Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

July 19, 2015

Did Donald Trump actually say John McCain was a hero four times?

Donald Trump is facing intense bipartisan backlash after saying Vietnam War prisoner of war Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is "not a war hero," but an indignant Trump won’t apologize.

Trump defended his latest provocation on ABC’s This Week, adding that McCain "has done nothing to help veterans" and suggesting the senator should actually apologize to him for insulting Trump supporters. When pressed by host Martha Raddatz, Trump complained that his critics are taking his comments out of context.

"Four times, I said he is a hero," he said on July 19, citing a fact-check by journalist Sharyl Attkisson. "But you know … people choose little selective pieces. If you read what I say or watch what I say, which is even better, you’ll say that there was nothing wrong."

We took Trump’s advice and put his statement in context. See what Linda Qiu of PolitiFact found and see Trump's Truth-O-Meter record.

July 18, 2015

Miami-Dade is key to presidential candidates’ fundraising

via @adamsmithtimes @learyreports @eli_mur

The story of Jeb Bush versus Marco Rubio in the Sunshine State, new presidential campaign finance reports show, is a tale of two cities.

First, look to Tallahassee to see which 2016 candidate the GOP establishment favors:

Former Gov. Bush, whose onetime aides, advisers and operatives dominate the lobbying corps centered in the Florida capital, outraised former House Speaker Rubio by 15-to-1, more than $198,000 to nearly $13,000, according to an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times.

Then look to Miami, where both candidates reside, to see how formidable a rival Rubio is to Bush:

Rubio raised $512,000 in Miami-Dade, the county where both men launched their presidential campaigns, nearly as much as Bush’s $557,000.

The reports detail donations to the actual campaign, which are capped at $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general election. There again, Bush’s support from GOP elites is more apparent than his support from rank-and-file Republicans, who tend to make smaller donations.

“Marco’s done a great job over the last few years staying in touch with the base, and it’s paying off in small-dollar donations,” said Republican consultant John Wehrung.

More here.

Begin the unraveling? Donald Trump calls out John McCain for being 'captured' in Vietnam

@PatriciaMazzei

Republicans looking for a way to go after the celebrity presidential candidacy of Donald Trump got their chance Saturday when Trump, who never served in the military, belittled the service of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was held prisoner for six years and tortured during the Vietnam War.

"He's a war hero because he was captured," Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa. "I like people that weren't captured."

McCain criticized Trump earlier this week in an interview with the New Yorker in which McCain lamented that Trump. who had drawn thousands to a rally in Phoenix, hurt the GOP with his comments against Mexican immigrants that "fired up the crazies."

Trump called McCain a "dummy" on Twitter after the interview was published. But the real-estate magnate took it a step further -- and perhaps a step too far -- in Saturday's speech, which drew immediate backlash from his rivals and the party. Instead of backing down, Trump's campaign followed up with a statement continuing to bash McCain.

"I am not a fan [sic] John McCain because he has done so little for our Veterans and he should know better than anybody what the Veterans need, especially in regards to the VA," the statement began (read it in full below). "He is yet another all talk, no action politician who spends too much time on television and not enough time doing his job and helping the Vets."

"I have great respect for all those who serve in our military including those that weren't captured and are also heroes," Trump adds in the statement, which ends with a note about how his speech received "a long lasting standing ovation, which will be by far the biggest ovation of the weekend, and much congratulatory praise."

That certainly wasn't true elsewhere.

Sean Spicer, communications director and chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, issued a statement defending McCain.

Continue reading "Begin the unraveling? Donald Trump calls out John McCain for being 'captured' in Vietnam" »

Gov. Rick Scott orders National Guard recruitment centers to move to armories, citing Chattanooga

via @stevvebousquet

Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Saturday ordering all six Florida National Guard recruitment centers to be moved to Guard armories. The order comes in reaction to Thursday's shooting rampage at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., that left four Marines and a U.S. Navy sailor dead.

Scott directed the state adjutant general, Michael Calhoun, to take three immediate steps:

* Relocate all Florida National Guard personnel working at storefront recruitment centers to move to the nearest armory as soon as possible.

* Begin discussions with local law enforcement agencies to arrange regular security checks at all Florida armories.

