January 22, 2013

Bill Nelson didn't catch an Everglades python, but team with county commissioner and state rep did

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Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz spent Saturday dressed in camouflage gear, riding an air boat and hunting for pythons in the Everglades. And someone on his team actually caught one.

Diaz and Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles, taller and also clad in camouflage, and Florida Wildlife Commissioner Ron Bergeron posed for a photo with the python as part of the 2013 Python Challenge -- while the python was still alive, Diaz said. Artiles and Diaz are both U.S. Marine veterans. 

"The python was caught by the team that had gotten to the island just before us," Diaz said. "I had one that I kind saw the tail end of it, and I tried to grab to get it, but it went into the water."

He estimated the photographed specimen -- caught by a wrangler known as "Python Dave" -- measured around 10 feet. Diaz called it "very aggressive" because it snapped at them a few times. (He also said he had an encounter with a gator who growled at him.)

"It's not an easy thing to do," he concluded from his python-hunting trip. "You gotta really be careful."

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, took part in the python hunt last week, and brought reporters along, but returned empty-handed. That was before the weather cooled, which usually prompts pythons to leave the water and sun themselves.

As of Monday, 27 Burmese pythons had been caught as part of the challenge, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

photo courtesy of the office of Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz

January 17, 2013

Bill Nelson doesn't get his python. But he sure bagged the news media

IMG_0605Bill Nelson didn’t kill any pythons in the Everglades.

But Florida’s senior senator bagged something bigger Thursday: the rapt attention of the news media.

With a Florida Wildlife commissioner who goes by "Alligator Ron" Bergeron and snake hunters — including one wrangler called "Python Dave" — Nelson and a team of biologists and naturalists roamed the River of Grass to raise awareness about the invasive snakes that are gobbling up the creatures of the Everglades.

The wildlife commission has launched a “Python Challenge” cash-prize contest, which began last Saturday, to get more people to kill more of the snakes.

"These pythons eat everything in the Everglades: bobcats, deer, even alligator and maybe endangered Florida panther," Nelson said.

"These snakes are dangerous. There was a child killed in Central Florida by one of these kept as pets," he said. "The pythons don’t belong here."

But Nelson does.

The Everglades is a piece of Florida history and a place for threatened and endangered species. And Nelson, the only statewide elected Florida Democrat, has been a threatened political species since he first won his Senate seat in 2000.

Continue reading "Bill Nelson doesn't get his python. But he sure bagged the news media" »

January 16, 2013

Bill Nelson, Everglades Foundation lament Ken Salazar's departure

Though his boss has yet to visit the Everglades, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was a regular visitor who made restoring the River of Grass one of the Obama administration's top environmental priorities.

Salazar on Wednesday became the latest Cabinet member to step down for the president's second term. The Everglades Foundation, an influential advocacy group based in Palmetto Bay, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, praised the former Colorado senator's role in reviving Everglades restoration.

Salazar, who visited Florida at least 10 times during his four-year term, championed efforts to ban the import of Burmese python and create a new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Area north of Lake Okeechobee. Federal spending on the Everglades ramped up dramatically during the Obama administration, with $1.5 billion directed toward restoration programs. He supported adding more bridging along Tamiami Trail. Interior, working with the Environmental Protection Agency, also negotiated a landmark expansion of Florida's pollution clean-up efforts.

Eric Eikenberg, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, said Salazar's departure in March meant "the loss one of the nation’s true friends of America’s Everglades.”

Nelson said the Interior secretary, a rancher who typically showed up in cowboy boots and hat, would be missed.

“Ken Salazar is my personal friend, and he’s much more,'' Nelson said in a statement. "He’s been a good friend to Florida and will always be a friend of the Everglades.''

--CURTIS MORGAN

January 10, 2013

Bill Nelson, Wasserman Schultz could get embarrassed in Dem party chair race

Democratic National Committee Chairmwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has the ear and the loyalty of president Barack Obama, and loads of influence among Democrats in Washington and across the country. Democratic activists in her home state of Florida, however, are poised to deliver an embarrassing snub to Wasserman Schultz with the heated race to lead the state Democratic party.

The congresswoman from Weston recruited longtime friend Allison Tant of Tallahassee to run for chairwoman of the Florida Democratic party, and in recent weeks has aggressively lobbied elected officials and party activists to get behind her anointed choice to lead the Democratic party in America’s biggest battleground state.

But it looks increasingly likely that those activists may ignore the entreaties by Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson and instead elect Tampa activist Alan Clendenin to succeed outgoing party chairman Rod Smith.  A tally of announced support compiled Wednesday night by Leon county Democratic activist Jon showed Clendenin with 390 votes, 68.4 percent of what's needed to win, and Tant with 183, or 32 percent of what's needed.

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December 21, 2012

Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the former Marine from Palmetto Bay who had been detained at a Mexican prison since August, has been freed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the family's congresswoman, relayed the news late Friday night. Hammar's mother, Olivia, also issued a statement to the press about her son's release.

"The only expression that captures how we feel today is that 'our cup runneth over,'" the family said. It thanked Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (a Democrat) and Marco Rubio (a Republican), and Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, for assisting in Hammar's case. Thompson represents the California district where Hammar, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, spent some time in a residential facility for veterans, being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In her own statement, Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, thanked "the American people" and her congressional colleagues for pushing for Hammar's release. "I am overcome with joy knowing that Jon will be spending Christmas with his parents, family and friends," she said.

Read their full statements after the jump.

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UPDATED Former U.S. Marine from Miami to be released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the Marine veteran from South Florida detained for months in a Mexican border prison for bringing his great-grandfather’s shotgun into the country, is expected to be released Friday in what his mother calls a “Christmas miracle.’’

