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September 24, 2015

RPOF gives presidential candidates option to skip Sunshine Summit


Amid criticism over a plan to block presidential candidates who don't attend a November "Sunshine Summit" in Orlando from the primary election, the Republican Party of Florida on Thursday released its proposed ballot rule, including two ways to avoid the summit cattle-call.

GOP candidates for the presidency will have three options to make Florida's March presidential preference primary under the rule, which the RPOF executive board is scheduled to approve on Friday.

Candidates can be invited to and attend the Sunshine Summit, a two-day event scheduled for Nov. 13-14. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is headlining a dinner at the event the night before. Alternatively, they can pay a $25,000 filing fee to RPOF or file a petition with signatures of 3,375 registered Republicans, including 125 from each congressional district.

It is important, the rule says, for "Republican presidential candidates to make a preliminary showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the presidential preference primary ballot."

The first qualifying option -- the Sunshine Summit -- has been attacked by many in the party, including Jeb Bush, who has committed to attend the event.

“Governor Bush is opposed to the proposed rules change. He does not believe it is appropriate to limit Florida Republicans’ choices in this competitive primary,” spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

Other prominent Republicans have compared it to "blackmail."

RPOF has stood by the summit as a way to bring candidates to Florida, possibly to counter-balance campaigns putting less effort into Florida because of the major roles Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are likely to play here.

As pope heads out the door, lawmakers from Florida offer their assessments


As Pope Francis heads away from the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers from Florida – and around the country – are beginning to give their assessments of his historic speech to Congress.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, talked about the high honor of the visit – whatever somebody’s views.

“I’m glad we in Congress, the American people, and those around the world had the opportunity to hear from Pope Francis,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “His message was at heart a spiritual one and his mention of our country’s possibilities was heartening to hear. No matter your opinion of his message, it was a high honor to have him visit our nation and the People’s House.”

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Kendall, indicated the impact the pope’s words may have on the U.S. political process.

“I appreciated the Holy Father’s special concern for the elderly, the young, immigrants and the poor,” he said. “Our government is failing all of them in different ways. The pope’s words should inspire America’s Congress to find new solutions.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, said she was “deeply moved” by the pope’s message.

“His words focused on dialogue and the moral imperatives of shrinking poverty, compassion, embrace of immigrants through recognition of our common history as descendants of immigrants and the urgency of taking care of our air, the environment and nature,” she said. “I was especially touched by his thought-provoking words when he said, ‘The yardstick we use for others, will be the yardstick which time will use for us.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

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Group rates Florida’s Medicaid HMOs average, but state lauds quality of care


Most of the private companies managing Florida’s Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people ranked at the national average on patient satisfaction, preventive care and medical treatment in 2014, according to a recently released comparative rating of plans.

But the ratings excluded six of the 13 private insurers in Florida’s Medicaid program during 2014 because those health plans either failed to report data or submitted insufficient information to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a nonprofit that rates and accredits health plans.

The NCQA’s seal is considered the gold standard for measuring health plan performance. Yet of the six Medicaid insurers not ranked for 2014, five lacked full accreditation from the organization.

This year, only two of those unranked insurers are still doing business with Florida’s Medicaid program: Prestige Health Choice and Simply Healthcare Plans, both of which offer coverage in Miami-Dade. The other four plans were either sold or dropped out.

And of those Florida Medicaid insurers that were rated by the NCQA, none scored higher than 3.5 out of 5 possible points, reflecting average performance.

But the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration doesn’t see it that way. Instead, the agency trumpeted a separate set of data this week as evidence that the state’s transition to a mostly private model for Medicaid is improving health outcomes and increasing access for the estimated 3 million Floridians in the system.

More here.

Quinnipiac poll: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio trail Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina


The rise of the political outsiders continues in the latest national poll by Quinnipiac University, which shows real-estate tycoon Donald Trump still leading the 2016 Republican presidential field, ahead of retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Florina.

Here's how they polled: Trump at 25 percent, Carson at 17 percent and Florina at 12 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 9 percent. No other candidate topped 7 percent.

Among Republican poll respondents, though, 29 percent said they "would definitely not support" Trump. And in hypothetical general election match-ups, Carson did best against Democrats.

On the Democratic side, it was Vice President Joe Biden -- who's not running at this point -- who fared best against Republicans. Among primary voters, however, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the pack with 43 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 25 percent and Biden with 18 percent.

"The cast of characters changes by the week, with Ben Carson and Carly Florina in the spotlight and Gov. Jeb Bush still waiting for his big break. And Donald Trump still in the lead role," Tim Malloy, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement.

