February 24, 2015

Were some Florida students forced to cite Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs?

A spat between parents and administrators over a Seminole County high school history lesson in Islam has simmered into a minor cause célèbre for online critics.

Ron Wagner of Longwood complained to a local TV station that his 15-year-old son was required to recite an Islamic prayer as part of a world history class at Lyman High School. The students also had to make an Islamic prayer rug as a homework assignment, according to Wagner, who said lessons like that don’t belong in public schools.

"There’s a difference between teaching of the significance or the impact of a religion and teaching the specific tenets of the religion," Wagner told WFTV on Feb 9, 2015.

Blogs and right-leaning media seized on the report, decrying the lessons as attempts to indoctrinate students.

One blog, DownTrend.com, featured a post on Feb. 12 with the headline, "Students In Fla. High School Forced To Recite Islamic Prayer, Make Prayer Rugs."

We don’t mean to pick on this one site -- because there are manymany other placesthat have reblogged the report -- and the writer did update the story after we asked him some questions. But the headline encapsulated the alleged events that have outraged so many people. Were students forced to recite an Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs at Lyman High School? Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida did his homework.

And from our archives, here is a fact-check of a Pants on Fire claim that "Florida Democrats just voted to impose Sharia law on women."

WSJ: Jeb Bush plans to introduce big donors to campaign team in Miami in April

From the Wall Street Journal:

It may be the most coveted invite in Republican politics.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, still in the preliminary phase of an expected White House bid, plans to reward his biggest early financial backers with a mid-April meeting in Miami with his likely campaign team.

The confab is being organized for so-called bundlers who have “met or exceeded” their fundraising targets, according to an email circulated by Mr. Bush’s finance team. Heather Larrison, who runs his fundraising effort, told a group in Washington last week that the event would take place on April 13, a person present said.

More here.

Joe Garcia gets new gig with Miami Beach merchant and investment bank, talks new U.S.-Cuba policy

@PatriciaMazzei

Former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has taken on a job as senior vice president of QueensFort Capital, a Miami Beach-based merchant and investment bank.

The ex-congressman told the Miami Herald he will work to expand investment opportunities through federal government's EB-5 visa program, which requires investors to put up big money -- at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high-unemployment areas -- in exchange for a two-year U.S. residency green card for themselves and their immediate family. If the investments succeed and create at least 10 U.S. jobs, investors gain permanent residency plus dividends.

None of the work will involve Cuba, said Garcia, a Cuban American who had been the only South Florida member of Congress advocating for greater engagement with the island before he lost reelection to Republican Carlos Curbelo in November. Still, he was surprised by the extent of President Obama's new Cuba policy, Garcia said Tuesday.

"I think the administration probably went a little bit further that I had assumed it would," he said.

He compared trying to bring about political change in Cuba to changing "a religion, not a policy" ingrained on the island for more than half a century: "The idea that this is going to be easy is nonsense."

"I think this could all be solved if Cuban Americans and Cubans were speaking," he said. "If the Cuba government was wise, it would reach out to leaders and opinion makers in South Florida to create some sort of rapprochement that benefits the U.S. and Cuba."

And if Obama wants a long-term change that outlasts his administration, then his government also has to reach out to Cuban Americans sidelined from the new policy, he added.

As for talk that Garcia might challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez next year, the former congressman brushed off the rumors.

"I am not running for any public office," he said.

Rick Scott signs executive order to suspend 11th grade exam

Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order on Tuesday suspending the new 11th grade exam in English language arts. 

The action comes in response to a growing backlash from parents and teachers to the state's standardized testing program.

Scott announced his plans to sign the executive order last week. The lag caused some confusion, as local school districts were told to continue preparing for the Florida Standards Assessment exam until a formal executive order was issued.

Leaders in the Florida Senate are also working on a plan to overhaul testing.

Seventh candidate files in Miami's District 2 race

Yet another candidate has filed to run for Miami's District 2 commission seat.

Ken Russell, the South Grove resident who fought the city over its cleanup plans for contaminated Merrie Christmas Park, filed campaign papers Monday. Russell is the seventh candidate to run for the seat, which is held by term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Read the news release after the jump.

Continue reading "Seventh candidate files in Miami's District 2 race" »

In New Hampshire, Marco Rubio pressed on immigration

From the Associated Press:

HOLLIS, N.H. (AP) - Back in New Hampshire for the first time since the midterm elections, it didn't take long for Sen. Marco Rubio to get a question about immigration.

Speaking to a group of people in a wooden barn in the southern part of the state, the Florida Republican - still debating whether to run for president or seek re-election to the Senate in 2016 - was asked about his past support for immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. Rubio's aides said the crowd was "more than 100."

