August 26, 2014

Poll workers had to verify voters' ID over the phone during power outage at Plantation precinct

Plantation High School, which has two voting precincts, had a power outage this morning as voters first started to trickle in to cast ballots in the governor’s race.

The EVID machines which poll workers use to swipe voters’ drivers’ licenses to verify their identities don’t have battery backups at the hundreds of precincts on election day, said Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. The machines do have battery backups during early voting when there are about 20 sites -- so therefore less equipment is needed.

So on primary day, that meant poll workers at the high school had to call the Supervisor of Elections’ call center at Nova Southeastern University to verify voters’ identities. During the power outage, zero voters showed up at one of the high school precincts while 10 showed up to vote at the other precinct. Power was back on by about 9:45.

We're hearing very few reports about other election day problems amid light turnout. 

In response to a question about whether any Republican voters were told there were no ballots for them at the Pompano golf course, Cooney said “I fielded a call about the poll deputy saying something to a voter about this not being a primary election or Republican primary. There were two voters at that precinct early this morning who were given incorrect information but they both voted. They weren’t turned away or anything. They did explain to them that there are three ballot styles: Democrat, Republican and nonpartisan. Two voters were given incorrect information that had to be corrected.”


August 06, 2014

Alan Mendelsohn out of prison, gets medical license back

Convicted Broward fraudster Alan Mendelsohn is out of prison — and able to practice medicine again after the state returned his license last week.

Mendelsohn, a Hollywood eye doctor who raised millions for Florida politicians, served two years and six months in federal prison for his role in a highly publicized political corruption case.

He was released in July, his attorney Alvin Entin said.

Mendelsohn's medical license, which had been suspended following his conviction in 2011, was reinstated on Aug. 1, records show. The state Board of Medicine ordered three years' probation and 10 hours of ethics training.

Entin said Mendelsohn’s conviction did not involve his work in medicine.

"By all indications, at the time of the sentencing, he was a very well respected, very competent, very talented doctor," Entin said. "People get messed up in politics all of the time."

Read more here.

August 05, 2014

Crist's jobs event in Ft Laud was largely a repeat of his attacks on Scott about ed cuts and Medicaid expansion

Many of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s ideas unveiled today in his “Fair Shot Florida” plan to grow middle class jobs were familiar campaign talking points.

“Today I’m here to talk about the first part of my plan to expand Florida’s middle class, help small businesses grow and create jobs and build an economy that works for everyone not only those at the top: it’s called Fair Shot Florida. I call it that because too many families in Florida today -- small businesses as well -- are not getting a fair share under Rick Scott.”

 Crist criticized Gov. Rick Scott for rejecting billions of federal dollars for high-speed rail expansion and for the state’s failure to expand Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid “will create as many as 120,000 new high quality jobs,” Crist said at his policy announcement in Fort Lauderdale this afternoon.

PolitiFact previously fact-checked Crist when he said "Expanding Medicaid would create 63k jobs.” PolitiFact rated that claim Half True.  The 63,000 figure comes from a White House study chastising states such as Florida for failing to expand Medicaid. The Florida Hospital Association’s most recent analysis in 2013 predicts 120,000 jobs over about a decade -- the association supports expansion. Meanwhile, Moody’s predicted between 10,000 and 30,000 jobs. Most of the health care experts we interviewed agreed that injecting billions of federal dollars into Florida for Medicaid would spark some job growth, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a number, particularly as there are other changes in the healthcare landscape.

PolitiFact Florida gave Scott a Full Flop on Medicaid expansion. Scott initially opposed Medicaid expansion but later said he supported but didn’t advocate for it and the Legislature rejected it.

Much of Crist’s plan focused on his promises to restore education cuts under Scott. Crist promised if elected he would return per pupil K-12 funding to $7,126 -- the amount in 2007-08 when Crist was governor.

Crist also promised to reverse Scott’s cuts to Bright Futures.

But both Crist and Scott oversaw changes to Bright Futures that laid the groundwork for fewer students to get the college scholarships. The reason that the Legislature under both governors tightened SAT requirements, leading to fewer scholarships, was to reduce the exponential cost of the program.

Crist promised to expand eligibility so that 180,000 students will get the scholarships -- 50,000 more than predicted for this year.

“It will cost at least $190 million, but Charlie believes it’s an essential part of undoing Rick Scott’s cuts to education,” his written plan stated.

When asked by a reporter how he would pay for that Crist wasn’t specific but pointed to the state’s almost $3 billion surplus.

Crist was asked by a reporter to respond to a comment by Scott campaign chairman Sen. John Thrasher that the state lost 832,000 jobs during Crist’s tenure and unemployment tripled.

