April 29, 2016

Meet Hillary Clinton's new Florida campaign director

via @adamsmithtimes

Simone Ward, former national political director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, will be the Hillary Clinton campaign's new Florida State Director, overseeing efforts to deliver the state's 27 electoral votes to the former first lady.

She is a well-regarded veteran of Democratic campaigns, having worked worked previously as campaign manager for Natalie Tennant's Senate campaign in West Virginia and everal positions at the Democratic National Committee, including Director of African American Outreach and then National Constituency Director. She was campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Mikulski in Maryland in 2010, and before that worked for Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List.

Her selection is something of a departure from Barack Obama's Florida campaign hires in that Ward has little experience in Florida that we know of. Obama in 2008 hired Steve Schale as his Florida campaign director and in 2012 hired Ashley Walker.

The Clinton campaign has held off an announcing general election campaign hires while focusing on the primary, but the primary is no longer in doubt after Clinton's recent wins.

April 28, 2016

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench


President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University





April 27, 2016

Alan Grayson: Beruff's remarks were 'racism' but Murphy 'hypocritical' for scolding him



Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson said today that Republican candidate Carlos Beruff's comments this week about wanting to ban Middle Easterners from entering the U.S. were "racism -- plain and simple."

But for Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy to criticize Beruff is "disingenuous and hypocritical," Grayson said.

The Orlando congressman points to what he called a "truly heartless vote" that Murphy cast last fall to block Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S. in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.

"The Syrian refugees are the people who suffer the most from the chaos in their country and that part of the world; they are the most in need," Grayson told the Herald/Times. "How could Patrick Murphy or anyone else justify keeping out the people who are most in need?"

Grayson, Beruff and Murphy are among a crop of seven contenders seeking to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. Grayson and Murphy will face off in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. Beruff has four main competitors in the GOP primary that same day.

Continue reading "Alan Grayson: Beruff's remarks were 'racism' but Murphy 'hypocritical' for scolding him" »

FL Gov. Rick Scott: "It is time for the ‘Stop Trump’ movement to end"


On Facebook this afternoon, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott called for an end to the #NeverTrump movement, saying "yesterday’s election results show that the anti-Trump efforts didn’t work."

Scott -- who endorsed Donald Trump, also with a Facebook post, after Florida's primary last month -- again urged Republicans to accept what he calls the inevitable.

"Republicans now need to come together. Donald Trump is going to be our nominee, and he is going to be on the ballot as the Republican candidate for President," Scott wrote. "The Republican leaders in Washington did not choose him, but the Republican voters across America did choose him. The voters have spoken."

According to Real Clear Politics, Trump now has 954 delegates, compared to 562 for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Ohio Gov. John Kasich trails with 153 delegates. (Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- who exited the race after the Florida primary, when he won only his home of Miami-Dade County -- is technically in third with 171 delegates.)

To win the GOP nomination, 1,237 delegates are needed. Neither Cruz nor Kasich have shown any signs of giving up, although it's mathematically impossible for either of them them to get enough delegates to clinch the nomination.

Scott cautioned that the GOP in-fighting will serve to help Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. He said President Barack Obama had done "serious and substantial" damage to the country and said America "cannot afford another four years of liberal incompetence, and that is exactly what Hillary Clinton would bring."

"We’ve had an extensive debate amongst ourselves, it is now time to get serious about winning in November. This was a hard-fought campaign, but now is the time for Republicans to unite," he said.

Scott has, for weeks, been urging the GOP to unite around Trump, who has consistently been the party's presidential front-runner.

April 26, 2016

Carlos Beruff draws heat over desire to ban Middle Eastern immigrants (except Israelis)



Florida Democrats are pouncing on Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff today after he told a gathering of Broward County Republicans on Monday night that he doesn't want to let "anybody from the Middle East into this country."

The Sun Sentinel reported on the Manatee County developer's speech, noting that the remark was in response to a question from an audience member about his "position on Muslim immigration."

"Ah ha," the newspaper quoted Beruff as saying. "I think our immigration department is broken. And I don't think it's safe to allow anybody from the Middle East into this country."

He later clarified to the newspaper that "Israel is an exception" -- because "I think Israel's security measures are pretty strong" -- but his ban would apply to Christians and Muslims, the Sun Sentinel reported.

