Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

May 16, 2017

Pitbull all smiles with Florida politician who sued his production company



It was just five months ago when Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran was filing a lawsuit against Miami music star Pitbull’s production company forcing him to disclose terms of a secret contract he had with Visit Florida.

But you wouldn’t know it for Corcoran’s social media accounts. The Land O’Lakes Republican on Monday posted a photo Twitter that shows the two former legal adversaries smiling at an event in Miami.

“Hanging with my good friend @pitbull in 305!” Corcoran posted on Twitter.

Not only did he post the picture, but he “pinned” it to his Twitter page so that it is the first thing people see on his profile page no matter what else he posts on the social media site.

It was not long ago, that Corcoran was directing the House to sue Pitbull’s production company over how much he was being paid to promote Florida in a music video called “Sexy Beaches.” Visit Florida’s then-CEO Will Seccombe refused to disclose the deal to Corcoran. Seccombe claimed terms of the deal were protected by a “trade secrets” provision. Pitbull’s production company PDR Productions reiterated that same objections in emails to Corcoran before Corcoran filed suit in December.

Days later, Pitbull himself took to Twitter to release details of the contract, which showed he was paid $1 million to promote Florida in music videos, on stage and on social media.

More specifically the deal outlined that Pitbull would get:

- $250,000 in July 2015 for a "talent fee" and use of his name and likeness.

- $250,000 went to him after he completed a music video called Sexy Beaches, that included footage of Florida beaches and a social media hashtag promoting Florida.

- $100,000 for cutting a 10-15 second intro as part of a "Conquering Florida" video series Visit Florida uses to promote the state.

- $100,000 for six "Florida Pit Package" sweepstakes that would include travel packages to Florida.

- $300,000 for promoting Florida on social media platforms at least 2 times a month with the hashtag #loveFL.

Florida school boards: Education bill 'substantially flawed,' 'unworthy' of Scott's approval


Add the Florida School Boards Association to the growing list of groups calling for a veto of HB 7069, the mammoth $419 million K-12 public schools bill Republican lawmakers unveiled and passed in the final days of their annual session.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, the FSBA -- which represents 64 of the state's 67 elected county school boards -- calls the bill "substantially flawed and unworthy of your approval to be enacted into law."

"One of our many objections to the bill is that, during a legislative session when leaders proclaimed to be the epitome of transparency in the legislative process, this massive bill was cobbled together behind closed doors," wrote FSBA executive director Andrea Messina and FSBA president Tim Harris, a Polk County School Board member.

"Because the bill was unveiled so late in the process, there was no realistic opportunity for members of the public and, by their own admission, some members of the legislature to even read the bill in full, let alone carefully evaluate its contents and repercussions," they said.

MORE: "Veto schools bill and ‘starvation-level’ K-12 spending, critics urge Gov. Scott"

Among the contents of the bill itself, the FSBA raised concerns about provisions they see as "confiscating the constitutional authority of the locally elected school board," such as new regulations on how Title I dollars can be spent.

"We welcome all suggestions of strategies to improve the delivery of these services and acknowledge that room for improvement exists. However, we cannot condone proposals that fail to recognize local conditions and priorities and that would gut successful district programs and deprive eligible and highly vulnerable students from receiving services," Messina and Harris said in their letter.

They said the FSBA also found the "Schools of Hope" plan and the "Best & Brightest" reforms "deeply troubling," while "our most significant concern" surrounds a formula change requiring districts to share with privately managed charter schools local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects.

Read the FSBA's full letter here.

The FSBA represents every elected school board in the state except for three: those in Nassau, Indian River and Seminole counties.

It's not to be confused with the conservative Florida Coalition of School Board members -- which speaks for just 50 of the 356 individual school board members statewide. The coalition is among the staunch supporters of HB 7069, heralding its passage as "Christmas for ed reformers in Florida" and as checking off "nearly everything on our list" of session priorities.

The coalition's leaders have strong ties to Republican lawmakers: Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer himself was a founding member and director of the coalition in 2016 when he was a Duval County School Board member. Also founding members and still on the board are: Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron -- the wife of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart -- and Collier County School Board member Erika Donalds, the wife of Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds.

Photo credit: Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. (Courtesy of FSBA)

Pythons and politicians

Lopez-canterra python2

by @jenstaletovich

A ride-along with Florida python hunters paid off for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Monday when the team bagged a 15-foot, four-inch female snake Monday night.

The group, headed by Swamp Ape Tom Rahill, snagged the snake about 8:30 p.m. in western Miami-Dade County along the L-30 canal, said Randy Smith, a spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District. The district is near the end of a two-month pilot program to test the efficiency of paying 25 hunters to trap the invasive snakes. As of Tuesday morning, the tally stood at 99, Smith said. Rahill, who also traps snakes in Everglades National Park for the park service, has caught four.

