February 20, 2017

Bill Nelson's post-election pep talk: 'It has been a difficult slog'


+Sen. Bill Nelson sounded a little like the coach of a losing team in the locker room at half time Monday as he made the rounds in the state Capitol, delivering pep talks to House and Senate Democrats.

"I know that it has been a difficult slog," Nelson told a gathering of six Senate Democrats. "We ended up with one net plus in the Florida Senate. But the next time around is a very, very good opportunity for Democrats. I think you see the lay of the land on the national scene, and I think that's going to translate in all the races on the ballot."

The only Democrat elected statewide in Florida, Nelson is holding out hope that progressives upset about President Donald Trump's election will turn out in massive numbers to vote in 2018.

He needs that hope. He'll be on the ballot, too, defending himself first against possible primary challenges from several Democrats mulling a run and then against the winner of a Republican primary in which Gov. Rick Scott is already seen as a favorite in Tallahassee.

Nelson said he would "fight" against turning Medicaid into a block grant system "with everything I have because it's not the right thing for Florida" and called it a "double whammy" that could drain state coffers. He also decried Trump nominees, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whom he voted against confirming.

In the House, where Democrats have even less influence than the Senate, Nelson acknowledged the difficulty of being in the majority but told lawmakers to hold out for redistricting in 2022.

"Even though we've got our hands full up in Washington, you've got your hands full right here," he said. "But if you all continue to stand up and keep fighting for Florida just like you have, everything's starting to change, and you'll start seeing that as a reflection in the next election."

Photo: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (right) speaks to Florida Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens on Monday as part of a pep-talk tour of the state Capitol. (MICHAEL AUSLEN | Times/Herald)

February 04, 2017

Charlie Reed, 'an unruly giant,' honored at Tallahassee service

FullSizeRender(9)Charlie Reed's formidable presence roared back to life Friday inside the Alumni Center at Florida State University. This, after all, is what a memorial service is all about.

Reed, who died in December at age 75, was the leader of higher education systems in Florida and California for more than three decades and was a feared and respected fixture in Tallahassee, where he also served as Gov. Bob Graham's chief of staff in 1984-85.

He was blunt and highly critical of what he saw as a penny-pinching, short-sighted Florida Legislature. He was fiercely supportive of students, hard-working and unpretentious, and he hated titles like "Chancellor," demanded to be called Charlie and refused to work under a contract. He said if he wasn't wanted any more, he needed an hour to clean out his desk.

"Not always liked, but he was respected," California educator Jim Rosser said. "An unruly giant," said Tallahassee lawyer and former university regent Duby Ausley. "Enough work ethic for a hundred people," in Graham's words.

Graham, fighting the flu, couldn't attend. But former U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, also a former governor of South Carolina, read his remarks, which included Graham's moving recollection of a story John Sowinski wrote on the FloridaPolitics.com news site.

Sowinski is known today for his work on ballot initiatives, such as opposing expansion of casino gambling in Florida. But when Reed was chancellor of Florida's universities, Sowinski was a lobbyist for university students who clashed with Reed on tuition and other issues. As Graham told the story, when Reed learned Sowinski wanted to go back to Orlando, he offered to put in a good word with Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick, who hired Sowinski and gave his budding career a big boost.

"I enjoyed that column," Graham wrote, "because it spoke exactly to who Charlie was -- someone who really lived to help others."


February 01, 2017

Invalid votes for president spike in Florida, outnumbering Trump's margin of victory here

From Gary Fineout at the Associated Press:

Beyoncé, Tim Tebow or the Norse god Thor for prez? Those were some of Florida's more unusual picks for president this past election.

And the number of Florida voters who didn't cast a vote for either Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or any other valid contender spiked in 2016, apparently in protest over the ballot choices.

A report released by state officials Wednesday showed more than 161,000 Florida voters who took part in the elections either at the polls or by mail didn't cast a valid vote for president.

The "non-valid votes" include those who wrote in such names as Mickey Mouse or Bernie Sanders and others who simply left the ballot blank. It also includes those who voted for more than one candidate.

