January 27, 2015

Miami Beach mayor clears up his relationship status in Tallahassee


On a recent trip to Tallahassee, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine was joined by Scott Robins, his longtime collaborator on  real estate projects. There was some confusion, though, when Levine said to a prominent politico in the state capital: "Let me introduce you to my partner."

Recalling the story in front of the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Levine said he received a surprised look from the politician, whom Levine declined to name but said was "very well-known" and spoke with a deep Southern accent. Robins told Levine afterwards that he had made it sound like the two straight men were a couple. 
"I'm not the openly gay mayor of Miami Beach," Levine said to laughter from the chamber crowd. "I'm the the openly single mayor of Miami Beach." 

Stat about GOP presidential races bodes well for Jeb Bush

As he moves toward formally entering the 2016 presidential race, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is hammering home the notion that Washington needs a "fresh face."

It’s a two-edged critique aimed at potential Republican rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and at Hillary Clinton, the former Democratic senator and first lady who is gearing up for 2016.

The Clinton-Bush era in the nation’s capital is well known -- from 1980 to 2004, Jeb’s father (George H.W. Bush) or brother (George W. Bush) or Bill Clinton won their party’s nomination for president or vice president. Hillary Clinton, of course, nearly made the top of the Democratic ticket in 2008.

But there’s a more sweeping claim making the rounds on social media -- and various websites -- as the 2016 race takes early shape.

This is how Washington Post Wonkblog reporter Matt O’Brien put it:

Republicans haven’t won a presidential election without a Bush or Nixon on the ticket since 1928.

Turn to PolitiFact Wisconsin for the answer. 

Facing down a constitutional amendment, FPL plans three new solar plants

By Ivan Penn, Tampa Bay Times @Consumers_Edge 

Florida's largest investor owned utility announced plans Monday to build three new solar farms that would nearly double the state's solar capacity.

In its announcement, Florida Power & Light said it had found a "cost-effective" way to expand solar power in Florida and proposed to install the systems at three sites in its service area. The utility proposes to add 225 megawatts of solar to the state's current 229 megawatts by the end of next year in Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

FPL is still refining the details of the project so the utility did not provide cost estimates. But the company said there would be no significant impact on customer rates.

"Over the past decade, we have continuously focused on advancing reliable, affordable, clean energy for our customers," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "In particular, we have been working especially hard to find ways to advance solar energy in Florida without increasing electricity costs, and we have developed what we believe will be a cost-effective plan.

But FPL utility noted in a news release that "solar power — even the most economical large-scale installation — is generally not yet cost effective in FPL's service area."

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Taxpayers take it on chin in Miami Lakes mayoral fight


Pity the poor taxpayers of Miami Lakes.

By the time a judge resolves the legal tussle over who should be mayor — Wayne Slaton or Michael Pizzi — the town’s tab could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely made it crystal clear at a recent hearing that she wants to decide the bitter dispute as quickly as possible.

“The bottom line, as I read this case, is that former mayor, Mr. Pizzi, says that he is entitled to be the mayor as opposed to Mr. Slaton,” the judge declared at last Thursday’s hearing, involving 11 lawyers, with each charging $200 to $375 an hour. “Period. End of report, unless there is some other mysterious thing out there.”

Pizzi’s 2013 suspension from the mayor’s position was revoked in December by Gov. Rick Scott after he sued him, following his acquittal on federal bribery charges. Pizzi argues he is now entitled to his old job under Florida law.

But Slaton, who won a special election to fill Pizzi’s position during his suspension, refuses to give it back, citing the town’s charter.

At Thursday’s hearing, attorneys representing the town and Slaton said they first wanted to pursue a motion to dismiss Pizzi’s lawsuit to unseat the current mayor and then deal with the legal issues surrounding his claim for reinstatement.

The judge did not seem amused with their delay tactics.

“I’m not giving you an hour and a half on a motion to dismiss,” Cardonne Ely told the town’s attorney, Raul Gastesi. “File the motion. I will read it. I’m going to schedule it for 30 minutes very quickly.”

She scheduled a hearing on the motion to dismiss for Feb. 11. No date has been set for the legal question of Pizzi’s claim to his old job.

Meanwhile, Pizzi’s legal team agreed to drop the town clerk, Marjorie Tejeda-Castillo, as a defendant in his suit. But lawyers for the town and Slaton still had not agreed to it.

The result: More delays and legal costs for Miami Lakes taxpayers.


January 26, 2015

WASH POST: Koch-backed network aims to spend nearly $1 billion on 2016 elections

Washington Post's Matea Gold writes ...

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.
    The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here on Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.
    The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two major parties' presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and it cements the network's standing as one of the country's most potent political forces. With its resources and capabilities -- including a national field operation and cutting-edge technology -- it is challenging the primacy of the official parties. In the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee spent $404 million, while the Democratic National Committee shelled out $319 million.