After the Sun Sentinel published its story online today, Florida Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele released a statement, calling Beruff's idea "absurdly misguided as it is bigoted."

"With these comments, Carlos Beruff has made it clear to Floridians that he lacks both the temperament and common sense to represent a proudly diverse state like Florida in the United States Senate," Steele said.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy also weighed in, saying in a campaign statement that Beruff's "full embrace of Donald Trump's extreme bigotry is flat-out un-American."

Beruff's comments echo -- and build upon -- remarks the GOP presidential frontrunner made in December. Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the U.S. in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting.

Beruff said last month he would support whoever the Republican nominee is for president, while noting in regards to Trump specifically that there are "some things I don't agree with."

Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, added that "Mr. Beruff's asinine comments and out-of-touch values are not just dangerous to our democracy, but are absolutely unacceptable for any candidate who wants to represent Floridians in the U.S. Senate."

Beruff's four main competitors in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate race haven't volunteered their thoughts on Beruff's remarks yet, nor has Murphy's main Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. The other Republican candidates are: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week spoke glowingly of Beruff. When asked today by reporters in Tallahassee about Beruff's comments, Scott said: "I have not seen his comments, but in our state, I want people to come to our state."

In the face of today's criticism, Beruff doubled down in a statement this afternoon.

"The liberal media is out of control. And Democrats refuse to deal with reality. They make things up, sensationalize common sense solutions and exacerbate this obsession over political correctness. I stand by my answer and will repeat: anyone with ties, or possible ties, to terrorism should not be allowed in the United States," Beruff said.

He added: "The Obama Administration has allowed our immigration system to become a serious national security risk. Until we can ensure that our vetting process is full-proof and nothing will be missed in the process of approving people for admittance to the United States, it is the federal government's responsibility to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe here at home."

Herald/Times reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Bradenton Herald

April 25, 2016

Alan Grayson draws small-dollar donors, while Patrick Murphy benefits more from large donors


In touting the $2 million Democrat Patrick Murphy raised during the first three months of 2016, his U.S. Senate campaign made a point to note that “over 85 percent of contributions in the first quarter were under $200.”

Such a claim is a way for campaigns to boast of their grassroots appeal among average voters. But while small-dollar donors might have donated thousands of times to the Jupiter congressman, they are far from being the predominant source of his Senate campaign’s income, either last quarter or in general so far.

His primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, is actually the one getting the most traction among small-dollar Democratic supporters — although it means Grayson’s overall fundraising continues to lag.

A Herald/Times analysis of Murphy’s and Grayson’s first-quarter campaign finance reports revealed that only about 10 percent of the $2 million Murphy raised came from donations of $200 or less.

More here.

April 19, 2016

Patrick Murphy is a shareholder in family business that gave $300K to pro-Murphy super PAC



Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy consistently expresses disdain for super PACs — even while being a shareholder in a family business that recently dumped $300,000 into a super PAC supporting his bid for higher office.

The Jupiter congressman owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of stock in his father’s company, Miami-based Coastal Construction Group, according to financial disclosures Murphy has filed with the U.S. House of Representatives since his first election in 2012.

Coastal gave a $300,000 donation to the pro-Murphy super PAC, “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” at the end of March. That was on top of a $200,000 donation that Murphy’s father and Coastal’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Murphy Jr., gave in December.

Thomas Murphy’s and Coastal’s donations account for more than half of the super PAC’s reported income to date, according to Federal Election Commission records.

But “I hate super PACs,” Patrick Murphy told the Palm Beach Post on Monday after a campaign event in West Palm Beach. “ I think Citizens United was one of the biggest mistakes in our country’s history.”

Super PACs are not bound by campaign contribution limits, but they are prohibited by federal law from coordinating with a candidate’s campaign.

Murphy’s campaign said there was no coordination with “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” but his primary opponent U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, questions whether there was.

“I think it’s hard to explain how this isn’t an illegal coordination,” Grayson said. “He’s a shareholder in the company and the company turns around and gives a huge donation to his super PAC. It smacks of utter desperation on his part.”

More here.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

April 18, 2016

National, state teachers unions endorse Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate


The state's largest teachers union and its two national affiliates are endorsing Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

The Florida Education Association threw its support behind the Jupiter congressman with an announcement Monday morning in Palm Beach County. The FEA represents over 140,000 teachers and school support professionals in the state.

