January 14, 2015

PAC launches to push solar power amendment

Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, and Stephen Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, answer questions during the PAC's launch Wednesday at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.

A political action committee that launched Wednesday is banking on support from a diverse array of groups as it fights against Florida's utility companies. 

The PAC, Floridians for Solar Choice, hopes to pass a constitutional amendment in 2016 that would allow people and businesses to buy and sell solar power to one another, without going through utility companies. 

Passing the amendment would introduce competition to the energy market and boost renewable energy usage in Florida, said PAC Chairman Tory Perfetti and leaders of other supporting groups. 

Taking on the utility companies will likely prove expensive. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, estimated that it could cost Floridians for Solar Choice around $10 million to pass the amendment. 

Continue reading "PAC launches to push solar power amendment" »

Fact-checking Marco Rubio's book 'American Dreams'

Sen. Marco Rubio’s new book, American Dreams, makes its appearance at a fascinating moment for the Republican Party. The GOP has just taken control of both chambers of Congress, and candidates like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are signaling their intentions for 2016 presidential runs.

Rubio, a potential presidential hopeful himself, argues in his book that now is the time for Republicans to talk about their own big ideas.

"Republicans haven't been creative or innovative enough in offering solutions," Rubio writes. "We have spent plenty of time opposing the president's agenda, but not nearly enough time applying our principles of limited government and free enterprise to the challenges of our time."

The book is an aggregation of many of the ideas Rubio has rolled out since coming to Congress in 2010 on issues ranging from the American family and higher education to the economy and regulations. His proposals include allowing businesses to pay student college tuition in exchange for a percentage of their salary post-graduation; replacing federal poverty programs with grants to states for local programs; and means testing Social Security while eliminating the payroll tax for workers who reach retirement age.

Turn to Steve Contorno's story about what PolitiFact fact-checked in Rubio's book.

Miami Rep. Diaz-Balart given additional roles on key House Appropriations Committee


U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, was named to two additional House Appropriations subcommittees Wednesday, as well as being given a key role as a link to the House Budget Committee.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, made the announcement Wednesday.  It previously had been announced that Diaz-Balart would chair the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee. It is his first chairmanship in Congress.

In addition to that chairmanship, he will serve on two other Appropriations subcommittees: Defense, and State and Foreign Operations. He was also one of three Republicans named as Appropriations members to the Budget Committee, also a pivotal panel that determines how American’s tax dollars are spent.

There are 12 Appropriations subcommittees. They are given pivotal authority over the 12 spending bills that form the basis of the federal budget. Chairing a subcommittee is a prestigious assignment – a slot so powerful and sought-after that the 12 recipients are called “cardinals” in the Capitol.

Diaz-Balart’s subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps set federal housing policy; the Department of Transportation and all the road construction and transit programs it runs; and a smattering of other agencies such as the Federal Maritime Commission, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the Washington, D.C., mass transit system.

Diaz-Balart in November was elected to his seventh term in the U.S. House.

Contractor gets help from Rep. Fresen in pursuing Miami-Dade project


[Updated  at 11:13 a.m. to correct Rep. Fresen's occupation, and with more details from him.]

Rep. Erik Fresen is helping Munilla Construction Management in its pursuit of a large public-safety construction  project in Miami-Dade County.

The Miami Republican and land-use consultant was in the audience Wednesday for the meeting of the County Commission's Public Safety committee. One item up for consideration: setting up a private financing process for building public-safety facilities, including a new jail and possibly a new civil courthouse near the existing criminal courthouse by the Miami River.

Commissioner Juan C. Zapata is sponsoring the proposal for the "private-public partnership" effort, which could have a private company finance, build and operate the facilities and then be paid by Miami-Dade after opening.  

Zapata said Fresen attended a recent meeting he had with MCM executives.  In a text message, Fresen said MCM is a long-time client and that he registered Tuesday to lobby for the company.  Fresen has registered as a Miami-Dade lobbyist in the past, but county records do not yet show him registered as an MCM representative.



Senators have more questions for Education Commissioner Stewart

State senators had a laundry list of questions for Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart last week.

They aren't done yet.

On Tuesday, Sens. Don Gaetz, Bill Montford and John Legg sent Stewart six pages of follow-up questions.  

"We appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues fully and candidly and to engage senators on a very specific level," the Senate leaders wrote. "While our questions may be probing and detailed, our committees' inquiries are inspired by an abiding commitment to accountability and a concern that thoughtful, effective, timely and valid implementation is the best way to ensure that Florida districts, schools, students, and educators are motivated and measured by the highest standards of performance."

