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July 27, 2015

'It's just wrong,' Jeb Bush says of Mike Huckabee's Holocaust reference. Marco Rubio declines to comment.

via @learyreports

Reporters on Monday asked Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio about Mike Huckabee saying President Obama’s deal with Iran is marching Israelis to “the door of the oven.”

Bush, in Orlando, said: “The use of that kind of language, it’s just wrong. This is not the way we’re going to win elections.”

Rubio, in Columbia, S.C., declined to weigh in. “You'll have to ask Gov. Huckabee what he meant by that,” he said, adding, "I don't generally comment on what other candidates say.”

Bush and Rubio both say the Iran deal is a bad one.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Senate bill to boost trade with Cuba faces long odds, despite win


Legislation designed to boost agricultural trade with Cuba passed out of a U.S. Senate committee last week, joining a separate bill that would ease restrictions on travel to the island.

But for those interested in a return to full trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba, the actions last week represent only a sliver of hope that the mood of Congress is thawing as much as President Barack Obama would like.

“I’m more optimistic that the pressure is increasing to do something in Congress,” said Carl Meacham, a former senior Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who serves as director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But what happens because of that pressure is dependent on a range of issues – from the attitude of Senate leadership to the dynamics of presidential politics, he said. And then the measures will have to go through the House of Representatives as well.

“And I don’t see the House going the way of the Senate,” Meacham said.

The legislation last week was sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and represents one of the strategies lawmakers are employing to boost trade with Cuba.

In December, leaders in the U.S. and Cuba announced a thawing of relations between the two nations after decades of limited trade, travel and diplomacy. While some aspects of trade and travel with the island nation have been loosened, many other restrictions remain.

For full story, here.

New sign of accord? Lawyers agree on congressional redistricting schedule -- and talks of Senate settlement is on table

Signaling a new sense of cooperation between lawyers for the Legislature and a coalition of voters groups over redistricting, a hearing to organize the trial schedule for the congressional map lasted just over three minutes Monday as both sides hinted that an early accord is likely. 

“I think there’s a high likelihood, with the specific direction that the Legislature has from the Supreme Court, that maybe we won’t need a long remedial hearing,’’ said David King, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, which include the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

King and lawyers for the House and Senate agreed to trial schedule for the new congressional map that ends on Sept. 25. 

“Thanks for being so agreeable,’’ said Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, as the hearing adjourned.

Meanwhile, the ruling that invalidated the congressional map is also provoking discussions over a possible settlement in the Senate map, as the Herald/Times reported first last week.

After the brief hearing on the congressional map, the lawyers for the House, Senate and the plaintiffs – along with a private court reporter – congregated in a conference room in the LeonCounty courthouse.

Senate spokewoman Katie Betta said the meeting related to “attorney client” privilege and was not open to reporters.

They lawyers met for 10 minutes and emerged without comment.

“They’re talking about pending litigation with regard to the Senate maps,’’ said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee. “I’m not going to comment on that because it’s pending litigation.” 

When asked if discussions are underway for a settlement, he said: “I’m not going to comment on that.”

King also would not comment. 

“I really can’t say, I’m sorry but we’ll see happens soon,” he said. 

As expected, Seminole Tribe awaits showdown with the state over Blackjack

via Gary @Fineout

A deal authorizing blackjack and other types of card games at casinos such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and Tampa expires Friday.

The state’s top gambling regulator wrote a letter to the tribe chairman Monday asking for a meeting where tribal leaders are expected to give state officials a timeline for closing down blackjack tables.

Ken Lawson, the secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, pointed out that the existing compact requires the tribe to close its blackjack tables within 90 days if legislators do not renew the provision. A proposal to extend the games for one year was considered but did not pass the Florida Legislature. Story here. 

 Update: Sen. Bill Galvano, who was one of the lead negotiators with the Tribe on the original gaming compact, told reporters Monday afternoon that he believes negotiations will resume with the Tribe and they were in the same situation in 2010, when the first compact was invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court. The court ruled their table games in violation of state law and the Tribe sat down and negotiated a deal with the Legislature. 

