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October 16, 2018

Rick Scott to Verizon: Give me a plan to restore service, and waive customers' bills

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Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Wes Maul looks at Gov. Rick Scott during a hurricane briefing at the state emergency operations center Tuesday. (Miami Herald)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued another rebuke of Verizon today, telling the cell provider in a terse press release that he expects the company to give him a plan today to restore service to the areas hit by Hurricane Michael, and that all cell providers should waive bills for October.

The press release was addressed to all cell phone providers, but it singled out Verizon, which has struggled to restore service in Bay County, where Michael made landfall.

Over the last 48 hours, both Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis have criticized Verizon's slow recovery, and on Monday, Scott met with the company's senior vice president and chief network officer, Nicki Palmer.

"Verizon recently said in a press release that 98 percent of Florida has service," the governor's office press release said. "This statement, which includes customers in Florida that were hundreds of miles away from impacted areas, does not help Florida’s law enforcement in Bay County and families communicate with loved ones in Panama City and does not help those needing medicine call their pharmacy in Lynn Haven."

Scott then laid out his expectations for all cell phone and internet providers:

  • Customers in the impacted counties should be allowed to switch providers without penalty. Some cell phone contracts still penalize customers for switching before their two-year contract is up.
  • Bills for customers in affected counties should have their October bills waived.
  • "Telecommunications companies should be open and transparent with Floridians and do so with a clearly communicated plan to quickly restore service."

"Families understand that the telecommunications industry, like the power companies and other services, experienced catastrophic damage to vital infrastructure," Scott said in the press release, "but that does not change our expectation that each telecommunications company will be open and communicate a clear plan on how they intend to quickly restore service while treating families fairly."

The press release added that "The Governor expects that a plan for full telecommunications restoration will be communicated today."

Verizon has said it's suffered "unprecedented damage" to its network in Bay County.

The return of cell service has been critical to telling people where to find supplies after the storm, Scott has said. In Mexico Beach, people have been forced to stand on bridges to get any sort of cell signal.

Independent poll shows Carlos Curbelo with a slim lead over Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

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@alextdaugherty

An independent poll shows Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo with a 1 point lead over Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—and a contingent of undecided voters large enough to decide the election.

A poll conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies and Telemundo 51 from October 3 to October 9 with 625 registered voters who said they were likely to vote showed a race that is essentially a toss-up for Curbelo’s Miami to Key West congressional seat that President Donald Trump lost more than 16 percentage points two years ago. Curbelo captures 46 percent support while Mucarsel-Powell takes 45 percent. Nine percent of voters are undecided as both campaigns spend millions on TV advertising.

Curbelo once had a lead in the race but Mucarsel-Powell has closed the gap in recent weeks through increased TV spending. Curbelo is better known than Mucarsel-Powell according to the poll and has a higher favorability rating, though Mucarsel-Powell has a lower unfavorable rating than Curbelo. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially a tie.

More here.

Sensing an upset, Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC attacks Donna Shalala

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National Republicans are getting serious about trying to beat Donna Shalala

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is running a Spanish-language ad targeting Shalala starting today. The six-figure buy on TV and digital platforms is the super PAC’s first foray into retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district, a Miami-based seat where President Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points. 

The ad titled “$7” tries to portray Shalala as out of touch with working class voters in the district, noting that she lived in a mansion that eventually sold for $9 million while serving as the president of the University of Miami and led the university when its janitorial staff went on strike because their wages amounted to about $7 an hour. Shalala’s Republican opponent, former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, levied a similar attack on Shalala during a recent Telemundo debate.

“Donna Shalala is just another politician who puts herself first,” said CLF communications director Courtney Alexander. “As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a $9 million mansion, but only paid university janitors $7 an hour while denying them health insurance. Donna Shalala is out for herself, not Floridians.”

The ad includes footage of a mansion juxtaposed with Shalala giving a speech in her UM regalia while criticizing her leadership when university janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages, attacks that she also faced during the Democratic primary. 

“As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a nine-million dollar mansion,” the ad says. “But only paid university janitors seven dollars an hour while denying them health insurance.The scandal made national news and Shalala was called an enemy of the working poor.”

More here.

Hurricane Michael update: State emergency team told to focus on "human comfort"

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An American flag is displayed using sandbags in the coastal township of Mexico Beach, population 1200, which lay devastated on Friday (10/12/18) after Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday in the Florida Panhandle. (Douglas R. Clifford, Times)

The top priority today for state officials handling Hurricane Michael's aftermath is ensuring the comfort of thousands of people staying in shelters in the Panhandle.

Wes Maul, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, told the state's emergency response team in Tallahassee this morning that "human comfort" should be their focus.