All told, the invalid ballots outnumbered Republican Trump's margin of victory over Democrat Clinton of nearly 113,000 votes to clinch Florida's 29 electoral votes.

And the rate of invalid votes for president in 2016 — 1.69 percent overall — was more than double the rate it was in 2012 and 2008 when President Barack Obama won the state each time.

"There were some people who were very disgruntled," said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, giving the read of some fellow election officials on the report.

More here.

January 19, 2017

Miami's Helen Aguirre Ferré gets White House post


Miamian Helen Aguirre Ferré, who took a rather thankless job during the presidential campaign as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, won a post Thursday in incoming President Donald Trump's White House. 

Aguirre Ferré will be a special assistant to the president and director of media affairs, Trump's transition team announced.

January 17, 2017

Who's going to Trump's inauguration? Gov. Scott, for starters



Several leading Florida Republicans are making the trek to Washington, D.C., this week to see Donald Trump take the oath of office and officially become president of the United States.

Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned for Trump and chaired a super PAC that supported his presidential bid, will leave the state Tuesday evening ahead of an inaugural ball sponsored by his Let’s Get to Work political committee the next night. Scott will attend the inauguration and be seated with other Republican governors, according to his office. He returns to Florida Saturday.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of Trump's closest allies in the state and a likely pick for a top job in his White House will be there and at the Florida Sunshine Ball sponsored by Scott.

The other two cabinet officials, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are not going.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, will attend the inauguration, his office said. Corcoran -- who initially backed former Gov. Jeb Bush, then Sen. Marco Rubio and finally Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the Republican nomination -- was a reluctant supporter of Trump.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will be there. Unlike his counterpart in the House, Negron was quicker to back Trump and served as a member of the electoral college, which gave the president-elect Florida's 29 electoral votes in December.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, also a state representative from Spring Hill, is going. He led the state party through the election and was re-elected to the post Saturday.

Several other state lawmakers are, as well, including Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who is being considered for an ambassadorship. So are House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero, Rep. Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami, Rep. Bill Hager of Delray Beach, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers, Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford and Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, the Florida co-chair of the Trump campaign.

Brian Ballard, a top Tallahassee lobbyist and the Trump campaign's chief Florida fundraiser, is going to the inauguration and several related events. He was an elector for Trump, as well. So is Susie Wiles, who also led Trump's Florida operation. She is a Jacksonville-based lobbyist and helped usher Scott into office six years ago.

This list will continue to be updated as we hear from other Florida officials.

Photo: President-elect Donald Trump at an Orlando stop on his victory tour in December. (Andres Leiva, Tampa Bay Times)

January 05, 2017

Is Pam Bondi still under consideration for Trump job?


Immediately after Donald Trump was elected president, one Florida name was floated above the rest for a job in his administration: Attorney General Pam Bondi.

About two weeks out from Trump's inauguration, the Tampa Republican still has not been appointed to any job.

But an announcement could be coming soon, reports Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs

In a tweet, she wrote, "NEW: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will be named to a post in the Trump White House, sources tell me. Trump aides finalizing her role."

Asked Thursday, the Trump transition provided no new information about whether Bondi was even still in consideration for an administration job.

"We have no additional announcements at this time," said Sean Spicer, who will be Trump's White House press secretary, on a conference call with reporters. "I don't want to get ahead of any announcements that may or may not come."

Bondi has been mum, too. Asked Thursday morning, she would not comment on whether she was being considered for a new job in the administration. 

"I'd never discuss anything confidential," she said, echoing previous statements.

Bondi, a career prosecutor, had one publicly announced meeting with Trump in December, but none have been announced since.

A member of the transition team, she likely has had conversations with others high up in the Trump inner circle, and Spicer on Thursday called her a "very trusted confidante."

Times staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed reporting.

December 29, 2016

PolitiFact Florida: Top 10 viewed fact-checks in 2016



Donald Trump’s wealth and Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State were some of the contentious topics in 2016 that fueled our most clicked-on fact-checks at PolitiFact Florida.

