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May 23, 2017

Why's Pam Bondi raising money? Not to run for office, she says.



Term-limited Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi may have restarted her political fundraising, but she says she's not considering a run for another public office.

In early April, Bondi's fundraising engine started back up, bringing in more than $82,000 to her political committee, called Justice for All. It raised questions about the aspirations of a Republican attorney general who can't seek reelection and who has already declared she would not run for governor in 2018.

Asked Tuesday if she was gearing up for another public office, Bondi said, "No. No, I’m not. Not right now, I’m not."

The career prosecutor specifically ruled out one job that's opening up: Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee announced last week that he would retire in September.

"The newest rumor I heard today is that I want to be sheriff of Hillsborough County," she said to reporters. "I do not want to be sheriff of Hillsborough County, seriously. We’ll see, but I need a political committee to continue when you all have political questions to ask me."

Photo: Attorney General Pam Bondi (ANDRES LEIVA | Times)

John Morgan 'prepared to invest $100M' in medical marijuana

John Morgan


John Morgan spent nearly $7 million pushing two statewide ballot initiatives to expand medical marijuana throughout the state of Florida.

But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the wealthy Orlando attorney and possible gubernatorial candidate says he’s prepared to invest in the industry now that it’s about to explode.

In a series of emails with the Miami Herald, Morgan said he intends to plunge up to $100 million into “the right opportunities.” He also acknowledged that he’s interested in owning a stake in a state-licensed dispensing organization, though he said he’s not yet invested in any cannabis companies.

“I am prepared to invest significant monies in this industry and I plan to,” he wrote. “I have learned a great deal about the miracles of marijuana over the last five years. And what better person than me to be involved?”

Morgan has been among the loudest voices advocating for medical marijuana in Florida. He spent about $6.8 million on the United for Care campaigns to pass a constitutional cannabis amendment in 2014 and 2016, and is among those calling on lawmakers to return to Tallahassee this summer after efforts to pass legislation regulating the voter-approved program fell apart during session.

To read more, click here.

Rubio: If Trump asked intel chiefs to back off Russia investigation, it goes to 'very nature' of their work

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio suggested Tuesday morning reports about President Donald Trump asking top intelligence officials to squelch the Russia investigation could hurt information sharing.

"We have to confirm that that's what actually happened. And I'm not disputing that it did," Rubio said on CNN's "New Day."

"If it does, I would say to you that it goes further in my mind as a member of the intelligence committee than just the focus on the Russia investigation. I think it goes into the very nature of the intelligence community's work and its ability to work with the executive branch and the presidency."

It was Rubio's lastest national TV appearance in which he's discussed Russia issues, if carefully. Asked if Trump's alleged action amounted to obstruction, Rubio demurred, saying all the facts are needed.

He also sounded a pessimistic note about chance for a Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, which Trump is attempting to broker.

"Everyone says they want peace. How do you define peace? If peace means Israel can no longer retain their nature as a Jewish state or give up control of Jerusalem, if that's peace -- that's not peace, that's not going to happen," Rubio said.

"From the Palestinian leadership's perspective, I don't think their definition of peace fits within what most of us at least here in Congress and in the United States would define as peace. And that's always been a problem," Rubio said. "I think it is a very noble endeavor. I think the White House and President needs to be careful in an effort to make things better we end up making things worse."

"It is my view that the conditions for the sort of peace we all desire do not exist, and therefore, we need to try to begin to create those conditions."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

To win friends under Trump, Cuban diplomats travel across America

via @HeraldMimi

Cuban diplomats have been traveling across the United States so frequently since President Donald Trump took office that the slogan of the Cuban Embassy in Washington could be “See America First.”

They've spoken at college campuses from Harvard University to Montana State and logged miles in Pennsylvania, Montana, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Louisiana, the Washington suburbs and most recently Florida. They’ve visited mayors, governors, and legislators along the way and collected proclamations in support of lifting the embargo from city councils and mayors.

