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July 12, 2016

Are Rubio and Nelson still working closely together on Zika?

via @learyreports

Partisan fighting over Zika continues on Capitol Hill and there’s little sign of a resolution before lawmakers take off on another recess.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson called for consideration of a $1.1 billion funding bill that already passed the Senate. "We now have 13 more cases, bringing a total in our state to 276, which includes 43 pregnant women – and that’s just one of the 50 states in the union,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “At what point does the majority and the majority leader decide to stop playing these games and simply do what is needed?”

Sen. Mitch McConnell objected to unanimous consent, shutting down Nelson.

Sen. Marco Rubio has also called for action and tomorrow will convene a Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Zika. But Democrats are trying to paint Rubio as part of the problem. On Tuesday, Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and Florida Democrats issued releases asserting that Rubio only began to care about the issue as prepared to announce he was running for re-election.

Rubio and Nelson had pushed for $1.9 billion in funding but don't appear to be working closely now. The Senate in May passed $1.1 billion in funding but the House added provisions Democrats say were designed to hurt Planned Parenthood. Nelson then joined Democrats in blocking the bill, which Rubio supported while calling it imperfect.

Rubio on the Senate floor last week: “I truly hope that in the hours and days leading up to our recess, we will find a rapid and quick way forward so we can address this and fix it and give our people the help they need in the short term and ultimately move towards the money we need to research for a vaccine so this issue can be prevented -- so this disease can be prevented from spreading in the future."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Carlos Beruff to attend RNC, unlike Senate rival Marco Rubio


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio won't be traveling to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention -- but his GOP primary rival will.

Carlos Beruff plans to attend the convention, his campaign confirmed to the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

"Unlike Marco Rubio, Carlos wholeheartedly supports Donald Trump and will do whatever he can to help him beat Hillary Clinton in November," Beruff spokesman Chris Hartline said a statement.

Though Rubio has said he supports Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, the senator has also taken pains to note that he disagrees with him on many issues. Four years ago, Rubio introduced nominee Mitt Romney on the convention floor in Tampa.

Rubio's staying in Florida this time around to campaign for re-election, according to his campaign.

In the mail: Florida's first primary ballots fly overseas

It's seven weeks before primary election day in Florida, but the first wave of primary ballots is in the mail to voters living or stationed in dozens of countries overseas. By law, those ballots, many headed to active-duty military personnel, must be in the mail by Saturday, July 16, or 45 days before the Aug. 30 election.

LuxwallThe counties that generally ship the most overseas and military ballots are Escambia, Okaloosa and Bay in the Florida Panhandle, along with Duval, Brevard and Hillsborough, all counties with large military installations. In Okaloosa County, the home of Eglin Air Force Base, Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux said Tuesday he mailed 3,600 ballots, and another 1,300 will be sent by Friday to voters who emailed requests to his office. On Lux's office wall in Crestview is a map (at left) dotted with dozens of pins marking the many destinations for his county's overseas ballots.

Yes, overseas voters can request a ballot by an email, but they can't return a completed ballot electronically, because Florida prohibits it. Those voters can only return a ballot by regular mail or by fax, an antiquated system that Lux said has to change. He has said that a soldier stationed in Afghanistan shouldn't be forced to scramble to find a fax machine. 

"We have been conducting absentee balloting for our military the exact same way since the Civil War in the 1860s," Lux said. "They send me a request for an absentee ballot. I put it in the mail and hope they get it, and they vote it and put it back in the mail and hope I get it in time for it to be counted." He emphasized that he supports transmitting of completed ballots electronically -- not voting on the Internet.

Lux is one of three county election supervisors appointed to a statewide task force created by the Legislature to study modernizing of overseas voting procedures. The others are Escambia's David Stafford and Hillsborough's Craig Latimer. Hillsborough will mail nearly 2,400 overseas and military ballots and email nearly 1,300 more by Friday.

