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April 20, 2016

A GOP battle royale in South Dade: Lynda Bell vs. David Rivera

@PatriciaMazzei

Setting up a South Florida Republican battle royale, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell plans to run for a Florida House of Representatives seat -- against former U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Bell, who announced her candidacy late Tuesday at a meeting of the Old Cutler Republican Women's Club, told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that she looked at two open House seats in South Dade before settling on District 118, which includes neighborhoods she represented in her four-year term on the commission

"I'm not here to beat up on David Rivera, but I know I served 10 years in office, and I feel like I have a lot to offer," said Bell, who previously served as Homestead mayor. "I've accomplished very, very much."

Bell doesn't live in the district, which extends from West Miami-Dade to Richmond Heights, but said she'd move there by Election Day, as required by law. She thought about running in neighboring District 114 -- also not her home district -- but said she didn't want to challenge one of the Republicans already running, John Couriel, whom she called "a really great guy."

Neither of her choices was ideal: Both districts are heavily Hispanic, especially among likely Republican primary voters. Bell's long-shot bid might be based on the idea that other Hispanic Republicans could split the vote to her benefit, given her name recognition, but winning probably won't be easy.

More here.

Impasse lingers in search for Florida insurance commissioner

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday scheduled a face-to-face meeting with one of two finalists for the soon-to-be-vacant position of state insurance commissioner., as an impasse lingers only weeks before the start of the annual hurricane season. 

Scott planned a 1 p.m. meeting with state Rep. Bill Hager, a Delray Beach Republican and a former Iowa insurance commissioner. In addition, Scott's chief Cabinet aide said Scott also wants the other finalist, Jeffrey Bragg, a former federal terrorism risk insurance program official who lives in Palm Harbor, to be at next Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.

Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater must agree on a successor to Kevin McCarty, who has announced his resignation effective May 2. Scott supported Bragg at a March Cabinet meeting and Atwater supported Hager and neither official has shown any sign of movement.

At a public meeting of Cabinet aides at the state Capitol Wednesday, there was no sign that the impasse was about to end, which prompted this observation from Rob Johnson, Attorney General Pam Bondi's Cabinet aide: "Without the governor and the CFO being on the same page, we're not going anywhere."

Atwater scheduled telephone interviews with four other candidates this week: Raymond Blacklidge, Carla D'Andre, Chlora Lindley-Myers and James Wrynn.

Atwater's Cabinet aide, Robert Tornillo, said that the CFO would notify Scott's office by 5 p.m. Thursday if Atwater wants to consider any new finalists for the position.

Scott and the Cabinet raised the maximum salary for the insurance post to $200,000 a year to widen the pool of applicants, but most candidates fall short of the experience required by law. The always unpredictable hurricane season in Florida begins on June 1, about six weeks from now.

McCarty, who has been director of the Office of Insurance Regulation for the past 13 years  declined a request for an interview, but said through his spokesman that "the commissioner is willing to help ensure a smooth transition. At this point, we can't speculate on what that will be."

After next week, Scott and the Cabinet are not scheduled to meet again until May 10.

Former FPL manager implicated in espionage case for trading nuclear secrets to Chinese for cash

A former Florida Power & Light manager traded nuclear information from the company for cash to assist one of China’s top nuclear power companies, according to federal court records unsealed in Tennessee last week.

The unnamed former FPL employee was recruited by Szuhsiung Ho, also known as Allen Ho, to help China General Nuclear Power Co. develop special nuclear material in China,according to the grand jury indictment unsealed April 14 in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Ho, a Delaware resident and naturalized U.S. citizen, is a nuclear engineer employed by China General Nuclear Power. The indictment charges Ho and his Delaware-based company, Energy Technology International, with two counts — conspiracy to unlawfully produce special nuclear material outside the U.S. and acting as an agent of a foreign government while in the U.S.

The unnamed former FPL employee was a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Taiwan who leftJuno Beach-based FPL in April 2010 to go to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority as a senior manager for the TVA’s nuclear power group until 2014, the indictment said. His job at FPL is listed as “Probabilistic Risk Assessment Manager.” Story here. 

Marco Rubio steps into Haiti elections fray -- again

via @Jacquiecharles

Sen. Marco Rubio is once more speaking out about Haiti's elections.

The Florida Republican has teamed up with Georgia Republican Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson to ask U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to step it up on Haiti's on-again, off-again final presidential round.  

"We urge the Department of State to use every tool at its disposal to ensure that Haitian authorities conduct elections by the agreed upon deadline," the letter said.

That would be Sunday under a Feb. 5 political accord outlining the steps for Haiti's interim leaders to transfer power to an elected president. The date, however, is impossible to meet. That means, while not yet official, the country's scheduled April 24 runoffs to elect a president and complete parliament, will be postponed for a third time.

Léopold Berlanger, the newly appointed head of Haiti's revamped elections body, said as much in his in his first news conference earlier this month.

"We cannot talk about the electoral calendar in the state that we're in," Berlanger said, referring to the chorus of doubts over the credibility of the final results of the Oct. 25 presidential first round pitting government-backed candidate Jovenel Moïse against opposition candidate Jude Célestin.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio steps into Haiti elections fray -- again" »

Rick Scott: 'we'll need to elect another great governor'

In praising conservative principles at work in government during a speech in New Port Richey on Tuesday night, Gov. Rick Scott was sure to thank a mostly GOP-crowd for electing a majority of Republicans to the Florida Legislature and to the Florida Cabinet over the years.

Scott told the Republicans at the Ronald Reagan Dinner, sponsored by the Pasco County Republican Party, it's because of that the state is doing so well.

"Every day I can go around the state and say you can get a job in this state," Scott said, touting the state's jobs gains since he was elected governor in 2010.

