November 02, 2011

Haridopolos hints that Senate won't use conforming bills to write policy

Senate President Mike Haridopolos told a gathering of news reporters Wednesday that “it’s very liberating not to run for office this year” but didn’t veer from his practice of offering carefully-worded answers to pointed questions.

Haridopolos' most enlightening comment came at the end when he said that the Senate may steer away from the practice last year of using 42 conforming bills to pass substantial legislation: "We can improve that part of the process."

On  his push to appeal a court ruling that overturned the prison privatization plan: “We strongly believe we did it the right way...In a very simple way, here’s our choice: We can spend $22 million minimum on prisons or we can put that money on schools and health care.”

He didn’t answer what lawmakers will do if the court overturns the law that cut state worker salaries to pay into the state retirement fund so they could shift $1 billion into the general fund.

Continue reading "Haridopolos hints that Senate won't use conforming bills to write policy" »

Senate Prez Haridopolos endorses Connie Mack

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, a former candidate for U.S. Senate, announced Wednesday that he will endorse Florida Congressman Connie Mack for the post "because he would be a first class senator, he has the experience and most importantly, in these very difficult times he has the consistent conservative record."

Mack, R-Fort Myers, announced last week that he would enter the race, shaking up the field that now includes three other Republican candidates. Haridopolos, who dropped out of the race last summer after nine months, made his announcement at the annual Associated Press pre-session press briefing and said that he and his wife "will do everything we can" to help him and urge his supporters to support Mack.  


October 18, 2011

Haridopolos: Eric Brody bill a top priority for Senate

Eric Brody and his parents, Charles and Sharon, visit Tallahassee in 2009. TIMES/HERALD PHO

A bill that would compensate a 31-year-old man for a Broward Sheriff's Office crash that paralyzed him 13 years ago will be among the first bills passed by the Florida Senate next year, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said today.

"So there will be no doubt: We will be passing this bill early in the session," the Merritt Island Republican told reporters. "There will be more than sufficient time for the House to consider. And hopefully they'll pass something that the Senate will pass."

The bill in question (SB 4) would clear a hurdle to help Brody collect $12 million from the sheriff's office and its insurance company.

A jury awarded Brody more than $30 million in compensation, but to collect more than $200,000 from a government entity requires special approval from the state Legislature. The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, and Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa.

"It is clear where the Florida Senate stands," Haridopolos said. "We believe that justice should be served in a very smart way."

Continue reading "Haridopolos: Eric Brody bill a top priority for Senate" »

August 03, 2011

Haridopolos taps Benaquisto to be deputy Republican leader

Benaquisto Freshman state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, continues here mercurial rise through the Senate as she was named by Senate President Mike Haridopolos Wedneday to be his new deputy majority leader. She'll work with Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, along with majority whips, Senators Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and David Simmons, R-Maitland, he said in a statement.

The move promotes Benaquisto, a Realtor and former Villages of Wellington council woman, into the Senate president's inner circle. These positions are usually reserved for veteran legislators but, Haridopolos, catapalted Benaquisto because, he said: “In her inaugural session, Senator Benacquisto’s energy was unmistakable.

"She treats her constituents with respect and is devoted to serving Floridians. Senator Benacquisto embraces her role as state senator wholeheartedly, and I know her colleagues in the senate majority will benefit from her characteristic focus and drive.”

Benaquisto was named by Haridopolos to head the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, where she tried to find consensus on a priority bill for Haridopolos, the renewable energy legislation. She also Benacquisto championed bill on School Choice (SB 1331), Silver Alert (SB 664), the Andrew Widman Act (SB 844) and Qualified Target Industries (Senate Bill 1318).

She relocated to Fort Myers after being elected and anticipates that her cross-Florida district will be divided during redistricting next year. She is a mother of three children.


July 28, 2011

Dis alert! Mike Haridopolos on endorsing one-time pal Adam Hasner: No way.

Senate President mike Haridopolos and former House Republican leader Adam Hasner used to be buddies. They served together in the Florida House "freedom caucus." They rode together and palled around on Bill McCollum (doomed) campaign bus. They called each other friends.

No longer, apparently.

They ran against each other for U.S. Senate until Haridopolos withdrew from the race unexpectedly after a string of unfortunate events. And he apparently thinks Hasner has a hand in his troubles. Hasner didn't really do that much.

"I can tell you one thing: I will not be supporting Adam Hasner for the Senate,” Haridopolos told the Orlando Sentinel today. "We need to be a party of big ideas, and not legislating one way and running another."


July 20, 2011

Mike Haridopolos gets some new blood

After losing his staff chief, spokesman, aide and U.S. Senate campaign, it finally looks like the slow-bleed in Senate President Mike Haridopolos' office is ending with the hire of Taylor Biehl, his new legislative aide.

Here's his bio: 

After having received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Florida, Taylor Biehl served as the Special Projects Coordinator to Public Concepts, LLC, conducting detailed analysis of precincts and voter trends, assisting in the development of political messages, and assisting on the successful campaign of Ronda Storms for State Senator. Taylor has served as the Special Assistant to State Senator Mike Haridopolos. Taylor also served as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association where he led a succussful lobbying campaign implementing the association's agenda. Most recently, Taylor served as an associate at Uhlfelder & Associates, P.A., where he represented the interests of the largest Fortune 500 companies, including UPS, Tenet Healthcare, Kaplan (a subsidiary of the Washington Post), and Pearson Education.

July 18, 2011

How the Jim Greer criminal case haunts Mike Haridopolos, adviser Pat Bainter

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos abruptly quit the U.S. Senate race today, noting the rigors of the running a chamber of the Legislature while campaigning for higher office.

