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


November 23, 2009

Maddox on offshore drilling: 'Where's the moral outrage?'

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Scott Maddox, a Democrat, made his position on offshore oil drilling perfectly clear at a press conference Monday: "an absolute no."

The former state party leader and Tallahassee mayor stood next to an enlarged photo of an oil rig on fire and declared that offshore oil drilling (in any form) would hurt the the state's tourism economy and environment without providing much cost-savings at the gas pump or new jobs for the state. He thinks every candidate for the cabinet (which could approved exploratory drilling under a state legislative proposal) should take a stand on the issue.

"It's like we've been asked to sell our favorite daughter," he said, referring to the quality of the state's beaches. "Where's the moral outrage?"

November 18, 2009

Bennett bill would affect insurance commish's job security

In politics, payback can be a real ...well, you know, female dog.

Sen. Mike Bennett insists his just-filed bill isn't payback, but it sure could affect the job security of Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty.

SB 740 would require that the Cabinet, acting as the Financial Services Commission, reconfirm the insurance regulation leader every two years -- and send their vote to the Senate for final reconfirmation. Right now the insurance commish is appointed and confirmed once, and that's it.

But we can't help noting that Bennett is no BFF of McCarty, after this past summer's fight over the proposed rate dereg bill for private, big-name insurers like State Farm. McCarty voiced objections. The governor vetoed the bill. Bennett, who sponsored the bill with Rep. Bill Proctor, blasted McCarty's criticism of the legislation and questioned the facts he used to back up his criticism.

Fast forward to this week, and here is Bennett filing the bill requiring reconfirmation. (It is not the first time
McCarty's been a target. CFO Alex Sink, you'll recall, is no fan, either...)

Continue reading "Bennett bill would affect insurance commish's job security" »

November 17, 2009

SBA to require more disclosure of pension investment

Hoping to avoid the kind of pay-to-play allegations dogging the state pension funds in California, New York and New Mexico, the Cabinet this morning directed SBA inspector general Bruce Meeks to draft a new ethics policy requiring greater disclosure of the "placement agent" marketing firms used by investment firms that do business with Florida's $130-billion pension fund.

Investment firms will have to disclose when they use placement agents -- and disclose exactly what the agents' fees are, Meeks said.

"I would argue it might behoove the state of Florida as the foruth largest pension fund, to put a stake in the ground that says if you are hiring a marketing firm, we should know about it and you should disclose what your fees are," said CFO Alex Sink. "We should be a leader. Fortunately, we haven't been caught up in this yet. But if anyone wants to do business with us, they ought to disclose what their fee arrangement is."

Gov. Charlie Crist echoed: "The arrangements that exist for some of these marketing firms is only an appropriate question to ask. We should take this kind of action before the fact rather than after the fact, and therefore prevent the kind of occurrences that damage the public trust."

Continue reading "SBA to require more disclosure of pension investment" »

McCollum tells banks to improve home loan modification response

Attorney General Bill McCollum, miffed at the red tape and unresponsiveness that homeowners have reported in dealing with their mortgage banks, just sent a letter to the Florida execs of several major banks calling on them to create a "fair and efficient" process for recession-weary homeowners to modify and renegotiate their loans.

McCollum spokeswoman Sandi Copes said McCollum's office has been getting complaints for many weeks from homeowners who are trying to tweak their loans -- only to be put on hold for hours or directed through a frustrating maze of phone calls and bank reps. McCollum heard an echo of those complaints during a Nov. 7 housing forum in Broward County, and a deputy attorney general from his office saw the problems firsthand while recently sitting with a frustrated homeowner at a bank for two hours, said McCollum spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins.

"Homeowners who experienced excellent customer service from their banks at the time they originated their loans are now frustrated and disillusioned by the lack of response and cooperation they have received from their banks," McCollum said.

Helping homeowners can no doubt build good will among potential voters, of course, so McCllum isn't alone among elected officials seeking higher office. Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008 created the HOPE task force to seek remedies for the state mortgage crisis. Democrat gubernatorial candidate CFO Alex Sink has helped some 750 homeowners renegotiate and pay their loans through initiatives such as the Florida Housing Help program, said her spokeswoman Kyra Jennings.

And McCollum critics (who tend to be Sink supporters, big shocker) point out that he was a member of Congress when much of the legislation faulted with contributing to the national mortgage crisis was passed. McCollum voted for the Financial Services Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000, which have been credited for allowing banks to become more aggressive mortgage lenders.

Read the letter McCollum sent to Bank of America, JP Morgan/Chase, Wells Fargo, and Wachovia here.