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79 posts from May 2018

May 24, 2018

Sixteen states have filed for federal election money. Florida is not one of them.

Sixteen states have formally applied for federal money to improve their election security in advance of the 2018 vote.

Florida is not yet one of them.

The state's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, says: "We've been working on it daily." The state hasn't specifically said why up until this week it hasn't sought the money.

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday ordered Detzner to seek Florida's $19 million share of a $380 million fund, part of a spending bill that President Donald J. Trump signed in March.

To get the money, states must submit a 2-to-3 page narrative overview of activities to be supported with the money and a line item budget within 90 days of a notice of a grant award.

The federal Election Assistance Commission, in bold, underscored text, says on its web site that "awards will be issued and funds available for drawdown prior to receipt of the plan overview to expedite and support any needed expenditures prior to the 2018 election."

States that have applied to the EAC are Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Missouri submitted its request on April 19. This map shows the date of each state's submission.

County election supervisors in Florida, who are wrapping up their annual conference in Fort Lauderdale, are eager to get some of that money to make security upgrades, especially in small and rural counties limited by a lack of growth in tax revenues.

In a statement, Detzner's spokeswoman, Sarah Revell, said: "We are in the process of putting a budget together that supports state and local elections officials, and the department is going to move quickly based on the governor's directive to submit the required paperwork to the EAC to draw down the funding as soon as possible."

Special session to boost education funding? It's not happening. Republicans vote for status quo.

By Jeffrey Solochek, Tampa Bay Times Corcoran and Sheve Jones

To almost no one's surprise, a last ditch effort to bring Florida lawmakers back to Tallahassee for another conversation about public education funding has failed.

A group of House Democrats, led by Reps. Shevrin Jones and Nicholas Duran, used an obscure law by which 20 percent of the Legislature could require a poll to determine whether a special session would take place.

Three-fifths of the members in each chamber would have to agree. The vote fell far short.

In the House, all 41 Democrats supported the measure. Not a single Republican did.

In the Senate, all 16 Democrats backed the call. Not one Republican joined them. In fact, the nearly half the Senate Republicans did not even participate in the survey, including former president Tom Lee (Hillsborough), future president Wilton Simpson (Pasco) and president pro tempore Anitere Flores (Miami-Dade).

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the survey results Thursday, after the noon deadline had passed. The outcome was all but certain two days earlier, though, as the emerging tally made clear the 60 percent threshold wouldn't be reached.

The Democrats made their push amid school leader complaints that the state's public education budget for the coming fiscal year did not include enough added funding to cover rising daily costs, while also not meeting the Legislature's demands for increased school security and mental health services.

Republican leaders fired back with a video insisting the state's education funding had reached record levels, and arguing the detractors misrepresented the budget. Gov. Rick Scott also stood by the spending plan, which he signed despite calls for a veto by superintendents and others.

Rep. Jones, the ranking Democrat on the House Education committee, said it was unfortunate the effort failed.

"I'm thankful for my Democratic colleagues for understanding and keeping true to our values, which we have consistently been fighting for," he said. "We will continue our commitment to fight on behalf of our teachers and on behalf of our students.

"How do we do that? The people will always rise."

Students, parents and educators are becoming fed up with a legislative system that does not share that priority, Jones said, suggesting the electorate will take matters into its own hands.

"We fight on," he said.

Soon after Detzner's official pronouncement that the special session hadn't passed, the Florida Education Association issued a statement noting that Scott easily could have called lawmakers back on his own, if he had the will.

"This is very sad news for our schools, but no surprise given the current political landscape," FEA president Joanne McCall said in the release. "It's sad news for all of us, because the whole state loses when public education is harmed. The only bright spot I see, going forward, is that we can change our political landscape this fall at the polls."

House Democratic leaders who called for the session could not be immediately reached for comment.

Related: Florida Dems use obscure law in last-ditch effort to call Legislature back for more school funding 

Photo: Rep. Shevrin Jones confers with House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a recent Florida legislative session. [The Florida House]


How a Miami Republican is leading a last-gasp shot at an immigration vote in Congress



Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is leading a last-gasp shot to change the nation's immigration laws after years of inaction, and he's been furiously trying to rally dissatisfied Republicans over the past three weeks to bypass House Speaker Paul Ryan and force a series of votes on the House floor on immigration in the next few days..

Here's what you need to know.

On May 9, Curbelo introduced a petition to change the rules in the House of Representatives to allow votes on four immigration-related bills. The bill that receives the most support beyond a simple majority passes the House and heads to the Senate for consideration.

