April 23, 2017

Charlie Crist to John Morgan: Run for Florida governor


Former Florida governor-turned-congressman Charlie Crist wants John Morgan to run for his old job next year.

Crist told MIami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 that he thinks Morgan -- his old boss -- would win if he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

"Run. I told him, I said if you run I think you’ll win," Crist said of a conversation last week with Morgan.

Here's a transcript of Crist's interview with "Facing South Florida" with Jim DeFede:

DEFEDE: Your friend John Morgan has talked about possibly running. Do you think he would make a good governor? 

CRIST: I do. I do. I love John Morgan. Not only is he my friend, my lifelong friend now, but he is my former law partner. And I have gotten to know him so much better over the last five years than I did before. He has a great sense of humor. He’s no holds barred. He has a self-assuredness about him that few people do have. And he has a heart of gold. And that’s the most important thing about a good leader. That they lead with heart. It’s good to be smart. It’s good to listen. But if you don’t have the good heart to start with you can’t be a great leader. He has a great heart. He could be a great governor. 

DEFEDE: Are you encouraging him to run? 

CRIST: I just did yesterday [April 16]. 

DEFEDE: Did you really? 

CRIST: Yeah, why not? 

DEFEDE: What did you tell him? 

CRIST: Run. I told him, I said if you run I think you’ll win. And I believe that. And if he doesn’t run, that’s his decision. You know, only each of us can make that kind of a decision. That’s a big deal decision. So if he decides not to I’ll understand that too and wish him the best. I love him.

April 21, 2017

John Morgan: I was not drunk that night at Boots N Buckles


via @adamsmithtimes

More to come later, but John Morgan charmed an overflow crowd at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club today, where he was asked about that 2014 viral video of him, drink in hand, addressing a crowd at the Boots N Buckles saloon in Lakeland while campaigning to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

Good question, considering how many of the people who doubt Morgan's strength as a candidate mention booze. (Morgan was charged with driving under the influence in 1997 and 1993.)

"First of all, I was not drunk when I was on that video," said Morgan, laughing off the question and explaining that he had had two drinks at Outback before that video was filed. "I guess if I use the f-word, f-bombs, people think I'm drunk. If that's the case, I'm drunk every damn day of my life. ... When I got on my bus to go back to my beach house, I got drunk. And when I got to my beach house, I got drunker. But I was not drunk at Boots N Buckles. But I do love Boots N Buckles it will be in my heart forever."

If he runs for governor — and many people in the crowd today thought he sounded more likely to run than not — Boots N Buckles may be his unofficial campaign headquarters, Morgan said.

And as for the question about whether a Morgan candidacy could survive surprise cell phone videos that might emerge, Morgan said that does not worry him a bit. "I'm never going to not be me."

"What I would say to people who make that point is this: Let all the perfect people vote for somebody else, and let all the sinners and imperfect people vote for me. I'll win in a landslide," Morgan said to applause.

He also said he had been advised that he would have to lose a lot of weight if he ran and that a doctor told him his ideal weight would be 158 pounds.

"My head alone weighs 50 pounds," he scoffed, assuring the crowd that he will not be following the Jeb Bush weight loss model if he runs. He barely recognized the former governor when he saw a picture of Bush announcing his presidential campaign.

"He was so skinny. I actually thought it was Rick Scott with a toupee."

Photo credit: CHARLIE KAIJO / Tampa Bay Times

Frank Artiles' political committee paid Hooters and Playboy models as political consultants

TaylorMLockwood Key West@MaryEllenKlas

Just months before his resignation Friday, Sen. Frank Artiles scored a coup in November when he unseated Democrat Dwight Bullard with an aggressive $1 million campaign in a district that favored Democrats.

But the long list of expenditures filed with the Florida Division of Elections by Artiles’ political committee, Veterans for Conservative Principles, also raised some questions. Why did the committee hire a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as “consultants?” Were the payments related to a trip to the Kentucky Derby or a fishing tournament in Key West? What was the more than $51,000 in reimbursements to Artiles for?

Heather Thomas, a former Hooters calendar girl and waitress at 101, a restaurant and bar in Tallahassee, was paid $2,000 between March and June of last year. The expense report lists the purpose as “consultant.” Her friend, Brittney Singletary, is a waitress at Stetsons on the Moon in Tallahassee. She was paid $1,500 with three checks covering three of the same dates and listing the same purpose. 

Artiles’ political consultant David Custin refused to comment on why they listed the expenditures as “consultants.”

“You don’t have a leg to stand on to be asking these questions. There’s nothing there,” he said. He referred questions to the committee’s treasurer, Tallahassee lobbyist Dave Ramba, who did not respond to requests for comment. He noted that Artiles, the chair of the political committee, would not be commenting.

