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August 23, 2017

Corcoran: Let voters end taxpayer-financed election campaigns

Corcoran0213_8colHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor -- not yet anyway -- but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

Corcoran called on the Constitution Revision Commission Wednesday to put a ballot question to voters in 2018 to repeal Florida's system of partial public financing of statewide elections.

Corcoran, who appointed nine of the CRC's 37 members, says public campaign financing is "a gross waste of taxpayer money and is nothing more than welfare for politicians. All it does is protect the insider political class. You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our school children, first responders or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers."

It's not a new idea and it's not an easy sell. Florida voters rejected a similar question in 2010.

Corcoran's mission here looks fairly apparent. He won't accept public money and he doesn't want anyone else to, either.

The leading Republican candidate for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, recently told the Times/Herald that he has not yet decided whether to accept public matching money in 2018. Putnam did take public funds in both of his races for ag commissioner in 2010 and 2014, in which he won easily. Candidates must decide yes or no next June, when they file papers to qualify for the ballot.

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater is also running. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, has been meeting with potential donors and party members as he explores whether to run. Corcoran, who has hired a pollster, media advisers and raised nearly $3 million through a political committee he controls, says he'll decide by next March.

One of Corcoran's CRC appointees, Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, plans to run for the Cabinet post of chief financial officer next year, meaning he could accept public campaign money.

If Corcoran's proposal were to reach the ballot, it would require approval of 60 percent of voters and would not affect the 2018 race. 

Candidates for governor and Cabinet who agree to abide by spending limits ($2 for each registered voter, or about $26 million) can get state money that matches every individual contribution of up to $250 from Florida residents.

Florida's public campaign financing system is in the state Constitution, but it is not well-known to the public, and taxpayers often are surprised to learn that it's their money that helps pay for negative mail pieces and personal attacks in 30-second TV ads. (The total cost in 2014 was $4.4 million).

Public financing was begun in the 1990s by former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, in an effort to counteract the growing influence of special interest money in elections. It has been used by both Democrats and Republicans since then, though some candidates have succeeded without it. Gov. Rick Scott won a partial court victory when he challenged the constitutionality of the system in 2010.

Read Corcoran's letter here.

Miami Democrats running for Congress start rolling out endorsements


It's August 2017 and Democrats competing in a crowded field for a Miami congressional seat are already trying to one-up each other in the endorsement game, a full year ahead of the 2018 primary election.

To wit: Candidate Matt Haggman said Wednesday he's been backed by former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Haggman's announcement followed state Rep. David Richardson, who said Tuesday he's secured the support of former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson.

Richardson's announcement followed state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, who said earlier Tuesday he's won the endorsement of South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard.

So, why the rush to reveal endorsements when few people are paying attention?

Rodríguez, who has been reluctant to bash President Donald Trump, was shoring up his liberal bona fides. Richardson, who's positioned himself as the most left-leaning candidate of the bunch, was showing his establishment support. Haggman, one of several non-Hispanic white candidates in the race, was signaling he has Hispanic support. (Haggman named Diaz a campaign co-chair along with six others in a diverse group: Adriana Cisneros, Brian Bilzin, Al Dotson, Darlene Boytell-Perez, Felecia Hatcher and Marta Viciedo.) 

Mostly, though, the candidates need to attract donors early on in the race. There are seven -- possibly eight -- people vying for the nomination in Florida's Democratic-leaning 27th district. All are tapping much of the same local Democratic donor pool.

But if Trump's victory last year proved anything in politics, it's that endorsements might not matter much at all. The only exceptions might be if the endorser can attract new donors, bring organized grassroots supporters, or serve as surrogates in, say, Spanish-language media outlets for non-bilingual candidates.

Whether the endorsements announced this week do any of that probably won't be obvious year. Or at least the next fundraising quarter.

The other candidates running are former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is also considering a run.

Florida struggles with demand for medical marijuana

Florida Election Marijuana


The cannabis boom is under way in Florida, and government is struggling to keep up.

