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January 18, 2017

Obama: Wet foot, dry foot 'was a carryover of an old way of thinking'


At his final White House news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama made his first remarks about ending the special immigration policy for Cubans last week. Here is his answer in full, to a question about why he did away with wet foot/dry foot:

We underwent a monumental shift in our policy towards Cuba. My view was, after 50 years of the policy not working, it made sense for us to try to reopen diplomatic relations to engage the Cuban government, to be honest with them about the strong disagreements we have around political repression and treatment of dissenters and freedom of the press and freedom of religion. But to make progress for the Cuban people, our best shot was to suddenly have the Cuban people interacting with Americans, and seeing the incredibly  success of the Cuban-American community, and engaging in commerce and business and trade, and that it was through that process of opening up these bilateral relations that you would see over time serious and significant improvement.

Given that shift in the relationship, the policy that we had in place, which treated Cuban émigrés completely different from folks from El Salvador or Guatemala or Nicaragua or any other part of the world, one that made a distinction about whether you got here by land or by foot, that was a carryover of an old way of thinking that didn't make sense in this day and age, particularly as we're opening up travel between the two countries. And so we had very lengthy consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, we had some tough negotiations with the Cuban [government], but we arrived at a policy that we think is both fair and appropriate to the changing nature of the relationship between the two countries.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott won't say if he's looking for potential Pam Bondi replacement

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - If Attorney General Pam Bondi is preparing to take a job in the Trump administration, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday gave not an inch in acknowledging the task of appointing a replacement.

"She's been a good partner in our governor and cabinet meetings," Scott said. "I hope she doesn't leave. I hope she stays in Florida."

But if she does leave, do you have plans in place?

"I'll worry about that when it happens," he said. "I hope she doesn't leave."

This post will be updated with responses Scott gave to a number of issues, from Obamacare to the pardons President Obama has given drug offenders, many of them in Florida.

Scott declined to comment on that, saying he didn't know details of individual cases, but pivoted to yesterday's commutation of Chelsea Manning. "There is no question in the world this guy, or this person, committed treason. ... It's despicable. We have got to decide as a country that we're going to support our military."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Trump spoke to widower of slain Orlando police officer

via @adamsmithtimes

Donald Trump had met Orlando Police Sgt. Debra Clayton while in Florida and was horrified to hear she had been shot and killed Monday while trying to track down suspected murderer Markeith Loyd, Attorney General Pam Bondi told The Tampa Bay Times.

"He was deeply, deeply disturbed by the murder of Sgt. Debra Clayton. In fact, he called and spoke with Seth (her husband)," said Bondi, who hooked up Trump and the officer's widower. "He had met Sgt. Clayton and remembered her well, and the president-elect was very upset by her homicide and we're just thrilled they have her widower in custody."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times


University of Miami grad bids farewell to working 'dream job' in Obama White House


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - The University of Miami was buzzing over hosting the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry and for one undergrad, it was a career defining moment.

Kaelan Richards started out as an undeclared major then history, then political science. “I loved politics but didn’t necessarily know what that means in terms of a job,” she said.

Richards staffed the 2004 debate, taking tickets at the door. Then a coordinator said she and a group of other volunteers could go inside. “It was life changing,” recalled Richards, who grew up on Anna Maria Island.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this. I don’t know how yet, but I have to do it.’

This week, Richards wrapped up her “dream job” in the White House press shop. “It’s an incredible honor to be here,” she said in an interview. “With anything ending, there’s a little bit of nostalgia and wistfulness.”

Richards' work kept her focused on Florida. She was a senior regional communications director interacting with reporters in the southeast, midwest and the west coast.

“While national outlets and broader media trends change, people still rely on their local news. That’s a really important job and I’m honored to do it,” she said.

She worked on Capitol Hill for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and joined the White House team in April 2014.

One of her biggest moments was briefing President Obama for the first time in January 2016. The president was sitting down with regional news reporters to talk about the Affordable Care Act and Richards and others were tasked with filling him in on local issues.

“There’s really nothing that can match walking into the Oval Office for the first time to do your job,” Richards said. “It was a little bit nerve-racking but mostly exciting. This is dream job, a dream opportunity.”

The job ended Tuesday.

Richards walked out to see Press Secretary Josh Earnest give his final briefing to reporters. She took photos with colleagues from the North Lawn and turned in her badge.

She says she’ll take some time off, and maybe visit Florida, before deciding what to do next. “It’s a unique opportunity to get a little perspective and think about things.”