Crist said that was “trash talk” by his opponent and that he didn’t cause for the global economic meltdown.

PolitiFact Florida previously rated a similar statement by Scott about job losses and unemployment under Crist as Half True. While Scott has correctly cited the numbers economists have repeatedly said that Crist didn’t cause the recession which was largely as a result of the housing market crisis.

Some of Crist’s policy ideas lacked specifics including dollar figures; for example he called for expanding career and technical education programs at community colleges. He also called for loan forgiveness for students in high-demand fields and a student loan finance authority to help students refinance their debt. Crist also said he would provide free tuition for teachers who get master’s degrees in STEM subjects.

Crist’s press event coincided with Scott’s tour this week about the environment. Crist briefly touched on the environment saying that Florida should take steps to grow businesses including “investing in high-tech industry like renewable energy and our space program.”

When a tracker tried to ask a question about Crist's residency in St. Petersburg, Crist campaign staffers shut down the question and answer session and said it was only for credentialed media. 

Crist held the event at Axis Space Coworking in Fort Lauderdale, a business that provides shared office space to small businesses. Crist has several appearances in Broward this week: he met with the Sun-Sentinel editorial board earlier today, opens a Coral Springs campaign office tonight and opens a campaign office on Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale tomorro 


July 28, 2014

Tonight's Broward GOP speaker famous for mosque fight

Call it the summer of speakers from the fringe for the Broward Republican Executive Committee.

In June, BREC -- the main county GOP group -- invited conspiracy theorist Trevor Loudon of New Zealand to speak while tonight the guest speaker is Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who was parodied on The Daily Show in 2010 for her opposition to the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The mosque had been around for decades and wanted to construct a larger building.

After Cardoza-Moore made broad generalizations about Muslims, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi asked her:

“You do know I’m Muslim right?”

“Nobody is perfect,” she replied.

Cardoza-Moore noted that the mosque had already been around for 20-something years, prompting Mandvi to ask “20 years -- it’s been 20 years of nonviolence?”

Cardoza-Moore replied “None yet.”

When a spokeswoman for the mosque said that they had been there for 30 years, Mandvi quipped that it wasn’t a sleeper cell but a “comatose cell.”

Broward GOP chairman Tom Truex said in an interview that Cardoza-Moore was recommended as a speaker by the county’s Jewish Republican Club.

“She has a point of view that some of our membership was interested in,” he said.

Truex argues that it’s just the media griping about the speakers. Truex said the bulk of the meeting is about other business including listening to judicial candidates and a representative from Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign. He also says he has opened the floor to a variety of speakers.

“We’ve had libertarians, speakers from a variety of perspectives.”

We asked for an example of a speaker who had a moderate perspective and Truex said a few months ago he had the president of the Log Cabin group -- a gay Republican group -- do the invocation at the beginning of the meeting though he said he got complaints for that.

BREC has drawn attention for an internal fight about gay marriage with some activists criticizing two elected officials who are Republicans -- County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and school board member Heather Brinkworth -- for participating in the gay pride parade in Wilton Manors. Both LaMarca and Brinkworth defended their decision to reach out to the gay community which is part of their constituency.

Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is seen as more friendly to liberals so the fact that a speaker was parodied on the show isn’t an automatic turnoff for Republicans, but it raises questions about the party’s focus in a critical election year. As leader of the Broward GOP, Truex has the difficult task of trying to unite various factions ranging from tea party activists to more moderate business-type Republicans. The question is if such speakers will turn off some Republicans from the group’s main task: helping elect Republicans to local, state and federal office.

With more than 230,000 Republican voters in the county -- one of the largest contingents in the state -- the Broward GOP could play a key role in helping turn out the vote for Gov. Rick Scott or trying to win back a state Senate seat for Ellyn Bogdanoff and hang on to other local seats.

Internal party warfare is common among political clubs -- the Broward Democrats brawl over whether to re-elect chairman Mitch Ceasar every four years while Herald political reporter Marc Caputo details Miami-Dade Democratic dysfunction related to the governor’s race.


July 21, 2014

Scott makes new jobs promises at campaign event

Another week, another policy tour for Gov. Rick Scott with a focus on ... you guessed it ... jobs.

Scott’s campaign brought his “Jobs for the Next Generation” tour to Pompano Beach this morning at Hoerbiger Corp., which manufactures parts for compressors. The company is headquartered in Switzerland and employs about 350 people at the Pompano Beach site. 

Scott chatted up workers as he toured the facility (without the safety goggles that reporters and other visitors had to wear) and then gave a short speech in which he talked up the growth in manufacturing jobs.

