September 20, 2016

Will the governor and Cabinet hold FDLE accountable for investigating inmate deaths?

Prison deathsSix years after 27-year-old prison inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died at Franklin Correctional Institution  after being gassed by corrections officers, an investigation has still not been complete and witnesses to the incident, who allege he was tortured and beaten by corrections officers, have still not been interviewed, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

On Tuesday, the head of the agency charged with investigating the state's role in the death, Rick Swearingen, faces his six-month performance review before the governor and Cabinet today. The governor and Cabinet jointly are responsible for oversight of FDLE.

On Monday, the Herald/Times asked if the governor and Cabinet believed FDLE was sufficiently following up  on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections, as the agency had told legislators it would do. For the past three years, the Miami Herald has chronicled or revealed details about many of the deaths.

The question was not about the pending investigation but how the governor and members of the Cabinet is holding FDLE accountable regarding its performance about an inmate death nearly six years ago and other deaths the agency is charged with reviewing. 

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater responded. No one chose to answer the question, or explain why they didn't want to answer it. We did not receive a response from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Here is what we asked:

"We are writing today about a federal lawsuit being filed in connection with the death of inmate Randall Jordan Aparo in 2010. We understand the investigation was re-opened by FDLE, however, many of the witnesses in the case and others have not been interviewed, according to the lawsuit. 

"As you prepare the performance review of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Tuesday, could the governor provide us with an answer to this question:

"Have you have been assured that Commissioner Swearingen and his staff are sufficiently following up on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections? If you are confident these investigations are underway, please explain how you reached that conclusion."

Here's how the governor's office answered the question at 9:47 p.m.

"Commissioner Swearingen has done a great job in his leadership role at FDLE. We look forward to his performance review tomorrow,'' said Lauren Schenone, the governor's press secretary. "Florida is now at a 45-year crime low because of the hard work of Florida’s law enforcement officers, and Commissioner Swearingen has dedicated his career to making sure Florida is the safest state in the nation.”

Here is how the office of CFO Atwater responded: "Our office has not had specific conversations about inmate investigations," said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Atwater.

Here is how Bondi's office responded: "It would not be appropriate to comment on a pending investigation,'' said Kylie Mason, Bondi press secretary. "Furthermore, any discussion relating to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen's performance review must be addressed in the open at the public Cabinet meeting."

September 09, 2016

Adam Putnam recalls being with President Bush on 9/11


Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was a freshman member of Congress during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- and he was with then-President George W. Bush in Sarasota when Bush learned about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. He later joined the president on Air Force One.

Putnam retells the story about that day in a gripping oral history published by Politico Magazine on Friday, two days before the 15-year anniversary of the attacks.

Rep. Adam Putnam: [Rep. Dan Miller and I] went up to the president’s cabin and he gave us a briefing. He told us that “One way or another” all but a couple planes were accounted for. That was his phrase “one way or another.” He told us Air Force One was headed to Barksdale and was going to drop us off there. When we left the cabin, I turned to Dan and said, “Didn’t you think that was an odd phrase?” He didn’t notice it. I said “‘One way or another,’ that sounds like that there’s more to it than that.” I said, “Do you think there’s any way we shot them down?” We were left hanging.

More here.

August 15, 2016

Four people control who is disenfranchised in Florida; three say it's time for reform

Restrictions on felons voting is one of the two ways Florida legally disenfranchises voters.

One way, the write-in law, which allows a write-in candidate to close a primary to all voters, is intended to undercut the constitutional provision that allows all voters to vote in a primary election.

The other is the law that permanently requires felons who have completed their sentences to apply and petition for their voting rights to be restored. But unlike the write-in laws, which the Florida Legislature can revise to make less restrictive, the laws regulating ex-felons voting is controlled by the governor and Cabinet and the state Constitution. Any change in the rules requires the governor to be on the prevailing side.

In interviews with the Herald/Times, everyone but Gov. Rick Scott said they are open to changes in the system they installed five years ago.

“If someone does an analysis, we have been granting civil rights to those who were waiting who would have automatically had their rights restored [under the previous system] and it’s probably time for us to revisit,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

“Having had some time and experience on the Clemency Board, I’ve come to believe that there are opportunities for improvement,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was open to some reforms before an application may begin.

"I wouldn't mind reevaluating the time frame of how long we wait,'' she said. "I would reconsider reevaluating the time frame to three years." But she does not support automatic restoration for non-violent felons.

“Serving your time meant that you lost your rights,” she said. “If you’re going to have your rights restored, I want you to ask for them.”

Scott, however, said through a spokesperson he does not support any changes. 

Florida leads the nation in the number of felons who have served their time who are disenfranchised with an estimated 1.5 million Floridians barred from voting. According to the Sentencing Project, Florida holds nearly one-fourth of all disenfranchised former felons in the nation. Read more on that here. 

