March 11, 2014

State House candidates raise big bucks in February

If campaign finance reports are any indication, at least two Florida House races are heating up.

State Rep. Erik Fresen, who is running for reelection in House District 114, raised $93,240 in February, state elections records show. His top contributors included charter school companies, education consultants, South Florida businesses, the state manufacturers association and the safety net hospitals political committee.

All told, Fresen has raised $260,239 for his reelection campaign.

"Given how much my opponent raised out of the gate, I figured I would maintain my competitive advantage," Fresen said.

Democrat Daisy Baez took in nearly $50,000 in the three months after she announced her candidacy. 

Her February numbers were more modest. Her total haul for the month, $8,506, included $1,000 contributions from the Lucida Treatment Center in California and Coral Gables art gallerist Sergio Cernuda.

Still, Baez's $81,445 total campaign war chest is nothing to sneeze at.

A third candidate, Republican Amory Bodin, has not raised any money.

The candidates in the competitive District 112 race also had a busy February.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, raised $24,500, state records show. So far, he has collected $117,976 for his campaign.

Republican candidate Daniel Diaz Leyva, meanwhile, picked up $10,622 in contributions last month, increasing his total to $141,762.

February 27, 2014

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz named among rising conservative stars

Diaz

 For the second year in a row, a state lawmaker from Florida has been named one of 10 rising conservative stars under 40.

This year, American Conservative Union is recognizing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, of Miami.

Diaz will be honored at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which begins on March 6 in Washington, D.C.

"Being selected for this honor is an amazing opportunity to showcase that conservative solutions advanced by Republican members of the Florida legislature can serve as a model to address our country's very real issues," he said.

Last year's rising stars included Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The Wesley Chapel Republican used the platform to oppose a federal expansion of Medicaid.

"Here's the bottom line: It's time for the states to take a stand," Weatherford told the crowd of conservative activists.

Diaz will have the opportunity to speak on March 8. He plans to talk about diversity and the Republican Party, he said.

"It's a huge platform," he said. "I will talk a little bit about who I am, where I come from, and how I see Hispanics playing a role in the future of the party."

While the list of all 10 honorees has not yet been released, Diaz said he would not be surprised to see another Floridian make the final cut.

"There are a lot of talented people in this state," he said.

The list of speakers also include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida; and Donald Trump.

February 17, 2014

Bill would extend subsidized healthcare coverage to immigrant children

Since she moved to Central Florida three years ago, Severiana Novas-Francois has been unable to take her daughters to the doctor.

The reason: Children born outside of the United States must wait five years before they qualify for the subsidized health insurance known as Florida KidCare.

Novas-Francois’ children were born in the Dominican Republic, her home country. “I’m a legal resident of the United States [and] my kids [are], also,” she said. “We applied a couple of times for KidCare. They denied us.”

This year, state lawmakers will consider opening KidCare to families like hers — legal residents with uninsured children — by eliminating the five-year waiting period.

The proposal, by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, would help about 26,000 children in Florida, according to estimates from the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Read more here.

January 23, 2014

Will the Fresen ethics saga come to an end on Friday?

Will Friday be the day the state Commission on Ethics ends its ongoing feud with state Rep. Erik Fresen?

The saga dates back to December 2012, when the commission determined that Fresen had failed to properly report his income and liabilities on his annual financial disclosure.

Fresen conceded there had been some mistakes and amended the forms.

But even after Fresen reached an agreement with ethics commission advocate Diane Guillemette in October, the commission wasn't ready to move on.

The commissioners were irked that Fresen had never paid a $1,500 ethics fine assessed to him in 2003. (The penalthy was the result of his not filing a financial disclosure while working as a legislative aide the year before.)

Fresen said he had no knowledge of the fine until 2012, when was no longer required to pay.

Ethics commissioners wanted Fresen to cut a check as a show of "good faith."

Fresen refused.

When he failed to pay by December, the commission rejected his stipulation with the chief advocate, and likened the situation to bank robbery.

Fresen's attorney J.C. Planas and Guillemette will return to the commission on Friday with a revised version of the agreement. The new agreement will note Fresen's refusal to pay the $1,500 fine, Planas said.

Planas stressed that the commission has no authority to collect the fine.

"There is nothing for them to do but accept the stipulation and move it on to the House," Planas said. "Hopefully, the executive director has informed the commissioners of the limited options before them."

The commission could, however, reject the stipulation for second time.

That move would likely prompt the Division of Administrative Hearings to get involved.

Artiles pushes for moratorium on red-light cameras

Rep. Frank Artiles is taking aim at red light cameras.

"If it's about safety, then let's make it about safety and remove the profits for the governments," he wrote on his Facebook wall Tuesday.

Artiles, a Miami Republican, is championing a bill that would put a moratorium on new cameras.

The bill would also slash the penalty from $158 to $83 by removing the $75 that goes to government agencies. (The money either goes to the county, municipality or state Department of Revenue, depending on which agency installed the red light camera.)