"When I first heard you, I liked you a lot - and then you lost me," a questioner asked Rubio, to some applause from the crowd. "But I'm back, here to give you another chance. My question for you is, 'Can you commit if elected president to send home every single person that's violated our country's laws and is here illegally?'"

In reply, Rubio didn't hesitate.

"I don't think anyone can commit that to you," Rubio said. "You have 12 million human beings in America, most of whom we don't even know who they are and some of them whom our country's not going to tolerate rounding up and sending back. That's not a realistic proposal."

Read the full story here. Watch video of Rubio's Hollis speech here, via WMUR.

February 23, 2015

Zo charity fundraiser to feature Bill Clinton

@PatriciaMazzei

Mourning inviteWhen he visits Coral Gables next for the Clinton Foundation's conference at the University of Miami, former President Bill Clinton will also drop by a fundraiser hosted by retired Miami Heat basketball star Alonzo Mourning.

The March 5 event, also in Coral Gables, will "support the life changing work of both the Clinton Foundation and the Mourning Family Foundation," according to an invitation, though the funds will go to the nonprofit Mourning founded with his wife, Tracy. Contribution levels are listed at $25,000, $10,000 and $1,000. 

The charity supports programs for children and families, including after-school centers and mentorship. Alonzo Mourning has taken part before in the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative University, where the former president is scheduled to speak three days after the fundraiser.

Names roll in for Jeb Bush PAC fundraiser in Gables

@PatriciaMazzei

Big donors have been named "co-chairmen" of an upcoming Coral Gables fundraiser for Jeb Bush's political action committee.

The March 9 soiree, organized by healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez, on Monday listed more than a dozen people contributing and raising money for Bush's Right to Rise PAC. A $100,000 contribution gets a donor on what the PAC calls the "Florida Executive Committee."

Fernandez wrote in an email that he intends for the reception to raise $5 million, Politico reported. About $1 million would come from him.

In addition to Fernandez and his wife, Constance, they are: businessman and longtime Bush friend Jorge Arrizurieta; Goldman Sachs VP Robert Barlick; businessman Rodney Barreto and his wife, Sheila; Tallahassee attorney and lobbyist Paul Bradshaw; healthcare executive Joe Caruncho; Ambassadors Sue and Chuck Cobb; developer (and Bush golf buddy) Ed Easton; auto executive Manny Kadre; auto executive Mario Murgado; Ambassador John Rood and former House Speaker Will Weatherford and his wife, Courtney.

More donors are expected to join the group as they make financial commitments closer to the event.

Asked about his participation, Arrizurieta, who recently swapped offices with Bush at the Biltmore Hotel to give Bush the more private third-floor space, said the excitement surrounding his friend's all-but-announced candidacy has been "pretty special."

"He's got a fleet of people who would go through walls for him," Arrizurieta said.

This post has been updated.

Miami Young Republicans to host new party chair

@PatriciaMazzei

InviteState Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the new Republican Party of Florida chairman, will be feted Tuesday in a fundraiser by the Miami Young Republicans.

Ingoglia, of Spring Hill, should prove to be popular among the young party faithful. His Twitter handle, after all, is @GovGoneWild, after the web videos he produces that have gone viral. (Sample title: "Land of the Freebies, Home of the Enslaved.")

Rep. Bryan Avila of Hialeah will be a "special guest" at the event, headed up by a group that includes Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz.

Media outlets ask judge to protect data in FDLE case

Florida news outlets asked a state judge Monday to issue an emergency "preservation order" to compel Gov. Rick Scott and all three Cabinet members to protect and preserve any materials that may be relevant to their lawsuit alleging a Sunshine Law violation in the ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen filed a 10-page emergency motion with Circuit Judge George Reynolds in Tallahassee that covers virtually all forms of what's known in legal circles as ESI, or electronically stored communication, including text messages on a smart phone.

Her motion cites an investigation FDLE completed in 2012 concerning destruction of emails by Scott's transition team in the weeks before he took office in January 2011. That probe concluded that the destruction of public records was "a result of an oversight by the members of the Gov. Scott transition team and not as a result of any malicious or criminal intent to destroy public records." 

"The Governor and his staff have previously purged public records without properly archiving them," the motion states. "Significant controversy exists about unusual policies of the executive office of the governor as it relates to the retention of public records by members of its staff."The reference is to another lawsuit in which Scott initially denied, but then acknowledged that private email accounts were used to transact official business and a written policy that allowed individual state employees to decide whether certain messages were "transitory" and could be destroyed.

As a result, the motion said, "Plaintiffs (have) a substantial reason to fear that records relevant to this litigation will not be properly preserved and archived."

The motion noted that the plaintiffs are separately trying to obtain written stipulations from all four defendants as to the preservation of evidence. Besides Scott, the defendants in the case of Matthew Weidner et al. vs. Rick Scott et al. are Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.