December 01, 2014

Miami's District 2 draws another commission candidate


Another challenger has filed to run for Miami's District 2 commission seat next November, when it's up for grabs.

Mike Simpson, 46, filed Monday to campaign for the seat. Simpson said he lives in Coconut Grove and was spurred to run for public office for the first time by polarizing development in the community.

"It just seems like there’s nobody ... representing people caught in the middle," he said.

Simpson said he is a manager at Epicure Coral Gables, a classically trained chef, and former Walmart employee. He will be running against activist Grace Solares and possibly against term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's wife, Teresa Sarnoff, who says she's leaning toward a campaign.

Online hacker group Anonymous leads to Fort Lauderdale's website being shut down

The online hacking group Anonymous made threats to the city of Fort Lauderdale, resulting in the city taking down it's website this afternoon.

By 6:18 p.m., the city's website was back up.

The FBI is responding to inquiries from Fort Lauderdale officials regarding the hacking threat.

Anonymous made the threats related to the city’s controversial laws about feeding the homeless outdoors.

“Fellow citizens of the world and Fort Lauderdale,” says the computer generated voice in the video. “We are anonymous. It has come to our attention that Mayor John P. Seiler has become an embarrassment to the good law-abiding citizens of the city of Fort Lauderdale and arresting Arnold Abbott who is 90 and served our country for feeding the homeless. You are a disgrace Mayor John Seiler there we have a list of demands if not met then we shall shut down the main site of Fort Lauderdale.”

The group, calling it's mission OperationLifttheBans, demands that the city lift the ordinances that ban panhandling at busy intersections, sleeping in downtown area and prohibits handing out food unless certain requirements are met. “You have 24 hours or less. ... 24 hours to comply with our demands or the site will be shut down along with other sites belonging to Fort Lauderdale.”

Mayor Seiler told the Miami Herald at about 5 p.m. that he didn't have an estimate regarding when the website will be back up.

“We are upgrading and updating our website to address some threats that were made,” Seiler said.

Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Dean Trantalis said that the city manager sent an email to commissioners at about 6 p.m. that stated: “it appears a group has sought to create a denial of service on our website through our internet service provider. We are working with our provider to restore service at this time.”

City spokesman Matt Little told the Herald that he received an email from IT at 4:04 p.m. that city officials were working on the website.

The city of Fort Lauderdale’s latest attempt to regulate outdoor homeless feedings made international news when police nabbed "Chef Arnold" -- a 90-year-old caught in the act of such a public feeding.

"One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Arnold Abbott said, recalling his early November arrest for the Associated Press.

Miami Heralds federal courts reporter Jay Weaver contributed to this blog.

(This blog post was updated after interviews including with Mayor Seiler and Commissioner Trantalis.)


Broward GOP to elect new chair

The Broward GOP will take the first key step toward setting the course toward the 2016 presidential election when activists elect a new chair Dec. 8.

Former Davie mayor Tom Truex decided not to run again after serving about a year as the chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee. The next chair will serve for two years.

Though Republicans had statewide victories in November and Broward’s lone Republican county commissioner, Chip LaMarca, held on to his seat that’s a testament to their campaigns -- not BREC. Local activists would like to see their party group play a more prominent role in fundraising and in 2016 campaigns.

In recent years BREC has suffered from frequent turnover of chairs and infighting that represents the span of beliefs in the party, including a tussle over gay marriage. BREC has drawn attention for a couple of speakers from the fringe including a conspiracy theorist and for being parodied on The Daily Show.

It’s tricky to predict who will win a race that involves behind the scenes politicking, but lawyer Christine Butler could have the leg up. Butler is currently the vice chair and head of membership and therefore has read on many of the new members in recent months. Both Butler and another candidate, civil rights lawyer Levi Williams, lost the BREC race in 2013.

Williams, who was born in Jamaica, would be the first black BREC leader if he won. Blacks represent about one quarter of Broward’s voters but the majority are Democrats.

Karin Hoffman, a travel agent and tea party activist, is also running. She helped organize a meeting with tea party leaders across the nation and the Republican National Committee in 2010. Activist Chris Leggatt also plans to run.

About 280 committee men and women are eligible to vote.


Richardson the first openly gay representative to hold House leadership post

State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, has been selected as the Democratic Floor Leader by House Democratic leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, and Democratic Leader pro tempore, Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. Richardson will be the first openly gay representative in Florida history to serve in a leadership position in the Florida legislature, according to House Democrats. 