Municipalities would be able to impose a surcharge to fund existing cameras. But it would have to be discussed at a public hearing and approved by majority vote.

The language is included in PCB THSS 14-01, a much larger transportation bill being proposed by the House Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee.

Artiles sits on the committee.

Artiles said his staff crunched the numbers and determined that the cities of Miami and Tampa had collected an estimated $5.8 million and $2.8 million, respectively, in red-light camera revenue between 2012 and 2103.

"Cities make millions of dollars," he said. "It is wrong to use red light cameras to balance your budget."

Crusading against red light cameras is a popular thing to do in Miami-Dade County.

But Artiles can expect a good fight in Tallahassee. Supporters (who are well funded and represented in the Florida Capitol) say the cameras change driver behavior and can help reduce accidents at intersections. 

January 13, 2014

Carlos Lopez-Cantera could be Rick Scott's new running mate/lietuenant governor. Announcement soon?

@MarcACaputo

Miami-Dade Property Appraiser and former state House Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera is now under strong consideration by Gov. Rick Scott to be his running mate and, sources say, he could be tapped to be his lieutenant governor as early as this week.

One source indicated that Lopez-Cantera and Scott met Sunday in Miami, where the governor attended the Three Kings parade. They got along well and Scott indicated he wanted Lopez-Cantera for the job, the source said, but the timing of the announcement -- if there's one at all -- remains unclear.

Lending a measure of credence to the chatter from four Republican sources: the usually media friendly and easily accessible Lopez-Cantera hasn't returned calls or text messages since Friday.

Lopez-Cantera's vetting is an about-face for Scott's team, which initially refused to consider him -- in great part because Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, wanted other candidates.

Throughout all the chater, Lopez-Cantera has downplayed the talk and never lobbied for himself. But he never said "no," either.

"If anything, I want to help beat Charlie Crist," he said last month, noting that in 2006 he was one of the few Miami-Dade Republican state legislators to support Crist over Republican opponent Tom Gallagher.

At the time, Crist was a Republican who trounced Gallagher in the GOP primary and went on to beat Democrat Jim Davis in the general election.

Crist soon drifted leftward toward the center and conservative Republicans looked on aghast -- especially Lopez-Cantera's close friend and ally, then-House Speaker Marco Rubio, who even sued his fellow Republican over a gambling deal at one point.

A year after Rubio was termed-out in 2008, he started running for U.S. Senate against Crist, who was chased out of the GOP and became an independent. Rubio won that race.

Lopez-Cantera served under Rubio in the state House and served as majority leader through 2012, after which term limits forced him from state office. He then ran for and won the relatively new elected position of Miami-Dade property appraiser in 2012.

If chosen by Scott, Lopez-Cantera would be the state's first Hispanic lieutenant governor. His ethnicity aside, Lopez-Cantera also gives Scott a better shot at performing in the state's largest and most-Hispanic county, Miami-Dade, which Democrats need to win by big margins to remain competitive.

Privately, a number of Lopez-Cantera's fellow Hispanic Republicans from Miami-Dade have said for months that Scott is seriously underperforming in the Cuban-American community, once a bedrock of GOP support.

Lopez-Cantera has shown he can win in the county, is well-liked by conservatives throughout the state from his time leading the GOP in the state House, has helped lower property-tax values --thereby helping cut taxes -- and has a scandal-free reputation in a county known for scandal.

Scott has been considering other candidates, but two names released by Hollingsworth instantly said no -- a sign that their vetting wasn't real and that the governor's chief of staff failed to give them a heads up.

The lieutenant governor post has been empty since spring, when Hollingsworth forced out then-lieutenant governor Jennifer Carroll, who was distantly tied to a gambling scandal. She was cleared of wrongdoing, but by then the post was empty and has remained so far longer than anyone can remember in modern times.

Sources spotted Hollingsworth in the Tallahassee airport this morning as he appeared to bound a Miami-bound flight. Coincidence?

Disclosure: Lopez-Cantera's wife, Renee, has worked in the Miami Herald's circulation department advertising department (I think it's advertising, that is). While she doesn't come into contact with reporters or editors, it's nevertheless important to disclose the tie.

 

December 01, 2013

Miami lawmaker's sister-in-law gets tuition freebie at Dade Medical College

@MrMikeVasquez

Dade Medical College built its fast-growing empire with a healthy dose of political influence — the college founder has poured at least $170,000 into campaign contributions, and close to a dozen local politicians either took jobs at the college or benefited financially in some way.

The for-profit college’s political links, it turns out, also extend to elected officials’ families. At least two family members of powerful politicians have attended Dade Medical.

One of them, the sister-in-law of state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, is receiving free tuition, a source close to the family told the Miami Herald. That means she’s saving tens of thousands of dollars that students typically have to pay.

That sister-in-law declined to speak with a reporter who visited her home.

“No thanks,” she said, wagging her finger.

When Trujillo himself was questioned about the issue, he initially said he was “not aware” of whether the in-law was getting free tuition.