The statewide primary turnout will likely be below 30 percent, and Lux said that historically, the return rate for overseas ballots has been much lower in a primary than in a November general election. "Everybody wants to vote for president. Not everybody wants to vote for school board," Lux said.

Florida GOP members of Congress make it official: They're backing Rubio


Marco Rubio's got a majority of Florida's Republican congressional delegation behind him for his re-election bid, according to a new batch of formal endorsements released by his campaign.

Four representatives -- Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, Jeff Miller of Chumuckla and Daniel Webster of Winter Garden -- gave Rubio their support. So did former Rep. Steve Southerland of Panama City.

In all, that means Rubio's received the official backing of 10 of 17 sitting Republicans in the U.S. House. He faces a challenge from Sarasota developer Carlos Beruff.

"I commend Senator Rubio on his decision to run for re-election. In these challenging times, Senator Rubio's experience and deep knowledge on issues of foreign policy and national security are desperately needed," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I am confident he will continue serving our state with honor and integrity."

Miami's two other Republican reps, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, tweeted their support of Rubio shortly after he announced he'd seek re-election.

Bilirakis, Diaz-Balart, Miller and Webster -- as well as Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen -- had all initially backed Jeb Bush for president, before Bush dropped out. Most of them later switched allegiances to Rubio. In April, after Rubio's candidacy had ended, Miller endorsed Trump. He campaigned for him Monday in Virginia.

The other Florida representatives who have endorsed Rubio for Senate are Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, John Mica of Orlando, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee and Dennis Ross of Lakeland.

Here are the full new endorsement statements:

Continue reading "Florida GOP members of Congress make it official: They're backing Rubio" »

July 11, 2016

'Conservatism is temporarily dead,' Jeb Bush declares


Jeb Bush has written off conservative ideology's grip on the GOP presidential race in the age of Donald Trump.

"Conservatism is temporarily dead," Bush declared in a Monday night MSNBC interview. "I mean, if you look at it, we have two candidates. Donald Trump is barely a Republican. He's certainly not a conservative." (Elsewhere in politics, Bush added, the conservative message "still resonates, and it's still important.")

Bush sounded much like he did during the GOP primary -- perhaps, he noted, because few people listened to him.

"People don't believe in anything anybody says anymore," he told political analyst Nicolle Wallace, who was once Bush's press secretary. "I mean, I don't know if they even heard what I said. That's the point. They didn't -- they want their voice heard. They still do. They're angry for legitimate reasons. They latched onto the big horse. All of which is logical to me in retrospect. In the midst of it, it wasn't very logical."

He didn't offer -- nor was he pressed to offer -- any other analysis on what his campaign might have done wrong.

There's "weird solace," Bush said, in feeling like he gave it all on the campaign trail: "I'm not taking therapy. I'm not seeing anybody."

But he's clearly still peeved at having to talk about Trump -- and at having to envision the party that elected his father and brother president be the party of Trump. He could've voted for John Kasich or Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz -- but not Trump, Bush said: "I can't do it. I can't do it." (He won't vote for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, either.)

Bush won't even ask his parents if they're going to cast ballots for president. "I don't want to ask," he said. "I don't want to know."

He did offer Trump some pointers for picking a running mate: "Someone that has some experience, that knows how to make a tough decision in the political realm."

This being Bush, he remained partisan to fellow governors. The two names he dropped: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Sugar's sweet grip: $57.8 million in campaign cash over last two decades

Sugar caneFifteen years after Jeb Bush and Bill Clinton reached a landmark accord to revive the Everglades, billions of dollars have been spent but not much marsh has been restored, and the River of Grass continues to cycle through the same familiar struggles.

Disastrous algae blooms foul coastal estuaries. Seagrass die-offs plague Florida Bay. High water threatens the Lake Okeechobee dike. Everglades marshes drown under too much water or wither under too little. All the ecological crises of this summer are just déjà vu, all over again.