On Tuesday Lopez-Cantera, Florida's only lieutenant-governor to roll without a security detail, posted trophy pictures to his Twitter account.

The program ends June 1 and pays hunters $8.10 per hour, plus a by-the-foot rate of $50 for a four-foot snake and $25 for each additional foot. So far, the district has estimated the cost of the hunt at about $400 per snake, making it one of the more cost effective measures - although not a solution - to battling the out-of-control snakes.

Calls mount for Scott veto of K-12 schools spending, policy reforms



Gov. Rick Scott faces mounting pressure from school superintendents, teachers unions and parent groups to veto $23.7 billion in base funding to K-12 public schools next year — as well as a controversial $419 million education policy bill, which lawmakers unveiled and passed in the span of just three days at the end of their annual session.

A rejection of the main education funding alone would force lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a special session to redo that part of the budget, which is almost a third of the $82.4 billion in overall state spending approved for 2017-18.

Scott hasn’t yet said how he might act on either the budget itself or HB 7069, the 278-page bill of sweeping K-12 reforms that was negotiated in secret in the session’s final days. It includes controversial incentives for charter schools, $234 million in bonuses for top teachers and principals, and an amalgamation of other policy changes — such as forcing districts to share with privately managed charter schools millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects.

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho offered some possible insight Monday morning into Scott’s thinking as he left a closed-door meeting with Scott at Trump National Doral.

“The governor and I agree on one thing: There is a man-made crisis at play here that challenges the values of the state of Florida,” Carvalho said. “With $3 billion of surplus revenue at the beginning of session, to end up with a historically low increase in overall [K-12 education] funding... that may very well define the state — what we stand for and what we value.”

More here.

Photo credit: Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, left, met with Gov. Rick Scott on Monday to urge him to veto HB 7069, a $419 million K-12 public schools bill that lawmakers unveiled and passed in the last three days of session. (Courtesy of @MiamiSup)

May 15, 2017

Adam Putnam brings his campaign for Florida governor to Broward

Putnam Broward w Swindell EKM


The tony Fort Lauderdale beachside hotel where Adam Putnam campaigned for Florida governor Monday was entirely different territory from the historic Polk County Courthouse where he debuted his candidacy last week, surrounded by crates of Florida oranges and the sounds of a marching-band fiddle.

In Broward, the most liberal county in the state, Putnam knew to offer the sort of business-friendly message that binds Republicans together.

“Whether you grow up in downtown Pompano or in a small town in the middle of the state like where I’m from we need to have a job climate in Florida that doesn’t require you to leave your town to find a decent career,” Putnam said at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66.

Keep reading here.

Miami Herald photo by Emily Michot of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speaking with Bob Swindell, with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, and Jose Basulto, with Memorial Hospital System.

Two Republicans say no to running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

OT_402078_KEEL_7_flgov (1)

A pair of Republican state legislators have decided against vying for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's congressional seat when she retires next year.

State Sen. René García of Hialeah said Monday to be mentioned as a potential contender was "one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my career in public service." Hialeah, however, is not part of Ros-Lehtinen's Democratic-leaning 27th district, which runs along the Miami-Dade County coast from Miami Beach to Kendall.

"While the district represents a great part of the community and county that I love, I cannot continue to serve the public knowing that I would be abandoning the city of Hialeah and the people of Northwest Miami-Dade County," García said in a statement. "Having been born and raised in Hialeah, it has been the privilege of my life to serve my hometown for almost 20 years. I do so today with the same appreciation and intensity that I felt when I was first elected."

State Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, who was also mentioned as a possible candidate, is not running, either.

"I can assure you I'm not running and my focus is to finish out my Florida Senate term strong and serve the constituents of District 39," Flores said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I think that is the best place where I can serve my community in the coming years."

Flores isn't term-limited until 2020, but García's Senate term will end next year. The two senators have been mentioned as likely future candidates for local office, either at Hialeah City Hall (for García) or Miami-Dade County Hall (for both).

The best-known Republican already in the congressional race: Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, a former state representative. Several Democrats, including state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, have also declared their candidacies.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

In Miami, Scott maintains he might veto budget

Scott presser


Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday renewed his threat to veto the state Legislature’s budget, disappointed in lawmakers for rejecting his funding wishes.

“I’ve got a lot of options,” Scott said during an appearance at Miami’s Jungle Island. “I can veto the whole budget. I can veto a portion of the budget, a line of the budget. And I can do a special session. So I’m looking at all those options.”

Although Scott himself remained noncommittal about his plans, the joint appearance with Florida Sen. Jack Latvala — who called for a special session to meet Scott’s demands — may provide an indication as to Scott’s mindset.

Latvala, the Senate budget chief, backed Scott’s proposed funding for Visit Florida and slammed lawmakers who did not seek to include the funding in the budget.

“Wasn’t my call or we’d still be sitting in Tallahassee today,” said Latvala, a Clearwater Republican.

