January 21, 2015

Rep. Carlos Curbelo shows he’s not Sen. Joni Ernst’s sock puppet


Miami’s newly elected congressman, Carlos Curbelo, was honored to give the GOP’s State of the Union response in Spanish, but with one catch: He was supposed to repeat Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst English language reply.

But Curbelo wasn't a sock puppet mouthing Spanish words strictly in accordance with Ernst’s. So he mentioned immigration reform, Cuba and education – three issues the Cuban-American former school board member ran on that she didn’t mention.

“I tried to reconcile our broader party message with my experience,” Cubelo said. “I’m a representative of a people, a congressional district and I wanted to make sure that experience was represented.”

Curbelo, though, allowed a misimpression about his speech to be echoed in the liberal press, namely Mother Jones, which crowed about how Curbelo would have to echo Ernst’s speech almost word for word – and therefore not mention immigration.

“My staff wanted to say something,” Curbelo said, “But I said ‘no. Let the speech speak for itself.'”

Curbelo said his changes to the speech were made about three days before liberal critics took aim at the possible tensions between his beliefs and Ernst's. As a result, he said, he had made up his mind to make the changes well before criticism arose.

Curbelo said he shared his changes -- at least a dozen -- with House leadership “and they had no problems. I don’t want people to think there was a fight. There wasn’t.”

However, he said, he didn’t add in personal beliefs of his that might be too contentious for many Republicans.

Curbelo didn’t talk about gay marriage.

“I personally believe in the freedom to marry,” he said, “many in the party still oppose that. “I wanted this speech to be about what our party believes and what I believe. I didn’t want to poke people in the eye.”

So Curbelo didn’t specifically call for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants – a major dividing line between comprehensive immigration reformers and critics. Curbelo, instead, adhered to the issues about immigration reform that a majority of politicians on the right and left support.

“Let us work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions to our immigration system - to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration, and strengthen our economy,” he said in the speech.

As for Cuba, Ernst didn’t mention that either – an interesting omission considering the broader Midwestern interest in increasing agricultural trade with the island (see Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s early votes on the issue).

Reflecting the exile’s sentiment of Miami, Curbelo made sure to criticize President Obama’s attempt to normalize relations.

Cuba was certainly part of the speech-night’s theatrics. Obama had brought freed American political prisoner Alan Gross as a guest to the speech while House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Marco Rubio, representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz- Balart brought along and advocated for Cuban dissidents who oppose what they say were Obama’s bad concessions.

Curbelo shares essentially the same platform on foreign policy and immigration reform as Diaz-Balart (for whom Curbelo worked in a tough 2008 campaign), Ros-Lehtinen and Rubio.

“It is also essential that the United States supports its allies and holds its enemies accountable,” he said. “We are disturbed by the administration’s undeserved concessions to the regimes in Iran and Cuba. Both countries are ruled by cruel dictatorships that FOR decades have tried to harm our country and our allies.”

Attached is a side-by-side comparison, compiled by Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei, of 12 differences between the two speeches. 

Download Curbelo v. Ernst

This post has been updated

January 20, 2015

In Spanish, GOP rebuttal to State of the Union mentions Cuba -- but not in English


Newly elected Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo was given the (generally thankless) task Tuesday of delivering the Republican Party's Spanish-language rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst responded in English.

The two freshmen's remarks were mostly the same. They differed, as expected, on matters of biography: Ernst spoke about having a single pair of shoes growing up in Iowa winters, Curbelo said he grew up "in Miami, one of the country's most diverse cities."

But they also diverged on a more substantive matter: Curbelo mentioned Cuba, criticizing "unearned concessions" by the Obama administration to "cruel dictatorships" in Cuba and Iran. Ernst made a separate mention of Iran -- and didn't utter Cuba once.