Haridopolos has endured months of tough press -- from his campaign shakeup to the fact that he had a sweetheart gig writing a book for a community college to getting rapped for filing inaccurate and incomplete financial disclosure forms three times.

One more piece of bad news looms: The criminal case against former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer. Greer was charged last year for defrauding the party by setting up a shell company, Victory Strategies, that raised money and diverted a portion of the funds to his bank account. Haridopolos could be deposed as early as August.

It turns out that Haridopolos former/longtime campaign advisor, Pat Bainter, might have been up to his neck in secret talks with Greer, another Republican has said in a court deposition.

But Greer says it was all perfectly legal -- and Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon had signed off on Victory Strategies when they inked a secret severance agreement with him. Greer also said that Cannon and Haridopolos used go-betweens to settle the matter.

Cannon and Haridopolos have denied the claims.

Haridopolos, though, had also denied signing any contract. But then he had to eat his words when Greer released a copy of it. Haridopolos also denied trying to arrange a $200,000 payment to Greer. But former Seminole County Republican Chairman Jim Stelling said in a deposition that Bainter actually offered the money -- even though the contract in question was worth less, about $124,000.

"In one conversation Mr. Bainter mentioned $200,000," Stelling said he testified.

"I said why," Stelling said.

"It's just the right thing to do," Bainter said, according to Stelling, who recounted his deposition to The Miami Herald.

Greer’s lawyer, Cheney Mason (of Casey Anthony fame), suggested that Bainter’s departure from Haridopolos’s campaign was tied to the criminal case.

“Some of the rats are leaving the ship because they won’t lie under oath,” Mason said. “I’m going to depose these political leaders involved in the conspiracy against Greer and give them an opportunity to perjure themselves.”

Bainter, who is also scheduled to be deposed, hasn't returned calls.

Scott says losing Haridopolos from U.S. Senate primary is a 'sad day for our state'

Gov. Rick Scott wasted no time this morning bemoaning the loss of Senate President Mike Haridopolos from the U.S. Senate Republican primary.

Haridopolos said he was dropping out to focus on his job in the state Legislature. But he's had a tough go on the campaign trail, repeatedly facing questions about $2 billion in tax and fee increases he voted for in 2009 and a sweet deal he received from Brevard Community College to write a legislative history book.

Scott, who recently hired Haridopolos' chief of staff, is in Montana on vacation but his press shop released this statement:

“I was surprised by Mike Haridopolos’ announcement today.  Anytime a statewide race loses a principled conservative like Mike Haridopolos in a race of this importance, it is a sad day for our state.  He was a great help to me during the legislative session as we put steps in place to turn Florida’s economy around and get Floridians back to work.  I look forward to his continued leadership during the upcoming legislative session.”

Anatomy of a melt-down: How Mike Haridopolos' Senate campaign fell apart

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos' star-crossed campaign for U.S. Senate ended unexpectedly Monday morning, just days after the departure of his two top staffers.

The decision by campaign advisor Pat Bainter and campaign manager Tim Baker to drop out was the last in a series of stumbles and missteps that plagued Haridopolos, who had trouble serving his role as Senate president and as a campaigner for a major statewide office.

"It became increasingly clear to me, and those around me, that the responsibilities I was managing on both fronts are in conflict. I truly believed I could handle both jobs, but I was wrong. Now I am determined to make it right," Haridopolos said.

"Today, I am announcing that I will no longer be a candidate for the United States Senate, nor will I seek any other office this year or next. Instead, I am re-dedicating myself to finishing the job you sent me to do here in Florida," he said.

Full online story is here


July 15, 2011

Revolving door alert: Taxpayers foot Mike Haridopolos' staffer job till campaign time

Updated: Arlene DiBenigno has been working on the U.S. Senate campaign of Senate President Mike Haridopolos for the past two months, confirming suspicions in the Capitol that Haridopolos gave her a special government job with a $75,000 annual salary until campaign season rolled around.

Her job in the Senate: director of minority outreach, a new post. It was unclear what DiBenigno did, except one time she helped speak Spanish to a group of protestors who opposed an immigration bill that Haridopolos' Senate ultimately watered down.

But it's not like she left. She's on unpaid leave. The Senate directory issued yesterday still has her on it.

When we asked DiBenigno about the rumors this spring, she swatted them down, but begged not to be written about. But she didn't deny she might work for the campaign in the future.

DiBenigno inherits a campaign that's either in free-fall, imploding or just simply stalled. And, if her past relationships with other campaigns is any indications, she's had a role in pushing out rivals, creating the chaos and reaping the whirlwind she sowed. But who knows? She won't call back.


DiBenigno's strength: Her grassroots organization in Miami-Dade County. She's a former Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist aide and played a role in Gov. Rick Scott's campaign for governor. She also worked in Crist's administration. So she has considerable experience working for campaigns and government.

Haridopolos made a big show of cutting staffer jobs before he took over the Senate this year, but the idea that he gave some taxpayer padding to his administration for his political ends is likely to become a campaign issue. It wouldn't be the first time Haridopolos personally benefitted from his government job. He parlayed his role as a Senator into a rare, $152,000 book deal with a community college. The book, when it was finally published years later, ultimately haunted his campaign. Later, he landed a $75,000 a year job at the University of Florida as a lecturer -- a sore spot for professors who said he was overpaid, underqaulified and overly partisan. We hear that former Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, helped get Haridopolos the job at the Graham Center. But he later regretted it. Haridopolos is no longer at the Graham Center.