Thousands of new patients have sought access to medical marijuana this summer following the passage of a new law expanding the list of maladies that qualify for treatment. Since June 7, the number of patients certified over the entire first three years of Florida’s fledgling cannabis program has nearly doubled from 16,760 to more than 31,000.

But patients are finding it’s one thing to receive a doctor’s certification, and another to receive the state-issued identification card needed to legally place an order. Doctors seeking state-required training through a new course that has yet to be offered are equally frustrated, leading to a growing feeling that the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use and its 12 employees — nine of whom are part-time — are simply overwhelmed.

“I’m not sure the state was prepared,” said Pete Sessa, chief operating officer of the advocacy-minded Florida Cannabis Coalition.

Right now, the average patient — who might suffer from cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s or other serious illnesses — waits 30 days after applying to receive a medical marijuana card. And that’s if everything goes according to plan.

To read the rest, click here.

Rubio to Seminole County GOP: 'America is going to be OK'


Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a reshaped stump speech Tuesday night to the Seminole County GOP, touching on many of the same points he made as a presidential candidate but adapting it to the tumultuous politics of the moment.

"America is going to be OK," Rubio said. "America is going to be fine. In fact, America -- your America, my America, the America we're going to leave our children -- has a chance to be better than it's ever been. I believe our children have the opportunity to be the freest and most prosperous people that have ever walked the face of this earth."

"It's hard to believe that if you open up newspapers, watch the news, get on the internet, whatever," Rubio said, without immediately naming President Donald Trump. "But I really believe that with all of my heart, because that's been our history. It's at the core of who we are."

Rubio later praised the president's Monday night speech on Afghanistan and denounced the white supremacists and neo-Nazis instigators in Charlottesville.

"There is nothing conservative about those people. Nothing," he said to applause.

The senator noted that "there are people on the other side of the spectrum" who attack conservatives they disagree with.

"It's not acceptable, either," he said, noting he was speaking at the Seminole GOP's Lincoln Day fundraiser. "But first we have to take care of our own house. And our house is the party of Lincoln."

Elsewhere in his remarks, Rubio was interrupted by protesters -- like he was often as a presidential candidate.

"I'm grateful that I live in a nation where people can disagree," he said, indirectly pointing to his work on Cuba and Venezuela policy.

Rubio lamented the loss of civil discourse and said "the new Congress has failed" in enacting promises made to voters.

"That needs to change," he said. "Otherwise, people will conclude that there's no reason to vote for cons because it doesn't matter anyways."


GOP lawmaker's battles with Corcoran earn her a trip to Siberia

The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to Siberia might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political ladder.

Peters, a three-term Treasure Island Republican, had little use for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in the 2017 session, as they battled over state money for tourism and his attacks on local government home rule. She's also an ally of Corcoran's enemy, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Fed up with Corcoran, Peters won't be back, and will instead run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2018.

Frustrated with Peters, Corcoran reminded her who's in charge. He removed her as chairman of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, relocated her to a fourth-floor office (gasp!) next to a Democrat, then isolated her to the end of a row next to two vacant seats to be filled by "redshirt" freshmen, beyond the Florida Channel's TV camera angles. "He could have put me on the 14th floor, I suppose," Peters said.

Peters was outraged in June when Corcoran told a Tampa crowd that special interests have more influence at City Hall than in the state Capitol. She told the Times/Herald that Corcoran's remarks were "silly" and "naive," and that Tallahassee is notorious for lobbyist influence and for shutting off public debate to people who drive six hours to testify.

Oddly, Peters raved about Corcoran just last month. Seeing an op-ed by former Senate President Don Gaetz about how well Florida is doing, Peters texted Corcoran on July 9: "You have done a great job in preserving and protecting Florida." Her explanation: "Sometimes he's right and sometimes we disagree." She's grateful that Corcoran left her on two House committees where she can continue to work on her priorities of mental health and addiction recovery.

