January 26, 2015

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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Gov. Scott eyed Louisiana official as possible McCarty replacement

An online news service that covers the insurance industry reports that Gov. Rick Scott's office contacted a Louisiana insurance regulator as a potential replacement for Florida insurance regulator Kevin McCarty two weeks before Scott first publicly suggested McCarty's removal from office.

UPDATE: Scott's office confirms it asked Henderson for his resume and did not float the idea on a staff level with the three Cabinet members who also oversee the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). Scott's office issued this statement: "As we made the transition to a second term in office, Ron Henderson was brought up as a possible candidate for Commissioner of OIR. We reached out and asked for his resume.  We did not discuss Mr. Henderson with other Cabinet staff. As the governor said last week, the next Cabinet meeting would be a good time to discuss a process to begin a full search for new candidates to lead OIR, OFR and DOR. The governor believes government needs to be more like business and frequently change leadership to bring in new ideas and fresh energy.”  

Continue reading "Gov. Scott eyed Louisiana official as possible McCarty replacement " »

January 25, 2015

Priebus and Wasserman Schultz mislead on immigration, but Dems have political edge

One of the most bipartisan aspects of immigration reform is the inability of the Republican and Democratic leaders to talk honestly about it.

Simply look at how Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, handled the issue last week.

Rather than provide hard facts, they reverted to the political parties’ default position: Recrimination for political point-scoring. The problem for Republicans, though, is the issue benefits Democrats more in presidential election years.

More here

January 24, 2015

WASH POST: GOP presidential candidates face delicate balancing act

Washington Post's Dan Balz and Robert Costa, writing from Iowa on Saturday:

 The most wide-open Republican presidential nomination campaign in memory had its unofficial opening here on Saturday at a gathering that highlighted anew the thorny path ahead for candidates as they try to attract support from the party's conservative base without compromising their hopes of winning a general election.

(MIssing from event: Bush, Romney, Rubio, Paul and Jindal.)


January 23, 2015

Vanity Fair's David Margolick's revisits Jeb Bush's Andover days

Vanity Fair's David Margolick writes in Vanity Fair ...

Andover back then was a thoroughly cliquish place, divided neatly into “jocks,” “nerds,” “freaks,” and “zeroes.” [Jeb] Bush was hard to pigeonhole—he was captain of the tennis team and was friendly with several black students—but was also, improbably (as one classmate called him) “a budding hippie.”



The InnoVida scandal, with Jeb Bush now the lead character


As the InnoVida scandal unfolded in the Miami media, Jeb Bush was part of the supporting cast.

The former governor was just one of several well-known figures the smooth-talking CEO, Claudio Osorio, recruited to bring respectability to a company that would ultimately be the vehicle for a $50 million swindle. Miami Heat great Alonzo Mourning, retired general Wesley Clark and condo king Jorge Perez were also reliable mentions in InnoVida coverage for their ties to the failed company. 

But with Bush readying a presidential run, he finds himself fully in the InnoVida spotlight. The Washington Post put the saga on the front page this week, with some new details that highlight the kind of money that Bush's consulting deal with InnoVida could have generated if the company had been legit. 

In our story, we revisit the business scandal that unfolded like a classic Miami fraud -- one with the requisite fancy cars, lavish mansion and wealty, prominent friends.

At the time, it didn't also involve a presidential candidate. But stay tuned. 

Read the story here

Scott avoids reporters amid calls for investigations into FDLE

As Gov. Rick Scott on Friday continued to brush off questions about allegations of political meddling made by the state's former top law enforcement officer, pressure mounted elsewhere in Florida to get answers.

A Land O'Lakes man filed a formal complaint with the FBI asking for an investigation into a series of claims made last week by Gerald Bailey, whom Scott ousted as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"There's a clear indication of tampering with criminal investigations and FDLE that an impartial investigator needs to take a look at," said Jim Frissell, a 58-year-old engineer.

Frissell sent his complaint to Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who, along with Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, said on Thursday that a third party should investigate Bailey's allegations, which included charges that Scott's office or campaign pressured him to fudge details in a criminal investigation, shuttle campaign workers in state vehicles, expedite a criminal investigation of a possible Scott appointee and craft Scott's campaign platform on law enforcement.

Scott's office has broadly deemed Bailey's allegations to be "false" or "petty" but has refused to provide details.

Frissell disagrees with Putnam's suggestion that the FDLE's inspector general could handle the case and hopes to persuade him to push for a federal investigation.

Read story here

Senator conducts surprise inspections at two prisons with troubled history

Suwanee CorrectionalThe chairman of a key legislative committee and an entourage of Senate staff dropped in for an evening of surprise inspections at two of North Florida’s troubled prisons late Thursday.

The initial findings after touring Suwannee Correctional and Jefferson Correctional: dormitories that had been abandoned because of leaking roofs, facilities dependent on community donations for supplies, and dangerously low staffing levels at two prisons with a history of inmate abuse.

 “I’m sorry to be the only fool who has taken it on himself to check it out but I don’t like dog and pony shows,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, in an interview with the Herald/Times. 

He said he decided he needed to conduct the surprise inspections to “get to the bottom of what needs to be done at the Department of Corrections” after a series of reports in the Miami Herald have called attention to a record number of inmate deaths and allegations of cover-up by officials involved.

He said he relied on a state statute that allows authorized visits by legislators, governors, judges, Cabinet officials and states attorneys and brought along his staff to chronicle the experience.

The reaction from the close-knit prison establishment: complete surprise.

“A Senator or Representative, touring a State Correctional facility, afterhours, is unheard of,’’ wrote Samuel Culpepper, director of prisons for Region 1 in North Florida, in an email message to wardens on Friday morning. “We’re in a new day and a new time.”

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Olenick to join state Board of Education

Michael-OlenickGov. Rick Scott has appointed Michael Olenick to the state Board of Education.

Olenick, 62, is a former general counsel for the state Department of Education. He currently chairs the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees.

"I know Michael shares our goal of making sure all of our students succeed in the classroom, and I am pleased to appoint him to the State Board of Education today," Scott said in a statement.

Olenick is vice president of corporate affairs and chief compliance officer of The Morganti Group, an international construction company. A graduate of Nova Southeastern School of Law, he previously served as assistant state attorney for Broward and St. Lucie counties, as well as Martin County attorney.

He will replace Ada Armas, a Miami-Dade physician who resigned from the education board to spend more time with her family. 

His term ends December 31, 2016.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.