January 18, 2015

Rick Scott loses allies, credibility amid FDLE scandal and RPOF chair vote

Gov. Rick Scott has started losing allies and credibility midway through the first month of his second term.

It all erupted in one politically disastrous week in which Scott:

1. Was publicly accused of being a liar by the former chief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He says the governor’s campaign last year inappropriately tried to meddle in department business and investigations for political reasons.

2. Estranged fellow statewide elected Republicans in the Florida Cabinet, who began to distance themselves from Scott amid the controversy.

3. Was embarrassed by rank-and-file Republican Party of Florida members who bucked him by refusing to vote in his handpicked party chair. By weighing in on the race — and using arm-twisting tactics — Scott broke his pledge to remain neutral. After RPOF members defied Scott and chose a different party chair, a bizarre scene unfolded at the GOP’s Tallahassee headquarters, where Senate Republican staffers moved out and took $800,000 with them.

If no amends are made, the party chaos and Scott’s isolation portends a rough legislative session and an intra-party knife fight ahead of the 2016 presidential race.

Some Republicans grumble that Scott is trying to use party fundraising to make himself a power player who could blunt the advantages that former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio enjoy in Florida as part of their potential bids for the White House. Scott allies deny it.

Scott’s troubles started Tuesday when the governor and Cabinet were set to choose a new FDLE commissioner because the previous chief, Gerald Bailey, unexpectedly quit of his own accord. At least, that’s what Scott’s team was saying and what Scott was suggesting publicly.

“He resigned,” Scott said Tuesday.

But that wasn’t true, Bailey and others say.

“If he said I resigned voluntarily, that is a lie,” Bailey told the Herald/Times capital bureau, which broke the story. “If he said that, he’s being totally untruthful.”

Column here

Hard feelings? ¡Dale! Rick Scott would rather praise rapper Pitbull than new GOP chair on Twitter

@MarcACaputo

While apologists are trying to spin yesterday's shocking defeat of Gov. Rick Scott's handpicked GOP chair, his Twitter account indicates otherwise. Scott's Twitter handle, @FLGovScott has been completely silent on yesterday's state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia's victory in the Republican Party of Florida chair race against incumbent Leslie Dougher.

Contrast Scott's silence with the reactions on Twitter of his fellow Republicans elected to statewide posts on the Florida Cabinet.

Attorney General Pam Bondi went first:

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam soon followed: 

Then state CFO Jeff Atwater weighed in:

Sure, talk is cheap. But manners are free. And the absence of friendliness and credibility can be politically costly.

Now if only Ingoglia was a Miami rapper with a birthday. That's worth a Tweet from the top elected Republican in the third most-populous state. Or, as Pitbull is fond of saying: "¡Dale!"

Blaise Ingoglia lays down the law at RPOF

@MarcACaputo

After yesterday's unexpected vote installing Rep. Blaise Ingoglia as Republican Party of Florida chairman, the Florida Senate's election staff moved money and equipment out of RPOF, leading to this edict from Ingoglia: 

Republican Party of Florida Officers, Staff, and Consultants,

To help ensure a smooth and orderly transition of power between the administrations of outgoing Chairman Leslie Dougher and myself, and pursuant with Republican Party of Florida Rules and Florida Statutes, I’m instituting the following guidelines as we work through this process.

From this moment forward the Republican Party Of Florida shall not process payment, incur costs, issue checks, transfer money or make any financial commitments without strict written approval of myself or a designated member of my transition staff.

Continue reading "Blaise Ingoglia lays down the law at RPOF" »

Ousted FDLE chief: Rick Scott staff made false claims, tried meddling in investigations

@stevebousquet @mikevansickler

Ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey claims he resisted repeated efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and his top advisers to falsely name someone a target in a criminal case, hire political allies for state jobs and intercede in an outside investigation of a prospective Scott appointee.

In a new series of allegations, Bailey says former Scott chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth pressured him to claim that the acting clerk of court in Orange County, Colleen Reilly, was the target of an FDLE criminal inquiry after two prison inmates used forged papers from the clerk’s office to plot an escape from the Franklin Correctional Institution. The 2013 case embarrassed the prison system under Scott’s control.

But there was one problem, Bailey said. It wasn’t true, and he told Hollingsworth that.

“The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification,” Bailey said. “I don’t know why this woman was in the cross hairs.”

More here

January 17, 2015

Florida GOP bucks Rick Scott, chooses Rep. Blaise Ingoglia for chair

@MarcACaputo

The Republican Party of Florida's grassroots bucked Gov. Rick Scott on Saturday by choosing to replace his hand-picked chairwoman with a leader of its own choosing, state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.

In the end, many Republicans say, the decision to pass over sitting Chair Leslie Dougher was less about Scott and more about her campaign and Ingoglia's bid.

"Her campaign was top heavy and aggressive. They took it for granted. The grassroots didn't go for it," said one voter. "This was not a rejection of Scott. He’s very popular here. It was a rejection of a top-down approach. "

Still, Scott put his neck out there. He publicly spoke in Dougher's favor. And he lost his figurative head of the party. That never happens. It didn't with Gov. Charlie Crist when he was a Republican. It didn't when Jeb Bush was governor. And it didn't happen in Scott's first term.

Hours after the vote, the Florida GOP's executive director, Juston Johnson, resigned. Some Republicans said they wanted to stay and cheer the resignation. In a further sign of how stinging the defeat was, the RPOF's Twitter handle, @FloridaGOP, didn't tweet out an obligatory congratulations to Ingoglia, its new chair. 

Ingoglia's win is also a sign that the Republican-controlled Legislature won't be easily controlled by Scott.

