October 15, 2014

Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo and the politics of the Cuban Adjustment Act


Could the law that gives Cubans special immigration privileges survive a political debate to change it?

Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo says yes. The man he's trying to unseat, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, says no.

Any revision attempt would be too risky, Garcia argued at a debate Tuesday night, because it would remind lawmakers that immigrants from other nationalities don't get the same treatment as Cubans, who are allowed to legally remain in the U.S. after being here for one year and one day.

"You can't revise it," Garcia said. "If you revise the Cuban Adjustment Act, they will take it away from you."

Curbelo has said the law, enacted by Congress in 1966, should be tightened to apply to victims of political persecution and not just so-called economic refugees, who travel frequently back to the island.

"As an American citizen, I cannot support the abuse of the Cuban Adjustment Act," he said in the debate. "It must be preserved for people who are victims."

Garcia acknowledged the abuse but compared it to an office worker stealing supplies: "That doesn't mean you're going to eliminate all paper clips."

In response, Curbelo dismissed Garcia's "all-or-nothing" approach and tried to paint him as a phony bipartisan for having once referred to Republicans on the House floor as "this Taliban."

The two men are vying to represent Florida's 26th congressional district, where a growing number of voters are non-Cuban Hispanics, such as Venezuelans and Colombians. Garcia said he wished there were a similar immigration law for other groups, particularly Venezuelans. He has asked the Obama administration, to no avail, to let more Venezuelans stay in the U.S.

Deep-pocketed super PAC releases second attack ad against Joe Garcia


"We can do better than Joe Garcia," says a new television advertisement from Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC that now has two spots running against the Miami Democratic congressman.

The conservative group, which is funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and bills itself as a "free-market" organization, continues to hammer Garcia in the new ad over investigations into his past campaigns, making particular note of how the incumbent paid his former chief of staff a "campaign win bonus" even after the staffer was suspected of orchestrating an illegal absentee-ballot request scheme. He later ended up in jail.

The ad also criticizes Garcia for defending Obamacare "even with a double-digit premium increase" and for saying that "the economy is in a good place."

"Does that sound right to you?" the ad's narrator asks. She makes no mention of Garcia's Republican opponent, Miami-Dade County School Board member Carlos Curbelo.

In a debate Tuesday night, Garcia noted most of the ads against him have been funded by outside political groups and not from Curbelo himself, suggesting that, if elected, Curbelo would be subject to their interests.

"It's becoming a daily occurrence that lobbyist Carlos Curbelo -- who has been rejected by local members of his own party for saying one thing to Floridians and then calling Medicare and Social Security a 'Ponzi scheme' in Washington -- is forced to rely on shady out-of-state groups with little regard for South Florida's values in order to prop up his campaign," Garcia spokesman Miguel Salazar said in a statement.


Ethics take center stage at Miami congressional debate


Bickering over ethics, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia and challenger Carlos Curbelo spent half of their first debate in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday arguing over which one of them has cleaner hands to represent Florida’s 26th congressional district.

The first half of the free-flowing Spanish-language debate focused on policy issues. The candidates highlighted differences over the Affordable Care Act, the minimum wage and Cuba.

But the rest of the hour-long exchange turned into a tit-for-tat over character and integrity — a line of attack that has been chiefly deployed by Curbelo and his Republican supporters against Garcia, the incumbent Miami Democrat.

“In the last few years, three people have ended up in jail: one, Joe Garcia’s chief of staff over absentee-ballot fraud in the 2012 election; the other two, for crimes committed by the Republican campaign of ex-Congressman David Rivera,” Curbelo said. “This is unacceptable.”

Garcia acknowledged past “mistakes” but pivoted to criticize Curbelo for repeatedly refusing to disclose the clients of his government and public relations firm, Capitol Gains.

More here.

Report: Lower budget surplus will make campaign promises hard to reach

As Florida's governor's candidates face-off tonight for their second highly-anticipated debate in Broward County tonight, Florida TaxWatch is out with a sobering reminder.

The business-backed government watchdog group warns that the $336 million budget surplus Gov. Rick Scott, Charlie Crist and most of the Florida legislators are counting on to pay for their campaign promises is going to be pretty slim. (Scott, for example has promised $1 billion in cuts in taxes and fees over the next two years on top of new money for education and environment. ) In other words: be careful what you wish for.

"The $336 million surplus needs to be put into context," said Kurt Wenner, Vice President of Tax Research for Florida TaxWatch. "It is only 1.1 percent of projected General Revenue spending. It is also based on leaving only $1 billion in reserves, much smaller than what recent legislatures have left. The budget process will again be very competitive and it is our hope that each project will be thoroughly vetted by the full Legislature."