Scott also used the event to bash his expected opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, for jobs lost during his tenure. Scott didn’t name Crist, but said that FLorida “lost 832,000 jobs in four years” before he became governor while under his watch the state has added “over 620,000 jobs.”

Both statements ignore this context: Crist governed during a national recession while Scott led during a national recovery. Unemployment rose under Crist and fell under Scott though economists warn against any simple claims about credit or blame.

This particular jobs plan focused on manufacturing and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs and included the following promises should he win a second four-year term:

* Permanently eliminate the manufacturing sales tax -- under Scott the Legislature eliminated it through 2017.

* Create a program to give STEM teachers summer jobs in the private sector and pay them with $10,000 in state money

* Secure $10 million to create $10,000 STEM degree programs. (In 2012, Scott urged all four-year colleges to offer $10,000 degrees.)

* Pursue $30 million for workforce training focused on STEM and other high-skilled, high-wage jobs

* Expand the number of National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the state from one to three

* Achieve it's first Top 10 and second Top-25 public research institution

The first day of Scott's tour coincided with the campaign announcing an endorsement by the Manufacturers Association of Florida. Scott took his tour to Boca Raton in the afternoon and plans to continue the tour in Orlando tomorrow. 

Kevin Cate, a spokesman for the Crist campaign, said that Crist will soon release his own policy proposal about jobs. 


July 09, 2014

Broward absentee ballot requests are up compared to '10

Absentee ballot requests for the primary in Broward County have already surpassed the number during the 2010 primary.

As of early July, Broward received 110,505 absentee ballot requests for the primary election. In 2010, the county mailed 86,465 absentee ballots for the primary, said Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes. (Not everyone who requests an absentee ballot ultimately uses that ballot to vote so it isn’t a concrete prediction of turnout.)

Democrats hoping to oust Republican Gov. Rick Scott this year will focus considerable effort on Broward County because it has the second biggest contingent of Democratic voters behind Miami-Dade. Broward’s 41 percent turnout in the 2010 general election was one of the factors in Democrat Alex Sink’s loss to Scott. This year, former state legislator Nan Rich of Weston faces former Gov. Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary and there are also some primaries in local races.

Crist has held several fundraisers here and has one tonight at YOLO, a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. On Tuesday night he house hopped for fundraisers at the homes of three Democratic mayors: Joy Cooper in Hallandale Beach, Peter Bober in Hollywood and Frank Ortis in Pembroke Pines.  

Scott has also held several public events in Broward in recent months including at a Cuban restaurant in Oakland Park which he used as a backdrop for this Spanish-language ad.

Broward plans to start sending domestic absentee ballots to voters July 22.




June 18, 2014

About last night in Fort Lauderdale: Lone GOP commissioner part of 3-2 vote for gay marriage

One of the votes on the Fort Lauderdale City Commission that tipped the balance narrowly in favor of a same-sex marriage resolution was cast by the lone Republican.

Commissioner Bruce Roberts, the city’s former police chief, was one of three votes in favor of the resolution along with commissioners Dean Trantalis, who is the city’s first openly gay member, and Bobby DuBose. Mayor Jack Seiler and Commissioner Romney Rogers voted against the resolution.

The resolution that will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature calls for “equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples.” The resolution is symbolic -- a city can’t dictate marriage laws.

The day after the vote we asked Roberts, a Roman Catholic married to a woman for about 35 years, why he voted in favor of the resolution.

“Actually it has been a metamorphosis for me to tell you the truth,” over the past three years, Roberts said.

Roberts said he views marriage as a civil rights issue.

“I thought it would be achieved through civil unions but that’s not going to happen...,” he said. “The way the country is set up with laws it has to be set up with what is called marriage.”

However Roberts said “it doesn’t change anybody’s ability to have a faith in their particular religion.”

During the meeting as Roberts explained why he would vote in favor, he said: “As my family has said to me I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history either as time moves along.”

(To listen to Roberts’ comments at the meeting, watch the city video starting at hour 2 minute 28. Seiler reiterated his support for civil unions.)

Technically commissioners are elected non-partisan in Fort Lauderdale though party activists play a role in campaigns.

We asked Roberts if he thought Broward Republicans would be  more successful at getting elected if they supported same-sex marriage and he didn’t want to give advice to others in his party.

“From my perspective I try to remain somewhat independent,” he said. “I also do believe generally speaking in less government in our affairs -- especially rules and regulations-- and that’s why I am affiliated with the Republican Party.”

Roberts, who represents the northeast part of the city, isn’t known for being particularly active in partisan politics. He first won election in 2009 and faces re-election next year.


June 17, 2014

If Jack Seiler runs statewide in future, expect tonight's Fort Laud commission vote on gay marriage to resurface

The Fort Lauderdale City Commission is expected to vote tonight on a resolution asking the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to enact a law allowing same-sex marriage.

