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May 11, 2015

Free bird: Alico's copter, cash put to use on Legislature

This is a story about how to get things done in Tallahassee. Usually, it takes cash. Sometimes, it also takes a helicopter.

Last year, a South Florida water agency ran out of money for a program that pays ranchers to hold back excess rainwater from filling up Lake Okeechobee too fast, a practice known as water farming. A major agriculture corporation, Alico, asked the Legislature to instead use state taxpayer money to keep the project rolling.

Alico had a lot at stake in trying to prop up the water-farming project. If the project were revived by the Legislature, Alico would get the largest contract, worth more than $120 million over the next 11 years.

Before last year's session, Alico took key legislative leaders on a four-hour helicopter ride around Lake Okeechobee that cost about $5,000. On board for a Jan. 22, 2014 flight: state Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.

Also aboard: Clay Wilson, president of Alico, the nation's largest citrus producer, as well as a major player in cattle and sugar-growing. Wilson was there to show off his company's water-farming plan and explain to the legislators why it deserved an infusion of taxpayer money.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 5, 2014, Alico wrote a $15,000 check to Young's political action committee, the Florida Conservative Leadership Fund.

At the time, Young was the House majority whip. It was her job to tell Republican members of the House how to vote on certain issues. A rising star, Young now serves as House majority leader.

Another passenger on board the Alico copter tour that day in January 2014 was House Appropriations Committee Chairman Seth McKeel. As chairman, he wielded an outsize influence on what would go into the state budget and what would be left out.

Six days after the flight, Mc­Keel's PAC, the Florida Innovation Fund, got a check from Alico for $25,000.

Continue reading "Free bird: Alico's copter, cash put to use on Legislature" »

May 10, 2015

President Obama calls Florida woman on Mother's Day

From the Associated Press:

ORMOND BEACH -- A Florida woman's letter to the White House prompted a Mother's Day greeting from President Barack Obama.

Touched by Obama's words in his State of the Union speech about his own mother, Patricia Church of Ormond Beach penned a note to the president.

On Wednesday, while at her customer service job, she got a stunning call.

"Hi, Patty? Hey, this is Barack Obama," it began. "No way!" she replied. "Way!" the president responded.

Fifty-year-old Church said the call lasted just a few minutes but felt like an eternity. She said Obama offered early Mother's Day wishes and commended her for raising four children on her own.

She told The Daytona Beach News-Journal the president said he understood her struggles because his own mother was a single parent.

Jeb Bush to Fox News: I would have authorized Iraq invasion


Jeb Bush would have given the go-ahead to the U.S. military invasion of Iraq, though intelligence leading up to the war was "faulty," the former Florida governor told Fox News.

"I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody," said Bush, a probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate. "And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got."

Clinton, who's running for the Democratic nomination, has said her vote in the Senate authorizing the war was "wrong."

In a taped interview to air Monday night, Bush told Megyn Kelly that the mistake came when the U.S. failed to focus on "security" after the invasion.

He added that Iraq is not an area of foreign policy where there is a "big space" between himself and his brother, former President George W. Bush, whose authorized the Iraq invasion in 2003. Jeb Bush told political donors last week that his brother is one of his top advisers on U.S.-Israel policy.

Separately in the Fox interview, Bush defended his views on immigration, which some conservatives have criticized as too permissive. He supports a path to legal status for many people in the country illegally.

Bush seemed to poke at likely rival Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, who has backed away from a similar position.

"Here's the deal, Megyn: If I go beyond the consideration of running to be an actual candidate, do you want people to just bend with the wind, to mirror people's sentiment whoever is in front of you?" Bush said. "'Oh, yes, I used to be for that but now, I'm for this.' Is that the way we want to elect presidents?"

UPDATE: On Monday, the Democratic National Committee released a web video slamming Bush over his Iraq comment:


What might legislative middle ground look like? Some ideas

Florida legislators may have ended their stalemate last week when they agreed to convene a three-week special session to resolve the budget crisis in June, but they didn’t agree on the hard part: how to resolve stark differences over health care.

Some compromise ideas are emerging — from using $600 million intended for tax cuts to bail out hospitals that treat poor patients, to seeking a one-of-a-kind federal waiver, to drawing federal money without passing it through Medicaid.

But finding the middle ground won’t be easy because of the deep ideological divide between House and Senate Republicans over whether or not to expand Medicaid to draw down federal money to provide healthcare for more than 800,000 uninsured residents who must otherwise rely on charity care.

“Ideologies are going to have to be on the back burner and good public policy that satisfies both sides is going to have to prevail,’’ said Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican whose district has among the state’s highest number of uninsured. She is among a minority of House Republicans who support taking federal money if it’s tied to an aggressive health care reform plan that reduces costs.

The legislative session ended abruptly April 28 when the House adjourned in protest over the impasse.

Among the ideas emerging to bridge the divide: bypass Medicaid, bypass hospitals, seek a new federal waiver or just plug the hole and buy time.

More here.

