August 28, 2014

Rich shows her support for Crist at Broward rally

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and his Democratic primary rival former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston put on a united front at a rallies Thursday in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

To show that longtime state Democratic politicians have fully embraced Crist as their own, several took the stage to praise the former Republican governore. Among them: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant and Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar and state Sen. Chris Smith. Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor, Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade, also spoke.

Crist, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, defeated Rich, by nearly 49 percentage points inTuesday’s primary. Now he faces a a more expensive campaign and tougher foe in Gov. Rick Scott. The Democrats held the event next at the Urban League of Broward, next to Broward’s African-American library — a nod to the importance of the black and Democratic vote in Broward.

Rich introduced Crist and praised him for calling for increased education funding and Medicaid expansion.

“Charlie Crist will need all of our support to win,” she said. “He has mine."

Crist thanked “Nan Rich for being such a class act,” even though he all but ignored her during the primary and refused to debate her. He repeated campaign promises for equal pay for women, raising minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.

He sounded like the rest of the Democrats in the room when he trashedScott and saying of Scott's side “all they care about is their fat cat buddies.”

Also in attendance were George Sheldon, who easily beat state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General.

Sheldon worked as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth between 1999 and 2002. He followed Butterworth to the Department of Children and Families. In 2008, Crist, who was governor at the time, named Sheldon to lead the agency.

Thurston was one of the only speakers to acknowledge the low Democratic turnout in Tuesday’s primary: only 11 percent of Broward voted, the second lowest in the state. Part of the reason for low turnout in Broward was the ballot lacked any exciting countywide races and included mostly district contests for school board and county commission.

“We didn’t show up like we should have shown up, but we have a second opportunity,” he said.

The key challenge for Crist is to boost turnout in South Florida in November. When Democrat Alex Sink lost her race against Scott in 2010, turnout in Broward was only 41 percent.

Sheldon drew big cheers when he voiced his support for medical marijuana, which is on the ballot in November. He also called for automatic restoration of the right to vote for ex-offenders.

A similar rally was held earlier on Thursday in Orlando.

About 250 Democrats showed up at the Fort Lauderdale event and waved signs representing different liberal constituencies including blacks, the LGBT community and women. A few people also waved signs for NextGen Climate, the PAC of billionaire Tom Steyer who is attacking Scott on environmental issues.

Shortly before the Democratic event started in Fort Lauderdale, Republican Party of Florida chair Leslie Dougher spoke outside the event bashing the Democrats for low turnout. She hit on familiar themes including the fact that more than 800,000 jobs were lost when Crist was governor, omitting much of the United States was in a recession.

“Florida Democrats are uniting behind Charlie Crist’s record of failure, but Floridians are going to unite against Charlie Crist on November 4th,” she said in a statement released earlier in the day.

Panel rewards legislative ties, nominating Patronis and Murzin for PSC

The Public Service Nominating Council on Thursday included a current and former legislator, as well as a sitting commissioner, in the slate of seven candidates forwarded to Gov. Rick Scott to fill two positions on the five-person board that regulates Florida utilities. 

Gov. Rick Scott will now choose from the following list to fill two seats on the panel that will shape the direction of electricity and water rates in Florida, as well as the future of energy policy for the next four years: 

Julie Immanuel Brown  Download (Redacted) Applicant 11 - Julie Imanuel Brown
David J. Murzin  Download (Redacted) Applicant 20 - David J. Murzin
Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez  Download (Redacted) Applicant 25 - Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez
Stuart Wayne Pollins  Download (Redacted) Applicant 29 - Stuart Wayne Pollins
Kevin LeRoy Wiehle  Download (Redacted) Applicant 30 - Kevin LeRoy Wiehle

Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.  Download (Redaction Not Needed) Applicant 33 - Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.

Regulatory experience or utility industry background was not abiding criteria for the council, which is dominated by legislators whose voting record frequently aligns with the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities.

The panel, chaired by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami,  looked past the lack of experience of state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City restaurant owner and Republican, and former state Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican and current aide to state Sen. Greg Evers, and included them on the list. Murzin once sat on the nominating council board.

Also on the list sent to the governor is Julie Immanuel Brown, a Tampa attorney and current PSC commissioner. The panel rejected others with years of experience in utility issues, such as Marshall Willis, a former 38-year veteran of the PSC who was fired without explanation as director of accounting and finance by PSC executive director Braulio Baez last spring.