Corcoran argues that other House Republicans who disagree with him weren't punished and that Peters' moves were needed to give House members, such as Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, better assignments: "You just move people around." Was Peters punished? "Nope."

All politics is local, and Peters' rival for the County Commission, term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, is a staunch Corcoran ally. That means their Republican primary will literally be a referendum on Corcoran's record, and especially his criticism of county governments as bloated, wasteful and inefficient. As Ahern defends Corcoran, Peters will campaign against what she calls an arrogant and out-of-touch capital. Just wait and see.  

With one session to go, Peters has nothing to lose. She accused Corcoran of rank hypocrisy, noting that his 2012 manifesto, Blueprint Florida, was full of criticism of the status quo that Corcoran vowed to change, such as: "The process is often autocratic, not democratic, and based on purely personal considerations."

August 22, 2017

Pence will try to escape long shadow of Trump’s military talk on Venezuela

Week That Was In Latin America Photo Gallery(2)

The uncomfortable but inevitable question that dogged Vice President Mike Pence everywhere he went in Latin America last week will trail him to Miami on Wednesday: Is President Donald Trump really considering potential military action in Venezuela?

Pence tried over and over again to say no — without actually uttering the word or outright contradicting Trump — during his recent swing through Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, where regional allies publicly rebuked the notion of any U.S. intervention.

The vice president’s cleanup tour will conclude Wednesday in Doral, home to the largest Venezuelan immigrant community in the U.S. In private meetings with local Venezuelans, and in remarks at a neighborhood church, Pence is expected to say the White House remains committed to punishing President Nicolás Maduro’s government for systematically dismantling the South American country’s democracy.

But exactly what the punishment from the U.S. might entail remains unclear, a month after Trump promised “strong and swift economic actions.”

Behind the scenes, the Trump administration has continued to debate its best move, with the eager-to-dialogue State Department clashing with the more-hawkish White House and National Security Council. But matters became much more complicated on Aug. 11, when Trump made his casual remark about a possibly “military option” against Maduro. The comment divided regional allies who had at long last come around to the U.S. position that Venezuela had become a dictatorship.

More here.

Photo credit: Victor R. Caviano, Associated Press

Former State Sen. Greg Evers killed in a car crash

Greg Evers and Piper Kerman

Former State Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Florida farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash near his home in Okaloosa County late Monday. The Florida Highway Patrol said the death is being investigated. Evers was 62.  

According to a press release from the Florida Highway Patrol released late Tuesday, Lt. Eddie Elmore of the Florida Highway Patrol said that sometime on Monday night, Evers' vehicle "failed to negotiate the curve" on Griffith Mill Road near Baker, crossed the road, crashed through a guardrail, and landed "into a creek where the vehicle became submerged." His car was found on Tuesday afternoon.  Download Evers report - Okaloosa County 8-22-17 2 Form1

Evers, a Republican who left the Senate in 2016 to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress, was born in Milton, Florida, and grew up on his family's farm, later attending Pensacola Community College. He took over his family's fertilizer business and moved it to Baker, where he grew cotton, soybeans, peanuts, wheat, corn and strawberries.

He was fond of preparing strawberry ice cream and delivering it to his Senate colleagues in Tallahassee during session. He leaves three grown children and a wife, Lori Weems. 

A passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers, he became a vigorous critic of the Florida Department of Corrections and the Gov. Rick Scott administration for failing to adequately pay corrections officers and sufficiently staff the state's prisons. He used the opportunity to bring Piper Kerman (photo above) to the Senate to speak to his colleagues about her best-selling book and NetFlix series, Orange is the New Black. 

As chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Evers used the platform to scrutinize the Department of Correction's treatment of several whistleblowers on the inspector general's staff by having the staffers testify under oath about their allegations of cover-up and abusive treatment of inmates within the agency.

He ordered FDC Secretary Julie Jones to re-negotiate contracts with private vendors who supplied medical care to inmates, and he took advantage of a rarely-used state law that allows state legislators to make surprise visits to state prisons.