Within hours, 17 Republicans signed Curbelo's petition, including Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Curbelo and California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham have led an arm-twisting effort over the past two weeks to get more Republicans on board, and now they are two Republican signatures short of the 25 GOP votes they need to reach a majority if every single Democrat signs the petition.

The petition would force a vote on the following bills:

A conservative immigration bill embraced by the majority of House Republicans that doesn't have enough support to pass.

▪A bill called the DREAM Act that would protect DACA recipients and DACA-eligible young people who didn't sign up for the program from deportation and give them a path to citizenship.

▪A bill that gives DACA-eligible young people a path to citizenship while also including funding for border security.

▪A fourth bill of Speaker Ryan's choosing.

Read more here.

Adam Putnam cancels fundraiser at home of dog shooter


Via @AdamSmithTimes of the Tampa Bay Times

Adam Putnam has scrubbed plans to hold at fundraising reception today at the Orlando home of a man videotaped in 2008 shooting two pet huskies that entered a cow pasture. The cancellation came hours after The Tampa Bay Times noted that the host of the reception, businessman Christopher Comins, had caused considerable outrage after the video of the shooting became public.

"The event has been cancelled," was all Putnam Communications Director Meredith Beatrice would say about the last-minute cancellation.

Wednesday night she dismissed a question about Comins hosting Putnam, noting that fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis had received money from a prominent Democratic donor.

A judge acquitted Comins of animal cruelty charges in 2011, saying that he had been authorized to shoot the dogs by the property owner who has a right to protect his cattle.

Top tier campaigns vet the hosts of their fundraising events as a matter of course. In this case a Google search would have immediately indicated to Putnam's team about Comins' dog issue.

"It's just another case of poor decision making by the same career politician who voted with Nancy Pelosi for bailouts, gave us 'Cash for Clunkers' and supported amnesty," said DeSantis campaign spokesman David Vasquez.

The Democratic group American Bridge promptly jumped on the controversy, calling on Putnam to return the $2,700 Comins contributed to his campaign two months ago.

"Canceling one fundraiser with this dog shooter means nothing if Chris Comins's checks are still sitting in Adam Putnam and the Republican Party of Florida's bank accounts," said American Bridge spokesperson Zach Hudson. "We would hope accepting thousands of dollars from someone who was caught on camera shooting dogs is a bridge too far even for Adam Putnam."

Levine is campaigning on climate change. But his sea-rise legacy is complicated.


Via @NewsbySmiley @JoeFlech and @HarrisAlexC

Philip Levine’s political prospects are intertwined with Miami Beach’s $500 million plan to survive rising seas.

When he ran for mayor in 2013 as a relatively unknown businessman, Levine promised to keep the city dry during seasonal high tides and better prepared for a future fighting back floodwater. Now that he hopes to score the Democratic nomination for Florida governor, the plan he set in motion to rapidly raise roads and protect neighborhoods with industrial pumps is a key cog in his progressive platform.

But as Levine crisscrosses the state promoting his radical sea-rise agenda on Miami Beach, his signature accomplishment is springing leaks back home.

Last week, amid questions about planning under Levine’s tenure, angst about the city’s climate change efforts effectively torpedoed the next steps of the former mayor’s agenda. Because of fierce opposition to a $24 million project that includes raising roads, a divided city commission punted on nearly $90 million of roadway and stormwater improvements in a residential swath of the city.

Following the vote, one elected official referred to the delayed project as “ill-conceived.” The criticism follows frustrations from business owners who’ve seen the city’s pumps fail during power outages and faced warnings from scientists who’ve documented evidence that those same pumps are polluting Biscayne Bay.

“I think Philip Levine helped wake everybody up. I love him for that. This is an elected official who said ‘We don’t have time to wait,” said Caroline Lewis, executive director of the climate change non-profit CLEO Institute. “But I’m not so sure everything was so well thought out.”

Click here to read the rest.

Ros-Lehtinen's would-be heirs have met aliens and dictators and slimed Al Gore

Republican Brady BunchThe heir-apparent to the first ever Latina elected to Congress could be someone who’s been on a space ship with aliens.

It could be a singer whose pop star father croons for campaign donors, or a television anchor known for snaring one-on-one sit-downs with dictators. The daughter of the last-ever Dominican Republic dictator had a shot before dropping out. But the self-described political hit man once questioned in the murder of SunCruz Casinos owner Gus Boulis is still in the running.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, someone not named Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will claim the Republican party's nomination for Florida's 27th congressional district. And the field is, in the words of the retiring congresswoman ... "interesting."

