September 17, 2014

Former Gov. Bob Martinez leads initiative to improve voter turnout; TaxWatch releases election guide

Bob Martinez, who was a civics teacher long before he became the state's 40th governor, wants to get at the heart of voter apathy in Florida.

Florida's recent primary turnout of 17.5 percent, the lowest in the past 16 years, dramatizes the need for a new initiative, said Martinez, who is heading the new TaxWatch Center for Florida Citizenship. 

"There is a lot of work to be done," said Martinez, who spoke at the press conference Wednesday sponsored by TaxWatch, which also announced the release of its 2014 election guide.

 "I don't know that we'll come up with a silver bullet but that's not the point," Martinez said. "The point is identifying why voter participation has declined."

Martinez acknowledged that negativity in campaigns is one deterrent, especially for the casual voter, but there are plenty of others, including a need for more engagement and the expectation that regular Joes can have an influence on government.

Continue reading "Former Gov. Bob Martinez leads initiative to improve voter turnout; TaxWatch releases election guide" »

Miami-Dade wants more scrutiny of FPL cooling canals, fearing bigger problems


Worried that rising temperatures and a festering algae bloom in Turkey Point’s cooling canals may hint at bigger problems for Florida Power & Light, Miami-Dade County officials said Tuesday they plan to assert the county's regulatory power to find out what’s ailing the aging canals.

“Clearly the cooling canal water is migrating outside the boundaries of their system,” Lee Hefty, director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management, told county commissioners before suggesting the county take action.

Since June, FPL has been struggling to control the hot canals and an algae bloom that has spread throughout the 168-mile loop. The canals were dug in the 1970s and act like a radiator to help keep the nuclear power plant from overheating.

The utility has twice asked the South Florida Water Management District for more water to freshen the canals. Earlier this summer, the agency signed off on up to 14 million gallons a day from the Floridan aquifer and last week agreed to a temporary permit for up to 100 million gallons of freshwater a day from a nearby canal.

The utility needed the county’s permission to lay pipes across endangered wetlands, a request that could have been granted by staff. But environmental groups asked for a public hearing, warning that a spreading underground saltwater plume potentially worsened by the hot canals posed a bigger risk to Biscayne National Park and area water quality.

“We have the distinction of being the only national park adjacent to a nuclear power plant,” park superintendent Brian Carlstrom told county commissioners. “We really need to understand why this unprecedented event is happening.”

The utility has blamed below-normal rainfall on the rising temperatures and increased salinity. In July and August, temperatures exceeded 102 degrees and twice threatened to shut down the plant. Because of the spike, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised temperature limits to 104 degrees to keep the plant operating. More here. 



Miami-Dade mayor testifies in Homestead corruption case


Gimenez photoWhen Steven Bateman paid a visit to County Hall last year, he pressed officials on speeding up permits for a crucial South Miami-Dade sewage pump station.

But Bateman never disclosed that he was on the payroll of a health-care company standing to benefit from the pump station, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told jurors Wednesday.

“I assumed he was there as the mayor of Homestead,” Gimenez testified.

The county mayor’s testimony highlighted the third day of the corruption trial for Bateman, who is accused of landing an illegal gig as a consultant for Community Health of South Florida.

Gimenez’s testimony is key for prosecutors looking to prove that Bateman wielded his position as mayor to go to bat for a secret employer paying him a $125-an-hour.

Bateman, 59, is charged with two felony counts of illegal compensation, plus three misdemeanor counts.

Miami-Dade prosecutors say Bateman billed for 29 hours of consulting work on the pump station issue in February 2013, including his interactions with Gimenez as well as the city’s engineer — all done, at least outwardly, in his capacity as mayor.

More here.

Photo credit: David Ovalle, Miami Herald staff

Rick Scott’s “swindle” ad is a “swindle” by Rick Scott’s definition


In one of Gov. Rick Scott’s most widely run attack ads, a victim of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein links Charlie Crist to the “swindle.”

Now Scott is backing away from the allegation of criminal mischief by suggesting that Crist’s “swindle” was due to his political flip-floppery – not the Ponzi scheme.

“This individual was a victim of both Scott Rothstein and Charlie Crist. Both of them promised things, and they didn’t come through,” Scott said of the ad on Wednesday during a Miami campaign stop.