An outspoken Second Amendment advocate, Evers drew controversy in his 2016 congressional campaign when he offered to auction off a AR-15 rifle to citizens who liked his Facebook page.

Evers was first elected to the state House in 2001, where he served until 2010 and then ran for the state Senate.

After news of his death broke late Tuesday afternoon, Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, who was elected to the state Senate after Evers left, tweeted that Evers was "a dedicated public servant and an even better friend. He will be greatly missed. Go rest high on that mountain." 

Last Wednesday, Evers attended the Panama City launch of of Sen. Jack Latvala's campaign for governor. Latvala attached a photo to his tweet. 

The governor said in a statement:  “My wife Ann and I are heartbroken after learning of the passing of Senator Greg Evers. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Lori, and their entire family during this terribly difficult time.

"A dedicated public servant, Senator Evers truly loved Florida and devoted his life to serving his community – not only on his family farm, but during 15 years representing the people of North Florida in the state House and Senate. He will be remembered and missed by all who knew him as the kind, hardworking farmer from Milton who tirelessly fought for Florida families.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, notified his colleagues of Evers' death in a statement Tuesday. 

"Greg passionately represented his district for many years in both the House and Senate,'' Negron wrote. "He was especially dedicated to the men and women of his community who were serving or had served in the military, as well as our fellow Floridians across the state who serve as Corrections Officers.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens wrote:

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said: "I’ve known Greg for many years, and there’s no one who fought harder for his principles or for the people of Northwest Florida than Greg Evers. He truly believed in the value of hard work, and nothing was more important to him than his family, public service, and his North Florida farm. We served in the Florida House together, and I’m proud to have worked alongside him and called him a friend. Tonight, I join Florida in mourning his sudden and tragic loss.”

RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said: “Tonight, our hearts are heavy with the news of former Florida Senator Greg Evers passing. Senator Evers was a passionate and dedicated public servant in the Florida Legislature for 15 years.  He was an ardent supporter of our military, our Constitutional rights and an advocate of returning the power to the people.  We extend our deepest condolences to the Evers family, and pray for peace during this most difficult time.” 

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the Evers family, said in a statement: "On behalf of the family of former State Senator Greg Evers, it with great sadness that we announce his passing.  Senator Evers was involved in a single car accident last night near his home in Baker, Florida. The family asks for your prayers as they deal with this sudden loss. Funeral arrangements will be forthcoming."

Photo: Former State Sen. Greg Evers shakes hands with Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is the New Black, whom he invited to speak to his Senate colleagues about her work.

Nelson shares Scott's cautious stance on Confederate monuments

via @learyreports

On the issue of Confederate monuments, Sen. Bill Nelson is taking the cautious route of Gov. Rick Scott.

“My attitude is a monument, a statue, ought to signify unity instead of division,” Nelson, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Monday after a speech before the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

But should Confederate monuments be removed? “I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do," the Democrat running for re-election said.

That’s effectively what Scott, who is likely to challenge Nelson next year, told the Tampa Bay Times last week.

"We have a democracy," Scott said. "We have the ability to have conversations about things, whether it's policy or things like monuments, and that's what's going on around our country right now. Some of these decisions will need to be made locally, some will be decided at the state level, some will be decided at the federal level, but what everybody needs to do is go through the process that's set up to make policy changes and make changes if they do with regards to a monument."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio to make special appearance at Curbelo fundraiser


Sen. Marco Rubio will help raise campaign money for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Thursday in Bal Harbour.

The evening reception will be held at the home of the Falic family, which has been politically active for years, particularly on issues related to Israel. In the past, family members have supported conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- as well as Weston Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine , a Democrat in a nonpartisan post.

An invitation to the fundraiser obtained by the Miami Herald shows contribution levels ranging from $2,700 to $10,400 a person.

Curbelo, a prolific fundraiser, has been ramping up his money efforts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. He's got a fundraiser scheduled for Wednesday with several well-known local Democrats.