 

Climate activists protest, but board nominating regulators ignores issue

@jenstaletovich
 
Scientists hoping to draw attention to Gov. Rick Scott's disregard for climate change and rising seas staged a press conference next door to a meeting of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council at the Miami International Airport Hotel Thursday.
 
But before they could even start, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, who chairs the council, announced, "I support climate change," as he walked by University of Miami climate scientist Harold Wanless and South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard.
 
Abruzzo later walked into the press conference to urge Wanless and Stoddard to apply for a position on the advisory board that oversees Florida utilities, including Florida Power & Light, and noted that none of candidates for the regulatory board addressed climate change in their presentations.
 
"I'm a firm believer in global warming," Abruzzo said. "Renewables are important to me, especially solar power, because we're the Sunshine State."
 
Wanless and Stoddard have frequently criticized Scott for ignoring the dangers of climate change. They used the meeting of the nominating council to underscore what they say is a "cozy relationship" between the regulators and the utilities that have fought against increasing Florida's energy conservation mandates and wean Florida's energy market off fossil fuels. 

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School voucher lawsuit sparks debate

Photo (46) Photo (45)

There were no surprises at a pair of Thursday press conferences addressing the legal challenge to the school voucher program.

The first press conference was held by the plaintiffs: the state teachers union, the school boards association, the school administrators association, the PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters, and the Florida Conference of the NAACP, among others.

In her opening remarks, Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall referenced the 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that declared the Florida's original school voucher program unconstitutional.

"Since that time, the Florida Legislature has gone down the path of making more voucher programs, in spite of the fact that the court said it was unconstitutional," McCall said. "The Florida Legislature is not above the courts. It is not above the constitution."

Later, school choice supporters gathered outside the union headquarters in Tallahassee to make the case for the keeping the program, also known as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The crowd included parents, about 50 schoolchildren from Leon County, and a handful of pastors from around the state.

"We must not eliminate this program," said Robert Ward, pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg. "It is helping."

Read the lawsuit below.

Download McCall

Excerpts from the text messages that didn't exist

Text messagesFlorida Gov. Rick Scott's office has a no-texting policy for staff. It also has a policy that discourages the use of private email accounts and private cell phones for public business.

But as a result of a lawsuit by Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, documents have emerged that show both policies are routinely ignored by the governor's staff, agencies heads and countless others in state government. Here's today's story on how they kept details on a mansion plan under wraps. Here's last week's story on how the practice serves to put up barriers to public records.

Former members of the governors staff have also told the Herald/Times that two of the governor's former chiefs of staff, Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara, instructed employees to use personal emails and personal cell phone text messages to communication anything that was sensitive, creating a barrier to access when records requests were made.

Current chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth instituted the texting ban when he came to office and told reporters he doesn't use text messages to communicate, but that didn't stop him from accepting hundreds of messages from prominent Republicans seeking input with the governor.

Andrews' records show that in May 2013, Hollingsworth was texting FInkbeiner. First, Finkbeiner sent Hollingsworth a text that included only the word "PIN" and a number. Then Hollingsworth replied with this text:

"At the end of each bill summary, please give recommendation: we recommend signing the bill or we recommend a veto or we recommend additional due dilligrant and in that regard we will be doing the following."

Only after these messages were revealed did Hollingsworth turn off the text messaging function of his phone. 

When asked for text messages of state officials, the Office of Open Government has repeatedly told requesters that no text messages exist. But after a judge ordered documents in his property dispute with the state to be released, Andrews was able to break through that smokescreen. 

Photo: Excerpt from Chris Finkbeiner's text messages

Continue reading "Excerpts from the text messages that didn't exist" »

Why did more Republicans vote in the primary? They had 19 more legislative races than Democrats

@MarcACaputo

Democrats have good reason to worry that the base might not be enthusiastic about their party’s nominee, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist.

Turnout in Democratic counties was low and more 114,000 more Republican ballots than Democratic ones were cast in the gubernatorial primary.

But you can’t pin this all on Crist or on some Republican love for Gov. Rick Scott, who has had to spend millions to get his poll numbers from bad to mediocre.