The report notes that this is the fourth straight year in which there has been a projected surplus heading into the legislative session, "but this surplus is much smaller than the $845.7 million surplus projected last year. Still, the continuation of the current string of surplus is a welcome change from the previous four years, which saw shortfalls averaging $2.7 billion." 

The TaxWatch report is also based on a set of assumptions that include the base budget will cover $1.2 billion in what the group deems "critical needs." That may be a bit of a subjective list. For example, as the Florida Department of Corrections faces a avalanche of excessive force and suspicious inmate death reports, TaxWatch still concludes there are no "critical needs" for funding in the state's criminal justice budget. Here's the report.

Here are the some of their budget assumptions: 

Continue reading "Report: Lower budget surplus will make campaign promises hard to reach" »

October 14, 2014

Hatchetman: Everything you wanted to know about Roger Stone

From @glenngarvin

Everything you know is wrong. At least when it comes to two of the most notorious chapters of 20th century American history — the Kennedy assassination and Watergate.

President Kennedy was murdered not by Lee Harvey Oswald but a serial killer — his own vice president, Lyndon Johnson. And the Watergate scandal was not about President Nixon’s dirty political tricks, but, umm, hookers.

This, at least, is the world according Roger Stone, the legendarily bare-knuckle Republican consultant who saved the 2000 presidential election for George Bush (or, depending on your perspective, stole it from Al Gore) and now styles himself an “alternative historian.”

“I know a lot people don’t like to hear this; they think it’s crazy or partisan,” says Stone, who lives in Fort Lauderdale when his consulting firm is not out toppling governments or wrecking rival candidacies. “But they’re wrong. The evidence is there.”

Some people clearly don’t mind hearing Stone’s theories. Last year, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, his book The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ, hit the New York Times best-seller list. Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth About the President, Watergate and the Pardon, published in August, is hovering on Amazon.com’s top 25 political books and nearing a second printing.

Despite the books’ success, they have not won Stone much admiration from mainstream journalists or historians. “His Kennedy book is totally full of all kinds of crap,” declares veteran investigative reporter Hugh Aynesworth, who covered the assassination for the Dallas Morning News and has spent much of his life debunking conspiracy theories about it. Adds Max Holland, a historian who has written extensively about both the assassination and Watergate: “He’s out of his ever-lovin’ mind.”

Stone, who wallows lasciviously in insults from his enemies the way other people do in bubble baths (his stonezone.com website lists three dozen or so, ranging from “the dapper don of dirty deeds” to “the undisputed master of the black arts of electioneering,” as if they were glowing endorsements) is unconcerned.

“It’s always better to be talked about than not talked about,” he says dismissively. “And the biggest sin in politics is to be boring.”

More here

Scott now agrees to pay his own legal fees in fighting release of his Gmail documents

From the Associated Press and Herald/Times:

A bitter public records dispute is now forcing Florida Gov. Rick Scott to dip into his own pocket, and may force him to testify on his own behalf before next month's election.

Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, who clashed with Scott even before he took office, wants information on private Google email accounts that he says were used by the Scott administration to sidestep state law. A Florida judge sided with Andrews, but now Scott has hired lawyers to fight the request in California.

Lawyers for the governor filed notice for a Nov. 7 hearing, three days after the election, in which they are asking a judge to quash a subpoena sought by Andrews.

On Monday, Andrews served the governor with notice to appear in a Santa Clara County courtroom for the Nov. 7 hearing and called for the governor to appear in a videotape deposition in Tallahassee on Oct. 28 about his gov.rls@gmail.com account.

Scott's office initially hired an outside law firm and state records show that the administration signed two state contracts worth $110,000 with Tanner-Bishop to fight the effort to find out about the email accounts. Andrews wants information on when the accounts were established and by whom. It does not require that any actual emails be turned over.

On Monday, Scott's office told the Herald/Times that he  is paying the Tallahassee law office of Dean Mead out of his own pocket to continue the battle. That firm, which includes lobbyists and a former top official under Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, is representing both Scott and two former aides who also had Gmail accounts.

A Scott spokesman said that Scott's private attorney is responsible for handling his "private affairs." Initially the governor's office refused to say who was paying Scott's legal bills or whether the governor was getting outside help to pay the expenses.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, blasted Andrews and said he was on a "fishing expedition for information that is not a public record."

"It's no secret that this case, and its multiple companions, is simply Andrews pursuing revenge for his personal grudge against the Cabinet and state government," said Tupps in an email.

Back during the 2010 race, Andrews unsuccessfully sued to try to unseal a deposition Scott gave in a civil lawsuit involving a chain of health care clinics the Naples Republican started. The deposition was given six days before Scott began his race for governor but he steadfastly refused to release it.