Artiles, a Republican and a Marine Corps veteran, entered the race for the southwest Miami-Dade County district after it was redrawn last year following a bitter redistricting battle. His race became the second most expensive legislative campaign in the state. 

It was a brief victory. More here. 

Photo: Before departing Tallahassee for a fundraising fishing trip to Key West, Taylor M. Lockwood posted this. ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Heading to Key West in style,’ she wrote. ‘#thanksfrank.’ via Instagram

April 20, 2017

Voting rights ballot initiative gets green light from Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the voting rights of convicted felons can appear on the 2018 ballot.

The court's decision, written by Justice Fred Lewis, is an important legal victory for voting rights advocates, who are collecting signatures from around the state to place the question before voters next year.

"First, the ballot title and summary clearly and unambiguously inform the voters of the chief purpose of the proposed amendment," Lewis wrote. "Read together, the title and summary would reasonably lead voters to understand that the chief purpose of the amendment is to automatically restore voting rights to felony offenders, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, upon completion of all terms of their sentence. Second, the ballot title and summary also do not mislead voters with regard to the actual content of the proposed amendment. Rather, together they recite the language of the amendment almost in full."

Florida has an estimated 1.5 million felons who have been stripped of their voting rights, more than any other state.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office did not file a brief with the court on the ballot title and summary. The proposed amendment would undo a policy change enacted by Bondi, Gov. Rick Scott and other Cabinet members in 2011 that requires most convicted felons to wait for five years after leaving prison before they can file a clemency petition, seeking to regain the right to vote. Scott, a Republican who's considered a heavy favorite to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told the Times/Herald in 2016 he supports the existing restrictions.


April 19, 2017

Bernie Sanders rallies crowd in Miami



Independent Bernie Sanders was met with cheers in Miami Wednesday night as he called for transforming the Democratic Party into a grassroots force that will fight for the poor and middle class and push back against President Donald Trump.

“We are going to take on the billionaire class…” Sanders said. “Donald Trump did not win the election — the Democrats lost the election! That means rebuilding the Democratic Party, making it a grassroots party — a party from the bottom on up!”

Sanders spoke at the James L. Knight Center as part of a nationwide “Come Together and Fight Back” Tour largely in swing states and Republican states. Sanders spoke in Maine and Kentucky earlier this week and will later go to Texas, Nebraska, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. The goal is to rebuild the party after the major rift that developed between supporters of Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president. About 2,000 people were in the crowd, according to a Knight Center official.

Sanders was accompanied by Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, a labor secretary under President Obama. Perez’s predecessor, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, had to step down from the chair position in July after WikiLeaks published thousands of emails showing that the DNC favored Clinton over Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.

Perez bashed GOP leaders — with some colorful language as he dropped the “s” word multiple times: “The Republican leadership doesn’t give a s--- about people who are suffering.”

Keep reading here.

DNC chair Tom Perez calls out Carlos Curbelo in Miami



During his speech to introduce Bernie Sanders in Miami, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez bashed U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican for his position on health care reform and for doling out PAC money to Republicans who have opposed immigration reform.

Curbelo “voted for Trump’s half-baked health care plan out of committee and what did he say? ‘No one will lose coverage,’” Perez said at the James L. Knight Center Wednesday. “That’s bullshit my friends.”

Curbelo voted for the bill in committee but expressed “serious concerns” after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the policy would force 14 million Americans to drop or lose their insurance coverage. When the bill collapsed in March Curbelo refused to say how he would have voted on the bill

Curbelo, who represents a left-leaning district, is one of the most targeted Republican members of Congress in the nation.

Perez also called out Curbelo for how he doles out money from his leadership PAC. Perez said that Curbelo promised that his PAC to boost other Republicans would only go to those who supported Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) -- a program to help undocumented immigrants who arrived as children avoid deportation.

“Guess what it happened?” Perez said. “That turned out to be a lie."

In 2016, Curbelo opened a political action committee to raise money for those Republicans who might need some financial support for taking a moderate immigration tack. Curbelo said at the time that potential beneficiaries could be Republicans who, like him, "voted against punishing people who were brought to this country as children and who are de facto Americans."

He was referring to a House vote to end President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which granted legal status to immigrants who had been brought into the country illegally as children.

Curbelo told the Herald in 2016 that the 47 Republicans who received money from WACPAC indicated to him in off-the-record conversations that they are committed to immigration reform.

This blog has been updated to reflect Curbelo's statements about when he opened a PAC.

April 18, 2017

Could this be Florida's next CFO?



Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in Tallahassee today meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, but he made clear that it has nothing to do with the potential of Scott considering him for the soon-to-be vacant chief financial officer position.

“I love being mayor of Jacksonville,” Curry said when we asked him if he is interested in being CFO. “I’m over here today talking to the governor about Jacksonville issues.”