Also fueling our Truth-O-Meter were statements by two of Florida’s Republican presidential primary opponents -- former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio-- as well as former Democratic National Committee chair U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But it was a story about race and murder statistics that we wrote in 2015 hat drew the most clicks in 2016. Our story explained that FBI data shows that whites usually kill whites, and blacks usually kill blacks. In recent years, these statistics have repeatedly drawn interest in the aftermath of high-profile shooting deaths in which race was a factor.

Here’s a look at the most-clicked on fact-checks and articles we published in 2016 from PolitiFact Florida.

December 28, 2016

PolitiFact: The Top 10 fact-checks in 2016



President-elect Donald Trump’s business record and Hillary Clinton’s email practices were some of the most contentious issues of the 2016 election — and some of PolitiFact’s most popular reports of the year.

In addition to our fact-checks, readers clicked on special reports and roundups. The perennial reader-favorite examining whether Ted Cruz being born in Canada had any bearing on his presidential eligibility fetched nearly a million views. Our guide to viral graphics contrasting Clinton and Bernie Sanders was a hit during the Democratic primary. And we drew tons of eyeballs for our live fact-checking and round-ups of the presidential debates.

Out of over 1,100 fact-checks related to this presidential cycle, here are the most clicked-on fact-checks of the past 12 months.

Keep reading from PolitiFact.


December 27, 2016

Super PAC backing former Marco Rubio rival donates to him



Carlos Beruff ended his futile campaign for the U.S. Senate by jabbing at former GOP primary rival Marco Rubio and warning that he made a “life mistake” by returning to Washington.

But a Super PAC set up to support Beruff clearly has a different opinion. Newly released Federal Election Commission records show the last act of Lets Clean Up Washington was to donate $5,000 to a PAC supporting Rubio at the end of October. Lets Clean Up Washington is a PAC created to help Beruff’s campaign and was heavily funded by Beruff’s Bradenton-area political allies like developers Pat Neal and the Benderson Development Corporation.

Beruff spent $8.3 million of his own money in a bid to win the GOP nomination. When Beruff first got into the race, it was a field of mostly low profile Republicans like U.S. Reps David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and businessman Todd Wilcox. But then national Republicans, concerned none could win the seat, pushed Rubio - who had just finished losing his presidential bid - to get back into the race. Rubio did, forcing the other candidates out of the race. But Beruff refused retreat, promising to spend more than $15 million to win the seat if he had to.

FEC records show he never topped $8.3 million.

After Beruff lost the primary, he posted a letter on his website explaining why he ran and ripped Rubio and most of the other candidates who once had been in the race. He described Jolly and DeSantis as “scurrying for the exits” when Rubio got back into the race. He slammed Lopez-Cantera too, saying the Lt. Governor “went back to doing whatever it is that he does, which is basically nothing except collect a check from the Florida taxpayers.”

But he saved his toughest words for Rubio for re-entering the race after saying he wouldn’t.

“With regard to young Mr. Rubio, in my judgement he made a life mistake.  A man’s word is the most important thing he has.  Mr. Rubio must live with that decision,” Beruff wrote on his website.

Here’s Beruff’s full farewell letter:

Continue reading "Super PAC backing former Marco Rubio rival donates to him" »

December 22, 2016

Trump is in Florida, but it's not clear if he's meeting with state officials


President-elect Donald Trump is spending Christmas in the Sunshine State, but it's not clear if he and his team will meet with any Florida officials while he's here.

Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters that he was "not aware of any specific meetings that are happening."

"Obviously, Florida is a very important state to the president-elect, a place where he spends a lot of time," Miller said. "But as far as if there's anything more specific that's happening on this particular trip, I don't have anything to share at the moment."

Trump is spending Christmas at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago.

The trip comes as several Florida politicians are reportedly being considered for administration jobs, including Attorney General Pam Bondi and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller. As well, there are any number of policy reasons Trump or his advisers would want to meet with elected and appointed officials from the nation's third-largest state.

Trump is friends with Gov. Rick Scott, and two state representatives played key roles in his election: Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, was co-chairman of the Florida campaign, and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, chairs the Republican Party of Florida.