Continue reading "Florida GOP bucks Rick Scott, chooses Rep. Blaise Ingoglia for chair" »

January 16, 2015

Like others in FL, million-dollar Romney donor Mike Fernandez leans Jeb-ward

@MarcACaputo

Billionaire healthcare executive Miguel “Mike” Fernandez was an early support of Mitt Romney’s in 2011– and he was a generous giver, contributing at least $1 million to elect the Republican, hosting a big fundraiser and, he estimates, getting others to contribute as much as $7 million more.

But Fernandez is from Coral Gables. That makes him a neighbor of former Gov. Jeb Bush. So he likely would choose Jeb over Mitt (like, say, former ambassador Mel Sembler or Romney’s former Florida campaign manager Brett Doster).

Asked if he plans to contribute to Bush, Fernandez was quick to reply by text message: “When asked, I would be happy to do so. Mi Casa is Jeb's Casa!!”

Fernandez wouldn’t say if he has definitely committed to Bush, though he’s ready to give.

“I have known Jeb for over 20 years and friends support friends,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez did discount a rumor that he personally rebuffed Romney go-betweens who had reached out to him recently.

Continue reading "Like others in FL, million-dollar Romney donor Mike Fernandez leans Jeb-ward" »

North Miami campaign manager's trial on hold

@DavidOvalle305

Four years after his arrest for allegedly accepting an envelope stuffed with cash, ex-North Miami mayoral campaign manager Ricardo Brutus has yet to go to trial or accept a plea deal.

A Tuesday court date led to yet another delay. Lawyer Larry Handfield, who has defended Brutus for the past two years, hinted a plea deal may be in the works. “There won’t be a trial,” he said.

Brutus is the nephew of former North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre, whose tenure was marked by controversy. Brutus managed Pierre’s re-election campaign in 2011.

According to prosecutors, Pierre accepted $4,000 cash from a North Miami businessman who wanted an item pulled from the city council agenda. The exchange was captured on a hidden police video.

The glacial pace of Brutus’ case is in stark contrast to the federal case against Pierre’s successor, Lucie Tondreau. She was arrested in May for wire fraud, then convicted at trial in December.

--DAVID OVALLE

Bondi pleased Supreme Court will consider gay marriage

After the U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it would take up four same-sex marriage cases by the end of the term, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a statement of her own, praising the court:

"All along, I have maintained that the U.S. Supreme Court should decide the same sex marriage issue in order to provide uniformity in Florida and resolve the legal issue nationwide. I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the same sex marriage issue and provide finality on the matter."

Bondi was largely quiet after same-sex marriages began in Florida last week. She asserted that Solicitor General Allen Winsor was looking into the next steps the state ought to take and that she was happy for the couples that did marry.

The court could provide consistency on same-sex marriage nationwide by striking down state bans as unconstitutional, or it could continue allowing states to determine their own laws and policies.

Marco Rubio: Obama's Cuba policies 'skirt the law,' and Congress should hold him accountable

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wants Congress to go after President Obama's Cuba-normalization policies now, while they're still being rolled out, and not after they've already taken effect.

Referring to "accountability on the front end," Rubio told reporters Friday in Miami that he and his U.S. Senate colleagues should push back as the president works to re-establish diplomatic relations with the island's communist regime.

"Are the changes they're making legal in light of existing law? We believe that a lot of them really skirt the law," Rubio said. "So the oversight function of Congress is important."

Rubio has sent letters to Obama and the administration pressing for specifics about the new policies and questioning their compliance with the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which only Congress could lift. On Thursday, he called new rules easening trade and travel to the island a "windfall" for Cuban President Raúl Castro.

"If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's that for once Cuba is once again being paid attention to," Rubio said at Miami-Dade County Hall, where he swore-in his friend and fellow Republican Esteban "Steve" Bovo as county commission vice-chairman. "We're going to see over the next few months, unfortunately, the true nature of this regime."

The senator noted that two of the 53 political prisoners Cuba released as part of its deal with the U.S. have reportedly been re-arrested. Rubio said he expects more of the released democracy advocates to the "harassed" and taken back into custody.

Asked what he hopes a congressional delegation of six members does when it travels to Cuba this weekend, Rubio stressed the importance of U.S. politicians pushing for more freedoms for Cubans.

"I hope they'll raise the issue of human rights and political change," he said. "The history of economic openings leading to political change is not very good. And as we've seen in China, Vietnam Burma -- there is no modern example of a country that's changed democratically because of an economic opening with the United States as long as that tyranny is reluctant. And the Cuban tyranny is reluctant."

As for whether he plans to run for president in 2016, Rubio said: "I haven't made a decision today. Not yet, guys."

New Miami-Dade commission chairman urges anti-poverty agenda

@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

Vowing to fight for society’s neediest, Jean Monestime was installed as chairman of the Miami-Dade commission on Friday, in an emotional ceremony in which he laid out an agenda built around lifting people out of poverty.

“Isn’t America great?” the commission’s first Haitian-American chairmantold a standing-room-only crowd at the commission chambers when he took the microphone after being sworn in.

Monestime recounted how he arrived as a teenager to South Florida on what he later called a “rickety” boat from the Bahamas with about 40 other people. His voice broke.

“To the families and individuals of this community who are struggling to make ends meet, I understand the challenges you face,” he said. “I have mopped floors, mowed lawns, washed dishes and drove a taxi to put food on my table. My family’s table as well.”

Along the way, Monestime, 51, who is married to Kettia and has two sons, earned a master’s in business administration and became a licensed real-estate broker. “My family now enjoys a modest prosperity,” he said.

But he added that many in Miami-Dade, the largest county in the southeastern U.S. do not. It went without saying that he was speaking in particular about the district he has represented since 2010, one of the county’s poorest, which includes Little Haiti and North Miami.

More here.