July 11, 2014

Nan Rich on a Scott vs. Crist race: 'Two Republicans'

The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders reports on Nan Rich's speech Friday to the Florida Society of News Editors:

Nan Rich is frustrated. That much is clear. But the lifelong Democrat and former Senate minority leader isn't backing down.

She told news executives and editors Friday that she will continue battling for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and trying to draw distinctions with opponent Charlie Crist, despite many of the party's fundraisers and leaders lining up behind Crist, a former Republican.

"We need to make sure we don't have two Republicans running in the gubernatorial election,'' Rich said during a forum that was part of the annual convention of the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Rich wanted to debate Crist during the press gathering but was rebuffed. During an appearance Thursday, Crist said he needed to stay focused on challenging Republican Gov. Rick Scott and pointed to the massive amounts of money backing Scott's re-election bid.

"I am running against $100 million,'' Crist said. "I really don't have the luxury to take my eye off the ball."

That irked Rich. "People don't run against $100 million,'' she said. "They run against people."

Rich remains a longshot in the Aug. 26 primary.

Pro-Scott sheriffs blast Crist's 10-20-Life remarks

With the Florida media, and especially TV, feasting on the story of why on-duty working cops would be at a campaign event for Gov. Rick Scott (which is barred by law), his handlers knew just what to do Friday: try to change the subject.

So Scott's campaign rolled out a statement from 23 sheriffs who accused Democrat Charlie Crist of a "reversal" on his past support for minimum mandatory prison sentences in the state's 10-20-Life law. "Charlie Crist's reversal on his support of 10-20-Life legislation and mandatory minimums threatens the incredible progress we have made over the last 15 years to make Florida safe for families and visitors," their statement said.

Crist told a statewide gathering of news editors Thursday that the Legislature should review the 10-20-Life law after hearing of a case in which a man was sentenced to 80 years in prison for firing a gun into the air.

The Associated Press quoted Crist as saying: "I'm always open-minded to looking at those kinds of things. When you're faced with new facts, I think you ought to listen."


From the AP's account: Crist responded to a question about the case of Ronald Williams, who is serving four minimum mandatory 20-year prison terms after being convicted of pointing a gun at four gay men who were whistling and ogling him from a neighbor's Riviera Beach home, then firing into the air several times. Nobody was hurt. The judge who sentenced Williams said the law gave him no leeway and that the sentences had to run consecutively -- effectively handing down a life sentence for Williams, who was 26 at the time of the crime.

Williams has appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that judges should have more discretion. "It doesn't sound fair and it doesn't sound equitable," Crist said. "I think fairness should be the standard on which we look at any statute."


Sweetwater mayor, commissioner dais squabble turns to convicted ex-mayor

By Rodolfo Roman

Sweetwater Mayor Jose Diaz and Commissioner Isolina Maroño clashed last week over the way the city is being run.

The trouble began when Diaz presented candidates for director positions in two departments. Maroño felt they weren’t qualified — and blamed herself for supporting Diaz to become mayor after the conviction of her son, former Mayor Manny Maroño, in a federal bribery case.

“We appointed him,” she said of Diaz. “It was an error on my end. I apologize; because of me he is there.

“I thought he had other qualifications. At this moment, he doesn’t care about the city. It’s his campaign since the second day he became mayor.”

Countered Diaz: “If anyone should shut their mouth when it comes to employing someone in regards to political campaigns it’s you and your entire family.”

Isolina Maroño said Diaz has discredited the city by calling the media to announce firing employees.

Diaz fired back: “The one who has discredit for the city is you and your son,” he said. “You didn’t know what to do as a mom to correct your son.”

Commissioner Manuel Duasso intervened to stop the quarrel.

Miami Beach mayor publishes book about campaign


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine published his own book about his political campaign.

He’s giving away copies of the about 150 page coffee table book called The Journey.

“When we started looking at all the photographs from the campaign, we thought they were so cool that it would be neat to put it in book format,” Levine said.

The multimillionaire mayor owns a media company that works with the cruise industry. Levine estimated he spent $10,000 to $15,000 of his own money printing about 4,000 copies.

The cover features his signature red Nike sneakers. Inside, the pages list facts like how many doors Levine knocked on (6,000, his team says). The book also features the endorsement speech former President Bill Clinton gave for Levine, the mayor said.


David Rivera suspends Miami congressional campaign


His reputation tainted by scandal, former Miami Congressman David Rivera vowed he would return to politics.

He did — for 72 days. On Friday, just over two months after launching a new campaign for his old seat, Rivera has called it quits, at least for now.

Rivera, who is under federal investigation in a campaign-finance scheme, said Friday he is suspending his congressional bid.

But he said it had nothing to do with the FBI probe — which he refuses to discuss — and everything with a ruling Thursday from a judge in Tallahassee.

“As a congressional candidate affected by this decision, I will not be held hostage by Florida’s liberal activist judges,” he said in an email to supporters.

Rivera cited “great uncertainty” following the ruling that invalidated two of Florida’s congressional district boundaries — even though neither of the districts was the one Rivera sought to represent.

