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6 posts from July 31, 2014

July 31, 2014

RPOF: Schools superintendent should ask Crist to stop using ad

from Cara Fitzpatrick of the Tampa Bay Times:

School administrators at St. Petersburg High allowed Charlie Crist to film a campaign ad at their school in violation of School Board policy. Now the Republican Party of Florida would like superintendent Mike Grego to ask Crist to stop using the ad.

Juston Johnson, executive director of the RPOF, wrote a strongly worded letter to Grego in which he said the TV advertisement made it appear that the School Board endorsed Crist, who is running as a Democrat against Gov. Rick Scott.

Johnson wrote, "I write to respectfully request that you take immediate action to prevent the appearance of the School Board's endorsement of a political candidate by demanding that all stations currently airing this ad cease doing so."

He said that Grego needed to ensure that the integrity of the school system is maintained.

The Crist campaign started airing the TV spot last week. In it, Crist attacks Scott's record on education. Crist also references his own education at St. Petersburg High, where he was class president and quarterback of the football team. The name of the school is featured in the beginning of the ad.

The school district released a statement Wednesday saying the filming was the result of an "error in judgment."

The letter was delivered Thursday and there hasn't been a response from Grego yet.

Read the letter below.

Download Pinellas County Schools Letter

Nominating council picks 16 candidates to interview for PSC, including Patronis

The legislatively-dominated committee assigned to nominate six candidates to the Public Service Commission narrowed its list of candidates from 32 to 16 on Thursday, preserving the chance for a term-limited legislator who runs a Panama City restaurant to get the high-profile job.

The PSC Nominating Council will interview the 16 candidates and then decide who to select to send to the governor to fill a post vacated by outgoing PSC Commissioner Eduardo Balbis and the post held by Commissioner Julie Imanuel Brown, who is seeking a second term. Gov. Rick Scott will then choose from the list.

Balbis surprised observers when he announced in May he would not seek a second term after being appointed to the post by former Gov. Charlie Crist. The vacancy occurred after legislators sided with electric companies in 2010 to oust two of Crist's appointees who rejected controversial rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy Florida.  Download Balbis Nominating Council Letter

The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature. The five commissioners are appointed by the governor and serve four-year staggered term. 

The final list includes Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant in Panama City which is owned by his family. Patronis holds a degree in political science and communication from Florida State University and lists no utility-related experience in his resume. He did, however, surprise some observers when he announced earlier this year that he was dropping out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race.

Continue reading "Nominating council picks 16 candidates to interview for PSC, including Patronis" »

Judge disqualifies write-in challenger to Rep. Jamie Grant, opens primary


Another conflicting ruling about residency requirements for write-in candidates means the issue is even more likely to be appealed and challenged all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey decided Thursday that Donald John Matthews is not eligible to run as a write-in candidate for the House District 64 seat in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties because he was not living inside the district at the time of qualifying.

Just last week, a different Leon County Circuit judge ruled the opposite on a similar case. Judge George Reynolds concluded that write-in candidates are only required to live in the district on the date of election and allowed one to remain in the race for House District 69 in Broward County.

Write in candidates have never won a Florida legislative race, but they can be a game-changer during primary elections. According to Florida law, if all of the candidates in a particular race are from the same political party then all voters, regardless of their political affiliation, can cast ballots in the primary since that will essentially be the only election to determine the winner of the seat.

If a write-in candidate enters the race then it automatically triggers a general election and the primary election is closed to voters of other political parties or with no party affiliation. This quirk in state law is often used as a tool to keep voters with no party or opposing party affiliations of voting in races where the only viable candidates are members of one political party.

Continue reading "Judge disqualifies write-in challenger to Rep. Jamie Grant, opens primary" »

SkyRise, Mayor produce ad that mostly ignores tower


With just weeks to go before Miami voters consider a longterm Bayside Marketplace lease extension and the construction of a 1,000-foot tower on Biscayne Bay, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and the developer of SkyRise Miami have teamed up to promote the referendum.

Except, the 30-second radio spot they've put together barely mentions the tower.

"Miami voters: I'm Tomás Regalado," the mayor says in the Spanish-language ad. "On this ballot, we have an important question: improve the Bayside mall with private funds and construct a new building. This means more rent and an advanced payment of $10 million for the city of Miami. Taxpayers win without putting in a cent."

The "new building" is SkyRise, which developer Jeff Berkowitz plans to build behind Bayside with $400 million in private funds and equip with theme park-style rides. Berkowitz Development Group created Friends of Bayside Marketplace, the political action committee that produced the advertisement, and Skyrise Miami pumped $50,000 into its coffers.

Asked why SkyRise was barely mentioned in the radio spot, Regalado said he had to cut parts of the script to save time, so he focused on the benefits to the city and the well-known Bayside as selling points.
"It was 30 seconds and how can you explain [everything]?" he said. "That’s the problem with radio ads."
Berkowitz, who provided a copy of the ad to The Herald, noted that the question on the Aug. 26 ballot clearly references and describes SkyRise.

Families say FEA's school choice lawsuit will hurt special needs kids

Six families -- and their powerful attorneys -- want to intervene in a lawsuit challenging a controversial new school choice law.

The families have asked a judge to help defend the law, which creates scholarships for children with profound special needs. The money can be used for private-school tuition, tutoring, educational materials and various types of therapy. The average award is expected to be about $10,000.

The scholarship program came into being as sweeping education bill that also expanded the school voucher program, created collegiate high schools, and addressed middle-school reform. It passed largely along party lines on the last day of session.

Earlier this month, the statewide teachers union challenged the constitutionality of the law, saying it violates a requirement that each pieces of legislation be limited to a single subject. The families want to join the existing defendants: Gov. Rick Scott, the Cabinet and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The lawsuit is pending, but the plaintiffs have indicated they do not oppose allowing the families to join the case.

On Thursday, five of the six families held a news conference to say litigation should not get in the way of the scholarship program.

"The funds provided for would do untold good, we’re convinced of this," said Mary Kurnik, a Tampa mother whose 12-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism and other disorders that affect his learning ability.

The families were joined by representatives from the Goldwater Institute, which has defended similar school choice programs in the past, and former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, which considered the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts among its top legislative priorities this year. Former state Sen. Al Lawson, who has lobbied on behalf of pro-voucher organizations, also attended.

So far, about more than 1,800 Florida parents have begun applications for a scholarship. Step Up for Students, the nonprofit that manages the program, hopes to begin awarding the accounts next week, spokesman Ron Matus said.

Continue reading "Families say FEA's school choice lawsuit will hurt special needs kids" »

Federal bribery trial of suspended Miami Lakes mayor draws his one-time nemesis


Schadenfreude -- that German word conveying a feeling of joy over someone else's troubles -- filled the air at the federal bribery trial of suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi.

As convicted Miami-Dade lobbyist Richard Candia testified about giving alleged bribes to Pizzi, the indicted politician's one-time nemesis, ex-County Commissioner Natacha Seijas,  showed up to take in the courtroom drama this week.

Seijas, once an influential politician in Hialeah and Miami Lakes, lost her commission seat in 2011, when Pizzi led a nasty recall effort to oust her.  Over the years, neither has been publicly shy about expressing contempt for the other.

But on Tuesday, Seijas held her tongue when asked by a Miami Herald reporter why she came to watch Pizzi face charges of accepting $6,750 in alleged bribes during an FBI sting operation.

"I believe in the justice system," Seijas would only say, "and I'm waiting for it to happen."