"But when the number of Republicans who 'would definitely not support' you is greater than the number who support you, where does that leave you? Welcome to Trump World, comparing his fragile support form his own party to Hillary Clinton's sagging but still stronger support from her party."

Rubio remains better-liked -- though also less known -- than Bush. Thirty-eight percent of respondents have a favorable view of Rubio, 28 percent an unfavorable one and 33 percent haven't heard enough about him. By comparison, 44 percent have an unfavorable view of Bush, 38 percent a favorable one and 17 percent haven't heard enough.

September 23, 2015

A bowling alley, a car sale and the thorny politics of Homestead

via @MoniqueOMadan

When the operator of Dadeland Dodge needed some political muscle to get a deal on 4.6 acres of taxpayer-owned property pushed through the Homestead City Council, he found a staunch ally in Jimmie L. Williams III

Williams, a bespectacled councilman and church pastor who sports trademark bow ties and — records suggest — may not live in the city he represents, became a fierce advocate of Jay Rivchin’s proposal to build a Hyundai dealership on the site of a forlorn, long-shuttered bowling alley on U.S. 1. He worked tirelessly from the dais — and, it turns out, secretly behind the scenes — to ensure the public land sale went through without a hitch.

Williams fended off council colleagues who wanted to hold out for a higher price for the property — a spooky, boarded-up building replete with skittering rats, multicolored shoes and ghostly bowling balls on rusty racks. He pushed for eliminating taxpayer protections, including a provision that would penalize the dealer $250 a day if he didn't meet construction deadlines. Quietly, using his city-issued mobile device, Williams engaged Rivchin in more than 400 interactions (18 hours of talk-time), including one in which the car dealer pressed Williams to get the reluctant city manager to hurry things up.

Once, they even conferred while the council was still in session. Williams excused himself from the meeting, saying he needed to go watch the TV show Empire, a comment that drew chuckles from the audience. Instead, he phoned Rivchin, who had been in the audience. They talked for 10 minutes, according to public records obtained by the Herald.

When it was over — the saga ended with a a 5-2 vote confirming the Hyundai deal for $2.3 million — Williams quickly resumed talks with Rivchin, only this time they involved his god-daughter’s desire to acquire a car. That deal was consummated days later.

Williams, 36, says he did nothing wrong, just introduced a young woman looking to buy a car to someone who sells them.

More here.

Candidate with city contract asks Miami Beach to find new vendor


Ricky Arriola, left, and Mark Weithorn are running for the Group 5 commission seat in Miami Beach.


In the race for the Group 5 seat on Miami Beach's City Commission, candidate and current city vendor Ricky Arriola wants the city to find a new firm to handle customer service calls to the building department so he can avoid a conflict of interest if he wins.

But because the city won’t put the contract out to bid until after the election, Arriola would have to recuse himself from votes on the matter until the contract expires in April.

More here.

Transit union embraces Miami-Dade commissioner after DUI arrest


Calling his DUI arrest in Key West a "bump in the road," Miami-Dade's transit union sent a warm letter to Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz this week.

"This Key west 'bump in the road,' no matter how anyone attempts to frame it, in no way diminishes your impressive accomplishments over the years or reflects in any way on your continuing desire and determination to better the lives of the citizenry you have always represented with great honor and dignity," Clarence Washington, president of the local chapter of the AFL-CIO's Transport Workers Union, wrote Tuesday.

On Saturday, Diaz was pulled over for going 74 mph in a 30-mph-zone on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle near mile marker one. He declined to have his breath analyzed for alcohol, but police said he failed sobriety tests. He was cuffed and spent the night in jail, and on Monday proclaimed himself "extremely sorry" without specifying what he had done wrong.

On recent close votes involving union contracts, Diaz joined the pro-labor bloc on the 13-member commission. Unions also helped back his 2014 reelection to another four-year term. 

In his letter, Washington wrote he was "very disturbed" to learn of the incident, which he called a "very personal and very private matter." 

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FEMA rejects Scott's appeal for federal disaster declaration

For the second time in a month, the federal government has rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s plea for a disaster declaration for flooding that swamped the Tampa Bay region in late July and early August.

Scott was already turned down for a disaster declaration on Sept. 3, but appealed the decision a week later to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator W. Craig Fugate, who advises President Barack Obama on disaster declarations. However, what Scott got back on Wednesday was the same answer he received earlier: no.

“After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the damage from this event is not of such severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration,” Fugate said in a letter sent to Scott on Wednesday.

In denying Scott's initial request made to Obama, Fugate had told Scott that the storms and subsequent flooding that blasted the region from July 25 to Aug. 3 were not of such severity and magnitude that state and local government officials could not cover the damage on their own.

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