So far this month, Cuban Ambassador to the U.S. José Ramón Cabañas traveled to Baltimore to receive Cuban artists participating in a joint show with American artists called “Building Bridges: The Politics of Love, Identity and Race,” spent four days filled with meetings in the Tampa Bay area, and traveled to Kentucky where he met with Gov. Matt Bevin, the mayors of Lexington and Louisville and Kentucky business executives — and the month isn’t even over yet.

In the Bluegrass State, Cabañas tweeted he was the first Cuban representative to be invited to the Kentucky Derby and posted pictures of Churchill Downs. He also posed with Cuban Americans who had restored a monument to 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí in Shively, Ky., and learned about making barrels for bourbon, beer, wine and rum at the Kelvin Cooperage.

At the end of April, he was in New Orleans for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where Cuba was the featured foreign country and some 150 Cuban artists and musicians participated. A Cuban flag was among those that flew from the center flagpole at Jazz Fest. 

The goal of the frenetic travel: to win friends and influence people and make sure the fledgling U.S.-Cuba relationship continues to improve under the new administration.

More here.

Photo credit: Chris Urso, Tampa Bay Times

Havana didn't like Trump's message on Cuban independence day

Cuba May Day
via @ngameztorres

Havana has reacted strongly to a statement issued by President Donald Trump to the Cuban people over the weekend to mark the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cuba.

A statement read on Cuban state television on Saturday described Trump’s message as “controversial” and “ridiculous.”

“...the Miami Herald on Saturday published a controversial and ridiculous message from the ill-advised U.S. President Donald Trump to the people of Cuba about May 20, a date that the United States considers as the emergence of the Republic of Cuba, when we actually know that what was born that day was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived until on January 1, 1959,” says the statement, referencing the date when Fidel Castro seized control of the island.

The statement, which was also published on the Cuban TV website, is signed only as “Official Note” and it is unclear whether it corresponds to a change of position by the Cuban government, which had been careful in its statements on the new U.S. president, who has ordered a review of Cuba policy.

On several occasions, the Cuban government has offered to maintain a dialogue with the United States.

Official notes from Havana are usually signed by “the Revolutionary Government” or the governmental entity issuing it. Cuban Television responds directly to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, a conservative bastion within the government of Raúl Castro.

More here.

Trump plan to boost border patrol is in trouble

Border Patrol Recruitment
via @glenngarvin

When a U.S. Senate committee voted recently for a bill that would end lie-detector tests for some job applicants at the U.S. Border Patrol, it was a stark recognition that one of the major components of President Donald Trump’s plan to stop illegal immigration — a hiring surge of 5,000 new agents in the Border Patrol — is in serious trouble.

Snarled by a combination of bureaucratic torpor and the economic reality that not many qualified applicants find the job attractive, not only has the Border Patrol failed to make any of the new hires, it hasn’t even been able to fill the 1,700 positions it had open at the time of Trump’s January order to expand.

“Five thousand new agents, we all knew that was pie in the sky,” said Zack Taylor, head of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers. “They’ll be lucky if they can find 500.”

And an unusual coalition of immigration hawks and doves predicts that attempts at a speedy mass hiring will touch off a tidal wave of misconduct, corruption and even narcotrafficker spying within the Border Patrol as applicants with dubious skills and sinister intention take advantage of softer requirements.

“Given all the problems the Border Patrol has had finding new agents, we’ve been sort of unclear on how the Trump administration thought it was going to be able not to just quickly get the organization up to strength, but to hire 5,000 more,” said Joshua Breisblatt, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, an immigrant-rights group.

“The answer is that they’re going to have to find ways to make it easier to hire agents, and that could easily end in disaster.”

More here.

Photo credit: Astrid Galvan, Associated Press

Ballard lobbying shop lands big Turkey contract in D.C.

via @learyreports

Ballard Partners, the Florida lobbying firm led by Brian Ballard, is quickly ramping up in Washington and just landed a high-profile contract: the government of Turkey.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who joined the firm in April, will lead the work and has years of experience dealing with American-Turkish issues. In 2000, he was a founding member of the Turkey Caucus.