Latvala — whom Scott called “a strong supporter” of tourism and economic development — said he looked forward to returning to Tallahassee for a special session if Scott vetoed the budget. When asked if he would call a special session, Scott maintained he is considering all of his options.

“I’m hopeful that the governor will exercise his prerogative, will call us back to Tallahassee, will make us do the right thing for economic development in Florida and for education in Florida,” Latvala said.

Scott hosted the press conference to announce that Florida saw 31.1 million visitors in the first quarter of 2017, a new quarterly record for the state, while also criticizing the Legislature for slashing Visit Florida’s ad budget by two-thirds to $25 million.

“One out of every six jobs in our state is tied to tourism, and unfortunately this year our Florida Legislature has been very short-sighted,” he said.

Latvala praised Scott for his commitment to tourism and the state’s economic development, while House members for calling for funding cuts to Visit Florida.

“I’ve spent my life in the business world and owning my own business, and I know when you stop advertising, when you stop marketing, you start dying,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we won’t have to experience that with our tourism industry in Florida. I’m hopeful that the governor will call us back to Tallahassee and make us finish the job.”

Following the press conference, Scott responded to a report in the Naples Daily News that uncovered Visit Florida’s hiring of a German company in March to market Florida to travelers from Syria, calling it a “clerical error.”

“No dollars were spent marketing in that country,” he said. “No public or private dollars were spent. It was a clerical error.”

He also fielded a question about whether he supports a permanent ban on drilling for oil near Florida’s coast, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal for Florida to share in the revenue of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico while extending a ban on drilling within at least 125 miles off the coast until 2027.

The current ban is set to expire in 2022.

“I have not seen that proposal,” Scott said of Rubio’s plan. “What’s important to me is that we keep this environment pristine.”
Pressed on whether he would support a permanent ban, he added, “if somebody has an idea...I’d like to see how you’re gonna do it and keep everything pristine.”

Photo credit: Chabeli Herrera/The Miami Herald

Rick Scott's chief of staff, Kim McDougal, to 'transition' out of office

FullSizeRender (1)


Gov. Rick Scott is going to need a new chief of staff.

Kim McDougal, a career state worker who has served as the governor's chief of staff since April 2016, will leave the governor's office July 1.

A Monday afternoon announcement says she will "transition" out and plans on "pursuing opportunities in the private sector," though it was not clear what those opportunities might be. A replacement has not yet been announced.

"Over the last year, Florida had its fair share of tragic events including two hurricanes, the terrorist attack at Pulse Nightclub, and the shooting at Ft. Lauderdale Airport," Scott said in a written statement. "During these tough events, Kim has lead my team through crisis and helped ensure we did all we could to help Florida families during these dark hours."

In a governor's office dominated by young staffers, many of whom got a foot in the door through Scott's campaigns, McDougal, 54, stood out as a rare career state employee. She started working for the state of Florida in 1989 and rose through the ranks of the Department of Education and as an adviser to Gov. Jeb Bush. She holds a doctorate from the Florida State University College of Education. She has played a significant role in crafting Scott-era policies as his legislative affairs director and a top adviser on education issues.

"It has been my absolute pleasure serving Florida families for almost three decades," she said in a statement. "It truly has been an honor to wake up every day and fight for policies that will make a difference in our families’ lives."

McDougal was Scott's fifth chief of staff during just more than six years in office. She has been paid $170,000 a year in the role.

Her departure means Scott will have a lame duck chief of staff during a possible special session of the Legislature that could include overriding budget vetoes.

Photo: Kim McDougal (Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald)

HHS Secretary Tom Price misleads on Obamacare tax penalty



Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price argued that people are currently uninsured because they don’t like Obamacare.

“When I talk to the doctors that I used to practice with right here in Atlanta, what they tell me is that the current system isn’t working for them or for their patients,” Price said in a May 7 interview on CNN’s State of the Union.

“We have got 20 million folks out there across this land who have told the federal government, ‘Phooey, nonsense, I’m not going to participate in your program because it doesn’t do what I need done,” he said. “So, they are paying a penalty. They're paying the IRS a fine or a penalty because the federal government is dictating to them what they don’t want to do, or they are saying, give me a waiver.”

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

May 12, 2017

Trump lawyers say he had no Russian income -- except for that big deal in Florida

Trumprussia_8colvia @learyreports

WASHINGTON - The White House on Friday released a letter from President Trump's lawyers asserting he has no income from Russian sources -- except the $95 million he received from the sale of a Palm Beach estate and proceeds from a Miss Universe pagent in Moscow.

"What do I have to do with Russia?” Trump said last summer in Doral. “You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach … for $40 million, and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million.”

The letter released Friday shows Trump acquired the estate in 2005 for $41 million and sold it to Russian billionaire for $95 million. 

Here's a past story the Miami Herald ran on the deal.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times