"Think about what you can do today to affect that in the next 24 hours in a very big way," he told them.

More than 1,500 people are staying in 13 local shelters, and about 1,400 others are staying in shelters run by the Red Cross.

Among the priorities today is linking people with pharmacies to make sure they can get their prescription drugs, officials said. But there are also other basic needs: installing port-o-potties, making sure the shelters are clean, and having enough showering trailers and cooling tents, for example.

Officials are warning there won't be a short-term solution to getting people back to their normal lives, and the state has been telling local officials that the number of people in shelters is expected to rise as people return to the area and find their homes destroyed.

About 140,000 people were still without power this morning, and many of them will be without power for some time. 400,000 initially lost power when Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday.

Nearly $1.2 billion in food in the Panhandle was lost or destroyed by the storm, officials said today.

Internal poll shows Shalala ahead in campaign to replace Ros-Lehtinen in Congress

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Former University of Miami president Donna Shalala is a long way from silencing the haters, but her campaign has a new poll that should ease doubts that she can win a congressional seat the Democratic party can ill afford to let slip away.

Amid increasing evidence that Shalala has her hands full with Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar, the former Health and Human Services secretary’s campaign has released an internal poll showing Shalala ahead in the race to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as the representatives of Florida’s 27th congressional district.

Shalala, 77, leads Salazar, 56, by five points, according to a polling memo from Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. The firm found Shalala ahead of the former Spanish-language broadcast journalist by a 44 to 39 margin, with about 10 percent of voters undecided.

Shalala’s lead is within the poll’s 4.4-point margin of error, and internal polls should always be received with some skepticism. But following a calendar month in which a non-partisan elections handicapper moved the race to a toss-up and an independent Mason-Dixon Telemundo 51 poll found Shalala down two, Democrats will take all the good news they can get.

The poll, a bi-lingual query by live callers of 500 voters from Oct. 11 through Oct. 14, should give Democratic voters reason for optimism. For one, compared to the Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll, Shalala fared better with Cuban voters, who comprise a plurality of the district. Shalala’s poll also found Pro-Trump, no-party-affiliation candidate Mayra Joli earning 6 percent of the vote (compared to 1 percent in the Mason-Dixon Poll), a number that could end up being the difference between the Republicans holding the seat and the Democrats snaring it for the first time in decades.

Read the rest here.

October 15, 2018

Far from the storm-ravaged panhandle, the DeSantis and Gillum campaigns reengage

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In Miami, about as far removed as you can get from the unofficial no-politicking zone in the hurricane-ravaged Panhandle without leaving Florida, the campaigns of Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum are back in the trenches.

Lies. Socialism. Hypocrisy. Anti-Semitism: It’s all on the table in the southern reaches of the state as the campaign for governor enters its final weeks.

Following a stump hiatus called as the state weathered Hurricane Michael, DeSantis has begun to reapply pressure to Gillum during campaign stops in South Florida. Late last week, Broward sheriff’s deputies endorsed the former Republican congressman in Plantation while blasting Gillum for accepting support from a social justice group that believes police have no place in society. On Sunday, DeSantis returned to his criticisms of Gillum as anti-Israel at a Broward County synagogue. And on Monday, it was back to talk of socialism with Hispanic voters.

Appearing in West Miami with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, DeSantis and running mate Jeanette Nuñez once again described Gillum as far-left and “corrupt.”

A crowd of about 250 supporters mostly spoke Spanish and greeted DeSantis with signs that read “Cubanos” and “Colombianos por DeSantis Nuñez.” Using County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa as a translator, DeSantis rolled out his standard South Florida stump speech and identified himself as a leader fighting for freedom across Latin America. He denounced socialism in Nicaragua and Venezuela, and touted his work to bring an indictment to Cuban dictator Raul Castro for his crimes.

Read the rest here.

Florida Supreme Court ruling raises stakes of governor’s election

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In a decision that further raises the stakes of Florida’s gubernatorial election, the state supreme court has ordered that the job of replacing three of its justices belongs not to lame-duck Gov. Rick Scott but to his successor, whomever that might be.

The high court issued a rebuke of Scott Monday, saying the governor “exceeded his authority” when he moved last month to begin the process of naming new Supreme Court justices. Eager to replace a majority of a liberal voting bloc on the court, Scott directed a state nominating commission to submit names for him to fill upcoming vacancies before he’s forced out of office in January by term limits. But he was sued by the League of Women Voters of Florida on the grounds that he couldn’t legally fill vacancies that hadn’t yet occurred.

Scott wanted the names by Nov. 10, four days after voters choose his replacement. Instead, the high court said the ability to appoint new justices falls to the next elected governor.

