January 25, 2010

Democratic AG candidates differ in style, substance

At first glance, they seem alike: Both men are politically ambitious lawyers and state senators from South Florida.

But real differences separate Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber, who are fighting for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. The contest is one of three down-ballot statewide races likely to be decided by TV ads and obscured by high-profile free-for-alls for U.S. Senate and governor. Read Steve Bousquet's story.

Sink pressures Citizens to drop no-bid contract

UPDATE 10:40 a.m.: Citizens VP Paul Palumbo announced the state-run insurer would competitively bid the contract for home inspections after the controversy. It's unclear what role Alex Sink's letter played, as pressure came from a number of places.

As the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation meets this morning, CFO Alex Sink is adding more pressure to the state-run insurer about a $60 million no-bid contract for home inspections.

Sink, a Democrat running for governor, wrote a letter to Citizen's Chairman Jim Malone asking to change the contract to a competitive bid process. A Georgia company is already suing to stop the deal, which was first reported by the Times' Kris Hundley. For the full press release, read below.

Continue reading "Sink pressures Citizens to drop no-bid contract" »

January 11, 2010

McCollum pushes for a litigation fee cap

In a letter today to the State Board of Administration, Attorney General Bill McCollum offered a preview of his top legislative priority: putting a $50 million cap on the fees attorneys can earn while litigating cases for the state.

His letter to SBA Executive Director Ash Williams asks for a briefing at tomorrow's cabinet meeting on the progress of the state's to hire outside counsel for the state's pension fund, a plum assignment. Five firms are still in the running. McCollum wants the cap to apply to the attorneys eventually hired by the SBA. 

The Republican gubernatorial candidate is expected to emphasize the point again at a 12:30 p.m. press conference Tuesday with state Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican with a bone to pick against trial lawyers after his recent special election. Similar legislation passed the House last year but failed in the Senate.

December 31, 2009

A look at Charlie Crist's rough year

Charlie Crist's final year as governor begins like no other: with perilous poll numbers, his optimism worn thin and his shell of political Teflon deeply scratched.

After two years of governing Florida by shrewdly gauging the prevailing political winds, Crist strayed off course as the economy spiraled downward in 2009, his nice-guy image no longer effective as a balm for frustrated Floridians.

He miscalculated the danger of his "man hug" with President Barack Obama in support of the Democrats' stimulus package. He signed a no-new taxes pledge only to raise taxes weeks later to balance the state budget. And the biggest contributor in his campaign for U.S. Senate, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Scott Rothstein, was charged in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.

By year's end, his Republican Senate rival, Marco Rubio, had gained ground as a conservative alternative.

"It's been a rough patch, and certainly some of it's self-inflicted. No question. I mean, that happens. Nobody's perfect," Crist said in an interview with the Times/Herald. "But you learn from that, I think."

Read the full story here.

December 17, 2009

Ausley says she is 'seriously considering' run for CFO

State Rep. Loranne Ausley said Thursday she has received many calls from friends and supporters over the last several weeks "strongly encouraging'' her to run for chief financial officer and, while she is considering it, she will wait until after the holidays to make her decision.

"While these calls are flattering, the only thing that matters to me is serving where I can have a meaningful impact  -- helping real people,'' she wrote in an email to the Herald/Times while taking a break from the Lawton Chiles Foundation board meeting she is attending.

"There is no doubt that we need real leaders who make decisions that make our state stronger for the next generation. CFO is an important office that can have a huge impact on the daily lives of Floridians, especially in these very tough times. So, with all that in mind I'm seriously considering entering the race but I won't make any final or official decision until after the first of the year.

"Meanwhile, I am planning to spend the next few weeks enjoying the holidays with my family, while I continue to reach out to friends and supporters to best determine how I can most effectively serve the public.''

Is Ausley the Dem's answer to Atwater?

UPDATE: Former Tallahassee state Rep. Loranne Ausley said she will decide after the holiday whether she'll seek the Democratic nomination for the chief financial officer, the powerful Cabinet agency being vacated by Democrat Alex Sink, who is running for governor.

Ausley, who was termed limited out of the state house in 2008, is now a candidate for the state Senate seat being vacated by Al Lawson. But she faces a tough three-way primary against former Leon County Schools Superintendent Bill Montford and former state Rep. Curtis Richardson in the heavily Democratic district and is being aggressively recruited by party insiders to switch to the wide-open CFO post.