"I'm excited," Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview. "We have a real tug-of-war in the Republican primary. Some are more liberal, some are more conservative, some are practically non-existent."

Nine candidates have lined up for the Republican primary. Ros-Lehtinen called the candidates "sexy," but also admitted that she's been a little bored by the lack of action in the campaign.

"Where is the clarion call from the Republican side? They're very la-tee-da," the retiring congresswoman said. "They need somebody to really stand out."

Tough standards. For some of the candidates, it's hard to see what more they could do.

Click here to read more. (Via @AlexTDaugherty and @NewsbySmiley)

The Republican Governors Association has a target in Florida: Gwen Graham

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 11.23.01 AM_1
A screenshot of the Republican Governors Association website from Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

If there is a candidate for Florida Governor that the Republican Governors Association doesn't seem to like, it's Gwen Graham.

Nine of the association's latest news releases from Florida take aim at the the former Congresswoman, who is considered a front-runner but slightly behind in polls to former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

The releases, all in the month of May, have the typical headlines you'd expect from members of the opposite party, calling Graham "desperate" or "phony" or having been "caught misleading voters." 

The association, whose stated purpose is "electing and supporting Republican governors," apparently has someone surreptitiously recording the candidate. Its latest release features a video by someone secretly recording while asking Graham a question about taxes at a campaign event.

The RGA hasn't focused solely on Graham, though. The last time they did a press release that targeted another candidate was back in March, when they did a post mentioning that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is "catching fire" among Democrats. (They previously noted that Gillum is "surging" among Democrats.)

Why the focus on Graham? The RGA didn't respond to a request for comment. The current chairman of the RGA is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for senate, was vice chairman of the organization last year.

As for Graham's camp, they're brushing it off:

"Focusing so many of their attacks on Democrat Gwen Graham, seems like 'R.G.A.' really stands for 'Republican Graham Anxiety,'" Graham campaign manager Julia Woodward said in a statement. "The Republican Governor’s Association fears 20 years of one-party rule is coming to an end in Florida, and they clearly know Gwen is the one who’s going to end the Republican lock on the governor’s office in November."

May 23, 2018

No federal cyber-security money before election, state says

Florida's chief elections official, Ken Detzner, says counties desperately waiting for a new pot of federal money to fight cyber-threats to voting systems won't be getting it before the election.

"The answer is no, and the reason is, we have to go to the Legislature to get approval," Detzner says. "We don't have the authority to spend that money without legislative approval. We have to submit a budget and it has to be a thoughtful budget that looks at the short-term and long-term needs."

President Donald J. Trump signed a spending bill on March 23 that included $380 million for states to harden their election systems against the ongoing threats of cyber-attacks before the 2018 election.

The program is being run by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which said on March 29: "The EAC is releasing this money quickly so that the grants can have an immediate impact, even utilized possibly in the 2018 election cycle."

Florida's share of the pot is $19.2 million, to be divided among the state and 67 counties. Two months after the money was appropriated, Florida has not yet filed all of the required paperwork.

"We've been working on it since we first got the call," Detzner said.

Florida cannot spend new federal money without legislative approval, but that's often a perfunctory step by a panel of lawmakers known as the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, chaired by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, the incoming House speaker.

The Times/Herald first reported mounting frustration by election supervisors over the slow pace in getting access to money.

At an elections conference in Fort Lauderdale, tensions flared  between Detzner, the Secretary of State and a Gov. Rick Scott appointee, and local elections officials over communications issues. It happened shortly after Detzner said a smooth election is possible "if we work together."

At least three counties complained to Detzner that the state fails to tell them about temporary disruptions in a statewide voter database, which prompts them to scramble for signs of intrusions — never knowing the problem is in Tallahassee.

"We're sitting there chasing our tails, trying to identify where the problem is," Darrell Tate of the Okaloosa County elections office told Detzner. "If you know that you are having an issue with (the database), just a notification."

Detzner replied: "We will address the communications question."

The election supervisors who need federal cyber-security money the most have small staffs with limited technological expertise and are in small and medium-sized counties.

Dana Southerland, who directs a staff of three in rural Taylor County, said: "I think every dollar we can get to be able to put into security procedures is worth struggling for. We're needing the money. Every small county is."

"We need that money as soon as possible," said Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton in Gainesville.

Mark Earley, supervisor of elections in Tallahassee's Leon County, said the bureaucratic delay "seems completely contrary to the intent" of improving election security, but he didn't fault Detzner.