His mother, Olivia, said she and her husband were awoken with a 2:30 a.m. phone call from Hammar’s defense attorney sharing the good news. Hammar’s father, Jon, quickly found a flight to Texas.

“We made it from our house in Palmetto Bay to the airport in 11 minutes,” she told The Miami Herald. “This is our Christmas miracle.”

The elder Hammar will wait for his son, who has been held since August in a prison in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border in Brownsville, Texas. They will likely remain there for a few days, Olivia Hammar said, because her son is interested in getting back the 1972 Winnebago motor home — and some nine surfboards he was transporting — from Mexican authorities.

“It will be closure for him,” she said.

Hammar was arrested Aug. 13 when he and a fellow Marine veteran, who were headed to Costa Rica to surf, tried to cross into Mexico. Hammar had been told by U.S. authorities he could declare a six-decades-old .410 bore Sears & Roebuck shotgun at the border. The firearm is suitable for shooting rabbits and birds.

But Mexican authorities dismissed Hammar’s U.S. registration papers for the disassembled relic. Prosecutors charged him with a serious crime: possession of a weapon restricted for use to Mexico’s armed forces.

More here.

December 19, 2012

Bill Nelson, DWS pick to lead FL Dems lobbied for firm tied to notorious 2000 voter purge

This could be a bombshell from The Political Hurricane blog:

Allison Tant, the insider's pick to be Democratic Party chair, was a lobbyist in 2000 for ChoicePoint, the parent company of a database firm hired by the state of Florida to purge its voter rolls of felons, many of whom happened to be Democrats and minorities.

Reached by phone, Tant tells us she didn't actually lobby for the subsidiary involved in the felon-purge work, called DBT. Instead, she said, she lobbied for ChoicePoint, a data-mining company. The company sought to ensure that the financial-services industry had adequate identity-theft protections in place so that the personal data was misused, she said.

Even though she didn't work for DBT (another lobbyist handled that line of work, she said) the mere association with the company can be politically toxic in some liberal circles.

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lawful voters might have been unfairly removed and blocked from voting in an election that George W. Bush won by just 537 votes. The voter purge has been part of Democratic lore ever since.

"Allison Tant was lobbyist for firm that purged African-Americans from voter rolls before, during and after 2000 recount," says The Political Hurricane blog headline.

Ouch.

The felon purge is still fresh in the mind of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson as well. He mentioned it during testimony at the Senate's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday as an example of how Republicans allegedly game the election system. Turns out, Nelson also is the driving force behind Tant, who's also backed by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair.

ChoicePoint was recently hired by the Obama administration to conduct criminal background checks on possible hires. So it might not be that anathema any longer.

Tant withdrew from representing ChoicePoint in late January of 2001 -- about two months after the famed recount was halted by the Supreme Court in the Bush v. Gore decision.

One of Bush's lawyers: Barry Richard, a Democrat and longtime Obama supporter, who's married to Tant.

Tant's opponent, Alan Clendenin, and his backers have long noted the Richard tie. And they've resented the way party leaders have thrown their weight behind one candidate -- especially after Clendenin spent the last eight months collecting votes for the job. His supporters say he still has enough grassroots votes to pull it off.

The story by the Political Hurricane, which backs Clendenin, probably doesn't hurt his chances.

Charlie Crist trashes Rick Scott in Sen. hearing for vote suppression, turning FL into a ‘late-night TV joke”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist bashed Gov. Rick Scott twice by name during a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday for signing an election law that helped suppress the vote and turn Florida into a “late-night TV joke.”

Crist’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony came just hours after the release of a new poll showing he’s more popular than the current governor, who is preparing to face his predecessor – a Republican-turned Democrat -- in the 2014 elections.

Scott earlier Wednesday acknowledged on CNN that some fixes might be needed for the election law he signed in 2011. That law cut back the days of in-person early voting and helped make the ballot longer, which led to long lines.

More here

December 18, 2012

Bill Nelson's touching eulogy about "my friend, our friend, Danny Inouye"

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson's seeming silence about the death of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye was surprising yesterday, but he was travelling and didn't just want to send out a written statement. So Nelson took to the floor today and gave quite a eulogy.

The text:

Mr. President, I want to speak about my friend, our friend, Danny Inouye.

It’s been a week of emotion, and when you look at that black-draped desk with the white flowers, it’s hard to believe that so much a part of this institution is gone as a living, breathing part of the institution.  But, as a part of its history, its memory, its institutions, its values, Danny epitomized all of that.

That is particularly true that he was first a gentleman.  I guess you’d have to say first he was a patriot.  And, all you need to do to see how much he was a patriot was the fact that he had one arm missing when he charged, single-handedly as that Army Lieutenant, that German machine gun nest and took them out and lost his arm and ended up 20 months in the hospital.  Of course we all know he got the Medal of Honor years later, recognition well-deserved.

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December 17, 2012

A tale of two FL Sens: GOP's Rubio mourns death of Senate Dem, and Dem Bill Nelson?

Two notable reactions from Florida's Senators concerning the death of Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye:

Marco Rubio quickly issued a touching two-paragraph statement that encapsulated the spirit and history of the man. In these partisan-hack times, the Republican's press release hit gracious notes about his now-former Democratic colleague, a "Greatest Generation" war hero. Rubio's website features a link as well to his statement.

And Florida's senior senator?  Nothing yet. UPDATE: Nelson gave a touching eulogy the following day on the Senate floor. He was travelling Monday and didn't have the time to write the right words, a staffer said.

Normally one to sprint to the TV cameras or blast out a press release on the topic of the day, Nelson's office has yet to send anything out. Nor does the Democrat have anything posted on his website, which does feature a video of him talking about the "fiscal cliff," a statement about an ex-Marine locked up in Mexico, and a grip-and-grin pic with Alonzo Mourning.

  Rubio

  Nelson