November 03, 2014

Escaped Miami inmate captured in Palm Beach County

@Jknipebrown

The inmate who escaped from Dade Correctional Institution on Halloween morning was captured Monday evening in Palm Beach County.

Ronald “Psycho’’ McCoy, a convicted armed robber serving two life sentences, was arrested about 5 p.m. after he was spotted by West Palm Beach police at a gas station.

His capture followed a long and chaotic weekend for officers and inmates at Dade Correctional, where he escaped Friday morning by hiding in a trash cart.

The prison, just south of Homestead and Florida City, has been plagued for years by security breaches as well as allegations of mass corruption and inmate abuse. Story here.  

Florida House District 64 race gets even more complicated

If you cast a vote in Tuesday’s state House race between Rep. Jamie Grant and challenger Miriam Steinberg, it might count.

Then again, it might not.

The two Republican candidates — and write-in candidate Daniel John Matthews — are mired in a complicated lawsuit that grew even more complex on Election Day eve.

On Monday, Grant filed an emergency motion requesting that votes cast in the House District 64 race not be counted.

"We expect to have a good result tomorrow," said Grant, who was first elected to the seat in 2010. "But it wouldn’t be a just and fair result if it was in direct violation of the Constitution and there was all of this confusion."

A judge has yet to weigh in on Grant’s request.

Steinberg’s husband Michael filed the original lawsuit, alleging Matthews did not meet the requirements to run because he did not live in the district, which includes Carrollwood, Citrus Park, Oldsmar and Safety Harbor. A circuit court judge agreed, and withdrew Matthews from the race.

Without a write-in candidate, the primary election between the two GOP candidates was declared open — meaning all voters could participate — and was pushed from Aug. 26 to Nov. 4.

Last month, a panel of judges at the First District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court, saying the law requiring write-ins to live in the district at the time of qualifying was unconstitutional. Grant said he assumed the primary would again be postponed. But the decision was never finalized, in part because Steinberg asked for a hearing in front of the full appellate court.

Both candidates said they recently learned that Hillsborough and Pinellas supervisors of elections would go ahead with the Nov. 4. election.

Grant said he filed the emergency motion because wanted "the litigation to run its course" in the appellate court.

But Michael Steinberg read Grant’s move differently.

"If they knew they were going to win tomorrow, they wouldn’t have filed that motion," he said.

"Regardless of the outcome, this should be an impetus to change the Constitution on the way they handle these write-in candidates," he said.

Bondi makes sure class-action-settlement paid before Election Day

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi last week had good news for about 15,000 consumers who bought a liquid crystal display television, computer or monitor between 1999 and 2006.

They were being reimbursed between $43 and $87 for each product they bought, thanks to a settlement with electronics manufacturers, including Toshiba and Mitsubishi, who were accused by Florida and seven other states of price rigging.

"We are pleased that you were able to participate in this settlement," the letter, signed by Bondi, told consumers. About $35 million will be paid out to Florida customers, according to Bondi's office, in a settlement that was first announced in late 2011.

That the checks from the two-year-old settlement arrived in Florida the week before Election Day was no mistake. According to the company that issued the checks, Rust Consulting, Bondi's office requested that Florida consumers be paid before the other states. The Florida checks were mailed Oct. 25.

But that meant other states had to wait, since the 230,000 checks being mailed nationwide couldn't all be printed at once, said Robin Niemiec, Rust's client services director.

Lizabeth Brady, an attorney in Bondi's office, made the request in mid-October, Niemiec said.

"Liz was on the call with me and other states and said, 'If no one cares, can we go first?'," Niemiec said. "No one did. Later, Michigan wanted to be up among the first too."

Michigan's checks were mailed Oct. 27, also in time for pre-Election Day delivery.

Michigan and Florida are the only two of the eight states in the settlement to have competitive attorneys general races that will be decided Tuesday.

The other states either have non-competitive races, open seats or an incumbent who isn't up for reelection. They had to wait until Oct. 29 to get their checks mailed, meaning some won't arrive until Wednesday.

Did the elections determine which states got paid first?

Read story here.