Among their questions: How much total time will students spend during the 2014-15 school year on state-required assessments? How much total funding will be expended (state and local dollars) on state-required assessments?

They also asked Stewart to what extent she believes "that each school district is ready, with appropriate technology already in place, to successfully administer all statewide, standardized and state-required assessments this spring."

The lawmakers want a reply by Feb. 6.

Download The Letter Here

Christian Coalition, tea party, Libertarians and environmentalists unite to back solar petition

Imagine the Christian Coalition and the tea party joining hands with liberals and environmentalists.

Add to the Kumbaya moment Libertarians and Florida’s retail business federation.

They all plan to unite this morning for a news conference in Tallahassee about their campaign to allow those in Florida who generate electricity from the sun to sell that power directly to other consumers. Right now, that’s illegal here.

The coalition, which has dubbed itself Floridians for Solar Choice, has crafted a petition that was approved for circulation last month. They’ll need 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to get the question on the ballot for the 2016 election.

For some it’s ideological. For others, such as the retailers, it’s pure economics.

“It is strange bedfellows,” said Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Tennessee-based environmental group. “We all agree we want a free market.

“As long as we don’t talk about a lot of other issues,” he said and laughed, “we’ll be fine.”

So what made this alliance possible?

“People care about their electric bills,” said Ash Mason, the Christian Coalition’s Southeast regional energy policy director.

Story here.

January 13, 2015

Cabinet on same page with Scott in ouster of FDLE's Bailey


If the departure of Gerald Bailey as the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement suggests anything, it’s that the state’s government is not working as it should.

The state’s three cabinet members are not gubernatorial appointees but independently elected to constitutional offices. They therefore directly serve the voters -- not Gov. Rick Scott.

Yet one wouldn’t know of this autonomy from how the Cabinet -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam -- responded to questions about why Bailey was leaving. Even though they each share authority over the hiring of the FDLE chief, all three expressed little to no interest into his sudden departure, ceding complete control to Scott.

According to Bailey, he was forced out by Scott and was told by General Counsel Pete Antonacci that he had the concurrence of all three Cabinet members.

When confronted Tuesday about Bailey’s allegation, Scott told reporters that Bailey had resigned. Only later in the day, after social media and blogs relayed Bailey’s counter narrative, did Scott’s office correct the record with a vague statement that Scott actually did make the move: “Gov. Scott thinks it’s important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership.”

Despite this confusion over the shakeup of an agency they oversee, Cabinet members repeated Scott’s narrative after unanimously approving Bailey’s replacement during Tuesday’s meeting.

When asked after the Cabinet meeting, all three Cabinet members responded in ways that even suggest they were cribbing off the same memo that Scott was using.

Echoing Scott’s sentiment that Bailey did a “great” job, Putnam said he served Florida in an “outstanding way,” Atwater said “he had served admirably” and Bondi said he was an “amazing man.” He was so good, in fact, that Bondi said she and her staff were planning to honor him in some way. To further emphasize that she thought highly of Bailey, Bondi actually said “I think the world of Commissioner Bailey” five separate times in response to various questions during a 60-second stretch of a two-minute interview.

So if Bailey was THAT good, nobody had any questions about why he was leaving? Did anyone ask? Atwater said he didn’t. Bondi didn’t answer the question, responding instead, apropos of nothing, that “I can tell you that I’ve known Commissioner Bailey for many years.”

Although Scott later acknowledged, sorta, that Bailey hadn’t willingly resigned, Bondi and Atwater said that Bailey had in fact resigned.

“We were informed that he was stepping down,” Atwater told a reporter, adding he hadn’t spoken to Bailey himself. Bondi said after the Cabinet meeting that she didn’t know why Bailey was leaving, but thought it might be because he retired. Only later did a Bondi spokesman clarify with a statement that echoed what Atwater originally said: “My office was told Commissioner Bailey was resigning.”

Who told them? Neither Bondi nor Atwater cared to share.

Were Bondi, Atwater or Putnam curious about Bailey’s departure after reporters told them he was forced out? Each one was asked, separately, if they had heard whether Bailey was forced out. None of them expressed surprise. Putnam didn’t reply in a germane way. Bondi replied with her stock answer: “I think the world of Commissioner Bailey.” While Atwater implied that he had heard reports stating otherwise, he shrugged it off by saying  “if he had anything else to add, I would assume he would have added that.”