Current elected CFO Jeff Atwater has already announced he is leaving the position early in May to take a job at Florida Atlantic University. That gives Scott the authority to appoint an interim CFO who could serve until the end of 2018 when the next election for the position is held.

Curry’s name has come up as a potential candidate for CFO given he is a CPA, the former Republican Party of Florida chairman and is the mayor of the city with the largest population in Florida. He’s also from a county - Duval - that is a must win for Republicans to win statewide.
Curry has only been mayor for 2 years and has a term that runs until 2019. He would have to take a major pay cut from his $174,000 a year in Jacksonville to less than $130,000 for CFO.

Scott has not said who he is considering for CFO or when he would make a decision. Check out here some of the other candidates that we’ve speculated could be in the running.

April 17, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson poised for battle with Gov. Rick Scott


via @stevebousquet

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been on the political stage longer than anyone in Florida, since 1972 — the year of Watergate and President Richard Nixon's re-election.

That's staying power. It's no wonder that at 74, he's not ready to retire.

Nelson, the only Democrat holding statewide office, has led a charmed political life, winning three Senate races against weak Republicans.

But that may be coming to an end. He wants a fourth term, and his likely opponent is Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

"The way I approach an election, I assume nothing," Nelson says. "I run scared as a jackrabbit."

He should.

Scott, who has won two close races for governor, looks more battle-tested than Nelson, has more money in the bank and is a perpetual campaigner.

On the road constantly, the governor held several roundtables in recent weeks and urged local leaders to save Enterprise Florida from that "job-killing" House speaker, Richard Corcoran.

So it surely was coincidental that, with no notice, Corcoran invited Nelson to address the House last Thursday while the senator was in Tallahassee.

Keep reading here.

Political newcomer to run for Florida agriculture commissioner



A University of Miami law student and political newcomer will announce his bid as a Democrat for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Monday.

Michael Christine, 27, filed his paperwork with the state Division of Elections April 11th for the 2018 race. He will graduate from law school in about one month.

The current commissioner, Republican Adam Putnam, is term limited and appears poised to run for governor. The commissioner oversees agriculture and consumer services including registration for conceal carry permits for firearms. 

Christine doesn't have much agriculture experience except for working odd jobs on farms while growing up in rural upstate New York. Hillary Clinton's deputy campaign director in Florida, Samuel Powers, is a consultant to his campaign.

Christine plans to start a petition drive for a state constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis and tax it to generate revenue for state programs.

“We need to build up the declining agro industry by giving them a new cash crop -- one with a proven track record of generating so much excess revenue that it can be used toward other neglected programs throughout the state like educational programs, environmental conservation programs, substance abuse programs and veterans assistance programs,” he says in his announcement video.

On the Republican side, State Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring and Paul Paulson of Orlando are running for agriculture commissioner. 

April 14, 2017

Many Democrats to run in Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's Miami district



Many Democrats are planning to run in the district held by Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who represents a left-leaning Miami-Dade district that Hillary Clinton won by 20 percentage points.

In 2016, Ros-Lehtinen fended off a challenge from Democrat Scott Fuhrman in November after District 27 was redrawn to lean Democratic. Furhman has said he will run for the seat again in 2018. Fuhrman lost 45-55 to Ros-Lehtinen, the best any challenger had achieved against Ros-Lehtinen who has been in office since 1989.

Here's a quick look at the other Democrats who have filed to run in the coastal southeastern Miami-Dade district, according to Federal Election Commission reports:

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: She is in the second year of her first term on the Miami Beach City Commission and a Miami Dade College professor finishing her PhD on leadership in higher education administration at Barry University.

Michael A. Hepburn: A Miami native, Hepburn is a member of the Miami Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and serves on the Allapattah Neighborhood Association and the Miami Dade Democratic Executive Committee. He works as a senior academic advisor for the School of Business at the University of Miami. Hepburn lost a primary against Daphne Campbell for state representative in 2014. 

Mark Anthony Person filed to run with the state Division of Elections but his name was not listed with the Federal Election Commission and he could not be reached for comment.

Ros-Lehtinen has been one of the main GOP critics of President Donald Trump including the Republican Party's health care overhaul which Trump backed.

The Cook Political Report, which publishes a Partisan Voting Index, named Ros-Lehtinen third on the list of the 10 Republicans in the most Democratic districts in the nation. Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo topped the list. 

"Most districts are gerrymandered to the point where folks only have to listen to the most conservative positions, the most conservative viewpoints, and think that the other side is full of hogwash arguments. That's not true," Ros-Lehtinen previously told the Miami Herald. "I'm very comfortable with this district because it is actually a reflection of me: Sometimes I'm conservative, and on some issues I'm more moderate."