The practice is a vestige of post Civil War white supremacy and now disenfranchises more whites than blacks. There once was a time when more blacks were registered to vote in Florida than whites. Our story on the history of disenfranchising black voters here.

August 11, 2016

Florida firefighters head west to battle Colorado wildfire


AP Photo


With the peak of Florida's wild fire season over, more than 3 dozen firefighters are heading west to help Colorado try to contain more than 50,000 acres of fires raging in that state.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said the state is sending 40 people to Colorado, which already has more than 280 firefighters battling a pair of massive fires, including a 35,000 acre fire near the Colorado and Wyoming border.

“This type of work can be exhausting and hazardous due to the extreme terrain and intense flames found in Colorado," said Jim Karels, Florida's Forest Service Director under Putnam's office. "By assisting other states, our wildland firefighters build their expertise and enhance their capability to protect Florida from approximately 4,000 wildfires every year."

In addition to the latest crew deployment, there are currently 30 Florida Forest Service personnel battling fires in eight other states.

Some of Florida's more than 600 forestry firefighters often head west after the state's fire season to supplement their income. By fighting fires in other states, fire fighters can collect overtime subsidized by other states or the federal government. Florida forestry firefighters are paid on average $27,000 a year. In the spring the Florida Legislature, at Putnam's urging, agreed to give the firefighters a $2,000 per person raise.

July 19, 2016

Live, from Cleveland, it's Florida's 2018 GOP governor's race


INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The Republican race for Florida governor in 2018 began, as successful courtships often do, through the stomach.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam served up a crowd-pleasing breakfast of chicken and waffles, cheesy grits and -- of course -- Florida orange juice -- for delegates at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday. The grub (and the drinks, mimosas and Bloody Marys) came with big-name GOP guests -- and the unwritten acknowledgment that Putnam intends to be on the next midterm-election ballot.

Not that he admitted to it.

"We're having a wonderful time as Commissioner of Agriculture and focused on one election at a time," he told reporters, using the royal "we" often employed by well-versed political candidates.

He didn't have to announce his plans, though. Everyone in the room at the Embassy Suites-Rockside in the Cleveland suburbs was in on them.

"It sort of laid the foundation of what his intentions are -- as if everyone in Florida didn't know," said state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez of Miami. "He definitely ventured from the confines of agriculture!"

The only time Putnam talked about agriculture was when he joked about the breakfast spread, several notches above the average hotel intercontinental buffet.

"I know that a number of you were partying like Republicans last night -- actually partying like Democrats," he told attendees. "Now you're paying for it. You can drink your vegetables here at the Bloody Mary bar. It may not be Florida-grown, but it's Florida-inspired."

Instead, Putnam portrayed Florida a state other people dream about living in -- which he attributed to years of Republican control in Tallahassee. Under prior Democratic rule, he contended, the state was "turning prisoners loose after serving 33 percent of their sentence."

Continue reading "Live, from Cleveland, it's Florida's 2018 GOP governor's race" »

July 05, 2016

Donations pile up for expected 2018 GOP contender for governor


The man expected to be a leading contender for governor in 2018, has a $5 million head start on potential challengers thanks to some of Florida biggest industries.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican from Polk County, raised more than $200,000 in June for a political action committee he controls called Florida Grown PC, new campaign finance reports show. That helped Putnam surpass $5 million raised in the political committee since it was created in February 2015. After spending $1.4 million, Putnam has more than $3.7 million in the committee.

Putnam has not announced for governor, but is widely considered a top challenger for the post when Gov. Rick Scott’s term ends in 2018. Scott cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Asked earlier this year why he’s raising so much money in the fund, Putnam said it was to “advance the conservative causes” in Florida.

Putnam is in his second term as Florida’s elected Agriculture Commissioner. Prior to that he spent 10 years in Congress representing parts of Polk and Hillsborough counties.

Putnam’s committee is the second most prolific fundraising committee of its type affiliated with a politician. Only Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee has raised more, collecting $6.5 million since the start of 2015 and spending $4.9 million, according to Florida Division of Elections records. Like Putnam, Scott has not said if he is running for another office, though there has been speculation he could make a run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, in 2018.

Associated Industries of Florida, a trade group that lobbies for businesses before the Legislature and governor, has been by far the biggest supporter of Florida Grown. AIF gave $350,000 to Putnam’s committee since the start of 2015 including another $100,000 check just 11 days ago. And a political action committee affiliated with it, The Voice of Florida Business, has donated $400,000 since the start of 2015.

The next biggest supporter of Putnam has been Florida Jobs PAC, a committee associated with the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Florida Jobs PAC has given Putnam’s committee $325,000, including $110,000 just since May 20.