But a review of the key decision points by Florida policymakers over the last two decades shows that one key player in the fate of the Everglades has grown healthier and stronger: Big Sugar.

The industry, one of the largest producers of phosphorus-laden pollutants in the Glades, has rung up a string of political successes while recording bumper harvests in recent years. That influence has not come cheaply.

Between 1994 and 2016, a review of state Division of Elections records by The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau shows, the sugar industry — led by United States Sugar and Florida Crystals — has steered a whopping $57.8 million in direct and in-kind contributions to state and local political campaigns. (The total does not include federal contributions.) Story here. 

Maria Sachs fights back: aide racked up $100,000 in fraudulent credit card expenses


Maria SachsThe year-end thank you note to State Sen. Maria Sachs from her former legislative aide read: "Thank you for everything you do for me. I hope this leads us to victory.'' Matthew Damsky then attached a fortune from his Christmas fortune cookie.

Six months later, Damsky 28, was accusing Sachs, a 68-year-old Democrat from Delray Beach, of sexually harassing him by dressing in front of him in the office. And she was fighting back by making public what she had previously kept low key: charges that he had fraudulently racked up an estimated $100,000 on her and her family's credit cards without her knowledge and falsifying Senate expense reports. 

The reasons for the bitter and now public feud are unclear but, according to documents filed by by the state Senate and Attorney General with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Damsky's father told Sachs his son had a gambling problem. 

In an affidavit released by Sachs on Monday, Damsky of Boca Raton admitted in January that he purchased nearly $40,000 in Delta airlines tickets, including seven valued at more than $5,500 each, using Sachs' credit card and without her permission. He also made 14 charges worth more than $4,200 at Walgreens between August and October of 2015.  Download Affidavit

Sachs said in a response to the complaint that she had been close to Damsky, whom she had hired as a district legislative aide in 2013 after his part-time stint at a Boca Raton law firm, but when she discovered the fraudulent transactions in January 2016, she notified his family. 

Sachs "told them that [Damsky] needed help,'' according to a position statement filed by Senate General Counsel George Levesque with the EEOC. She said she also asked his family to help him repay the money.

Damsky's father "sent a check for part of the amount due and advised Senator Sachs that [Damsky] had a gambling problem," the statement said. Download Position Statement With Exhibits

Sachs then confronted Damsky and "he confirmed that he had acted without my authority or knowledge to impose charges on my personal credit cards,'' she said in a statement. She then offered him a resignation letter and he resigned on Feb. 5.  Download Resignation offer

Damsky "engaged in a protracted pattern of abusing his position and our trust to fraudulently obtain compensation and purchases of products and services,'' Sachs said. 

According to Sachs' statement, the depth of Damsky's fraud was enormous. She that after his resignation, her staff found American Express Platinum, Discover and Costco cards in her name that she was not aware of, as well as a PayPal account. They found credit cards in her children's names and numerous fraudulent documents:  a pay stub showing Damsky was employed in Ontario and earning $10,850 per month and a residential lease for a home in Quebec. She discovered he rented an apartment in Tallahassee to a legislative intern and another staff member but never paid the landlord, forcing them to get evicted. 

She said she notified state and federal law enforcement authorities and, only after she insisted on seeking restitution, did Damsky file the complaint. Damsky thank you

Sachs' statement followed a report by GossipExtra columnist Jose Lambiet last week, which also ran in the Miami Herald, that said Damsky had filed  a complaint with the EEOC accusing Sachs of routinely undressing fully in front of him in her office.

"I unequivocally deny the ludicrous and scurrilous groundless accusations in this filing,'' Sachs said Monday. "This transparent and cynical tactic will not delay, deny or dilute my intent to seek the fullest measure of justice on behalf of Floridians and my family."

The GossipExtra "exclusive" report failed to mention that Damsky had been asked to resign by Sachs in January after he admitted to making the charges.

