherford: "You never gave your staff any direction to try to draw it in a more compact manner?"

Weatherford repeatedly avoided a direct answer: "I don't remember asking my staff to draw District 5, aside from asking them to draw in a way that was legally complaint."

Later, King asked about the seven proposed congressional maps and noted that none of them deviated from what King called the "serpentine district."

"We drew the best set of maps we thought we could,'' Weatherford said. "We wanted to give members as much opportunity to see the different methods in drawing a map but there is more than one way to draw legally compliant maps."

Weatherford said the final congressional map was a compromise agreed to between Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who led the Senate redistrictin effort.

"We knew and we believed that our map was superior to the Senate map, particularly as it relates to cities and counties splits,'' he said.

Scott Rothstein to get booted from Broward voter rolls four years after conviction

Scott Rothstein, Broward County’s most famous convicted white collar felon, will soon be removed from the voting rolls nearly four years after he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Broward resident Andrew Ladanowski flagged Rothstein’s voting status and contacted state elections officials about it in recent days. (Last year Ladanowski publicized the fact that convicted felon OJ Simpson remained on Miami-Dade’s voter rolls -- he was later removed.)

On Monday, Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for  Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, said that it was the state’s responsibility to remove felons. But that’s not accurate.

“Under Florida law, only Supervisors of Elections are ultimately responsible for removing ineligible voters from the voter rolls....,” said Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “Supervisors may take action upon receipt of information from any source that indicate a registered voter is ineligible due to felony conviction. They do not require any kind of official notice before taking action.”

Lesser told the Miami Herald on Monday night that as for Rothstein “We have compiled a credible and reliable file and have sent it to the Broward Supervisor of Elections to have her begin the notice and removal process.”

Cooney said Tuesday that her office received Rothstein’s file on Monday and will send him a certified letter stating he will be removed as a voter today.

Rothstein registered as a Republican in 1998 and last voted in the 2008 presidential election, Cooney said.

Rothstein, the former head of the Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler law firm, pleaded guilty to federal charges related to a Ponzi scheme and was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2010. About 20 individuals linked to the scheme have been convicted.

Former prison employees allege long-term abuse at Dade Correctional in fed complaint

Mentally ill inmates at Dade Correctional Institution have been tormented and abused for years, according to three former employees at the psychiatric unit, one of whom filed a complaint last month with the U.S. Department of Justice.

In his complaint, George Mallinckrodt, a psychotherapist assigned to the unit from 2008 to 2011, related a series of episodes, including the death of inmate Darren Rainey. The 50-year-old was placed in a small, enclosed, scalding-hot shower by guards and left unattended for more than an hour. He collapsed and died amid the searing heat, suffering severe burns when he fell, face up, atop the drain.

His death, for which no one has been held accountable, was described in Sunday’s Miami Herald.

Mallinckrodt was no longer with the prison at the time of Rainey’s scalding on June 23, 2012, but says he was told of the incident by a former colleague who remained on staff.

One current corrections officer at the facility, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity, said prisoners in the mental health unit who caused trouble were threatened by guards with the shower treatment. Story by Julie K. Brown.


Scott gets budget; most bills haven't reached him yet

The House speaker's office delivered the spanking new $77.1 billion budget to Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday, but most bills still have not yet reached his desk.

Scott has 15 calendar days to act on the budget. His staff has been studying it line-by-line as the re-election-minded governor must decide whether to lop hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown spending from the Republican-crafted budget or largely leave it as is.

If Scott wields a heavy veto pen and rejects, say, more than $300 million,he will antagonize a lot of legislators, and it will send a signal that he's concerned about his conservative base and must reassure them that he opposes more government spending. (Remember what Scott himself calls it: the "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget."

A light touch will be welcomed by lawmakers but not by fiscal conservatives, and Scott also must be consistent in the logic he applies to line items or risk being accused of playing favorites.

Legislators are fiercely protective of their right to allocate tax dollars for projects they think will help their constituents. Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who hopes to bring home bacon to Northeast Florida, predicts a "judicious" Scott will be surgical in his line-item vetoes this time around.

"If you're the person who's promoting it and it's something that's positive for your local area, you're going to be very supportive of that in a year when we have some resources," said Thrasher, chairman of Scott's re-election campaign. "I think he's got to be judicious, and I think he will."

In Scott's first year in office, 2011, he vetoed $615 million, but about half of that ($305 million) was spending authority for the Florida Forever land-buying program. The following year he vetoed $142 million, and last year he vetoed $368 million from the current $74.1 billion budget.

"I would anticipate a couple of hundred million dollars in vetoes," Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, predicted in the final days of the session, adding with a chuckle: "I"m certainly going to try to make sure that mine are okay."

The list of water, stormwater and drainage projects alone, listed alphabetically from Altha to Zephyrhills, takes up nearly three full pages in the 431-page document. Last year Scott vetoed dozens of similar projects and said in a veto message: "While some water projects may also contribute to a statewide objective, not all projects demonstrate an ability to contribute to a statewide reinvestment."

Scott also last year vetoed projects because they weren't requested by a state agency, the money was steered to specific providers or they were "local in scope, without a clearly demonstrated statewide benefit." Applying that logic to the new budget, Scott will need to explain the statewide benefit if he approves some of these projects: Agenda 2020, City of St. Petersburg, $975,000; Coral Springs Safety Town, $250,000; Here's Help Opa-locka, $500,000; Knowledge is Power Program Jacksonville, $900,000; YMCA Tech Smart Tampa Bay, $100,000.

Scott signed 58 bills last week, but the flow of legislation to his desk has suddenly stopped. Lawmakers passed 255 bills subject to his approval and he has acted on 65, leaving 190 pending. A chart from Online Sunshine provides the numbers in detail. Scott has vowed to ve