“Charlie said he was a Ronald Reagan Republican. He was against tax increases. He was against raising your tuition. And he did both,” Scott said, repeating variations of the line when reporters sought clarification. “Charlie was a Republican and then an independent then a Democrat.”

Here’s what the ad is missing: Everything Scott specifically said about Crist.

The ad never says anything about Ronald Reagan.

It never says anything about college tuition.

It never mentions taxes.

It never mentions that Crist was a Republican.

It never mentions that Crist was an independent.

It never mentions that Crist is now a Democrat.

Continue reading "Rick Scott’s “swindle” ad is a “swindle” by Rick Scott’s definition" »

After flirting with FAU, Jeff Atwater says he is loyal to CFO job


Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater met with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board today, where he talked about achievement during his first term office as he runs for re-election. Atwater touched on effects of no-fault auto insurance reform, new policies that allow his office to monitor state contracts and even the environment.

But he also explained the story behind his decision to apply for the presidency at Florida Atlantic University and why he believes voters should elect him to a second term without wondering if he is still looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

The search firm FAU hired to help them find a new president, William Funk & Associates, first contacted Atwater in September and suggested he would be a good fit for the job because of his decades working in the region, political experience and ties to the school as father of three FAU graduates.

(We'll note here that Bill Funk was the same consultant initially hired for Florida State University's presidential search. He stepped down abruptly when the school decided against taking up his recommendation to make state Sen. John Thrasher the sole candidate. CORRECTION: FAU used Funk's firm in 2009 when they were looking for a replacement for Frank Brogan, who Funk's firm had also helped recruit to the state university system chancellor post. FAU used Parker Executive Search Firm in its 2014 presidential search, although Funk was among the companies interested in the contract.)

"The recruiter kept coming to me and visiting with me," Atwater said. He and his wife didn't decide until December to seriously consider the opportunity after hearing many times from Funk and others.

Continue reading "After flirting with FAU, Jeff Atwater says he is loyal to CFO job" »

Rubio: Obama foreign policy 'simply non-existent,' America needs to beef up its forces


In a wide-ranging speech that alternately took shots at the foreign policy – or lack thereof – of President Barack Obama and highlighted his own ideas, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio laid out a case for a strong foreign policy and said “our nation is never isolated from the world.”

“There have always been those who argue that America shouldn’t concern herself with the affairs of the world – that what happens an ocean away bears little relevance to our people,” Rubio said in his prepared remarks for the Wednesday afternoon address. “Thankfully, there have also always been those who disagree – who argue that foreign policy is domestic policy, that our people’s interests and safety require defense capabilities so robust that they deter aggression and violence before they take hold around the world.”

The event was seen as a significant address by the Florida Republican, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. It set him apart from some of his potential Republican rivals who have indicated less willingness to use U.S. power in conflicts not directly involving the United States.

He spoke at an event hosted by the John Hay Initiative, in association with Concerned Veterans for America and The Project for the Common Defense.

Like his previous speeches on reinventing the American Dream and domestic policy, Rubio embedded a history lesson into his address, talking about threats the U.S. faced from the times of George Washington to the Cold War and beyond.

He said Obama had failed in his leadership, saying that a “striking shift has occurred at the hands of our current president.”

“The president’s foreign policy was once a failure – now it is simply non-existent,” Rubio said. “From Libya to Syria to Egypt to Ukraine, this administration simply shrugs as threats fester. When the administration does act, it fails to communicate any consistent rationale for military use."

He criticized the proposed reductions in the nation’s military strength, including in the numbers of ground troops, ships and planes; he said they are set to be reduced to pre-World War II or earlier levels.

To combat this decline in the nation’s combat strength, Rubio said that Obama should request additional funds for the military above what he requested earlier this year. He said the Navy needs to boost its number of ships, the Air Force needs to beef up its capabilities, and the Marine Corps and Army should reverse plans to reduce their sizes.

The full text of the speech is here.

Bondi says Florida pill mill doctors are gone

Attorney General Pam Bondi has launched her re-election advertising campaign with a major milestone in Florida law enforcement: The death of the state’s infamous "pill mills."

In a Sept. 8 TV commercial, the incumbent touts her record of overseeing the demise of rampant prescription drug abuse enabled by Florida doctors.