Andrews is currently suing Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi over whether they hid records related to a dispute over land near the governor's mansion.

Andrews wants to buy the land since his law office is located on it. The Scott administration wants the land as part of a plan to turn the adjacent historic home of former Gov. LeRoy Collins into a museum. Andrews contends state officials were not interested in the property until Scott found out that he was involved. Andrews won his initial lawsuit, but the case is being appealed.

Scott has insisted that he does not use a Google email account for state business, but on at least three occasions Scott forwarded a 2013 email from that account to his regular state government account. It showed his former chief of staff recommending to Scott how to handle the search for a new lieutenant governor.

The Herald/Times has asked for copies of all emails from the account but has yet to get a response from the Scott administration about the request.


Crist campaign adds Michelle Obama event in Miami Gardens Friday

From the Charlie Crist campaign:

MIAMI, FL – On Friday, October 17, 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama will headline a grassroots ‘Commit to Vote’ rally in support of Charlie Crist for Governor in Miami Gardens to energize voters and lay out the stakes for Floridians in the critical election on November 4th.
When: Friday, October 17, 2014
Doors open: 2:45 PM  
Event Start Time: 4:45 PM
Where: Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex Gymnasium
3000 NW 199th Street
Miami Gardens, Florida 33056

Federal court: Libertarian Adrian Wyllie can be excluded from debate


A federal judge denied Libertarian Adrian Wyllie’s emergency motion seeking access to Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate.

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn said Wyllie did not meet the requirements for gaining access to the debate hosted by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida. Cohn said the private nonprofit debate sponsors did not change the access rules by increasing the polling threshold required for a qualified candidate, 15 percent.

Also, Cohn ruled, Wyllie’s exclusion was not a violation of his First or Fourteenth Amendment rights. Wyllie argued that, because the event is to be held at the publicly funded BrowardCollege, he had a free-speech right to be onstage with Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist.

But Cohn said BrowardCollege was merely the location and that the event is a “nonpublic forum,” according to case law.

Cohn said the defendants “offer legitimate reasons” for excluding candidates like Wyllie and six others because the goal of the debate is “to provide a forum to inform Florida voters through the meaningful exchange of ideas among those gubernatorial candidates with a reasonable chance of winning the election.”

Wyllie’s campaign is in a statement that his poll numbers were “approaching 15%, which were achieved in a media-driven society where his opponents have outspent him by percentages nowhere approaching Wyllie’s ‘voter per advertising dollar saturation’ shows how unfair the process really is.”

Wednesday’s debate marks the second of three. The final face-off takes place on CNN in Jacksonville on Oct. 21. Polls show Scott and Crist are essentially tied, raising the potential importance of the debates, which Scott limited to three.

Oct. 15 is tax day for late filers like Gov. Rick Scott -- will he release his or not?


Scott financial disclosureGov. Rick Scott has touted the fact that he and his wife have released an unprecedented amount of financial data -- more than their opponent -- this election cycle. But that is not quite true.

Charlie Crist has released his 2013 tax return, although his wife who files separately has not. Scott, who files jointly with his wife, Ann, has not released his 2013 return.

Tomorrow, the governor has a chance to close that gap.

According to the IRS, Oct. 15 is the deadline for anyone who received a six-month extension to file their return.

After tomorrow, Scott can't say his tax return is still in the works. Will he release it? His campaign won't say.

Maybe it will be his break-through news during the Leadership Florida/Florida Press Association debate in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday night. 

Meanwhile, here are some questions -- based on the Herald/Times analysis -- about the many discrepancies raised by his financial disclosure report that the governor could clear up if he released his tax returns:

Continue reading "Oct. 15 is tax day for late filers like Gov. Rick Scott -- will he release his or not? " »

FSU trustees expected to approve Thrasher contract, $430K base salary on Monday


A draft version of the contract between state Sen. John Thrasher and Florida State University shows that they have negotiated a five-year term starting Nov. 10.

The FSU Board of Trustees plans to meet via conference call Monday to discuss and likely approve the proposed contract. Thrasher, who expects to be re-elected to the Senate on Nov. 4, said he would step down from his Senate seat as soon as the Board of Governors confirms him. That formality should occur when the group meets Nov. 5 and 6.

Thrasher will have a $430,000 base salary with an opportunity to earn more through bonuses and deferred compensation. State law limits the use of public dollars for university presidents’ salaries to $225,000, so the rest will come from the FSU Foundation and Seminole Boosters.

Continue reading "FSU trustees expected to approve Thrasher contract, $430K base salary on Monday" »