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March 13, 2017

Miami Democrat McGhee picked to lead Florida House Democrats in 2018



Miami Democrat Kionne McGhee's improbable political rise took another step Monday.

Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives narrowly picked McGhee, 39, to be their leader in 2018. McGhee beat out Fort Lauderdale Democrat Bobby DuBose. The final vote was 23-17. He would follow Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who is the current Democratic Leader in the Florida House.

"I am humbled to even have this opportunity to stand before you," McGhee said moments before the Democrats cast their ballots in a conference room in Tallahassee. "I don't take this moment likely. For those of you who know my history, you know the road that I have lived to here wasn't easy."

McGhee recounted growing up in poverty in public housing with a single mother who would get up before dawn to pick beans for 75 cents a hamper in Homestead to put enough food on the table. He talked about struggling through school with a grade point average under 2.0 and being labeled "mentally retarded" by the schools. McGhee told his fellow Democrats that leaders "will always find his or her ingredients for success inside his or her own struggles."

McGhee, first elected to the Legislature in 2012, would rise to graduate from Howard University, become an attorney, write a best-selling book and now would be next in line to be Speaker of the Florida House if Democrats pulled off the improbably and picked up 20 seats in the 2018 election cycle.

It puts a pair of Miami-Dade politicians at the top of both parties heading into 2018. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, has already been chosen to be the Republican leader in 2018. He is scheduled become the Florida House Speaker if Republicans hold the majority in 2018.

Former state Senate candidate Michael Góngora running for his old Miami Beach commission seat

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Former Miami Beach commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Góngora, who also came in third last year during the Democratic primary for state Senate District 38, wants back in City Hall.

The condo attorney served as commissioner for a year in the mid-2000s following a special election and then a full term from 2009 to 2013 before losing the 2013 mayoral election to Philip Levine. Now, with Commissioner Joy Malakoff withdrawing her bid for reelection following a physical injury, Góngora has his sights set for his old seat on the dais.

Góngora's entry marks another development in what looks to be an interesting election year in the Beach. With Levine seriously mulling a run for governor, Commissioner Michael Grieco and former state legislator Dan Gelber will square off for mayor. 

And there's still plenty of time for other folks to throw their hats in. The city's qualifying period isn't until the first week of September. The election is Nov. 7.

Read more.

Wait, Rick Scott said what about these two Democrats?


Gov. Rick Scott hosted a "jobs roundtable" in Tallahassee that he used to praise Democrats by name for voting against a bill to kill Enterprise Florida and another bill that he says would weaken Visit Florida. (Jeremy Wallace/Tampa Bay Times)


It’s the kind of praise you would expect from a Democratic leader.

“You need to call and thank Representative (Ramon) Alexander and Representative Loranne Ausley. Thank them for their vote. Because they’re thinking about the future of our state for our kids and our grandkids.”

But that was no tried-and-true Democrat tossing that praise around. No, it was Gov. Rick Scott, a two-term Republican governor who spent a portion of an hour long stop at Danfoss Turbocor, an air conditioner compressor manufacturer in Tallahassee, praising Alexander and Ausley, both Democrats, while slamming fellow Republican and state Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello over a vote in the Florida Legislature last week. And Scott handed out that praise more than once during his speech and later with reporters during interviews.

Beshears voted for House bill 7005, which would eliminate Enterprise Florida, an agency Scott has relied on to provide tax incentives to recruit companies to move to Florida and create jobs. While that idea was once lauded by Republicans when Scott was winning his 2010 election and 2014 re-election, the Florida House is now populated with Republicans who see those types of programs as corporate welfare and want to make their mark by killing the program even if it means chipping away at the legacy of one of two Republicans to ever hold the governorship of Florida for two terms.

Beshears also voted for House Bill 9, which Scott said will decimate Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.

"Why in the world would Halsey Beshears - or anybody else - vote to eliminate Enterprise Florida and vote to decimate Visit Florida," Scott asked.

Continue reading "Wait, Rick Scott said what about these two Democrats?" »

President Trump will be back in Mar-a-Lago this weekend

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President Donald Trump is heading back to sunny South Florida this weekend, after a winter snowstorm is forecast to wallop Washington.

The president will travel to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach on Friday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced Monday.

Trump is expected to be back in early April to host Chinese President Xi Jinping, Axios reported.

--with Anita Kumar

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press


Federal lawsuit challenges Florida's civil rights restoration system

A federal lawsuit filed Monday against Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members seeks to end Florida's "unconstitutionally arbitrary" system for restoring the civil rights of convicted felons.

A voting rights group, the Fair Elections Legal Network, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee on behalf of seven felons. The lawsuit says 1.6 million Floridians are currently disenfranchised, the most of any state, and that more than 10,000 are awaiting public hearings on their restoration applications. In most states, a felon's rights are automatically restored after the completion of a sentence, including probation and payment of court costs.

Under the state's arcane and secretive clemency process, most documents are exempt from disclosure and Scott and his colleagues can deny a clemency petition without giving an explanation, which is what happened to Orville (Lee) Wollard, who's serving a 20-year sentence in state prison for firing a warning shot in a family dispute in which no one was injured. 

"Florida's arbitrary rights restoration process violates the U.S. Constitution and hinders former felons from truly re-entering society," Fair Elections said in a news release.

Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who took office in 2011, supported a policy shift that requires most convicted felons to wait for five years after leaving prison before they can petition the state to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury or run for public office. That change was also supported by the two other Cabinet members, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. All four officials will be termed out of office in 2018. 

The lawsuit alleges that since 2011, only 2,488 applications for restoration of civil rights have been granted by Scott and the Cabinet, who meet four times a year as the state clemency board. That number compares to 155,315 approvals during the four-year term of former Gov. Charlie Crist and 73,508 during the eight years Jeb Bush was governor.