Earnest, who worked on Jim Davis' 2006 gubernatorial campaign against Charlie Crist, said Richards "has worked tirelessly and effectively to bring President Obama's message outside of the Washington beltway, directly to people living in communities across the country. She's done so with a level of integrity and enthusiasm that has earned her the admiration of journalists and colleagues alike."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Courtesy the White House

NRA wants to block sheriffs from opposing its Capitol agenda

For years, National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer has clashed with Florida sheriffs on gun issues. But what truly rankles Hammer is the spectacle of sheriffs traveling to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense, armed and in full uniform, to battle elements of the NRA's agenda such as open carry or campus carry legislation.

"It's just patently wrong," Hammer told the Times/Herald. "They are there to protect our rights, not to come to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense to take away our rights." She said it's "intimidation" for a sheriff to lobby for gun free zones while standing before a legislative committee with a holster strapped to his hip.

Hammer said a sheriff who wants to lobby for stricter gun laws should be required to take a day off from work, switch to street clothes and travel to Tallahassee at personal expense. She said she has found a House sponsor for a bill to address the issue, but no such proposal has surfaced yet, and the idea will face resistance because the timing seems all wrong.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has criticized the practice of local governments hiring outside lobbyists and says sheriffs and other elected officials should walk the halls of the Capitol, not pay other people to do it for them. Corcoran agrees with the NRA on gun issues, but he said sheriffs should be lobbying in person in Tallahassee.

"I think they have a First Amendment right to do that," Corcoran said. "A sheriff absolutely has the constitutional right to come up and advocate for what he thinks is best for the safety of his county."

Gualtieri081316_17759497_8colAn obvious target of Hammer's wrath is Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (at left), who again this session will be the Florida Sheriffs Association's point man on legislative issues and who has never backed away from a fight with Hammer.

Gualtieri called Hammer's criticism "self-serving and disingenuous," noting that the NRA doesn't appear to have a problem with sheriffs in uniform showing up to support the gun lobby's priorities, as Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey did in the 2016 session on open carry legislation. That bill stalled amid resistance from law enforcement and the singular opposition of a committee chairman, former Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami.

"It's totally self-serving," Gualtieri said of Hammer. "Let people engage. Let the chips fall where they may. They (the NRA) can wrap themselves in the Constitution all they want. I listen to my constituents."

Sheriffs are constitutional officers, and Hammer accused Gualtieri of violating his oath of office in his actions. "Sheriffs are elected and sworn to uphold the constitutional rights of their constituents," Hammer said. "Continuing to talk about taking away those rights is contrary to their oath of office."



Florida GOP wants to pay reelected chairman big bucks

via @adamsmithtimes

To the victor go the spoils.

Shortly after overwhelmingly re-electing state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, the party's board members this weekend voted behind closed doors to reward him financially as well. Ingoglia had forgone a salary as party chairman after winning election in 2015, but board members voted Saturday that he should not only receive the $115,000 annual pay in 2017 and 2018, but also receive $230,000 in back pay for 2015 and 2016.

"We did the impossible by Republicans taking Florida. All the way down the line we were successful, and it was because of all the programs that Blaise put together over the last two years," said Nancy Riley, a state committeewoman from Pinellas said of the vote.

Just because the party authorized the money doesn't mean he'll accept it, Ingoglia told The Tampa Bay Times.

"While I am thankful that my executive board recognized my hard work and dedication to our party this past election cycle in wanting to give me back pay for deferring my salary, I have not yet made a decision whether to take it," he said in a text.

National Committeewoman Sharon Day, who is also co-chairman of the RNC, voted against the authorization, which she said came as a surprise to her.

"He campaigned (for re-election) saying that he hadn't taken a salary in two years. It was just my personal opinon that he made a choice not to take a salary," said Day, who was one of only two people to vote against the payments. 

"I think we had new members that didn't understand what was going on, and Blaise was in the room, so that made it awkward," Day said.

Continue reading "Florida GOP wants to pay reelected chairman big bucks" »

Supreme Court rejects teachers' union attempt to challenge voucher program

Voucher rally 2016@MaryEllenKlas

Florida's teachers union struck out Wednesday in its latest effort to dismantle Florida's tax credit scholarship program as the Florida Supreme Court rejectedits appeal for legal standing to challenge the voucher-like program that finances students from low-performing schools to attend private schools.

The Florida Education Association and other plaintiffs, including the NAACP, allege the scholarships are unconstitutional because the program diverts money that would otherwise go to the state’s accounts that fund public K-12 education. They also argue that the scholarship program pulls poor students out of the public school system in favor of private schools, diminishing funds to nearly 2.8 million children served by public schools.

The groups had previously been told by both the trial court and appeals court that it did not have legal standing to challenge the 15-year-old program adopted by the Legislature and Wednesday's rejection ends is their final appeal. Florida businesses earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits by donating to designated organizations -- primarily "Step Up for Students" -- which fund and distribute the scholarships. 

The decision is a victory for supporters of the scholarship program and comes  one year after the rally they held on the steps of the state Capitol to protest the lawsuit. Thousands of supporters gathered at the rally led by Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights leader.

