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May 11, 2017

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown found guilty in charity scam

From the Associated Press:

JACKSONVILLE -- Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has been found guilty of taking money from a charity that was purported to be giving scholarships poor students.

The jury's verdict on Thursday came after prosecutors accused the 70-year-old Brown of using hundreds of thousands of dollars from the One Door for Education Foundation for lavish parties, trips and shopping excursions.

She was found guilty on 18 of the 22 counts against her, including lying on tax and financial disclosure forms.

Brown, a Democrat who represented the Florida district that included Jacksonville since 1993, had pleaded not guilty to all charges including fraud.

Brown's former chief of staff, Elias "Ronnie" Simmons, and One Door's president pleaded guilty after their federal indictments for misusing the charity's funds, and testified against Brown.

Simmons said Brown ordered him to take cash and checks from One Door's account that was put into the congresswoman's personal accounts.

Photo credit: Florida Times-Union via Associated Press

Here's why Adam Putnam starts his campaign for governor as a front runner



There is a big reason Adam Putnam begins his campaign for governor as an early front runner.

Make that 11 million reasons.

Even before he stepped to the microphone in downtown Bartow to announce he was running for governor, Putnam has spent the last three years socking campaign donations away into a political committee that can help him in his run for the state’s highest office in 2018.

Since 2014, Putnam has raised $11.4 million for the political committee he calls Florida Grown. He has spent about $3.1 million, leaving him with $8.3 million in the committee.

No other declared candidates can match those numbers. Neither can any of the candidates who are expected to consider running.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told The Buzz today he’s still considering making a run but won’t make a decision until later this summer. Latvala has raised $8.2 million in his political committee, called the Florida Leadership Committee, since 2013. He has spent $5 million of that, leaving him with more than $3 million in the committee.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, could also be in the mix as conservative groups in D.C. have been pushing him to make another statewide run. He dropped out of the 2016 U.S. Senate race after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio re-joined the contest. DeSantis is sitting on $1.7 million in his federal campaign account, which could be moved into a state political committee. There is also another $750,000 remaining in a super PAC that organized to support his U.S. Senate campaign that could ultimately support him.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said he won’t make a decision until next year. In his political committee called Florida Roundtable, he has raised almost $2.6 million since 2013 but spent nearly $2.4 million. He has less than $200,000 in cash on hand in that committee.

On the Democratic side, Orlando businessman Chris King has already raised $1.4 million in his main campaign account and spent $207,000. Besides that $1.2 million left over, he also has $350,000 in a political action committee he runs called Rise and Lead, Florida.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Tallahassee Democrat, has said she’s up to $1.6 million after transferring $1.2 million from her former congressional campaign account. That also includes $429,000 she has raised in a political committee she has called Our Florida.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has raised more than $400,000 in his main campaign account for governor and spent about $95,000 of that according to state records. He also has another nearly $470,000 in a political committee he runs called Forward Florida.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has not filed to run for governor, but has begun building up a political committee that could help on that front. He has put $2 million into a committee called All About Florida.

Attorney John Morgan has also said he’s considering get into the race. Morgan said he does he would “largely self-fund any campaign.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held a rally in Polk County on Wednesday to kick off his campaign for governor in 2018. (OCTAVIO JONES/Tampa Bay Times)

Rivas Logan is in for Artiles' Florida Senate seat

IMG_ARL1.jpg_2_1_QM1KFSHG_L37980388 (1)

Former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan said Thursday she's running for former state Sen. Frank Artiles' seat.

Rivas Logan is the third Hispanic Democratic woman to announce her candidacy, after state Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

The difference, Rivas Logan said, is that she's already won elections in parts of Artiles' Southwest Miami-Dade County district. Her name recognition will help her in the quick-turnaround special election, she said. 

"It's not about who can win a primary," she said. "It's about who can flip the seat blue."

Artiles, a Republican, resigned last month after unleashing a diatribe of sexist and racist insults to two African-American senators. Republican Gov. Rick Scott set the special primary to replace him for July 25, and the general election for Sept. 26. Candidates must qualify to run by May 31.

Rivas Logan, a Cuban-American born in Nicaragua, ran for Senate District 40 last year but lost the rowdy Democratic primary to former Sen. Dwight Bullard. She nevertheless finished ahead of businessman Andrew Korge, who had far outraised her.

A former (nonpartisan) Miami-Dade School Board member from 2004-10, Rivas Logan served one term in the state House from 2010-12 as a Republican. She publicly disavowed the GOP and became a Democrat in 2014.

"This is basically my old school board seat," she said Thursday. "Independents and Republicans have voted for me."

She and her teacher friends plan to campaign door-to-door in the district starting Monday, Rivas Logan said.

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file

Ahead of expected Senate run, Gov. Scott unveils new super PAC

WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott will chair a national Super PAC aiming to “change and rebrand the way the Republican Party approaches the challenges of the future.”