"I don't think it necessarily means we are headed for litigation,'' said Galvano, R-Bradenton. "This is similar to the position we were in last time before we were able to enter into a deal. I think the state has significant leverage at this point and there's nothing to preclude us from having those negotiations." 

Group attacks David Jolly for refusing to cut money for botanical garden in D.C.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly’s Senate campaign was only hours old when he began taking fire from his fellow conservatives.

The Club for Growth, a political action committee backing Jolly’s GOP primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, said that Jolly may have only been in office for 16 months, but during that time he "racked up a terrible record on fiscal issues."

"Jolly is so addicted to big government, he couldn’t even muster up the courage to cut spending for a national greenhouse in D.C.," the PAC said in a statement emailed on the afternoon of July 20, 2015, the same day Jolly announced that he would be vying for Marco Rubio’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat.

Jolly has only been in office since March 2014, after winning a special election for the late C.W. "Bill" Young’s 13th congressional district seat. Given such a short tenure, we wondered what action was so wasteful it would warrant Club for Growth’s assertion that Jolly had squandered too many greenbacks on a greenhouse.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

Breakdowns, lax security cited in audit of state voter database

With planning for the 2016 presidential election underway, a new auditor general's report sharply criticizes Gov. Rick Scott's administration for its handling of the backbone of democracy in Florida: the electronic system that holds vital data on 12 million voters in the nation's biggest battleground state.

The audit found that internal security controls need improvement; a disaster recovery plan has not been tested since 2011; 14 state employees had "inappropriate and unnecessary access privileges" to the database; no mechanism exists to ensure that production changes are "properly authorized, tested and approved'; security training for employees hired during the past year were not done on a timely basis; and measures to protect confidential and exempt voter information need improvement.

The audit has heightened tensions between Secretary of State Ken Detzner and county election supervisors, who call the report "troubling." A group of four supervisors, including association president Brian Corley of Pasco County, met with Detzner two weeks ago to complain about poor communication from the agency. They later realized that Detzner had already responded to the critical audit but didn't bother to tell them about it. Their letter is here.

Auditors found that the system broke down eight times between December 2014 and February of this year, and was offline for a three-day period between Feb. 24 and 26. Auditors clearly were concerned about the state's maintenance and level of security on the system, known as FVRS for Florida Voter Registration System.

Continue reading "Breakdowns, lax security cited in audit of state voter database" »

In Confederate flag battle in Panhandle, it's North vs. South

Photo(11)Supporters and opponents of the Confederate flag will square off again on Tuesday, this time in a Florida Panhandle community with a geographic twist as "northerners" may be more supportive of the flag than people in the South.

The place is Walton County, sandwiched between Panama City and Destin in northwest Florida. Founded in 1824, it's one of the oldest counties in Florida and perhaps best known as the home of Seaside, the photogenic New Urbanism beachfront community used as the setting for the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show.

Walton is bordered by Alabama on the north and the Gulf of Mexico on the south, and the rebel flag has fluttered on the grounds of a Civil War memorial on the lawn of the Walton County Courthouse since 1964 -- the same year President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

In the aftermath of last month's massacre at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., opponents launched an aggressive effort to take down the flag. The five-member Walton County Commission heard both sides debate the issue two weeks ago, and delayed a final vote until Tuesday -- at the courthouse in DeFuniak Springs on the county's north side, not far from the Alabama border.

Continue reading "In Confederate flag battle in Panhandle, it's North vs. South" »

Doctor linked to Rep. Alan Grayson files to replace him in Democratic primary

Dr. Dena Minning, an Orlando Democrat who the Orlando Sentinel reports has been romantically linked to U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has filed to run for his House seat in 2016.

Grayson will leave the House in 2016 in hopes of being elected to the U.S. Senate seat Marco Rubio is vacating to run for president. Minning, a physician and biochemist, has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to replace Grayson in the 9th District.