(Attention CFO Atwater: Oh, he has -- READ THIS).

Putnam and Atwater sounded alike at times when they pontificated on the ebbs and flows of administrations. When Putnam was asked if he was told why Bailey was forced to resign, he replied in this non-answer: "Well, certainly with the change of any administration, it is routine for there to be some turnover in agencies, and we’ve seen that across the board, not just in FDLE." Atwater made the same point: ”When you come to the end of a term, I think there will be even more changes that will be taking place with agency leaders.”  

Putnam pointed out that Bailey had “presided over a 43-year-low in crime.”

Scott dropped the same factoid when asked if Bailey had been forced out. “Commissioner Bailey did a great job. Commissioner Swearingen is going to do a great job. The cabinet approved him today. We have a 43-year-low in our crime rate.”

So there’s a 43-year-low in the crime rate. Bailey did a great job.

And no Cabinet member would say whether they asked Scott why Bailey was getting replaced or if they were told why he was resigning?

That’s the story, at least for now.

Dougher collects endorsements but GOP chairman race remains uncertain

By Adam Smith

The race for Florida GOP Chairman is looking more and more unpredictable. The latest sign of trouble for Leslie Dougher, the governor's candidare and ostensible frontrunner? Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman is endorsing former state Rep. Kurt Kelly for chairman. Check out his video here

This is a pretty pretty big deal in terms of making more voting members comfortable going to Feaman, considering Feaman would presumably think twice before ticking off the governor and backing someone likely to lose.

We noted the other day that grass roots activists often talk about voting against the establishment choice for Florida GOP chairman, but that choice always wins. We're not predicting anything, but Saturday's vote looks tough to predict.

"It will be unique for people to see it happen, but this is a unique time," Kelly said about the likelihood of an upset. "If everybody's being candid with me and being honest with me, we're going to get there."

That's always the BIG IF in these elections, of course. Dougher's allies think she has has the votes to win. But in a sign of there anxiety, we've heard some Republicans involved in the campaign suggest/warn/hint that if Sougher doesn't win, then Gov. Rick Scott would cease raising money for the party and the Republican National Committeee could find another vehicle to funnel money to for the 2016 presidential race.

Continue reading "Dougher collects endorsements but GOP chairman race remains uncertain " »

Video: Gov. Scott avoids questions about FDLE commissioner leaving

Gov. Rick Scott repeatedly refused to answer questions Tuesday related to the resignation of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Pressed by reporters for answers after the Cabinet appointed Rick Swearingen as Bailey's successor, Scott repeatedly dodged questions about his office's involvement in Bailey's resignation.

"I'll say it again," Scott told reporters in the Capitol, repeating the same statement for a third time. "Commissioner Bailey did a great job. We have Commissioner Swearingen, and he's going to do a great job. I'm thankful the Cabinet approved him today. We're going to continue to work to make sure this is the place that you want to raise your families because it’s a safe state."

Later Tuesday, Bailey told Times/Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Steve Bousquet that he did not resign voluntarily but, rather, was forced out of the position, which he had for eight years.

Putnam no help in mystery of why Gerald Bailey is leaving FDLE


Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam joined his colleagues on the Florida Cabinet in refusing to answer questions about the departure of Gerald Bailey, the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Earlier on Tuesday, Bailey told the Times/Herald that he had been forced to resign from his post by Gov. Rick Scott. Bailey said Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, told him that he had the concurrence of the three cabinet members in pushing for his resignation.

Given an opportunity to explain his role, if any, Putnam took a pass when asked by the AP's Gary Fineout.  Putnam was asked twice if he had been told by Scott's administration why Bailey resigned, twice Putnam answered with non-germane responses.

Perhaps he hopes no one would notice he wasn't answering the questions of: 1) Were you told about Bailey's resignation and 2) On why he was leaving?

Question: Were you ever given an answer or told why Commissioner Bailey was forced to resign?

Putnam: Well, certainly with the change of any administration, it is routine for there to be some turnover in agencies, and we’ve seen that across the board, not just in FDLE.

Question: But were you personally told by anyone in the Scott administration why Commissioner Bailey had resigned or if there was any reason for his resignation?

Putnam: Well, Commissioner Bailey served the state of Florida in an outstanding way. He certainly served our state well, presided over a 43-year-low in crime, and I continue to recognize him and praise him for his service, and also recognize  that changes come in any second term.