Here's the Democrats' press statement:

Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was the first openly gay member ever elected to the Florida Legislature when he was elected on August 14, 2012. Richardson has been a licensed CPA in Florida for 30 years and began his career as a Pentagon auditor identifying fraud, waste and abuse in government contracts. He was re-elected earlier this year to represent House District 113 for his second two-year term and is the only openly gay member of the Florida Legislature. Richardson joins the leadership team that will guide policy and action for House Democrats. As Floor Leader, he will serve as the chief liaison between the Democratic Leader and the Office of the Speaker. Richardson will also serve as ranking member on the House Rules, Calendar & Ethics Committee. In that role, Richardson will work on daily schedules of action for the House. Richardson will also manage, in conjunction with Republican leaders, floor debate on bills and amendments.

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Crisafulli names committee chairmen and chairwomen

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, has announced the committee chairmen and chairwomen for the next two legislative sessions.

"As I said in my remarks during Organization Session, one of our goals over the next two years is to continue to strengthen the great brand of Florida," Crisafulli wrote in a memo to members of the Florida House on Monday. "The brand that marks this House is that every word, action, thought, and deed is all about Florida. I believe the individuals I have appointed to these leadership positions will truly put Floridians first."

Here's the list:

Appropriations: Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes

Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee: Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula

Education Appropriations Subcommittee: Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami

Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee: Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami

Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee: Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples

Justice Appropriations Subcommittee: Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha

Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee: Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola

Economic Affairs Committee: Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes

Education Committee: Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake

Finance and Tax Committee: Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach

Health and Human Services Committee: Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford

Judiciary Committee: Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville

Local and Federal Affairs Committee: Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

Regulatory Affairs Committee, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami

Rules Committee: Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne

State Affairs Committee: Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers

AG revolving door: Bill McCollum lobbies, Pam Bondi's office helps his client


When the cruise line Royal Caribbean sought to amend a 1997 consumer protection agreement with the Florida Attorney General’s office, it hired a lawyer familiar with the agency’s inner workings.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum called on the staff of his successor, Pam Bondi. Six months after the June 2013 meeting, Bondi’s office granted McCollum’s request.

Royal Caribbean’s advertised rates would no longer have to include fees for services, like baggage handling and loading cargo. The fees, which can inflate a trip’s cost by more than $100, could be listed separately from the company’s advertised rates.

On at least two other occasions, McCollum met with Bondi’s staff to discuss two more clients — NJOY, an e-cigarette company, and HealthFair, which sells health screenings from mobile clinics.

McCollum isn’t just Bondi’s predecessor; he also leads the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has championed Bondi’s advancement.

McCollum served as vice or acting chairman of the Washington-based group from June 2012 to January 2014, records show. During that period, it contributed $650,000 to Bondi’s re-election campaign, more than 10 percent of what she raised, and chipped in another $16,000 in gifts so she could attend conferences with other Republican attorneys general.

When asked what role he had in those expenditures, McCollum said the staff, not the board, decides how campaign contributions are made. He didn’t address the gifts. Story by Michael Van Sickler here. 


Obamacare tax-credits uncertain in Supreme Court case. What will FL do?


Nearly 900,000 Floridians could lose Obamacare tax subsidies under a new U.S. Supreme Court case, but state political leaders say they’re making no plans to deal with the potential fallout.

The court case — affecting as many as 4.7 million people in 37 states — revolves around a dispute over how the federal government provides tax credits to those who buy insurance plans in Obamacare marketplaces, which are called “exchanges.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, people get the tax credits if they bought insurance on exchanges “established by the State.” Florida and 36 other states didn’t set up an exchange. So they left it to the federal government, which then issued a rule saying residents in those states would get the subsidy-like tax credits anyway.

Conservatives sued, saying the decision by the Internal Revenue Service violated the strict letter of the law. If the tax credits are struck down in 37 states, Republicans hope it could lead to the “implosion” of Obamacare. Liberals and defenders of the Obama administration say the lawsuit is politically motivated and that it fails to consider the design and context of the ACA: to make everyone insured.

The states in question could make the controversy go away by establishing their own exchanges. But Florida and other conservative-led states want Obamacare to fail — and they’re content right now to leave this in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which leans Republican.

“I’d wait and see what happens. That’s down the road,” said Gov. Rick Scott, a phrase repeated by his fellow Republicans who lead the House and Senate in Tallahassee.

After Scott was first elected in 2010, Florida fought against the ACA by returning a $1million federal grant to establish a state-run exchange. Scott said the state should spend no money to implement Obamacare, which he calls an unconstitutional job-killer.

Florida has also refused to expand Medicaid, which could ultimately provide government-run healthcare to nearly 1million in a state with one of the highest uninsured rates, nearly 25 percent at one point.

The federal government has no statistics on the effects of Obamacare on Florida’s uninsured, but a Gallup survey indicated that the law is reducing the uninsured rate across the nation. States that set up their own exchanges and that expanded Medicaid saw the biggest drop in the uninsured rate, Gallup reported.

Florida lawmakers have time to decide what to do next.