Rick Scott back on the road to keep heat on Florida House members


Gov. Rick Scott is not letting up on Florida House members who voted last week to kill Enterprise Florida, the agency he has relied on to attract companies to Florida in the name of creating jobs.

Scott this afternoon has scheduled what he has been calling a "Jobs Roundtable" with business leaders in Tallahassee to discuss the impact that killing Enterprise Florida and diminishing Visit Florida would have. Later this week he plans another stop in Sarasota to hold a similar event. And tomorrow, his office announced they will have a rally at the Florida Capitol with "tourism leaders, business owners, and community members" about the need to fully fund Visit Florida, an agency House leaders want to cut back funding for in light of controversial marketing expenses on celebrities to promote the state.

Over the last month Scott has held similar job promotion rallies in Miami, Tampa, Flagler Beach, Panama City and St. Cloud. At each of those events he has called out Republicans who have voted for the bill to kill Enterprise Florida and cut back Visit Florida.

On Friday, the House voted 87 to 28 for House bill 7005, which would kill Enterprise Florida and 23 other state tax incentives and programs. State Rep. Paul Renner, a Republican from Flagler Beach, said the government should not be in the business of favoring some businesses and industries over others.

Scott's stops in Tallahassee will be in seemingly friendly territory. He'll be in a city represented by Loranne Ausley and Ramon Alexander - both Democrats who voted against the bill to kill Enterprise Florida.

Magic Johnson meets with state lawmakers on HIV/AIDS



Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the NBA star, is lobbying state lawmakers on a health care agenda and awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Monday morning, he told Senate Democrats about a need for better dental care for children and emphasized his work on HIV. Johnson left the Los Angeles Lakers in 1991 after announcing that he was HIV-positive. Since then, he has been an advocate for better treatment and open discussion about the disease.

“What we were able to do was have so many effective town hall meetings of people who were living with HIV and AIDS and that sort of had them say, ‘Okay, maybe I can come out to my family that I do have HIV and people will accept me and people won’t discriminate against me,’ ” Johnson said.

Johnson came to the state Capitol with another motivation, however: He is an investor in Simply Healthcare Plans, which holds an expiring state Medicaid managed care contract and has a plan specifically for Medicaid recipients living with HIV/AIDS. 

Johnson and Simply Healthcare’s top brass were scheduled to meet with Republicans, as well.

In recent years, this state -- and South Florida especially -- has experienced high rates of HIV. Senate Democrats, along with a few outspoken Republicans, refused to confirm Surgeon General John Armstrong last year after Times/Herald reporting showed that the state Department of Health was making staffing cutbacks while not emphasizing the HIV outbreak.

"Progress has been made," said Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, who was critical of Armstrong and has led the charge on needle exchange programs as a way to combat the spread of HIV. "Now, it's definitely something that's on (DOH officials') tongues, something that they're talking about. I think the next step is some of the reasons why we have such high rates, like the opioid crisis."

In the Democratic caucus, he found lawmakers eager to find a connection with one of basketball’s greatest stars. Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, played basketball at College of William and Mary. Said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, “I grew up as Magic Montford."

Photo: Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and her newborn twins meet Magic Johnson Monday in the state Capitol.

Miami Republicans to Iowa's Steve King: 'Get a clue'

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Two Hispanic Republican members of Congress from Miami have denounced an inflammatory comment from one of their colleagues who seemed to endorse white nationalism.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King shared a story Sunday on Twitter about Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician known for his anti-Islam views.

King's remark was praised by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

Sunday night, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the son of Cuban immigrants, responded to King on Twitter:

Monday morning, Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba, shared a story about King calling on a "homogeneous" U.S. population.

King hasn't responded to either comment.

UPDATE: Jeb Bush has praised Curbelo:

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Gov. Scott's ideas for teacher incentives didn't resonate; Legislature has own plans



Back at the end of January, Gov. Rick Scott made teachers a top priority in his budget recommendations to the Legislature for next year.

But his proposals aren’t getting much traction, now that lawmakers are delving into the nitty-gritty of their own ideas.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

March 12, 2017

Frank Artiles drops green flag, accelerates bills favorable to FPL

Frank Artiles NextEraSen. Frank Artiles put on a brown jacket with “NextEra” emblazoned on the back and waved the green flag for the unofficial start to the Friday night truck race at this year’s Daytona 500 weekend.

Within minutes, a dramatic crash became the highlight of the season-opening event sponsored by NextEra, the parent company to Florida Power & Light.

Artiles, the chairman of the Florida Senate’s Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, also used the event to conduct a fundraiser, which he says raised him more than $10,000. Now, Artiles, a Republican from south Miami-Dade County is returning a favor to Florida’s largest utility.

In the first meeting of his energy committee since the start of the Legislature’s annual session, Artiles has scheduled two recently filed bills sought by FPL that will address two court rulings that dealt significant blows to the company.

One bill, SB 1238, by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, would allow utilities to charge customers for exploratory natural gas fracking in other states, overturning a Florida Supreme Court ruling against FPL last year.

Another bill, SB 1048, by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, would revise state law after the Third District Court of Appeal ruling that found Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet — acting as the state siting board overseeing power plants — failed to consider the city of Miami’s development rules when it signed off on allowing FPL to string 88 miles of line atop towers 80 to 150 feet high.

The legislation would unravel the court decision and revise existing law relating to rights of way corridors, allow new variances for local land use regulations, and give the Public Service Commission the exclusive authority to order utilities to bury utility lines, said Victoria Mendez, general counsel for the city of Miami, which filed the lawsuit. Story here.