Pam Bondi, Jeb Bush rally Republican voters in Tampa

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Attorney General Pam Bondi, left, is joined by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during a rally at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa on Monday. (Photo by James Borchuck, Tampa Bay Times)

@WilliamRLevesqu 

Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Gov. Jeb Bush appeared at an Ybor City in Tampa rally Monday with and heaped praise on Gov. Rick Scott and scorn on Democrat Charlie Crist.

"We have a candidate running for governor that's a great yapper. His name is, my mother probably wouldn't want me to say this, his name is Charlie Crist," Bush said. ""All he does is talk. He doesn't act. He doesn't lead. He doesn't believe in anything but his own ambition."

Scott, the former governor said, has "done what he said he was going to do."

Of Bondi, Bush said, "I would like to support people like Pam Bondi who have core beliefs and who act on them and serve people with passion and conviction and do so in a way that truly makes a difference."

But some of the biggest cheers from the partisan crowd came when they bashed someone who isn't on any ballot Tuesday -- President Barack Obama.

Both Scott and Bush said it was critical for the GOP to win back the U.S. Senate.

"Seeing a qualified candidate like Mitt Romney lose to a man like Barack Obama was worse than most of us could stand," Bondi said.

Bondi said her office has worked to partner with business to battle problems such as human sex trafficking. She said the state is working with truckers to identify potential trafficking victims at truck stops.

"In Florida something we do different, instead of going after our good businesses, we partner with them," she said.

Bondi ended the rally to cheers and laughter by saying, "One more thing, this war on women. I am so sick and tired of that."

Outside the restaurant, Bush signed a homemade T-shirt worn by a woman who waited for his exit.

The shirt said, "Jeb 2016."

Be patient: Vote counting in Miami-Dade, Broward is labor intensive

@PatriciaMazzei

The anxious wait for election results begins when the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Open web browser. Find results page. Click “refresh.” Again. And again. And again.

Sometimes the waits in Miami-Dade and Broward counties extend well past 10 o’clock. Why, the restless ask, aren’t the numbers posted any faster?

Because counting votes, at least in Florida’s two most populated counties, turns out to be quite labor intensive.

“Even though voting itself is electronic, the actual process of gathering it all, people have to do it,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who appoints his county’s elections supervisor.

During the low-turnout Aug. 26 primary, the majority of results from Election Day voting in Broward didn’t post until after 9 p.m. Miami-Dade didn’t post its final tallies until around 11 p.m.

In 2012, a problem with Miami-Dade’s only absentee-ballot sorting machine contributed to slow counting in the high-turnout presidential election, which had already been delayed by late precinct closures due to long voting lines. Since then, the county has purchased a new sorting machine to scan more ballots more quickly.

More here.

Hillary Clinton machine: Don't release recording of robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama recorded a robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia last week. Vice President Joe Biden came to stump for him Sunday.

Now likely Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has recorded a call for Garcia. It went out to targeted voters in Congressional District 26 on Monday morning.

But Garcia's campaign won't make the recording available to reporters -- because Clinton's people won't let them. That's according to Garcia campaign consultant John Hennelly.

So we can't tell you what the call said.

We can, however, point out that Clinton's people also kicked reporters out of the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last month when she was there fundraising for Charlie Crist, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor. No reporters were allowed at a book-signing event the same day, and Clinton took only pre-screened questions at a speech to the real-estate industry.

Democrats like Crist and Garcia, running in tight races in the nation's largest swing state, want Democratic voters to see them with people like Clinton. It could turn out more of their base to cast ballots in Tuesday's midterms, which usually draw more Republican than Democratic voters.

But that's apparently not the Clinton way. And campaigns appear more interested in remaining in Clinton's good graces than using her endorsement to win their own races.

Crist and Taddeo travel through the heart of their base on final day

By Kathryn Varn and Amy Sherman

Crist and Taddeo in MiamiCharlie Crist and running mate Annette Taddeo launched a day-long bus tour through the heart of their base on Monday beginning with a get out the vote rally in the minority-rich communities of Allapattah and Lauderdale Lakes. 

“Looks like it’s going to be tight,” Crist said, stepping off his tour bus to about 100 supporters at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall in Miami Dade County. “But it’s going to be good.”

Joining them were Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, whose organization has been an important financial supporter.

Crist greeted fans and campaign staff by name as he made his way to a small room in the International Brotherhood hall.