Hitching itself to President Donald Trump, New Republican will “get rid of all our tired old political jargon and cliches,” Scott said in a release that echoed a presentation he gave in Washington Wednesday night.

The PAC was founded by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, and he will serve as senior advisor. Melissa Stone will serve as the executive director; Taylor Teepell, finance director. 

Scott played up his connection to Trump. “Donald Trump’s election was a complete shock to the system in Washington,” said Scott, who is readying to run for U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson.

“This is the perfect opportunity to do things differently. The president is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for about 20 years. I am committed to helping him as he fights against the political machine and attempts to force real change upon a political system and a city that hates change.”

A professed outsider, Scott announced the PAC in a most insider way: during an invite-only dinner with Beltway reporters.

According to the PAC website, New Republican will focus on three specific areas:

Continue reading "Ahead of expected Senate run, Gov. Scott unveils new super PAC" »

May 10, 2017

If Miami-Dade schools chief runs for Congress, who will replace him?



Just days after Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s name surfaced as a potential candidate for Congress, speculation has already started over who might replace him as schools chief.

Several School Board members said they have received calls asking what would happen if Carvalho — who told the Miami Herald on Friday that he is being courted to run for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — resigns to run for office.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of folks in all of the communities and yes, they are concerned,” said board Chair Larry Feldman. “He’s been working for us for eight years in this position and has taken us from financial disasters, academic issues, credibility issues,” to a school district that serves as a model for the rest of the country, Feldman said. 

It’s unclear how seriously the superintendent is considering pursuing a political run. On Friday, Carvahlo walked the fence in an interview with the Miami Herald. He said he had a “moral responsibility at least to entertain” requests from the people who are hoping he’ll get into the race but added that his commitment to the school district “is as strong and unwavering as ever.”

But Carvalho has since privately assured School Board members, including Feldman, that he plans to remain head of Miami-Dade Schools, where his contract runs until 2020. 

School Board member Lubby Navarro, who has gotten calls from residents in her district and elected officials concerned about Carvalho’s possible departure, said Carvalho told her on Saturday that there was “zero chance” he would run.

If the superintendent does leave, Navarro said there are two qualified candidates who come to mind as possible replacements: Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, an associate superintendent at the Miami-Dade school district who lobbies in Tallahassee on the district’s behalf, and Pablo Ortiz, a former school district administrator who currently serves as a vice president at Florida International University.

Both responded that they were happy where they were. 

More here


Miami billionaire Fernandez plans political fund to defend unauthorized immigrants


To counter the Trump administration’s aggressive deportation policy, a billionaire Miami healthcare mogul plans to spend the next couple of years raising — and spending — serious cash to defend unauthorized immigrants in court.

Mike Fernandez, a Republican-turned-independent political megadonor from Coral Gables, intends to create a nonprofit political organization in coming days to aid existing groups that provide legal services to unauthorized immigrants facing removal from the U.S.

“Immigrants are key to the fiber and the economic survival of our country,” Fernandez said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “We are hard workers. We clean rooms. We herd cattle. We pick fruits. We care for the elderly. If we were not doing it, nobody would be doing it.”

Over the next two years, Fernandez hopes to raise at least $5 million for his bipartisan Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund. Even if he doesn’t, Fernandez said he intends to spend the money from his own pocket to assist agencies like Catholic Legal Services and the Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice.

The assistance will go to defend only non-felons, according to Fernandez. (Unlawfully crossing the border or overstaying a U.S. visa is a civil infraction.) Some of the money will also be used to educate immigrants of their rights, help them apply for residency or citizenship, and raise public awareness of what immigrants do for the economy, he added. 

“It’s education,” Fernandez said. “It is also letting the federal government know that citizens are upset about it, and that they will have to fight us.”

Under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security expanded the categories of unauthorized immigrants prioritized for deportation, reversing the Obama administration’s most recent position.

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

Nelson has no faith in McConnell to allow fair Russian investigation

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson amplified calls Wednesday for a special prosecutor to oversee the Russian meddling probe, asserting that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot be trusted to oversee a fair investigation.

“I do not have any faith that Mitch McConnell, on the basis of his statement today on the floor of the Senate, will let a full investigation be done by legislative committees controlled by his office," Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times and other news outlets. "I believe that’s why we need an independent special prosecutor.”

Nelson, facing re-election next year, said the Senate Intelligence Committee review could also be hampered because federal agencies under control of President Trump may not fully cooperate.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell said: "Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done."

Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Intel Committee, also thinks the work should proceed. "People should wait for all the facts to come out via the Intelligence Committee report and then at that time a determination can be made," he said Wednesday.

Trump on Twitter has been bashing Democrats as two-faced. "Dems have been complaining for months & months about Dir. Comey," he wrote on Twitter this afternoon. "Now that he has been fired they PRETEND to be aggrieved. Phony hypocrites!"