More here.

This post has been updated.

Redistricting ruling: George Washington, appendages and detective work

Judge Terry Lewis took less than a month to write his opinion invalidating Florida's congressional map after receiving the final, written briefs from the parties but it is chock full of analysis, including some of his own detective work that led to him raise questions about the behavior of legislators and political operatives that we hadn't seen raised at trial.

Parts of it read as if he's piecing together a spy novel. (Lewis is, after all author of a few of those.)

Here's our first story. Here's the ruling. Let us know what you think and give us your observations. Download Romo.Final Judgment.July 10, 2014

July 10, 2014

Corrine Brown calls redistricting decision 'seriously flawed'

Rep. Corrine Brown, who teamed up with Republicans in the early 1990s to carve out a heavily African-American district, blasted the court decision calling her district into question. In a statement the Jacksonville Democrat said:

“The decision by Judge Lewis is seriously flawed. It completely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters or to recognize federal law, specifically the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the state’s Fair Districts standards.

“After the Florida Legislature conducted several dozen hearings throughout the state of Florida in a bi-partisan fashion to include voter participation and input on their representation, the Legislature drew the current plan and it passed both the House and Senate.

“Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls, in 1871, a time span of 129 years.  Nationally, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, between the years of 1832-1965 (133 years), there were only 28 elected African Americans.  From 1965-Present (49 years), there were/are 103 elected African Americans (four times as many, in nearly one-third the time span).

Continue reading "Corrine Brown calls redistricting decision 'seriously flawed'" »

Judge invalidates Florida's congressional districts, appeal is likely

A circuit court judge threw out Florida's congressional redistricting map Thursday ruling that the Florida Legislature allowed for a "secret, organized campaign" by partisan operatives to subvert the redistricting process in violation of the state constitution.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ordered two of the state's 27 districts to be redrawn to bring the map into compliance with the state's new Fair District amendments.

The 41-page ruling, issued late Thursday, raises questions now about whether the congressional map will be redrawn before the November elections or revised later. Any change in the political lines for Congress would have a ripple effect on other races.

The ruling in the lawsuit brought by a coaltion of voters and the League of Women Voters is expected to be repealed and ultimately decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

Lewis judge rejected challenges to districts in South Florida and that Tampa Bay but said that District 5, held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, and District 10, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden, "will need to be redrawn, as will any other districts affected thereby." 

"We were extremely gratified,'' said David King, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. 

Lewis blasted the role of the political consultants saying "they made a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting" while "going to great lengths to conceal from the public their paln and their participation in it."

"They were successful in their efforts to influence the redistricting process and the congressional plan under review here,'' he wrote. "And they might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public had it not been for the Plaintiffs determined efforts to uncover it in this case."

He concluded, however, that the circumstantial evidence proved that the political operatives "managed to find other avenues...to infiltrate and influence the Legislature."

He drew no conclusions that House Speaker Will Weatherford, former House Speaker Dean Cannon, and Senate President Don Gaetz were aware of the scheme, but he raised doubts that they were not in some way complicit. Lewis detailed the involvement of Cannon's aide, Kirk Pepper, and repeated evidence that came out at trial about Pepper forwarding draft maps to GOP operative Marc Reichelderfer.

Lewis also noted that Legislative leaders and the political operatives destroyed almost all of their emails and other documents related to redistricting and concluded that the circumstantial evidence surrounding all of those developments, and the evidence that the consultants attempted to influence the same districts he has found problematic, proved the GOP operatives were trying to influence the process.

"There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't,'' he wrote. "Litigation over their plans was 'a moral certainty' as their lawyers put it earlier in the case, and intent woudl be a key issue in any challenge." 

He also defended his decision to allow the inclusion of documents from political consultant Pat Bainter into the record. Lewis rejected Bainter's claim that the documents were trade secret but that issue is now on appeal before the Florida Supreme Court, so Lewis closed the courtroom and sealed the documents to allow discussion of them during trial.

Lewis said they provided the evidence needed by the plaintiffs to show there was a secret, shadow redistricting process being conducted by the political operatives. "The evidence was highly relevant and not available from other sources,'' he wrote "....to show how extensive and organized" the shadow map-making process was "and what lengths they went in order to conceal what they were doing." 

Lewis tore apart the defense of the most controversial district in Florida's map -- District 5, a snake-shaped that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando that was first drawn by a court 20 years ago and which Brown has represented since then. Brown was so intent on leaving the district unchanged, that she challenged the constitutionality of Florida Fair District amendments adoped by voter in 2010, but she lost.

He said the decision by Republican leaders to increase the black voting age population in the district "was not compelling" but concluded it was done to improve the performance of surrounding districts to benefit Republicans. 

Lewis also concluded that the trail of emails and secret documents, which GOP operatives fought to keep out of the record, proved that "Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process.

"They accomplished this by writing scripts for and organizing groups of people to attend the public hearings to advocate for adoption of certain components or characteristics in the maps, and by submitting maps and partial maps through the public process, all with the intention of obtaining enacted maps for the State House and Senate and for Congress that would favor the Republican Party," Lewis wrote. 