More on Minning from the Sentinel's Scott Powers:

A Democrat, Minning, 44, has no Florida political background. She is a medical doctor and a biotechnology entrepreneur who founded and runs MedExpert Consulting Inc.

In the past two years she was listed as a federal lobbyist with her company to represent Biocryst Pharmaceuticals, which advertises the drug Rapivab as a “first-and-only one-dose intravenous treatment for influenza.”

Grayson is declining a re-election bid for his seat, for now,  to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016. That has opened up what is becoming a Democratic free-for-all to replace him in Florida's 9th Congressional District, which has a solid Democratic voter base.

Minning has not spoken to any major media about her candidacy, except in a written statement, nor even about the prospect, or about her relationship with the congressman. His marriage of 19 years ended in a contentious court battle over the past 18 months, finally coming to an annulment earlier this month. Nor has Grayson commented about Minning, except in a written statement about her candidacy.

Mason-Dixon poll shows no clear favoring in U.S. Senate race


There is no clear front runner in either the Republican or Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate in 2016, a new Mason-Dixon Florida Poll shows.

According to the poll of 500 registered Republican voters, U.S. Rep. David Jolly was the choice of 16 percent. Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera was second with 10 percent of the vote. U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and Jeff Miller were the choice of 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Todd Wilcox was sitting at 2 percent.

Maybe more telling is how many voters are undecided about the field. The poll showed 55 percent said they were undecided about who they would pick.

If former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who has said he is considering the contest, gets in the race, he could scramble the field. McCollum would immediately jump to the top of the list. When asked if McCollum were running, 22 percent said they would support him. Jolly would drop to 11 percent. DeSantis would be third with 8 percent, followed  by Lopez-Cantera and Jeff Miller at 7 percent and 6 percent. Still 45 percent of Republican voters said they were undecided even with McCollum in the contest.

The Democratic field is even closer. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson was the choice of 33 percent of registered Democratic voters. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was the choice of 32 percent. But like the Republicans, a lot of voters remain very undecided. The poll showed 35 percent were undecided.

The race doesn’t change much if U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham gets in the race. If she gets into the contest, Murphy would lead the field with 26 percent. Grayson would get 24 percent and Graham 11 percent. But the undecideds grow to 39 percent.

The telephone poll was conducted from July 20 to July 25 and the margin of error is 4.5 percent. 

July 25, 2015

Super-lobbyist Ron Book bashes Miami commissioner for 'despicable' behavior on homeless issue (W/AUDIO)


The fierce debate over Miami’s sleeping-mat program for the homeless turned personal on Friday, as Miami-Dade Homeless Trust chairman Ron Book lashed out at city leaders — singling out one commissioner in particular.

Book took aim at Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who spearheaded the mat program. The two men have feuded over whether the county homeless agency should help fund 115 outdoor mats, which are part of a covered pavilion at the Camillus House shelter. Sarnoff says it’s only right that the county chip in; Book says outdoor mats encourage the homeless to stay on the street rather than seek social services, and his agency won’t fund something that’s counterproductive.

The mat program, started last year, runs out of money on Aug. 1.

On Friday, Book said Sarnoff has jumped into the homelessness issue without truly understanding it. And the city of Miami, he said, can’t be trusted.

“They’re never OK, they’re never satisfied, because Marc Sarnoff wants to be nothing but right, and he’s wrong about this, he’s wrong about it,” said Book, who in addition to leading the Homeless Trust is also one of Florida’s most powerful lobbyists.

Book’s angry comments, with his arm repeatedly banging on the table, came during a sit-down meeting with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The meeting, which was open to the public, was an attempt by Gimenez to broker a deal on the outdoor mat issue.

As Book ripped into Sarnoff — who wasn’t in attendance — Gimenez tried to calm him.

“He thinks he’s right, you think you’re right,” the mayor said.

“He’s no expert!” responded Book, his voice raised. “He parachutes in, he hasn’t done any research, he hasn’t gone to conferences, he doesn’t care, ’cause he wants to be right. ... His behavior is despicable.”

Ron Book speaks with county mayor

More here.