If Ausley decides to run, she faces state Senate President Jeff Atwater, the North Palm Beach Republican who has amassed $1 million in his campaign coffers since he quietly announced in May. Atwater also comes fortified with $350,000 of cash on hand from his political committee, Preserve the American Dream.

Democratic political consultant Steve Schale said of Ausley: "She's a moderate, incredibly bright and there's no question she'd put together a credible campaign.'' As for Atwater's financial heft, he adds that outside of Tallahassee and Palm Beach County "nobody's heard of Jeff Atwater."

Plus, Atwater -- who beat former Attorney General Bob Butterworth in a state senate race in 2002 -- carries some inherent negatives, Schale says: "He's leading the most unpopular institution in Florida right now. People tend to overstate his electoral prowess. $1 million is a lot of money but $1 million doesn't go very far in Florida.''

December 15, 2009

Crist commutes sentence in Tampa manslaughter

From the Times' Meg Laughlin: Jennifer Martin, who was convicted of manslaughter in a 1998 car crash that killed a passenger, had her sentenced cut in half Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Crist. She will be released Wednesday from prison.

Martin, 30, was sentenced in 2000 to 16 years in prison for her role in the Interstate 4 crash that killed Josh Nicola, 23, and severely injured Scott Schutt, 23.

Crist's decision followed a clemency hearing last week at which Martin's former prosecutor had sought mercy. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink had championed Martin's clemency bid after reading a story in the St. Petersburg Times.

The other two members of the state's clemency board, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and State Attorney General Bill McCollum, also voted to commute Martin's sentence.

December 10, 2009

Cabinent signs order rescinding rights

Gov. Charlie Crist and his fellow Cabinet members quietly signed an order Wednesday to revoke the civil rights mistakenly restored to 11 felons.

State auditors conducted a review of the Parole Commission that found a 6 percent error rate in sample of 203, meaning that 13 felons were granted the rights without authorization. Two felons are still incarcerated and no action was necessary to rescind their rights.

"There's human error involved in a lot of things that happen," Crist said. "These people are trying to do the best that they can and sometimes mistakes occur. When they do, you try to rectify it and that's the best that you can do."

An opinion piece in the St. Petersburg Times today, written by Mark Schlakman, suggests more work needs to be done.

December 09, 2009

EPA limits on water pollution get political

The EPA's decision to set water pollution limits in Florida is quickly becoming a political issue -- and given the potential effect on big business and big agriculture, one that is attracting a litany of special interests.

Michael Sole, the state's Department of Environmental Protection secretary, briefed the Cabinet on Tuesday. All members, in particular Attorney General Bill McCollum who called the EPA's actions "outrageous," appear ready to go to court to challenge the federal government if they don't like the number set in January.

Already one legislative committee heard from DEP about the issue and a second group of lawmakers will get briefed this afternoon.

The forces aligned against the EPA -- led by Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who expressed skepticism in global warming yesterday -- are making presentations with heightened rhetoric about a standard that the federal government hasn't even set yet. Likewise, the environmental groups that settled the lawsuit with the EPA continue to parade the same series of enlarged algae bloom photos to prove their point.

But in an interview, Sole clarified a few points that should quiet the crowd's draconian predictions -- if they listen.

Continue reading "EPA limits on water pollution get political" »

November 30, 2009

SInk: I was right, McCollum wrong, on SBA expansion

UPDATE: Here is McCollum's retort

CFO Alex Sink issued a legal opinion today that amounts to an "I told you so" to Attorney General Bill McCollum, who questioned the constitutionality of her proposal in September to expand the SBA that oversees Florida's $110-billion pension fund.

Sink's press office released the legal analysis from former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding, who confirmed that her proposal to strengthen SBA oversight through a number of measures including expanding the trustees board can be done through legislation. During the September Cabinet meeting, McCollum had suggested such a change would require a constitutional amendment.

Harding disagrees, and Sink of course sent a letter to the Governor and McCollum with Justice Harding’s analysis.  She also copied the members of the Investment Advisory Council, who she will speak to about her reforms on Thursday.

 

Here's the letter: Download Harding Letter 112409