Curbelo is Cuban-American, so it was not surprising that he would go after Obama on the subject. Obama himself devoted a paragraph of his speech to establishing closer ties with the island, and asked Congress explicitly to lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

What's perhaps more noteworthy is that Ernst said nothing on the subject, highlighting the rift within the GOP about whether rapprochement with Raúl Castro's communist regime is a good idea. Several Republicans -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio -- made a statement against Obama's actions by inviting Cuban dissidents and their families to the U.S. Capitol for the president's speech. But other Republicans, including from agricultural states in the heartland, have been much more open to normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations if it will benefit American business interests.

Ernst stayed out of it.

Another difference between the two speeches: Curbelo, an immigration-reform proponent, mentioned "modernizing legal immigration." Ernst didn't bring up immigration at all.

Curbelo also offered "condolences" to France in the wake of the terrorist attack there this month.

The differences are particularly noteworthy because the House GOP said when it announced its rebuttal speakers that Curbelo would offer a translation of Ernst's remarks. Curbelo said Tuesday afternoon that there would be differences, and Republicans changed their tune after Mother Jones reported earlier Tuesday that Ernst's positions -- particularly in support of English as the country's official language -- seemed in conflict with a Spanish-language rebuttal.

Rare candor: Julie Jones talks to legislators about prison system's faults

Julie JonesIn an unprecedented moment of candor, Florida’s newly installed prisons chief told a Senate committee that private contractors have provided inadequate medical care to Florida’s inmates while crumbling infrastructure and years of staffing cuts have fostered “culture” problems in the massive agency.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones had intended to present the Senate Criminal Justice Committee with a variety of reforms she is proposing to the system that has seen a 13 percent increase in inmate deaths in the past year, but the committee had other ideas.

As Jones told the lawmakers about her priorities to focus on rebuilding decades-old buildings, adequately staff the agency and better handle the growing number of mentally ill inmates, committee members peppered her with questions.

“The media reports that we’ve seen are not only disquieting but disturbing to my sense of humanity,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “Just doing those things are we going to change the culture?”

In a series of recent articles, the Miami Herald detailed the deaths of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate herded into a locked, scalding-hot shower at Dade Correctional and left for two hours until he collapsed and died; Randall Jordan-Aparo, repeatedly gassed after annoying staff at Franklin Correctional by complaining he was sick; and Ricky Martin, a slightly built prisoner inexplicably bunked with a a towering predator, who rendered him bloody and brain-dead within hours.

The Herald also reported that use-of-force incidents have doubled in the prison system while the inmate population has remained stable.

The Palm Beach Post has reported in-depth on deaths linked to the quality of medical care provided by Corizon and Wexford, the companies that have lucrative contracts with the DOC.

Jones agreed with lawmakers that “Yes, we have a culture issue,” but noted that unless they restore hundreds of positions cut from the budget in the first four years of Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure, other changes might be inadequate. Read more here.



Fact-checking the 2015 State of the Union

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama will visit the U.S. Capitol building to present his views on the State of the Union. Afterward, Republicans have put forward U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to give a response and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, will give the Spanish translation.

PolitiFact will be there to check the facts.

For 2015, we’ve staffed up and added new technology to our toolkit. We plan on live blogging the speeches here on our website via ScribbleLive with fact-checks, rulings and analysis as the night goes on. We’re partnering with Genius to annotate the speeches to provide important context and vetted, independent sources of information. And when our work is done in the early morning hours, we’ll send a priority email to our Kickstarter supporters to let them know.

Read more from editors Angie Drobnic Holan and Aaron Sharockman.

Scott sends letter back to Atwater -- Thanks but no thanks on FDLE

Well that didn’t take long.

Just moments after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking to reopen the search for a new commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Scott sent back a missive of his own.

In it, Scott declined Atwater’s request to redo his appointment of Rick Swearingen after the governor forced Gerald Bailey to resign in December.

“I would not support any change to Commissioner Rick Swearingen’s current position during this time in order to avoid unnecessary turmoil within an organization of great men and women working hard every day to keep Florida safe,” Scott replied back.