 But Scott said more needs to be done in the future.

"I have two years and 8 or 9 months to go," Scott told the crowd. "This is a great job. We'll need to elect another great governor."

Quickly realizing he had just called himself great, Scott laughed and joked that of course people in the audience know he's great, which prompted the audience to laugh along.

April 19, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott says GOP 'better rally behind' Trump

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As Donald Trump was scoring a big win in the New York primary on Tuesday night, Gov. Rick Scott was once again calling on Republicans in Florida to rally around him.

Speaking to more than 400 Republicans at the Pasco County Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner on Tuesday night, Scott said after the primary season is sorted out, GOP voters have to come back together to assure a Republican is in the White House to advance conservative principles.

"So we need to support the Republican nominee," Scott said at the dinner in New Port Richey.

After his approximately 17 minute speech, Scott told the Times/Herald that he thinks Republicans will unite in time for the general election because there is a clear contrast with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

"If we want to win in November, we better rally behind him," Scott said of Trump.

It's a similar to the message Scott posted on Facebook in March after Trump won Florida's presidential primary.

U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Lopez-Cantera campaigns in Tampa Bay

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera told a small group of Republicans and businsses people on Tuesday in Brandon that if he is elected to the U.S. Senate he would support eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, would push for entitlement reforms to help rein in government spending and pledged he'd hold town hall meetings throughout the state every month to stay connected with voters.

His wide ranging comments came during an hour-long stop in Hillsborough County at the start of what Lopez-Cantera is calling his "Florida First Tour." The Republican from Miami said the tour is aimed at listening to smaller groups of community and business leaders to hear what is on their minds and less about him giving speeches.

After being asked by one of the people he was meeting with if he would support getting rid of whole federal agencies like the Department of Education, Lopez-Cantera said yes.

"It's a good idea to get rid of the Department of Education," he said while holding court at Moreno Bakery in Brandon with 10 people.

He said he'd support more of a block grant approach on education where funding goes to the locals to make the decisions on education issues.

Continue reading "U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Lopez-Cantera campaigns in Tampa Bay" »

Rep. Mike Hill files for open Panhandle Senate seat

@MichaelAuslen

After Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, announced he is running for Congress, a conservative House Republican is jockeying for his abandoned state Senate seat.

Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, told Panhandle talk radio host Burnie Thompson he's running to replace Evers, according to a video on Thompson's Facebook page.

"I decided it was time for me to step up and to run for that state Senate seat," Hill said.

One of the House's more conservative members, Hill was elected in a June 2013 special election. He's an insurance agent and also the only Republican African-American member of the Legislature.

Hill has not filed for the seat with the Division of Elections.

States can't block Medicaid money from Planned Parenthood, feds say

@MichaelAuslen

States like Florida can't block Medicaid money from abortion clinics, federal officials said in a letter to state health officials Tuesday.

"Providing the full range of women's health services neither disqualifies a provider from participating in the Medicaid program, nor is the provision of such services inconsistent with the best interests of the beneficiary and shall not be grounds for a state's action against a provider," Vikki Wachino, director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, wrote in the letter, which was also sent to groups representing the nation's governors, state lawmakers and public health officials.

Translation: You can't exempt Planned Parenthood or any other abortion clinic from Medicaid just for being an abortion clinic.

Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a controversial law that blocks all state money, including Medicaid, from abortion clinics, including preventive services like cancer screenings and HIV testing. State law already prevented taxpayer dollars from funding abortions.

The state can't do that unless the federal government agrees. And Wachino's letter sounds like an early "no."

The money on the line across the state is uncertain, ranging from $114,000 according to Scott's office to $500,000 according to Planned Parenthood.

Asked whether the state has requested approval to stop the flow of funds to abortion clinics or whether it believes it has the legal authority to do so, Agency for Health Care Administration spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said in a statement Tuesday that, "We’re looking at all of our options."

Federal law gives Medicaid recipients the right to be served by "any institution, agency, community pharmacy or person qualified to perform the service or services required," according to Wachino's letter.

While states are allowed to set "reasonable standards" related to quality, they can't "target a provider or set of providers," unless they fail to meet quality standards or have shoddy billing practices.

The law in question -- HB 1411 -- does set other quality standards that abortion-rights supporters say could lead to clinics closing. But the potential loss of funding is also of concern.

State lawmakers said the law ensures opponents of abortion aren't forced to indirectly pay for the procedure via tax dollars that go to clinics for other procedures.

"The idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions is simply intolerable," Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said during a Senate floor debate in March.

Florida Supreme Court suspends Miami-Dade judge who appeared drunk on bench

via @ChuckRabin

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a Miami-Dade judge who had been removed from the bench three weeks ago after appearing drunk on the bench — an incident that came on the heels of an expletive-laced outburst at a restaurant.

In a one-paragraph statement, the state high court said County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has until May 9 to respond to the decision and argue her case against the ruling. She will continue to be paid during the suspension.

Chief Judge Bertila Soto pulled Schwartz from the bench of her Miami-Dade courtroom on March 28 after Schwartz appeared to be drunk. She has been on paid medical leave since.

Ten days prior to that incident, the judge created a ruckus at a Coconut Grove restaurant.Schwartz was at the Ergon Greek Deli and Cuisine on Grand Avenue on March 18 when she got upset at a waiter and berated him for refusing to serve her more alcohol. State investigators who recommended the suspension to the Supreme Court said Schwartz yelled at the waiter, “you’re a f---ing idiot, you don’t know who I am.”

Police were called. When they showed up, the judge called them “pigs,” an investigation by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission claimed. Investigators also said Schwartz was spilling wine and slurring. The commission did its own investigation and interviewed the officer who confronted Schwartz.

More here.