"His hands appear to be tied on this one," Earley said.


A separate federal pot of $1.9 million is available for counties to buy special sensors to detect intrusions, which supervisors called a positive step. That money is in the new state budget that takes effect July 1.

Despite the high anxiety over real and perceived threats to Florida voting systems, the Legislature did not spend any new state dollars to attack the problem in a year when there was enough money to set aside $3 billion in reserves.

South Florida toy exec ready to pony up thousands for Murphy-Jolly run

My Little Pony Rainbow Dash [AP]My Little Pony Rainbow Dash [AP]

Politics can be a nightmarish place: Attack ads. Dark money. Political "bogeymen."

Then there are the days when My Little Pony enters the fray.

That's right. The man whose company produces your favorite classic, rainbow toy horses is getting involved in the 2018 Florida election, and has pledged to back the potential bipartisan ticket of former Congressmen Patrick Murphy and David Jolly for governor and lieutenant governor.

READ MORE: Murphy-Jolly idea comes amid a push for a new approach to politics

"I think it’s a great idea and a great opportunity for Florida, which is a swing state in so many ways, to show the country that this model works, said Jay Foreman, CEO of Basic Fun!, a Boca Raton-based toy company that, along with its conglomerates, also makes Lite-Brites and K'nex.

Under the possible plan, Murphy, a Democrat, would run for governor and if he survived the primary would nominate Jolly, a Republican, to be his running mate. While it's late in the election cycle to join the governor's race and the two still have not announced if they will pull the trigger, the idea has sparked media fascination and has polled well among prospective Democratic primary voters in Florida.

Foreman, a Democrat, said he's a longtime supporter of Murphy's and even held a fundraiser for him during one of his runs for Congress.

But Foreman, 55, was hardly aware Murphy was considering a run for governor alongside Jolly until the pair appeared on MSNBC Monday afternoon. Foreman then messaged Murphy immediately, he said, offering his support and his checkbook.

Foreman said he will likely start with a small $2,500 donation then possibly work his way up to a maximum of $20,000 to $40,000 and another hosted fundraiser.

"Jolly and Murphy get into it and I see two guys with fresh ideas and fresh faces," he said. "It gets me excited because this is the bench for future years in politics."

Foreman regularly gives to politicians in the thousands, and is someone who has supported Murphy's bids in the past. Similar is Barry Ginsburg of Stuart, a retired real estate executive who also said he's an early supporter of the Murphy-Jolly ticket.

"I think (bipartisanship) is needed at this time because it's hard to even talk to your friends and neighbors who have different affiliations … and there's something wrong with that and I think this has a shot to change it," Ginsburg said.

Finding wealthy donors is a must for politicians running statewide races in Florida, a state where expensive TV ads are king. Securing more of these donors could be a challenge for Murphy and Jolly should they decide to run, considering many heavy-hitters have already "committed" to other candidates who have been running their campaigns for months, if not years.

But Foreman doesn't think those challenges will stop them.

"Patrick looks to somebody like me for not only support on basic level, but also emotional support ... because I tell him like it is and if I thought it was a dumb idea I would tell him," he said. "But it's not. I'm guessing he's going to go for it."

May 22, 2018

Democrat finishes first in Miami-Dade as Higgins and Barreiro advance to June runoff


Via @doug_hanks

Newcomer Eileen Higgins rode a wave of support from the Democratic Party to take first place in Tuesday's election to replace Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and will face the former commissioner's wife, Republican Zoraida Barreiro, in a runoff election next month for the non-partisan seat. Both candidates eliminated former state senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who finished third. 

With all precincts reporting shortly before 9 p.m.. Higgins held nearly 35 percent of the vote, followed by Barreiro at 33 percent, with 222 votes separating them. Diaz de la Portilla was in third with 27 percent, followed by former television actor Carlos Garin with less than 5 percent.

With no candidate crossing the 50 percent threshold, the top two finishers advance to a June 19 runoff, setting up a four-week contest to decide who will represent a district that includes Little Havana, South Beach and parts of downtown Miami.

The results delivered a big win for local Democrats as party support for a first-time candidate helped push Higgins ahead of candidates with two well-known names in local politics. Strategists on both sides of the aisle portrayed the strong showing by the lone Democrat in the race as evidence that a "blue wave" that has lifted Democratic candidates in special elections since Donald Trump became president had landed in a Miami-Dade commission race, too.

To read the rest, click here.