Here are the top 10 donors to Putnam’s Florida Grown PC since February 2015

$400,000 - The Voice of Florida Business

$325,000 - AIF PAC

$325,000 - Florida Jobs PAC

$256,275 - Florida Power & Light

$150,746 - Florida Phosphate Political Committee

$125,000 - Disney Worldwide Services Inc

$125,000 - FCCI Services Inc

$110,000 - Publix

$110,000 - US Sugar Corporation

$110,000 - Duke Energy

April 29, 2016

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to speak at FAMU graduation


U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the commencement addresses at Florida A&M University on Saturday.

King will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Putnam is scheduled to speak at the 2 p.m. ceremony. More than 1,200 students are graduating from FAMU this spring.

The ceremonies will be held at the Al Lawson Jr. Multi-Purpose Center on FAMU's campus in Tallahassee and be broadcast live online.

King was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to be the nation's top education official.

Putnam, a Republican and former U.S. congressman, was first elected in 2010 as state agriculture commissioner. He is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2018.

March 17, 2016

Pam Bondi: I am not running for governor


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi left no doubt on Thursday that she is not interested in running for governor in 2018.

Moments after Fox News host Neil Cavuto introduced her as "frontrunner, maybe" for governor in 2018, Bondi, a Republican from Tampa, was quick to shoot down the idea.

"I will say on the record, I am not running for governor," Bondi told Cavuto 19 seconds into the more than 8 minute long interview. "I’m supporting Adam Putnam who I feel, he is our Agricultural Commissioner, and I think he’ll be a great governor for our state.."

Though Putnam, a Polk County Republican, has been widely speculated as being interested in running for governor, Putnam has not declared for the race and has sidestepped questions about whether he is running.

Despite Bondi's assurance she is not running in 2018, Cavuto wasn't done suggesting Bondi could still do it.

"I’ve looked at polls that indicate otherwise, but you could be right," Cavuto said on his program called Your World with Neil Cavuto.

Cavuto then closed the interview by saying "so far she says not governor, we'll see."

While Putnam has been building up his fundraising in a political action committee he runs for most of the last year, raising over $4 million in 12 months, Bondi has done little in her political action committee. In her fund, called Justice For All, Bondi has raised just $53,000 since Sept. 1, 2015.

March 10, 2016

Putnam raises more than $1 million in three months for political committee

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam continues to be one of the state's most prolific fundraisers in the state, adding to speculation that the Republican from Polk County will make a run for governor in 2018 when Gov. Rick Scott will be unable to run for re-election because of term limits.

Just since December, Putnam raised over $1 million for a political action committee he runs called Florida Grown and has now raised just short of $4.3 million in the last 12 months, according to new campaign finance reports with the Florida Division of Elections.

Why all the money for Putnam, who because of term limits cannot seek re-election as Agriculture Commissioner?

"To advance the conservative causes of solid public policy for our state," Putnam said on Thursday.

Putnam has only spent $253,426 since Dec. 1, according to the new campaign finance reports.

Putnam's biggest donor has been Associated Industries of Florida, and a committee they run called The Voice of Florida Business PAC. Through those to vehicles, Putnam has collected $625,000 in the last 12 months - and $50,000 in just the last six days of February. Florida Power and Light has also been a big donor, giving Putnam's committee more than $250,000.

Putnam's fundraising since December has been only outdone by Scott's. Since December, Scott has raised $1.3 million for his Let's Get to Work political committee. But Scott's committee has also spent $1.6 million during that same period on, among other things, television ads and a bus tour promoting his legislative agenda.
Scott has reportedly been interested in running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, but has refused to say publicly if he is considering the race.

March 08, 2016

Crackdown on gas-station skimmers goes to Gov. Rick Scott's desk to be signed into law


Among the bills to clear the Legislature during this last week of the 2016 session is a proposal that cracks down on illegal credit-card skimming devices at gas stations.

SB 912 passed the House unanimously on Tuesday, after unanimously clearing the Senate last week. It now goes to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

"Skimmers" are devices that steal credit and debit card information. The legislation requires gas pumps to have certain security measures to better thwart criminals' attempts to install the devices and steal customers' financial information. It also increases law enforcement's ability to make arrests and prosecute criminals with harsher potential penalties.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, with support from state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regularly inspects the state's nearly 8,000 gas stations and has found more than 190 skimmers since the start of 2015, Putnam's office said.

This past week, inspectors found one device in Pompano Beach, two in Tampa and one in Orlando, the office said.

“Protecting consumers from identity theft at gas pumps requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. I thank Senator Flores, Leader Young, the Senate and the House of Representatives for their support of this key consumer protection legislation,” Putnam said today.

Flores and Young added in the statement that the legislative approval is a "victory for consumers."

“Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about identity theft when filling their gas tanks, and this legislation will help protect Floridians and visitors from skimmers," Flores said.

About 100 consumers are victimized by each skimmer, resulting in $1,000 stolen from each victim on average. Each skimmer represents an estimated $100,000 threat to consumers, Putnam's office said.