More here

Rick Scott campaign: post-election survey shows why exit polls on Cubans, Hispanics were wrong


Though exit polls indicated Gov. Rick Scott lost Hispanics by a 20 percentage-point margin, the Republican’s campaign conducted its own post-election survey that showed he might have almost tied Democrat Charlie Crist with these voters.

Scott’s survey, conducted by OnMessage Inc., shows Scott earned 47 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to Crist’s 49 percent, unlike the exit polls that had the Democrat leading the Republican 58-38 percent. The 2010 exit polls had Scott winning 50 percent of the Hispanic vote to Democrat Alex Sink’s 48 percent.

“While an array of news articles point to a Rick Scott victory ‘despite losing ground with Hispanics,’ that’s simply not true,” wrote OnMessage’s Wes Anderson and Kayla Dunlap in a polling memo.

One potential problem with the surveys from OnMessage and Edison Research (which conducts the exit polls for media groups): Their Hispanic samples were relatively low. OnMessage’s sample was 304 and Edison’s was 367. So the error-margins of the results will vary widely. (UPDATE/aside: A few readers have pointed out it's important to note that some voters in post-election surveys have a tendency to say they backed the winner).

A third survey, conducted on the eve of the election by the premier Hispanic polling firm of Latino Decisions, had 400 Florida respondents and found Crist leading Scott 52-45 percent -- results that fall somewhere in between the OnMessage and Edison surveys.

OnMessage’s polling also took issue with Edison’s results for Cuban-American voters. It’s always a contested topic because Cubans (especially those in Miami-Dade) tend to vote Republican and are the most-reliable of Hispanic voters. Also, because Cuban-Americans are a subset of Hispanic voters, the margin of error in surveying this demographic group is even greater.

OnMessage said Scott won Cubans over Crist 65-30 percent. Edison showed Crist ahead of Scott, 50-46 percent. Unfortunately, Latino Decisions didn’t report Cuban-voter results.

So who’s right? Who knows? When the Florida voter file is finally updated next month, we can examine voting patterns of heavily Cuban-American precincts to get a better idea of how the vote broke.

My guess is OnMessage is more right on Cuban voters. It’s tough to believe that Crist, who made little outreach with Spanish-speaking voters and who called for an end to the Cuban embargo, would have attracted majority support from Cubans. Yes, it’s true that younger Cuban Americans tend to vote more Democrat or independently and aren’t as hardline about Cuba policy, but most election data indicated this was an older electorate.

Scott, meanwhile, had a Cuban-American running mate in Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the support of Miami-Dade’s Cuban-American legislative delegation. Scott got just 39 percent of Miami-Dade’s vote in 2014 and, considering 72 percent of the county’s registered Republicans are Cuban-Americans, it’s reasonable to guess that an outsized portion of the Scott vote was among Cuban Americans.

“When the Hispanic vote is broken down by county of origin, we find that Governor Scott won a sizable majority of Cuban voters as well as more Puerto Rican voters than many expected,” Anderson and Dunlap wrote. “In the end, most Hispanic voters were focused on the economy, and they decided that under Governor Scott’s leadership, the state’s real estate and job markets are headed in the right direction.”

Download Scott poll

November 27, 2014

PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter tackles a claim about fat turkeys

On one of our regular cruises of political websites, we came across this from Mother Jones:

"Turkeys today weigh 29.8 pounds," the liberal magazine stated on itsFacebook page. "In the ‘30s, they weighed 13.2 pounds."

The claim was posted Nov. 24, 2014, three days before Thanksgiving.

It made our mouths water and, well, whet our appetite for some holiday fact-checking.

The Facebook post linked to an article posted the same day on Mother Jones’ website. The article, in turn, linked to a November 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics & Statistics Administration.

That report contained the figures Mother Jones cited, saying turkeys have more than doubled in weight -- from an average of 13.2 pounds in 1929 to 29.8 pounds in 2012.

We found that, if anything, Mother Jones might be light on its claim.

Turn to Tom Kertscher's fact-check from PolitiFact Wisconsin.

November 26, 2014

Unusual election could lead to longer term

It has been an unusually long and complicated election cycle for state Rep. Jamie Grant. A primary election scheduled for August didn’t happen until November, and even then, the results were thrown out.

But the strange circumstances could benefit the Tampa Republican.

Some elections experts say Grant, whose election is now set for Feb. 10, could be eligible to serve 14 years in the Florida House, despite a state law limiting lawmakers to eight years per chamber. And an elongated tenure could position Grant to become House speaker in 2022.

Grant told the Herald/Times he was not sure how many years he would be able to serve — or if he would want to stay in the Florida House any longer than eight years.

"My focus is on getting re-elected," he said Wednesday. "Anything else is a distraction."

Continue reading "Unusual election could lead to longer term" »