“To restate the obvious, it’s a central part of American’s foreign policy in the most critical part of the world,” Wexler said in an interview on Monday.

The goal, he said, is to “enhance American-Turkish relations and all that encompasses.”

That includes fighting terrorism, seeking a resolution to the “quagmire in Syria,” promoting Turkey as an energy hub so that Europe can become less dependent on Russia, and easing the refugee crisis, Wexler said.

“Turkey can play an incredibly important role in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Wexler added. “It also has an essential role to play in counteracting Iran’s aggressiveness in the region.”

The 1-year contract is worth $1.5 million and comes just days after Turkish officials brawled with protesters in Washington. There's also ongoing strife in Turkey.

Ballard Partners also represents the Government of the Dominican Republican and the Socialist Party of Albania, in addition to an array of domestic clients, from Amazon to U.S. Sugar.

The firm’s D.C. hub reported $1.25 million in income for the first quarter.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Florida Lottery secretary leaving for Kentucky lottery job



The reason Florida’s lottery secretary will leave his post next week after 17 years with the agency became clear Tuesday: Tom Delacenserie accepted a higher-paying position as the new head of Kentucky’s state lottery.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office announced Delacenserie’s forthcoming departure last Friday, with no details on why Delacenserie was resigning effective June 2.

On Tuesday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin publicly appointed Delacenserie as the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corp. Delacenserie will begin his new job June 5.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie, left, is resigning June 2 to take a job as the new president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corp. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Florida Democratic Party makes new hires

via @adamsmithtimes

From a Florida Democratic Party release:

The Florida Democratic Party continues working to build the strongest statewide grassroots operation in FDP history. Today, Chair Stephen Bittel announced several key hires and promotions within the Florida Democratic Party. 

“Over the past few months we have seen a resurgent Florida Democratic Party,” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel. “In large part, this has been thanks to the tireless efforts of our staff. That is why I am very proud to announce two major promotions and several new hires. I’m confident that the new Florida Democratic Party will build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

Below is the list of promotions and new hires. 

Continue reading "Florida Democratic Party makes new hires" »

Supporters of state parks tell Rick Scott: 'Veto this bad budget'

TubingAnother statewide advocacy group wants Gov. Rick Scott to reject the state budget and order the Florida Legislature back to work. Supporters of state parks asked Scott to "veto this bad budget" passed two weeks ago, accusing lawmakers of turning their backs on land conservation and park protection.

In a release, the Friends of Florida State Parks called the 2017 session "a huge disappointment for our environment and specifically our state parks. Not only did the Legislature zero out dollars for any land acquisitions in Florida Forever, but it also completely rebuffed efforts by Gov. Scott and the Department of Environmental Protection to fully fund the land management requests of DEP."

The group noted that just three years ago, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 to protect and preserve the state's sensitive natural environment.

“Our award-winning state parks are one of Florida’s main economic drivers,” said Paula Russo, president of the Friends of Florida State Parks. "More people visit state parks annually than visit the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. They spend money and pay sales taxes. This budget cut is incomprehensible, especially in light of the Legislature’s previous two-year commitment to enhanced land management dollars. Zeroing out Florida Forever is a slap in the face to Florida voters. We strongly urge Governor Scott to veto the entire budget, call the Legislature back and have them address these glaring deficiencies.”

Russo said the cut to DEP's land management program is especially unwise in a year when wildfires have burned across more than 126,000 acres in Florida.

Florida Conservation Voters has noted that the Legislature's overall cuts to environmental spending in five separate programs total $372.5 million from last year. The St. Petersburg-based advocacy group Progress Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida have also called on Scott to veto the entire budget, which has not happened since former Gov. Lawton Chiles vetoed it in 1992.

The budget (SB 2500) passed the Senate, 34-4, and the House, 98-14. Of the 18 lawmakers who voted against the budget, 16 are Democrats and two are Republicans: Reps. Eric Eisnaugle and Jay Fant.