He concluded, however, that the legislative staff involved in drawing the maps were not part of this scheme and said that staffers Alex Kelly, John Guthrie and Jason Poreda were "straightforward, frank and credible." 

Lewis commended District 10 for following the requirement that districts be compact but he noted that an appendage added late in the process was "drawn to benefit the Republican Party and the incumbent," Rep. Webster.

He rejected claims by lawyers for the Legislature that a neighboring district was needed to be created to elected Hispanics and the appendage, which moved 80,000 voting age population out of Webster's district and another 71,000 into it, was needed to enable the partisan advantage. 

"The appendage benefited the incumbent Representative Webster by returning to District 10 territory that was part of his benchmark District 8 and improved the Republican performan of District 10 in two out of three elections relied upon by the Florida Supreme Court,'' Lewis wrote. 

Lewis also said the meetings held between legislators, political operatives and their staff involving Washington D.C. redistricting expert Ben Ginsberg raised some issues "that are troubling."

He noted that while the political consultants could have submitted maps, and showed intense interest in designing the maps, no on in the Legislature raised questions about why they didn't.

"I would think that the staff and legislative leaders would find it extremely strange, that they might even ask why not. But they didn't,'' he wrote. 

Lewis also raised questions about the decision by House and Seante leaders to ignore the potential political performance of most districts they drew and why they didn't concern themselves with the authors of publicly-submitted maps. 

"Turning a blind eye to the probability of improper intent in these maps is not the same as neutrality,'' he wrote.

Miami Rep. Diaz-Balart: Decision to give up on immigration legislation ‘highly irresponsible’


U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, sharply criticized the decision to give up on immigration legislation this year.

In a Washington press conference Thursday afternoon, Diaz-Balart said he had been informed by House leadership earlier in the day that legislation he pushed that would have led to a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the U.S. was dead this year.

His legislation, he said, would have acknowledged that “we are not going to spend tens of billions of dollars to roundup and deport millions of undocumented workers who have been here for many years.” It would have required those who came to the U.S. illegally to earn legal status.

“It is an efficient and effective approach that is good for the American economy and fair to the people who came here legally,” he said.

But on Thursday, he said, he was informed by the Republican leadership that they have no intention to bring the bill to the House floor in 2014.

“It is disappointing and highly unfortunate,” he said.

He added it was “highly irresponsible not to deal with the issue.”

“We were sent here by the American people precisely to tackle difficult issues and not to take the easy way out,” he said. “By blocking reform, whether it was when Nancy Pelosi was speaker or now, we are in effect abdicating our duty. Particularly when we have a president that is willing to unilaterally act through executive action, that he himself has said is legally circumspect, will not provide a long-term solution to our immigration system, and I believe could even make it worse.”

Giving up on broad immigration legislation wasn’t a surprise to much of Washington, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said last month that the issue was effectively dead and unlikely to be pursued until after President Barack Obama left office. The issue shows the divide in a GOP that is trying to appeal both to Latino voters and business leaders who favor legalization and the tea party wing of the party that doesn’t endorse any mass legalization efforts.

As for the possibility of the bill’s success, Diaz-Balart had been optimistic.

“I feel absolutely confident that we had the support of the majority – the majority – of the House Republican conference, and also a very strong group of Democrats,” he said after delivering his prepared comments in both English and Spanish.

Dems attack Scott's education record in new Spanish-language ad

Democrats are taking aim at Gov. Rick Scott's education record -- en Español.

On Thursday, the party released its first Spanish-language TV ad, a 30-second spot called "Recortes," or "Cuts."

It opens with an image of the Republican governor on a chalkboard.

"Our community needs a governor who fights on our side," a woman says in Spanish. "That's why it's alarming to know that Gov. Rick Scott cut more than a $1 billion from our public schools."

The ad mentions neither former Gov. Charlie Crist nor former state Sen. Nan Rich, the two Democrats running for governor. The Democratic primary is Aug. 26.

Scott's campaign was quick to label the new ad "misleading."

"Whether we're talking about jobs, debt, or education, Charlie Crist took our state to the bottom during his failed term as governor," Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said in a statement. "He ran up a $3.6 billion deficit and left our schools in worse shape. Then Charlie, a man who stands for nothing but his own ambition, tried to run away to Washington instead of cleaning up the mess."

Both parties are working hard to court Hispanic voters.

The Scott campaign has already released TV and radio spots in Spanish. And earlier this week, the Republican Party of Florida debuted a Spanish-language TV ad featuring the Vilariño family, owners and operators of a restaurant in Broward County.

Democrats say their Hispanic-outreach efforts will continue.

"There’s no doubt that the Hispanic community is an important electorate," Political Director Christian Ulvert said Thursday. "As we communicate with them, what we're hearing [is that] the issues they care about... are in line with the issues that Democrats care about and are fighting for."

The party's new Spanish-language ad will be seen in Orlando, Tampa and Miami.

Spokesman Max Steele would not say how much money had been spent on the buy, or how long the spot would air.