President Joanne McCall said, at the FEA's recommendation, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers back Murphy's U.S. Senate bid, too.

"We support Patrick Murphy for U.S. Senate because he has proven time and time again wholehearted commitment to education and Florida’s teachers and education staff professionals," McCall said. "Patrick has stood with our teachers, education staff professionals, parents and students when it mattered the most. He knows that there is nothing more important to Florida's children's futures than a high-quality education."

Murphy said he'd continue to support fully funding education including Title I and Head Start programs, better teacher pay and universal access to pre-K education, as well as backing away from high-stakes standardized testing.

"We’re setting back an entire generation. We’ve got to make sure we’re moving toward debt-free education," Murphy said during his remarks.

Murphy has racked up establishment endorsements during the course of his bid for Marco Rubio's open U.S. Senate seat. Other union support includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Florida Teamsters, among others.

His primary opponent -- fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando -- has also gotten support from some unions, including the Communications Workers of America.

Rep. Lake Ray interested in Ander Crenshaw's congressional seat


An outgoing state House member from Jacksonville says he's exploring a bid to replace Ander Crenshaw in the U.S. Congress.

Republican State Rep. Lake Ray announced his plans on Twitter this morning to campaign for Florida's Fourth Congressional District seat.

"We need to make sure NE Florida is well-represented," Ray wrote. "This congressional race will be about experience. We can't afford to have someone learn on the job."

Every hour for 10 hours today, Ray plans to tweet accomplishments "that will demonstrate why I am exploring this run."

Ray was first elected to the Florida House in 2008; he faces term limits and can't run for re-election. Before his time in the Legislature, he was on the Jacksonville City Council from 1999-2007.

Crenshaw, 71, announced last week that he wouldn't seek re-election to Congress after serving eight terms in office.

Several Jacksonville-area legislators have been named as possible candidates in the race to replace him.

As of Monday morning, only one person had filed with the Federal Election Commission for the open seat: St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure, a Republican who runs a health care technology company in St. Augustine.

April 14, 2016

Florida Strong goes after Miami Sen. Anitere Flores with mailers


An independent advocacy organization is highlighting Sen. Anitere Flores' former ties to Doral College in a direct-mail campaign in the Miami Republican's district.

The mailers from Florida Strong are part of an ongoing "Got Ethics?" campaign that the group launched earlier this year to call for ethics reform and to highlight lawmakers' ties to special interests.

Florida Strong said the mailers started arriving in Flores' constituents' mailboxes today. The group declined to say how much it spent for the mailers, which accuse Flores of being "part of the problem" of lawmakers accepting money from special interest groups. View it here.

"This in-district communication is a continuation of our statewide program to hold Florida legislators accountable and educate concerned citizens about policies that impact their lives," Florida Strong executive director Charly Norton said. "This past session, Senator Flores had an opportunity to pass real ethics reform legislation, but chose not to. Instead, she has kept open the loopholes that allow for the kinds of potential conflicts we see her personally benefiting from on the backs of Miami-Dade taxpayers. Senator Flores ought to answer these lingering questions and take action to address the rampant corruption and cronyism here in Florida."

From 2011 until last July, Flores was president of Doral College, which is run by Academica -- a for-profit company that's believed to be Florida's largest charter school operator. A few Miami-Dade Republican lawmakers, such as Flores, who have voted in support of charter schools have connections to Academica.

Florida has broad voting conflict laws for state officers. Legislators are only required to abstain from voting in narrow situations where they will be directly affected by new law or regulations. If a proposal could affect a them indirectly — through a family member or an employer — they can still vote.

Flores has defended her work with the college, which is still seeking accreditation.

"Doral College is an independent non-profit college that I did help establish with the mission of offering college access to low-income students at no cost to them or their families," Flores said in a text message last month, after a national Democratic advocacy group lobbed similar complaints of corruption against her through a web ad.

The attacks against Flores come as she faces a contentious battle for re-election to the Florida Senate in November.

In the District 39 race, she's competing against Democrats Andrew Korge and Daniel Horton, who are poised to square off in the Aug. 30 primary. The race is shaping up to be the most expensive Senate contest in the state, with $1.2 million raised by the end of March.