The event was organized by the "Save Our Scholarships Coalition" and other school-choice groups to emphasize support for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. The groups have waged an expensive year-long television and social media marketing campaign that urged the teachers' union to "drop the suit."

Attorneys representing the state and the parents of scholarship recipients argued the union had no standing to sue because no scholarship money actually enters or leaves the state treasury. The scholarships are funded directly through private donations from businesses, which can then earn dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state for their contributions.

In 2015, Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds III agreed with that explanation and rejected the teachers' lawsuit. The First District Court of Appeal agreed last year.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston agreed the union could not challenge the law. Justice R. Fred Lewis wanted to allow them to have oral arguments. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and newly-appointed Justice Alan Lawson did not vote.

The program funds scholarships for more than 78,000 children to go to private, often religious, schools. Jacksonville-based Step Up For Students facilitates almost all of the money; $447 million was doled out this school year.

Proponents of the scholarship argue that if the teachers' union is successful in its lawsuit then the students would be "evicted" from private school because their families wouldn't be able to afford it anymore.

More than a quarter of the scholarship recipients -- almost 20,900 -- live in Miami-Dade County, and almost 70 percent of them are black or Hispanic.

The teachers union has been at war with the GOP-led Legislature for nearly two decades over the diversion of state funds into the voucher-like programs. In some of his first remarks as the new Florida House speaker last year, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, accused the teachers union of being "downright evil" for its legal challenge to the tax credit scholarship program.


On Wednesday, Corcoran called the decision “a great victory for school children, parents, and classroom teachers who want the best for their students.”

Miami Herald staff reporter Kristen Clark contributed to this report. 

Photo: 2016 rally at the Florida Capitol in support of school voucher programs. By Steve Cannon, AP


January 17, 2017

Palm Beach learns to love Trump, once a scorned outsider


The genteel people of Palm Beach, home to the old-money fortunes of captains-of-industry scions, once ridiculed even their wealthy Kennedy neighbors — with their Irish Catholicism, Hollywood paparazzi and family scandals — as contemptible nouveau riche.

Then came Donald Trump.

Immediately branded by the notoriously insular locals as a vulgar arriviste, he acquired the late cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s landmark Mar-a-Lago estate — and the desirable social standing it bestowed — in 1985, only to spend the following three decades suing the town over and over again when it got in his way. The squabbles between Trump and the Palm Beach establishment became the stuff of tabloid legend.

My, how times have changed. Or at least, Trump’s place in the world has.

With Trump’s imminent presidential inauguration, Palm Beach has become far more tolerant of its most famous, and now most powerful, part-time resident. One might even be tempted to say the town has — gasp! — wrapped Trump in its collective embrace.

“That’s going too far,” chuckled Carey O’Donnell, a public relations and advertising exec and longtime resident who now lives on one of the three bridges leading to barrier-island Palm Beach. (The uninitiated often mistakenly identify Mar-a-Lago as being on the decidedly less upscale mainland city of West Palm Beach.)

Trump’s relationship with Palm Beach “has evolved over time,” O’Donnell conceded. “But certainly now there’s a drastic change. You wouldn’t call it an evolution anymore; now it’s a drastic shift — out of necessity, of course.”

And so, good luck finding a Palm Beacher today who offers something other than praise for the president-elect.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

Fort Lauderdale airport security meeting raises questions, but no answers

FLL Airportswat DS


The mass shooting at the airport in Broward County has raised several questions about security, but government officials who met Tuesday said it will take time to reach conclusions about any long-term changes related to firearms in airports, paying for security or other measures to protect passengers.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district includes the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said one of the key questions is whether the U.S. should continue the policy of allowing guns in checked baggage. Wasserman Schultz met with law enforcement, aviation and government officials at the Broward Sheriff’s Office Tuesday to discuss airport security. The meeting was closed to the public, but officials spoke at a press conference after the meeting.

“There was no professional who was in the room today that said, ‘Oh, we definitely should continue to allow firearms to be checked in baggage traveling on airplanes,’” Wasserman Schultz said. “No one said that. In fact, there was pretty universal consensus that it needs to be addressed.”

When asked if the Transportation Security Administration wants to change the policy that allows guns checked in baggage, TSA Chief of Operations Gary Rasicot said “any changes to that I defer to the congresswoman and her colleagues.”

Providing more airport security comes at a price.

“We are all about saving dollars and we all have budgets, but I think we should be more about saving lives,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said during the press conference. “Whatever we need to make Broward County safe I will be asking for that money soon.”

In an interview with the Herald, Israel said that it cost his agency about $300,000 to respond to the shooting on Jan. 6th. Additionally, it will cost BSO about $100,000 a month in overtime to provide more security, he said.

“I will be going to the county asking to finance that bill,” he said.

Keep reading here.