Consumer advocate: Gov. Scott shouldn't replace Kevin McCarty

Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Monday that he's looking at replacements for insurance regulator Kevin McCarty. But former Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw is not pleased. 

After news started to spread that Scott's office was considering Louisiana Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy Ron Henderson to lead the Office of Insurance Regulation, Shaw issued a statement defending McCarty and calling out the governor for circumventing the cabinet. 

“Kevin McCarty has only been doing right by policyholders," Shaw said in the statement. "His job should not be in jeopardy, nor should Governor Scott be attempting to circumvent the constitutional obligations of the Florida Cabinet again. This isn’t how our government is supposed to work.”

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Miami-Dade mayor cautions lawmakers about governor's proposed communications-tax cut


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez asked county lawmakers Monday to be careful if and when they adopt Florida Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to cut taxes on cellphones, cable and satellite television.

Without taking a position on the proposal itself, Gimenez said the Legislature should make sure local governments continue to get the same amount of communications taxes as they do now in spite of the cut.

Scott, a Republican, has pushed a 3.6 percent cut that he says would save the average Floridian about $40 a year. The cut is not intended to affect cities and counties, which receive a share of those tax dollars. Gimenez, also a Republican and a Scott supporter, stressed the importance of keeping municipal budgets whole.

"The actions that you take should be done in a thoughtful manner," he said. Otherwise, the county could be facing a $40 million gap next year, according to Gimenez -- which would likely hit hardest in unincorporated areas, especially in terms of police service.

Scott spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante said in a statement Monday afternoon that the governor's proposal was created "so every Florida family could save real money."

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Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants to ban local casino operators from bid for proposed convention center hotel

@joeflech and @doug_hanks

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants to ban any operator of a Miami-Dade casino resort from running a headquarters hotel for a renovated Miami Beach Convention Center.

On Monday, Levine told the Miami Herald he does not want the developer or hotel operator for the proposed convention center hotel to be involved with any gaming operations now or in the future in Miami-Dade County.

“The city of Miami Beach is anti-gaming,” he said. “Anyone can bid on this project, as long as they align philosophically with Miami Beach.”

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Denied conflict-of-interest waiver, lobbying firm drops Miami-Dade County to represent Uber


Tally at least one victory for Uber Technologies over Miami-Dade County.

The ride-for-hire service remains illegal under county rules. But Uber has hired away one of Miami-Dade's outside lobbying firms. 

Ballard Partners has given up its county lobbying contract to represent Uber in Tallahassee, according to a letter the firm sent Monday to County Commission Chairman Jean Monestime.

"It has truly been an honor to represent Miami-Dade County for the last several years and we hope that we will be able to do so in the future," firm president Brian Ballard wrote.

Last week, the firm asked the county for permission to work for both Uber and the county, given that Ballard doesn't directly represent Miami-Dade on ride-for-hire matters and no legislation has been filed -- yet -- that would put the two sides at odds in the state Capitol. Commissioners rejected the request, following advice from the county ethics commission.

"He is wonderful. He is incredible," Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said of Ballard. "But at the same time, we have a situation here."

That left Ballard with a decision to make. He chose the presumably more lucrative Uber gig over the county's annual $50,000 contract, mentioning that his firm "believes strongly" in Uber's technology.

As a parting note, Ballard pointed out that most of Miami-Dade's outside lobbyists represent a variety of interests at the same time without issue. During last week's meeting, Ballard's senior counsel Sylvester Lukis had referenced another county lobbyist in the room -- "his majesty, Ronnie Book," Lukis said -- who works for myriad interests in Tallahassee.

"The point is that Miami-Dade County should take a second look at its policies regarding its lobbyists and potential conflicts," Ballard wrote. "Clearly in those cases where the lobbyist is responsible for covering specific matters, they should not be allowed to represent interests in direct conflict with those matters. On the other hand, in those cases where the lobbyist is not responsible for a matter, it shouldn't be restricted to assist other clients that might be promoting a position that the County doesn't support."

FL GOP senator files major medical-marijuana bill


Seriously sick Floridians and those who can’t find adequate prescription drugs would be allowed access to "medical-grade" marijuana under a major cannabis bill filed Monday by a top Florida Republican state senator.

St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes’ 28-page legislation, the most far-reaching of its kind by a top legislative leader, seeks to regulate the cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana in Florida.

The bill mirrors parts of a proposed constitutional amendment that garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. That amendment, which failed because it didn't meet a 60 percent threshold for approval, has been redrafted and could appear on the 2016 ballot.

Brandes said he opposed the amendment, largely because he thought the Legislature should be in charge of making such a major change to healthcare and criminal law in Florida.


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