Scott did tell Atwater he's open to discussing the removal of Kevin McCarty from his job as Florida Insurance Commissioner; Marshall Stranburg from his post as executive director of the Department of Revenue and Drew J. Breakspear from his job as Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation.

“So we can get fresh ideas into those Cabinet positions at the start of a second term,” Scott wrote. “Your input on these financial areas will be important.”

Check out the letter below. Note the icy tone. Oh yeah, it's on. 

Dear Chief Financial Officer Atwater:

Thank you for your letter and support of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. As you indicate in your letter, I believe there is always room for improvement in any system and I look forward to any ideas you would like to share for an improved process in the next Cabinet meeting.

As you know, I believe that government needs to be more like business and frequently change leadership to bring in new ideas and fresh energy. There are no lifetime appointments in executive government – just as there are no guaranteed lifetime jobs in the private sector outside of government.

In that vein, I am hopeful that we can have a discussion at the upcoming Cabinet meeting about how to begin a search for new leadership at the Office of Insurance Regulation, the Office of Financial Regulation and the Department of Revenue so we can get fresh ideas into those Cabinet positions at the start of a second term. Your input on these financial areas will be important.

As you suggest, there can also be a cabinet search commenced for other FDLE candidates; however, I would not support any change to Commissioner Rick Swearingen’s current position during this time in order to avoid unnecessary turmoil within an organization of great men and women working hard every day to keep Florida safe.


Rick Scott


Purge alert: After FDLE firing, Rick Scott targets insurance, finance and tax leaders


Gov. Rick Scott answered CFO Jeff Atwater's call to review the recent appointment of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner -- and he then went a step further by saying he wants "new leadership at the Office of Insurance Regulation, the Office of Financial Regulation and the Department of Revenue so we can get fresh ideas into those Cabinet positions at the start of a second term."

Here's the text of Scott's letter:

Continue reading "Purge alert: After FDLE firing, Rick Scott targets insurance, finance and tax leaders" »

Atwater breaks from Scott, wants to reopen FDLE job search

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater became the first Cabinet member to fully break with Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday in calling for the reopening of the search for a new commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“The people of Florida will be best served knowing the leadership of State Cabinet agencies have been selected following a transparent public process in which all Cabinet members are able to make fully-informed decisions,” Atwater said in a statement released late Tuesday.

Just last week, Atwater, along with the two other Cabinet members -- Attorney General Pam Bondi and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam -- unanimously supported Scott’s appointment of Rick Swearingen as the new FDLE commissioner. When asked after the Cabinet meeting by reporters about allegations from Swearingen’s predecessor, Gerald Bailey, that he had been forced out, Atwater expressed no surprise or concern.  

Only later, after Bailey’s allegations got traction in the media, did Putnam, Atwater and Bondi Cabinet members begin to say they had second thoughts.

Still, talk is cheap. The Cabinet has the power to reconvene the Bailey matter. Until Tuesday, none of them showed any sign that they were willing to do so, leaving many to question whether the Cabinet was fulfilling its role as a check on the governor.

Atwater’s letter comes after coverage of Bailey’s departure still dominates the discourse in Tallahassee and is fueling rumors of other possible turnover.

The text of the letter is surprisingly frank and contrite.

“As the ongoing conversation regarding Commissioner Bailey has evolved over the past week, I have become increasingly concerned about not only the manner of his departure, but also what this might portend for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and future Cabinet appointments,” Atwater wrote. “Perhaps in retrospect, upon being notified of Mr. Bailey’s resignation, I should have reached out to him personally. I cannot speak for the other members of the Cabinet, but to the extent that the manner in which my office reacted to the notification of his resignation contributed to the current situation, I am prepared to accept my share of the responsibility.

“Moving forward, I believe it would be appropriate for the Cabinet to revisit this issue.”