* Ensure that all qualified full-time guardsmen are armed for their personal protection.

In signing Executive Order No. 15-137, Scott said: "The state will take any every measure available to secure military personnel against the planned attacks of ISIS, including but not limited to securing the work areas and recruiting stations for the Florida National Guard, which the state directs."

The order also says Scott's administration will streamline the application process for military men and women to apply for concealed weapons licenses to ensure that they "can also adequately defend themselves at home."

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

It's activist vs. Miami-Dade commissioner in historic-preservation fight

via @AndresViglucci

A contentious and consequential battle over the future of historic preservation in Bay Harbor Islands and Surfside has now generated a blistering and unusual face-off between a Miami-Dade commissioner and a veteran preservationist, complete with mocking YouTube video and dueling complaints of ethical violations.

In one corner: Powerful Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, whose district includes Bay Harbor and Surfside, and who has aggressively led a charge against historic designation of buildings in either town.

In the other: Miami Beach activist and hotelier Mitch Novick, the assertive volunteer chairman of the county’s historic preservation board, who has presided over a push to save endangered Miami Modern and Art Deco buildings in both towns over the vocal objections of Heyman, town leaders and some residents.

Heyman, who had previously launched unusually public broadsides against the county’s historic preservation office for moving to protect significant buildings in both towns, took the first swing. She filed a confidential complaint with the county’s Inspector General’s office, claiming a possible conflict of interest on Novick’s part because he mentioned in an open hearing that he’s made a living restoring historic buildings in Bay Harbor and other places. Then she publicly broadcast her complaint in the middle of an appeal hearing on a historic designation in Bay Harbor that Novick supported.

Novick — who says he has no conflicts because he doesn’t own property in areas his board regulates — then swung back hard. He filed his own complaint with Inspector General Mary Cagle, claiming it’s Heyman who’s acted improperly. According to Novick, Heyman failed to disclose that she’s been carrying water in her preservation fight for developer Chateau Group, a campaign contributor that was contesting historic designation of its property in Surfside.

Novick didn’t stop there. He posted a video to YouTube — dubbing the commissioner “Surfside Sally” — that pokes fun at Heyman’s rambling and, according to Novick, “comically” uninformed anti-preservation tirades during a pair of public meetings.

More here.

July 17, 2015

Liz Dudek demands financial info from insurance companies

Citing "grave concerns" that they could be giving hospitals more money than is legal under the state's Medicaid managed care program, Secretary of Health Care Administration Liz Dudek on Friday sent letters demanding information from health insurance companies.

A copy of the letter asks for proof by Aug. 1 that the contracts between hospitals and insurance companies are less than 120 percent of the Medicaid fees set by the state.

"However, the Agency has grave concerns that hospital contractual arrangements may have ballooned to unreasonable proportions and higher than what is allowed by state law," Dudek's letter says. "During the
rate setting process earlier this year; several plans reported that the average hospital contracting rates in some regions exceed 120% of the posted Medicaid rate."

In an email, Audrey Brown, president and CEO of the Florida Association of Health Plans, said there are reasons some contracts between insurance companies and hospitals could include the higher rates.

"The law pertains to NEW contracts, and some plan had multi- year contracts in place with hospitals and laws are not retroactive, therefore  the law should not impair current contracts," Brown wrote.

This is the latest move to request information on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott's Commission on Health Care and Hospital Funding, which he created in the midst of a debate over health care spending and Medicaid expansion this spring. Already, the commission has drawn the ire of hospitals that opted not to divulge proprietary information on their own finances.

NYT: Donald Trump compares running U.S. to running Doral golf resort

From the New York Times:

LACONIA, N.H. — There are many, many things Donald Trump would like you to know about how he would run the country. As he told a standing-room-only crowd here the other night, turning America around would be a lot like running the Trump National Doral golf club in Miami, which he bought when it was in bankruptcy in 2012.

He is really smart. “I’m really smart,” he boasted in Phoenix last weekend before rattling off his résumé highlights. “Went to the Wharton School of Finance. Even then, a long time ago, like the hardest, or one of the hardest, schools to get into.”

