March 26, 2017

Jeb Bush: Trump should 'stop saying things that aren't true'

GOP 2016 Bush(24) (1)
@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush has a little unsolicited advice for President Donald Trump, his former primary rival.

"He should stop saying things that aren't true, that are distractions from the task at hand," Bush told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 in an interview that aired Sunday on "Facing South Florida."

In his first in-depth local interview since dropping out of the presidential race more than a year ago, Bush offered a mixed assessment of Trump's first 60 or so days in office. He praised several of Trump's Cabinet secretaries, including Betsy DeVos for education, John Kelly for homeland security and Rex Tillerson for state.

"The president made some really good appointments," Bush said. "He's acted decisively on some areas I think are important, particularly on the regulatory side."

But Bush said Trump "hasn't shifted to being president in the way that people are used to, and I think that's the problem."

"He's a distraction in and of himself," Bush said. "He's got a lot of work to do, and some of these things -- the wiretapping and all of this stuff -- is a complete distraction that makes it harder to accomplish the things I know he wants to do."

Asked host Jim DeFede: Does that diminish the office of the president? "A little bit," said Bush, who said he hasn't spoken to Trump since the inauguration.

Reflecting on his failed presidential campaign, Bush said he didn't regret running but acknowledged his personality and style didn't work for the electorate.

"Reasoning, in this environment where people are angry, is hard, and I wasn't capable of giving them a sense that there is a better path," he said. "They wanted to have their anger remediated -- more than a five-point plan.... President Trump's great skill was to understand that."

Bush also said he learned "something unusual": "People customize their news to validate what they believe, and it makes them increasingly less tolerant of other people's views that rely on another set of facts," he said. "That is dangerous for our democracy."

He said his top concern for the country is restoring "some sense of what it is to be an American citizen again, and have it be a unifying theme."

While Bush wouldn't rule out another political run -- "I don't rule out anything" -- he sounded content to be a private citizen again in Coral Gables.

"I sleep at night at home more often than not, and I've got my life organized pretty nicely," he said. "My church, my gym, my golf course. My office is less than a mile from my home, and it's two stop signs away. You can't beat that, man."

Bush also shied away from handicapping the big 2018 Florida governor and U.S. Senate races, though he noted that Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has "never been knocked off as a candidate for Senate."

"You gotta assume that incumbents have a certain advantage, if they've won two or three times," Bush said. "But on the other hand,t he person who's likely to run against him is also an incumbent -- so that'll be a good race for sure."

He was referring -- without mentioning him -- to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

March 24, 2017

Roger Stone: 'Don't confuse me with the character I sometimes play'

Stone for glenn
via @glenngarvin

Roger Stone, the legendarily hardball Republican operative who for years has lustily embraced such media epithets as the dapper don of dirty deeds and the undisputed master of the black arts of electioneering, now finds himself on the receiving end of what he calls a political dirty trick –– allegations that he helped mastermind Russian leaks of hacked Democratic Party emails –– and he’s not liking it much.

“You just wake up one day and a bunch of congressmen are kicking your balls across the field,” Stone said reflectively. “Based on nothing more than a Hillary Clinton campaign meme.... I understand. It’s politics. It’s the democratic process. All I want is the same open forum to respond.”

A steady drumbeat of accusations against Stone that had been building for months –– since a Jan. 19 story in The New York Times identified him as one of three associates of President Donald Trump under FBI investigation for links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia –– reached a crescendo this week, when Stone’s name was mentioned 19 times during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.

None of the references to Stone were flattering. And most ran along the lines of an attack by Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, who included Stone among a “rogues’ gallery” of Trump operatives “who fall somewhere on that spectrum from mere naivete ... to unwitting Russian dupes, to willing blindness, to active coordination.”

Since then, the Senate Intelligence Committee has warned Stone not to destroy any written records that could pertain to the investigation. And it’s scarcely been possible to turn on a TV set without hearing calls for Stone to be politically tarred and feathered, or at least subpoenaed.

The latter would be fine with Stone, who would love a nationally televised forum to counterattack accusations that he labels acts of fact-free political vengeance by enemies he helped whip in the election. The only thing he’s guilty of, he says, is “political showmanship.”

“Don’t confuse me with the character I sometimes play, Roger Stone,” he said. “Millions of people buy my books and watch me on [right-wing radio and streaming-video show] Info Wars. They like my style, and yeah, there’s a certain element of over-the-top to my style. But in today’s rapid-cycle media universe, if you don’t have some political flamboyance, you’re nowhere, you’re left behind.”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

March 21, 2017

Florida Senate passes redistricting push back: Court told us what to do, so now we'll tell it what to do

RedistrictOldNewAfter four years of bitter legal battles over Florida redistricting, Republicans in the Florida Senate Tuesday passed a bill that makes new demands on the court in future map wars, and sets new standards about which maps take effect and when.

The bill, SB 352 by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, passed the Senate 24-14, on a party line vote. It locks maps in place on qualifying day and requires that if a map is challenged 71 days before the primary election, the existing map in force will be the one that applies for the election. If the court orders revised the boundaries after that, the new boundaries will take effect in the next election cycle.

Those changes essentially codify the ruling of Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis in 2015, but the bill also trods new legal ground by also "encouraging" the court to act as if it were a legislative body. Before resolving a redistricting dispute, the Senate bill wants the court to conduct public hearings, record and maintain public records and accept public submissions of draft maps.

"The courts are now passing law,'' Hutson explained. "All I'm doing is what they encouraged us to do. There are things the public should know, how they're coming to these conclusions so we know where their heads are at."

The proposal is a response to the legal wrangling that snagged the Florida Senate and embarrassed its leaders in the last election cycle. After voters approved the Fair Districts gerrymandering standards in 2010, courts struck down congressional and Senate district maps approved by the Legislature and the grounds that the maps violated the Fair District provisions that prohibited favoring incumbents or political parties. 

During debate on the bill last week, Hutson defended that changes as necessary to ensure transparency in the redistricting process and provide certainty for voters and elections supervisors. But Democrats argued that the bill appeared to be intended as retribution against the judicial branch.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, offered an amendment to remove the section of the bill that imposes the new legislative standards on the court, saying "it also just doesn't work. I don't know what a court would do with this kind of language." 

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, argued against the amendment, saying the changes were needed to stop what he considered the "arrogance" of the courts, which ordered lawmakers to keep a record of the redistricting deliberations in order to establish whether they were adhering to the provision that prevents them from "intentionally" favoring incumbents or parties.

Continue reading "Florida Senate passes redistricting push back: Court told us what to do, so now we'll tell it what to do" »

February 20, 2017

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

@MichaelAuslen

+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

@PatriciaMazzei

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

@MichaelAuslen

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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?

@MichaelAuslen

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

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@amysherman1

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.