Atwater wasn’t alone in expressing regret, but he was far out ahead in proposing action.

Putnam offered a vague statement on Tuesday that he was about to do something.

“I have made it clear that I am not happy with how this was handled,” Putnam said. “I am exploring my options at this time.”

Bondi’s office on Tuesday only indicated that she’s still looking at the matter.

“We are actively reviewing the matter within our office,” said a spokesman, Whitney Ray.

Orange County clerks office stunned by FDLE allegations


Officials at the Orange County Clerk’s Office said Tuesday they are just as stunned by  allegations made by the ousted commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as anyone else.

Last week, Gerald Bailey, the ex-FDLE chief, told the Times/Herald that Gov. Rick Scott’s office pressured him to claim that the acting clerk of court in Orange County, Colleen Reilly, was the target of an FDLE criminal inquiry after two prison inmates used forged papers from her office to plot an escape from the Franklin Correctional Institution.

"The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification," Bailey said. "I don't know why this woman was in the cross hairs."

Bailey’s office never named Reilly or her office as a target in the investigation, so until Bailey made this allegation in the Times/Herald, those who worked there were oblivious that they were close to being named as targets in a high profile criminal investigation.

“I hadn’t heard any of that throughout the investigation,” said Melissa Geist, director of court operations at the clerk’s office. “I was involved every step of the way, and I’m very very surprised by the allegation.”

Reilly is no longer with the clerk’s office and couldn’t be reached, but Geist said she attended every meeting that Reilly did with FDLE agents investigating the 2013 prison escape of convicted murders Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins.

With the help of others, Walker and Jenkins created a fake court order and put a forged signature from a judge on it that stated they been given time served and could be released. The Orange County Clerk’s Office processed the documents and sent them to the Florida Department of Corrections. Officials there reviewed the bogus paperwork and released the prisoners.

Geist said the FDLE agent in charge, Andrew Watts, and his supervisor, Julie Bressin, communicated with her about their investigation. They exchanged emails monthly about the status of the probe. Geist said she walked the agents through how the 60 employees in the clerk’s criminal division process orders. She said at no point did agents seek to question any of the employees or share their suspicions that someone at the clerk’s office was responsible, either through criminal intent or incompetence.


Continue reading "Orange County clerks office stunned by FDLE allegations" »

Miami Beach commissioner to run for FL House


Another Weithorn will again run for District 113 in the Florida House of Representatives.

Miami Beach Commissioner Deede Weithorn has filed to run for the seat her husband Mark Weithorn did not win in 2012, when fellow Democrat David Richardson won the primary and went unchallenged in the general election. 

After being re-elected unopposed last year, Richardson has announced he’s running for the District 35 seat in the Florida Senate. That leaves District 113 up for grabs in November 2016.

Deede Weithorn opened her campaign account Jan. 7, around the same time Mark announced his campaign for Miami Beach City Commission.

Deede’s second term expires in November. The lifelong Beach resident and Certified Public Accountant was first elected to the Beach commission in 2007.

It isn’t the first time she’s expressed interest in running to represent the district, which covers Miami Beach, parts of downtown Miami and North Bay Village. Before her husband’s campaign in 2012, she’d originally said she was going to run.

Movers_Deede Weithorn

On Tuesday, she told the Miami Herald she feels it's time for her to make a run at Tallahassee.

"I’ve actually been thinking about this for a number of years," she said. "Over my career I've done a fair amount work in Tallahassee, and I think it’s a natural for me."

Bailey off the agenda at FDLE head, House Democratic leader meeting

Just hours after he called on the Legislature and cabinet officials to investigate the ouster of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, met with newly appointed Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

Not on the agenda: The Bailey affair.

After the 20-minute meeting, which was scheduled as a meet-and-greet, Swearingen said the two men did not discuss Bailey.

Continue reading "Bailey off the agenda at FDLE head, House Democratic leader meeting" »