People like him, clamor for him, must see him. Describing for an audience in Las Vegas how demand to see him at a recent event was so high, he said the venue managers had panicked and called, “begging us not to be there.”

He is not wrong on this last point — even if he does sometimes embellish the size of his following, as he did here in New Hampshire. He declared that of the 300 or so people who packed a suffocatingly hot banquet hall, there must have been three times as many outside. There were not. And by the end of his speech, that estimate had ballooned to “thousands of people outside.”

But the question flummoxing so many people, including the powers-that-be at the Republican National Committee, the pollsters who keep recording him at the top of their surveys, the casually engaged voters: Why is he so popular?

More here.

State CFO Atwater still politically active even if next political move unclear

@JeremySWallace

Jeff Atwater cannot run for re-election as the state’s Chief Financial Officer because of term limits.

And he declared earlier this year that he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 as once was expected.

But you wouldn’t know either by recent activity in a fundraising committee the Republican runs or his political travel schedule last month.

Last week, the Atwater's committee, Government That Works For You, paid a West Palm Beach political consultant $15,000 – his largest single expense since he created the committee in August 2014. He also used the fund to pay $5,000 each to consultants based in Jacksonville and Tallahassee in May.

He also raised another $20,000 for the account in June. All told, he’s now raised $145,100 for the campaign account and has only spent $32,527 of that as of his July 9 payment to the West Palm Beach political consulting firm, Public Concepts.

And Atwater has been a regular on the Republican speakers circuit, acting as the keynote speaker at two Republican Party Lincoln Day dinners in June (Leon County and Brevard County), and giving a speech at another in Miami-Dade.

The activity in June and July comes even though Atwater has not offered any new hints about whether he’s considering running for another office when his term as chief financial officer ends in 2018. He could not be reached for further comment on Friday.

Crisafulli: There will be no traveling hearings on redistricting; Lee: process is 'paralyzed'

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said no Friday to the request from members of the state's congressional delegation to conduct "hearings across our great state" on redistricting before a special session.

"We are responding to a specific court order under a very tight time frame,'' Crisafulli told the Herald/Times in a statement. "The court did not contemplate statewide public hearings when they set the time frame. We will, however, have opportunities for public comment and public testimony."

Crisafulli hinted, however, that the request for the hearings could be viewed by the court as an attempt by the congressional members to influence the Legislature and make the map vulnerable to interpretations of favoring incumbents, in violation of the Fair Districts provisions of the state Constitution. 

"I have asked all of our staff and members to have no contact with congressional members, staff, or consultants during the congressional reapportionment process,'' he said. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was not available for comment. 

Lawyers for the House and Senate told Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds on Friday that they expect lawmakers to announce the dates of a special session early next week. Early reports are that it will be called for Aug. 10-21. 

Also Friday, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said that the court ruling had resulted in "a bit of paralysis" on the part of lawmakers.

Continue reading "Crisafulli: There will be no traveling hearings on redistricting; Lee: process is 'paralyzed'" »

Top Enterprise Florida official leaving to rejoin ex-boss Swoope

A top official at Enterprise Florida, the state's public-private economic development agency, is leaving to join her old Florida boss, Gray Swoope, the agency's former chief executive and Gov. Rick Scott's first major hire in the critical post of creating jobs.

Melissa Medley, who served as EFI's chief marketing officer, has been named partner at VisionFirst Advisors, where Swoope is president and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is chairman. The newly-formed entity advises businesses on economic development strategy and is a subsidiary of the Butler Snow law firm.

Swoope resigned in January after four years as EFI's chief executive and as Scott's secretary of commerce and was replaced by Bill Johnson, the longtime chief of MIami's seaport.

Before coming to Florida with Scott, Swoope and Medley headed economic development efforts in Mississippi, where Butler Snow has a major presence. In a statement, Swoope said Medley's "proficiency in marketing and media relations complement the firm's mission and vision."

VisionFirst has offices in Tallahassee and Medley begins her new job Aug. 3. Anticipating Medley's departure, EFI has begun a search for a replacement. A committee headed by Florida Power & Light's chief executive, Eric Silagy, will choose three finalists for the post and interview all three before making a selection for the high six-figure post.