"With our amazing law enforcement, we closed down the pill mills," Bondi said. "Of the top 100 oxycodone-­dispensing doctors in this country, 98 of them lived in Florida. Today, there are none."

That statistic implies Bondi was tough on crime, but PolitiFact Florida wanted to know if it was accurate. Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check for the answer.



Crist's economic policy plan targets "cutting-edge industries"

Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist wants to invest in business incubation, create a thriving solar energy industry, and usher in a new age of space exploration.

The ideas are part of his "Fair Shot Florida" plan to create jobs and grow the state's economy. 

Crist unveiled the plan in August. But he provided some new details Wednesday.

"The way to grow jobs in Florida is to invest in our homegrown businesses and innovators and help them grow and hire," Crist said in a statement. "Fair Shot Florida is about investing in our middle-class families and small businesses -– and the industries of tomorrow –- to ensure everyone gets a fair shot at success."

Jerry Pierce, speaking for Republican Gov. Rick Scott's campaign for re-election, issued the following response: "Charlie Crist's small business plan is simple: if he's Governor again, Florida will have less of them. When he was Governor, Crist stood idly by as Florida lost 28,000 small businesses, 300,000 small business jobs, and $7.8 billion in small business wages."

Scott has an economic plan of his own called Jobs for the Next Generation. His proposal would permanently eliminate the manufacturing sales tax, grow STEM opportunities and remove roadblocks to emerging businesses. Scott has also said he would like to make Florida a "beacon for research."

Read Crist's proposal below.

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Meet the four finalists for FSU president


Most of the attention surrounding the search for Florida State University's next president has been on state Sen. John Thrasher. But he is just one of four finalists, and the only who has never worked in higher education.

The FSU board of trustees is expected to make a final selection Tuesday, though that could change because one of the finalists, Michael Martin, had to postpone his interview after having emergency surgery for a detached retina.

Click here and you'll find more about all four finalists -- including former provost Michele Wheatly and university vice president Richard Marchase -- and why they want the job, gleaned from resumes and cover letters they submitted.

Iraq war vet sues Gov. Scott over losing state job

A decorated combat veteran of three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and a registered Republican -- sued Gov. Rick Scott and the state Wednesday, claiming the administration used his overseas deployment to eliminate his job in violation of state law.

The suit was filed by Walter Kreitlow, who works as an agent in the Department of Business & Professional Regulation's division of alcoholic beverages and tobacco. He earns about $50,000 a year.

DBPR declined to respond directly to the lawsuit's allegations. The agency produced documents showing that Kreitlow accepted a job demotion and a 7.5 percent pay cut in 2011 as well as a five-page letter DBPR sent to the U.S. Department of Labor in July in which the agency denied or refuted every one of Kreitlow's job-related complaints.

For example, the letter said, Kreitlow claimed he was reprimanded for putting a dry erase board in his cubicle. "This is a potential safety hazard," DBPR's response said. "Neither (Chief) Connors not (Lt.) Campbell reprimanded Mr. Kreitlow; he was merely asked to remove it ... It is requested that Mr. Kreitlow's continued mischaracterizations in his complaints be noted."

About two weeks later, on July 25, the Department of Labor told DBPR that "we are closing our file in this matter."

A long-time member of the U.S. Army reserve, Kreitlow said that he was at training in Kentucky in October 2011 when he learned that his state job had been eliminated by a law enforcement consolidation task force. His lawsuit says he was offered a vacant job in Miami or could accept a demotion in the Tallahassee district office. He claims his use of a state car was revoked and he was given a five-by-nine foot storage closet, and that his American flag that had flown over a battlefield in Iraq was removed by DBPR higher-ups.

"This is not political," Kreitlow said. "This is for the citizen soldiers out there who are taken advantage of. They miss out on promotions. They are not given days off."

Kreitlow, 45,is married and has two children and lives in Tallahassee. He said he voted for Scott in 2010 and as a state law enforcement officer served on the security detail during Scott's inaugural celebration.

The governor's office had no immediate comment on the lawsuit. Scott, a U.S. Navy veteran, has frequently publicly honored the service of Florida veterans, and has personally handed out thousands of veterans' service medals in his campaign for re-election.