The resolution is sponsored by City Commissioner Dean Trantalis, the city’s first openly gay commissioner.

The vote is purely symbolic -- the city can’t force the state to allow same-sex marriage. However the vote could become a flashpoint in future campaigns if Democratic Mayor Jack Seiler decides to run for statewide office in the future (he took a pass this year but hasn’t ruled out a future bid).

It appears that Seiler will oppose the resolution tonight.

“I still support civil unions with full benefits. I have been a supporter of domestic partnership benefits for City employees for almost 20 years, and I signed such benefits into law as Mayor of two different cities," he said in an emailed statement today, referring to Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors. "I am proud of my record on promoting equal rights for all, and I will continue to provide equal benefits on issues that fall under the City's governance and jurisdiction.  As you know, the City of Fort Lauderdale does not regulate marriage and has no authority to make laws impacting marriages in the State of Florida.”

Seiler has been viewed as a longtime supporter of gay rights beginning in the 1990s when he was on the Wilton Manors city council and later as a state representative. A Catholic married father of four children, Seiler told the Miami Herald last year that he had no position on same sex marriage but supported civil unions. That position for a high-profile elected Democrat in liberal Broward is unusual and puts him at odds with other notable Democrats who have become supporters of same sex marriage in recent years.

Though his views on same-sex marriage could resurface during Seiler's re-election race next year, that race will largely focus on issues such as city spending and services. Seiler has never lost a campaign. 

The text of the resolution states that the commission supports “equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples” and opposes laws that prevent that access. The vote tonight could be close, according to gay activist Michael Rajner.

Fort Lauderdale -- and Broward County -- has one of the state’s most visible gay resident and tourist populations. The city drew nationwide attention in 2007 when then-Mayor Jim Naugle made comments about gay sex in public bathrooms leading to the “Flush Naugle’’ protests.  



June 04, 2014

With pot, school bond and a hot gov's race on ballot, Broward predicts high turnout in November

With medical marijuana and other hot issues or races on the ballot, Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is predicting far higher turnout in November than in past non-presidential years.

Snipes predicts 60 percent turnout in November -- a figure that would be closer to presidential than non-presidential years based on the county’s turnout in the past decade.

The last time Broward hit anywhere close to that figure in a non-presidential year was 1994 when it had 62 percent turnout. In more recent non-presidential elections turnout has ranged from about 41 to 45 percent.

Snipes said in an interview that she reached her turnout prediction based on voters’ interest in ballot questions -- including pot and a school bond referendum -- and in the governor’s race.

While “there wasn’t much energy at all around the 2010 election” Snipes said the issues and races this time could generate more interest. 

“In elections you plan high as opposed to planning low,” to make sure the county has enough ballots, machines and staff, Snipes said in an interview.

Snipes included the 60 percent turnout figure in her budget request to the County Commission Tuesday. Her request for the November election is $2.5 million more than actual expenses for the November 2010 election based on increased staffing and printing. The Sun-Sentinel reported that the commission asked her to reduce her request based on lower turnout.

Broward bought extra machines that voters use to feed their completed ballots -- this time there will be two at every precinct, rather than the typical one per precinct in the past.

Asked about the turnout prediction, Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar said “I only wish it was true. I’d be overjoyed if we are able to crack the 50 percent level but it’s certainly going to be a very tough road to even reach that plateau.” Ceasar said he hopes Broward does better than it’s historical average but would anticipate that would mean a few percentage points above recent past elections.

Broward processed about 88,000 petitions to place medical marijuana on the ballot and certified about 65,000 as valid.

May 16, 2014

Bogdanoff may decide next week about Sachs re-match

Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, says she will probably decide next week whether to seek a re-match with state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach.

Such a race would set up one of the most expensive and fierece legislative battles in the Broward/Palm Beach area.

The district has about an 8-point Democratic edge, but if Bogdanoff gets in the race she is banking on stronger Republican turnout during a non-presidential year.

“I am a risk taker,” she said in an interview Friday. “I’m not a kamikaze pilot. If there is a real opportunity to win the seat I will be in the race.”

Bogdanoff and Sachs were both in the Legislature when due to redistricting they ended up in the same district and squared off in 2012. Sachs won by about 6 percentage points. The majority of District 34 is in Palm Beach County.

Last year a Republican voter filed an ethics complaint accusing Sachs of leasing a Fort Lauderdale apartment from longtime friend, political consultant Judy Stern, to comply with residency requirements. The Commission however does not have jurisdiction over residency requirements in election laws. This past session state lawmakers unanimously passed a new rule that they say will require them to actually live in the districts they represent.