That means either Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum will control the tilt of the 7-member court, potentially swaying a generation of precedent-setting legal opinions on issues like labor, school vouchers, gun rights and healthcare. The decision could spark even further interest from organizations like Emily’s List and the Federalist Society to a race that has already drawn tens of millions in outside spending.

“November’s election already held huge consequences for women and families across Florida,” said Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice candidates. “Now, the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

Gillum and DeSantis have both held that the next governor retained the right to appoint replacements for Barbara J. Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince, who are up against age limits and must resign the day that Scott is set to leave office. Gillum issued a statement, saying “one of my top priorities will be to restore integrity to the judicial nominating process.” The DeSantis’ campaign, meanwhile, used the opportunity to blast Gillum.

Click here to read the rest.

FDLE is investigating an officer-involved shooting in Panama City in the wake of Hurricane Michael

State police are investigating a shooting by a state fire marshal in Panama City in the wake of Hurricane Michael, according to police and media reports.

According to Pensacola-based station WEAR-TV, a Florida State Fire Marshal shot a looter who tried to steal a police car at Pinetree Road and Azalea Street.

The station quoted a Landon Swett, who was across the street and witnessed the shooting.

"He yelled at me a little bit, he said oh, I’m looting, and he opened the door, to the police officer’s SUV with the lights going got in it and shut the door," Swett told the station.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed to the Times/Herald the agency is investigating a shooting by an officer in the wake of the storm, but she did not immediately have more details.

Ros-Lehtinen to teach at University of Miami after leaving Congress

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Retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has lined up her post-congressional gig. 

The University of Miami announced Monday that the first Latina in Congress and longest serving member of Congress from Florida was named a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the University of Miami, where she will teach a class called "Congress and American Foreign Policy" during the spring 2019 semester. 

“I’m excited to be back home at the U where I will have the challenging opportunity to exchange ideas with today’s bright minds and future leaders on the vexing foreign policy issues confronting our nation,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

Ros-Lehtinen's husband Dexter, a former Florida legislator and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, will join her in the classroom. 

“I am delighted to welcome Ileana Ros-Lehtinen back to her alma mater after an illustrious career in Congress. She has always maintained a close relationship with her hometown, and we are proud that she will join our academic community as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow. We look forward to her active participation, which will no doubt enrich the experience of our students and faculty,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk.

Rick Scott and Jimmy Patronis aren't happy with Verizon's response to Hurricane Michael

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Gov. Rick Scott points out some damage caused by Hurricane Michael while flying somewhere over the panhandle of Florida Thursday. The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael the day before came into focus Thursday as rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and rescue crews began making their way into the stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who may have stayed behind. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis have been taking aim at Verizon over the last 24 hours, apparently frustrated by how slow the cell carrier has been to restore service to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.

During a Sunday press briefing, Scott mentioned Verizon's problems twice, while touting the company's chief competitor.

"There in Bay County, we’re still waiting on Verizon," Scott said, adding why it was important for cell service to be restored.

"We’ve put a lot of food and water out all across the state," Scott said. "Well, if you have no internet and you have no cellphone, it’s hard to get the information out. AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not."

Scott, continuing to dig at Verizon, has also been retweeting AT&T and praising the company on Twitter.

Thanks, @ATT, for working to get communications back online quickly & helping Florida communities following Michael," Scott tweeted.

Patronis, whose hometown is Bay County's Panama City, also took aim at Verizon on Twitter, complete with the hashtag #fixitnow.

"We are on Day 6 with no @verizon service in Bay County," Patronis tweeted. "Phones are critical infrastructure for Search and Rescue and First Responder communications. We need the same response from @verizon as we have seen from our electric companies."

Verizon in a statement said it's suffered "unprecedented damage to our fiber, which is essential for our network."

"Our fiber crews are working around the clock to make repairs, and while they are making good progress, we still have work to do to get the fiber completely repaired," the company said.

But the other three carriers are apparently not having the same problem. The Wall Street Journal quoted customers and company officials with AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint saying that all three carriers were up and running in the area.

The Panhandle suffered widespread cell service outages in the wake of Hurricane Michael, with more than 70 percent of towers down in the hardest-hit areas the day after the storm came through.

And the carriers have made little progress in Bay County since the storm made landfall.

All other counties hit by the storm have at least half of their cell towers back in use, but in Bay County, more than 65 percent of cell towers were still out Monday morning — down from 78 percent the morning after the storm, according to the FCC.

Both Verizon and AT&T have been big donors to the Republican Party of Florida for years, and Verizon has given more than $50,000 to Scott's campaigns since 2013, records show.

On Monday afternoon, Scott issued a press release noting that Verizon has opened an emergency communications center at their Panama City store and was also supporting the Bay County Emergency Operations Center.

Herald/Times staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.