Republican voters had more reason statewide to go to the polls than Democrats. Compared to Democratic contests, there were 19 more Republican primary legislative races (that is, races for Congress and state Senate and House).

Continue reading "Why did more Republicans vote in the primary? They had 19 more legislative races than Democrats" »

Florida Supreme Court rules that PSC and FPL had right to cut out public counsel

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a unanimous decision that the Florida Public Service Commission did not violate the constitution when it approved a settlement agreement with Florida Power & Light that failed to include the legal offices that represents the public in rate cases.  Download Sc13-144

The case was argued in September of last year after the PSC approved a $350 million rate case with FPL in 2012 based on a settlement that was reached without the input of the Office of Public Counsel,  the legislatively appointed lawyer whose office represents customers in rate cases.

The settlement allowed for the initial rate increase to be expanded to include automatic rate increases of $236 million and $217.9 million, respectively, as FPL completed modernization projects for its Riviera Beach and Port Everglades plants in 2014 and 2016.

Public Counsel J.R. Kelly had opposed the rate increase, saying that FPL’s financial projections indicate that rates should be reduced not increased. He also objected to the settlement because it allowed the company to receive a future automatic boost in revenue without having to immediately justify its expenses.

It was the first time the PSC had approved a settlement without the public counsel’s consent, so Kelly, and his office, filed suit. They asked the court to invalidate the rate increases and require the PSC to start over.  

Writing for the court in a 62-page opinion, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga concluded that state law allows the PSC to independently determine rates of public utilities and that is not dependent on the approval of the Office of Public Counsel.

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Lee County opts out of state tests

As our friends at the Naples Daily News report, the Lee County school district on Wednesday became the first in the state to opt out of all state-mandated testing.

Hundreds of opt-out advocates showed up at the district headquarters to watch the 3-2 vote against the new high-stakes assessment.

The story notes that Lee schools superintendent Nancy Graham expressed "grave" concerns about the decision. Graham also told reporters the district would still be teaching the Florida Standards, education benchmarks based on the Common Core State Standards.

It's not yet clear what consequences -- if any -- the district will suffer. Stay tuned.

August 27, 2014

Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board

The normally staid meeting of the Public Service Nominating Council could get a bit lively on Thursday as a group of climate change activists, including a scientist who met with Gov. Rick Scott, stage a protest at the Miami International Airport to complain about the utility board's "cozy relationship with Florida's utility companies."

There are two vacancies on the five-member PSC and the legislatively-dominated nominating council has a history of picking candidates that are endorsed and backed by the state's largest utilities -- which are among the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and non-profit causes promoted by legislators.

The nominating council will interview 16 candidates on Thursday and offer up as many three nominees for each of the two seats on the commission. Gov. Rick Scott will choose from the list of nominees and in the past has re-appointed candidates backed by the state's power companies. 

Seeking a second term is Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown, who will be among those interviewed on Thursday. A second position was opened when Commissioner Eduardo Balbis decided not to seek a second term. He was an occasional critic of the industry on a board that has a record of embracing much of the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities in the past four years. 

Also to be interviewed is Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant which is owned by his family. Patronis lists no utility-related experience in his resume but is a favorite for the job because of his political connections. Patronis dropped out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race and many expect him to be named by Scott to the utility board in return for dropping out.

Here's the press release from Florida For All: 

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Proposed FIU expansion could be on November ballot, if Miami-Dade commission approves

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County has already endorsed the expansion of Florida International University onto the Tamiami Park fairgrounds. Now it wants the political backing of a far more powerful group: county voters.

Before continuing tricky discussions with the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, whichdoesn’t want to relocate and would not be required to pay for a potential move, the county plans to ask the electorate if it supports FIU’s proposal in the first place.

County commissioners are scheduled to decide Wednesday whether to put a question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The Miami-Dade elections department has said next week is the deadline for county charter amendments.

“I’m hoping that we have a serious discussion and put something in motion that clears the way for what I’ve said in many occasions is a win for our community,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the legislation’s sponsor.

Support at the polls to turn over 64 county-owned park acres to FIU could give Miami-Dade and FIU more leverage over fair organizers, who oppose holding a popular vote before new fairgrounds — or relocation funds — are identified. County administrators want to keep looking for a suitable alternative for at least another six months.

More here.