The next day, Trujillo took it upon himself to seek a legal opinion from the Florida House of Representatives’ general counsel, Daniel Nordby. In an e-mail to the Miami Herald, Trujillo wrote:

“I take my ethical obligations very seriously and want to ensure that I am always compliant with our conflict and reporting laws. Mr. Nordby confirmed to me that which I knew, namely that neither my sister-in-law’s attendance at Dade Medical College, nor her financial aid package, create any voting conflicts for me as she is neither an immediate family member as defined by the relevant Florida Statutes, and I have no knowledge about her financial-aid status. Therefore, there is no voting conflict nor improper gift in this instance.”

Two days later, in a follow-up interview, Trujillo was asked if he had spoken with his sister-in-law. Had he settled the question, once and for all, of whether she was getting free tuition?

Trujillo said he had not. Trujillo explained that he wouldn’t be asking his relative about it because doing so would be an invasion of her privacy.

“I have never asked anybody for a discount in anything,” Trujillo said. “I’m not going to dig into my sister-in-law’s personal finances. I would never ask her that question.”

More here.

November 20, 2013

State job incentives web site is incomplete and lacks transparency, legislators say

Two Democratic legislators from South Florida have scheduled a press conference tomorrow to demand that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity comply with a new law that requires the agency's web site to tell taxpayers how their money is being spent in the high-stakes jobs recruitment business.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, and Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, are asking that the state comply with the requirements of the new law by Jan. 1, 2014.

“Every year our state provides funds to companies in return for promises that they’ll create jobs,” Rodríguez said. “If job creation is the goal, then the portal is supposed to help keep score to see which projects are making good on promises to taxpayers. We passed reforms this year but DEO’s portal still doesn’t comply with either the spirit or the letter of the law.”

The law requires the state to not only list the tax incentives provided to companies but also list the average annual wage of persons holding jobs generated as well as the jobs retained. 

“Transparency is lacking and the portal is not complete,'' Sobel said.

Here's their letter:

Continue reading "State job incentives web site is incomplete and lacks transparency, legislators say" »

November 08, 2013

Rep. Daphne Campbell's son convicted in $300k Medicaid-fraud scheme

@MarcACaputo

Gregory Campbell, the son of Miami Democratic state Rep. Daphne Campbell, was convicted by a jury Friday in a nearly $300,000 Medicaid-fraud scheme.

Campbell, 29, faces a maximum of 45 years in prison for the multiple fraud and conspiracy charges.

“We will not allow these criminals to defraud the Medicaid program, a program funded by taxpayer dollars and intended to help people in-need,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a written statement.

“My Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and Office of Statewide Prosecution will remain relentless in their efforts to pursue Medicaid fraud and hold wrongdoers accountable,” Bondi said.

Bondi’s office had also been examining Campbell’s mother, Rep. Campbell, in an unrelated alleged scheme tied to group home companies she runs with her husband, Hubert Campbell.

Both had denied wrongdoing; neither could be reached late Friday.

In Gregory Campbell’s case, he and two other co-conspirators billed Medicaid for services never rendered at three group homes in the North Miami area: Denian Adult Family Care Home, D & E Home Care Facility, and Sunnyman Retirement Home.

One of Gregory Campbell’s conspirators, Percival Wignall, had previously pled guilty to related fraud charges. The other alleged conspirator, Enid Salmon, is a fugitive sought by authorities.

Campbell was convicted on first-degree felony charges of organized fraud and Medicaid fraud, as well as a second-degree felony charge of conspiracy to commit Medicaid fraud.

October 14, 2013

Strange bedfellows: FL Dems and Tea Party Miami agree, call Steve Ross ads 'slanderous"

@MarcACaputo

Politics make for strange bedfellows, as the saying goes. And it's particularly true when it comes to billionaire Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross, who is seeking taxpayer money to retrofit a stadium he could pay for out of his own pocket.

Ross has managed to unwittingly unite TEA Party Miami and the Florida Democratic Party.

But first, some background:

Unable to get the Legislature to sign off, Ross founded Florida Jobs First to target/support un/friendly lawmakers and candidates. So the political group is funding ads in a special election in Pasco County that bash the Democrat.

But TEA Party Miami doesn't much like the "billionaire welfare" of Ross who, the group says, is trying to buy lawmakers. So the conservative group blasted out an email today taking Ross to task and calling the Pasco ads against Amanda Murphy "slanderous."

The Florida Democratic Party couldn't agree more and sent out an email noting the statement. FDP also called into question the seriousness of Florida Jobs First, which receives political advice from a New York (not FL) political consultant, Michael McKeon.

"What kind of advice is Steve Ross getting from his New York City team of spin doctors, spending big in a district 300 miles away from Miami?" FDP asked. It's a question Republicans are asking as well.

We reached out to McKeon by email. He refused to comment.

Another quirk: Florida Jobs spokesman Eric Jotkoff used to be the FDP's spokesman.