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Putnam says Scott shouldn't veto entire budget

via @adamsmithtimes

After formally kicking off his campaign for governor in one of the most picturesque launches we've seen from a Florida politician in a long time, Adam Putnam breezed through a line of reporters by his campaign bus to quickly answer one question per reporter. Some he answered directly, others not so much.

On whether Gov. Rick Scott should veto the whole budget passed by the legislature: "I would take a large veto pen to the line items. I think that vetoing the whole thing throws it back into the hands of the legislature, and it's a blunt force instrument. I think that the governor can more successfully impose his views through the use of the line item veto."

On whether he might support Florida seeking a waiver, allowed under the U.S. House's American Health Care Act, from the requirement that insurance must accept people with pre-existing conditions and charge them the same as people without: "It's something that has huge impacts on Florida, and the next governor and the current governor aee going to need to make sure that whatever Washington does is not something that is going to further reduce choices and stand between patients and doctors. We have a situation in Florida now where a large number of our counties only have one (provider) option. That's not a viable solution."

On the suggestion that Putnam is a career politician, at a time when political outsiders are in favor: "Floridians want a governor who knows the state, who knows the problems facing our state and how to fix them and how to treat people along the way. My experience managing crises from managing wildfires to managing a large organization and bringing a business background to this is going to make me the most prepared candidate for governor regardless of who runs."

On whether he could face a strong primary challenge from the right; "I'm a Bartow-raised farmer, and I'm a conservative. Anyone who wants to run for governor is welcome to pack a lunch and come on."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott undecided on budget but criticizes legislative secrecy

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday provided little insight into his thinking on the budget but took a shot at how it was crafted behind closed doors.

"I haven’t decided," he said of his range of options, which include a total veto or striking things by line. "I’m going through the budget now. As you know, this budget was done at the last (minute) by a few people. We’re learning what’s in the budget right now. I’m getting briefed on a daily basis what’s in the budget and I’ll make the right decision."

Scott is in Washington and met with EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, which he described as part of his goal of partnering with the Trump administration. Earlier he did an event with the RGA.

Asked how seriously he was considering a veto, Scott said: “I’ll do what I’ve done the last six years. I’ll look at what’s good for the state and I’ll make the decisions. You have to remember I’m a business guy that ran to run around the state. So this political process is not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about the people I represent. I represent 21 million people almost and they care about jobs, they care about a good education systems, things like that."

Will he sign the charter school bill? "I’m going to review it."

On Trump's firing of James Comey: "He clearly became a lightning rod, to both the right and the left. It gives President Trump the opportunity for a fresh start." Scott noted that he's had good relations with the FBI, citing the Pulse nightclub massacre.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Putnam: Florida can be 'launch pad for the American Dream'

via @adamsmithtimes

BARTOW -- Adam Putnam, the fifth generation Florida native and Republican agriculture commissioner, has been planning and building towards his gubernatorial campaign for years if not decades. On Wednesday he offered his vision for where he next wants to lead Florida Florida.

“We’ve got to put Florida first to make sure that it isn’t only the place where people come after a life well-lived somewhere else; it’s where they come to launch their own American Dream," said Putnam, the 42-year-old former congressional leader and product of a prominent agriculture family. 

“Our state can be the launch pad for the American Dream," he said. "The state that is the fishing capital of the world can also be the state that builds the boats and trains the craftsmen. The state that trained millions of soldiers and sailors and airmen can retrain our citizens with the skills that allow them to compete in a rapidly changing world – and win. The state that put a man on the moon can build the tools for the next giant leap for mankind."

It was a setting befitting Norman Rockwell, with Putnam in front of crates of Florida oranges and the domed, 108-year-old historic Polk County Courthouse draped with the flags of Florida and America. Supporters were entertained by the Polk High marching band and the fiddle and double base of Lakeland's Brian Southerland Band.

"Some people say that this doesn't exist any more," said Putnam, noting the flags waving and prayer on the courthouse steps

Republicans have controlled the governor's office and Tallahasee for nearly two decades, and Putnam on Wednesday sounded like he saw little need for a change in direction. He spoke broadly of focusing on education, and job-training, as well as protecting gun rights and Florida's natural resources.

“American exceptionalism is real. If you ever doubt that.  Look at the grocery clerk in Lakeland who revolutionized the supermarket industry, Or the cashier on I-Drive who now owns the souvenir shop. It’s the truck driver hauling fruit who saved up to buy an orange grove, and then another. It’s the hotel maid who now runs her own bed and breakfast," Putnam said before a crowd of nearly 1,000 people. 

“Hard-working folks like these have been able to achieve their American Dream right here in Florida. I want every single Floridian to be able to tell a similar story. I want people around the country to know this is where it happens. It’s why we have more work to do. It’s why we’ve got to keep fighting to put Florida first and make our state the launch pad for the American dream. “And it’s why I am running for Governor of the great state of Florida."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times