According to Sachs' affidavit provided to the Herald/Times by the Senate, Sachs acknowledged that she did "on occasion change clothing in my office, but never did in front of Mr Damsky."

Damsky also accused Sachs of asking him to walk her dog, do her grocery shopping, maintain her relatives' homes and travel cross country to assist Sach's mother and children and draft legal pleadings. Sachs, a lawyer, denied each of the allegations, adding that her dog, "Roxanne, lives on five acres and has never been walked on a leash."

She acknowledged in an affidavit that Damsky had become close to Sach's 91-year-old mother and did accompany her to California when her mother moved there. However, Sachs said she did not require Damsky to do this and, in fact, she was concerned "he was taking advantage of her." After Damsky resigned from the Senate, another staff member found three checks from Sachs mother in his desk, she said.

On May 13, Senate President Andy Gardiner notified Damsky that he had been paid two travel advances worth $5,168 but never submitted any reimbursement requests for them, requiring him to reimburse the Senate.  Download Damsky, Matthew-Actions

Download Damsky, Matthew-Application

Sachs is not seeking re-election to another term. 

Here is Sachs' statement:

Continue reading "Maria Sachs fights back: aide racked up $100,000 in fraudulent credit card expenses" »

Hillary Clinton's 'Hamilton' raffle winner hails from Miami

DEM 2016-Clinton-Hamilton


For one lucky Hillary Clinton fan from Miami, there’s nothing like summer in the city — New York City, that is, with a pair of impossible-to-score tickets to the Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

Barbara Garcia won the Clinton campaign’s raffle to watch the Tony Award-winning show as the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate’s guest Tuesday.

Garcia was having dinner at Outback Steakhouse on West Flagler Street and 82nd Avenue Sunday when the campaign called her to tell her she’d won. She’s the raffle’s only winner — and a Cuban-American woman from the nation’s largest swing state, no less.

“I think I kind of screamed,” said Garcia, an anatomy and physiology professor at Doral’s West Coast Nursing University. “I’m a huge supporter of Hillary, and I’m blown away.”

She only entered the online raffle — for two tickets, airfare and hotel — after a friend entered first and told her about it. That friend will be Garcia’s guest at the show.

Clinton has already seen “Hamilton” — twice. Tuesday’s special performance will serve as a fundraiser for her campaign, with the cheapest seats going for $2,700 each — and “premium” seats, with a photo session with Clinton, for a whopping $10,000 a pop. She’s also reportedly tried to get some cast members to perform live later this month at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

There was a chance Garcia wouldn’t make it. She teaches Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. But she didn’t throw away her shot. She couldn’t say no to this.

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Agostini, Invision via AP

Florida lawmaker misleads about removing Common Core

State Rep. Ritch Workman is looking to win a Florida Senate seat this fall, so he’s hoping to educate voters on his record of opposing Common Core.

In an online campaign ad posted June 20, 2016, Workman said that eight years ago he "promised to go to Tallahassee and cut taxes and shrink the size and scope of government." He said he followed through, passing tax cuts, changes to government pensions and ethics reform.

"I also voted to remove Common Core from our schools," he said in the video.

That statement riled up groups like Florida Parents Against Common Core, which accused Workman of "misrepresenting the facts." The group supports Workman’s opponent, Rep. Debbie Mayfield, who in 2013 sponsored a bill to repeal the standards. That bill never got out of committee.

But Workman told us he is telling the truth.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found as well as our past fact-checks about Common Core including a Pants on Fire claim that a Common Core testing company will "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can."

Focused on convention, Trump campaign shuts down Florida HQ

07112016_153210_thumbnail_trumphq1_8colvia @learyreports

Visitors to Donald Trump's Florida HQ in Sarasota are greeted with a sign saying the office is temporarily closed. A Democrat sent along this photo.

In an interview last week, Trump’s Florida strategist Karen Giorno said the campaign will be ready after the convention. "Donald Trump is a known brand," she said. "What we'll do after the convention is start to counterpunch."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times