“Did you vote?” he asked one woman while hugging and shaking hands.

“I voted the first day!” she said.

Supporters showed up at the site about an hour before Crist did, holding signs: “African Americans for Charlie.” “Hispanics for Charlie.” “Women choose Charlie.”

A pickup truck decorated with American flags and a Rick Scott banner crawled around the block, blaring Spanish music as the driver stuck a peace sign out the window.

Crist supporters booed while a group of about 30 Scott backers cheered the truck on, including Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

“Rick Scott… he’s not a smooth politician, but he’s a guy that’s delivered results,” Lopez-Cantera said. “I find it disingenuous for Charlie to come back and criticize the tough decisions Rick Scott made when he didn’t even want to make them himself.”

Continue reading "Crist and Taddeo travel through the heart of their base on final day" »

U.S. Supreme Court will hear 'water wars' lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up Florida's lawsuit against Georgia over its "unchecked" use of the water that flows between the two states, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

Scott called the development "huge news and a major victory for Florida."

"The Supreme Court takes up so few cases, and their willingness to hear Florida's demonstrates the merits of our case before the court," the governor said in a statement. "We are fighting for the future of this region, and we won't quit until these resources are restored."

Scott first announced the lawsuit in August 2013. The legal action aims to "stop Georgia's unchecked consumption of water that threatens the existence of Apalachicola fisheries and the future economic development of this region."

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday said her office looks forward to continuing the fight.

 "Georgia has delayed long enough, and this lawsuit is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s over-consumption of water," she said in a statement.

Miami-Dade mayor thinking of leaving GOP still plans to vote for Florida Gov. Rick Scott

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez caused a stir among Republicans when he said last week he's considering leaving the party to become an independent.

But he still plans to vote for Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, the mayor said Monday.

"Ive seen him work trying to bring jobs to Florida. Every time that I've called the governor, he's been very helpful for us here in South Florida," Gimenez told the Miami Herald in an interview. "And while he didn't get my vote in 2010, he's earned by vote this time around."

Gimenez, who said he voted for Democrat Alex Sink in 2010, helped raise campaign money for the governor earlier this year. But a public endorsement discussed behind the scenes never happened. The mayor's position is nonpartisan.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Gimenez said he plans to vote against a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. "While I'm in favor of marijuana for medicinal purposes, I think this amendment is a little too loose" with its language, he said.

He intends to vote for another constitutional amendment to preserve threatened lands, though he said he is concerned paying for the parcels might lead to less state funding for affordable housing. Both conservation and housing rely on funds raised through documentary stamp taxes.

Gimenez also said he's been pleased with how the election has gone so far in Miami-Dade. Long lines two years ago prompted Gimenez to form an elections advisory group to improve the process.

"There were some lines yesterday, when you had busloads of people being dropped off at the early voting sites at the same time, but I don't think they were longer than an hour, which is what we said we wanted to do," he said. "I expect a smooth Election Day. I expect the votes to be tallied in a timely fashion."

FSU student group to protest Thrasher presidency

A Florida State student group will spend Monday protesting Republican state Sen. John Thrasher's appointment to university's top job.

FSU's Board of Trustees tapped Thrasher to lead the university in September. 

But the student group, known as the FSU Progress Coalition, is demanding the state Board of Governors reject Thrasher's appointment when it meets Wednesday in Boca Raton. The students say a Thrasher appointment presidency would put FSU in the hands of corporate interests and the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers.

"John Thrasher is three-time Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Legislator of the Year who has been cited twice for ethics violations, lied to students and faculty about his Koch funding, and supported legislation that defunds education in the state of Florida and supports the school-to-prison pipeline," the group wrote in a press release Monday. "He has no academic background and a legacy of supporting structural racism, homophobia and anti-environmental policies that point directly to his political ties with corporate industry as a whole and Koch in particular."

Thrasher has denied having ties to the Koch brothers, saying he wouldn't recognize Charles and David Koch if they walked into a room.

Students, faculty, alumni and community members are planning to gather on campus at 2:30 p.m. and march to the Old Capitol to "push back against the corporatization of education at FSU and in the nation as a whole."

The event is part of a larger "day of action" taking place at nearly 30 universities across the country, the organizers said.