Los Angeles Times: When Jeb Bush fought high-speed rail in Florida

From the Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON -- When Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, he said his constituents didn't fully understand what they were doing when they amended their constitution in 2000 to build a high-speed rail line connecting the state's five largest cities.

"People thought it was 'cool' to have a really fast train running from Miami to Tampa," Bush wrote to a constituent at the time. "No costs were discussed. The higher taxes that are necessary will dramatically change the dynamic."

After slashing funding for the project, Bush campaigned in favor of a second voter referendum, to kill the project. It took him four years, but he won.

Bush's war against high-speed rail offers one of the clearest examples of his governing philosophy and style. It mixes a willingness to go against both the desires of voters and an influential political ally — and an unromantic fiscal conservatism that has endeared him to some Republicans.

More here.

With video, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen congratulates transgender son for award

via @steverothaus


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Friday sent video congratulations to her transgender son, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, recipient of SAVE’s 2015 Champions of Equality award.

“Rigo, I’m so very proud of you, not just for this wonderful award, but also for living an authentic life that makes you happy,” Ros-Lehtinen said in the video. “With your courage and your advocacy, you continue to build public support and greater understanding about the LGBT community.”

Heng-Lehtinen, who grew up in Miami as Amanda, transitioned more than five years ago. The congresswoman couldn’t attend SAVE’s annual Champions of Equality reception — she’s in Europe on official business. Her husband, former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, accompanied Rodrigo to the reception

Dexter Lehtinen gave a tearful, emotional speech as he presented Rodrigo with the award.

More here.

Computers tied up for testing leaves some Miami-Dade students dawdling

via @cveiga

Business technology teacher Antonio White is supposed to teach middle and high school students how to type on a computer keyboard and use the full suite of Microsoft Office programs.

But on many days, he doesn’t have access to computers. They’ve been usurped for Florida’s standardized testing.

“There’s not a lot of teaching going on this semester. It’s like school is over,” said White, who teaches at José Martí MAST 6-12 Academy.

Ever since the Florida Department of Education mandated that many tests be taken on a computer, school districts have warned that the decree would come with a cost: lots of lost instructional time.

The prediction has come true, according to many teachers, students and parents.

At Coral Gables Senior High, students say they get sent to the auditorium or even multiple lunches while teachers are busy giving tests. At Palmetto Middle School, students spend hours in the same classroom, at times without a lesson. At José Martí, half the students can be missing from any given class because they’re out taking an exam.

More here.

May 09, 2015

Manzano-Plaza takes paid role in Gimenez reelection effort



Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who ran Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2012 reelection campaign, has signed on as spokesman and senior consultant for the candidate's political committee.

Miami-Dade Residents First, the political committee indirectly dedicated to Gimenez's 2016 reelection effort, will pay the longtime political consultant $7,000 a month, Manzano-Plaza said. Miami-Dade Residents First already has a professional fund-raiser under contract, Brian Goldmeier, whose Miami firm is earning about $12,000 a month, according to prior financial reports. 

"Working with Miami-Dade Residents First to support Mayor Gimenez is a great privilege for me," Manzano-Plaza said in a statement. "I am looking forward to helping share the Mayor's vision with the residents of our community..."

Manzano-Plaza, 37,  is a registered lobbyist for Genting, the Malaysian casino giant that wants to build a large resort in downtown Miami. The company also runs a ferry out of the county's PortMiami.

He also works for a firm, LSN Communications, wit corporate ties to the partners behind Llorente Heckler, a top lobbying firm in Miami. Llorente Heckler partners represent some large players when it comes to development and contracts in the county, including American Airlines, Duty Free Americas and Turnberry. LSN Communications and Llorente Heckler share office space in Miami Beach.

(In 2011, when Gimenez was running for the mayoral seat left open by the recall of then-mayor Carlos Alvarez, Manzano-Plaza managed the unsuccessful campaign for Marcelo Llorente, now managing partner at Llorente Heckler.) 

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Jeb Bush courts evangelical Christians in faith speech

via @lesleyclark

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Looking to win over skeptical evangelical voters, Jeb Bush pushed back Saturday against what he said are modern intrusions on religion as he lauded graduates and their families at Liberty University, a Christian college popular on the path to the Republican presidential nomination.

“Fashionable ideas and opinions — which these days can be a religion all by itself — have got a problem with Christians and their right of conscience,” Bush told an audience of 34,000 in the school’s football stadium.

“That makes it our problem, and the proper response is a forthright defense of the first freedom in our Constitution.”

Some evangelicals view Bush warily, questioning whether the former Florida governor and likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination would provide a suitable bulwark against gay marriage, illegal immigration and other issues key to conservatives.

Bush did not mention gay marriage, but got some of his loudest applause when he said “wherever there is a child waiting to be born, we say choose life, and we say it with love.”

And the convert to Catholicism pledged that he would not apologize for allowing faith to influence his decision making.

“The simple and safe reply is, `No. Never. Of course not,' “ Bush said. “If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round.”

More here.