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July 14, 2017

Scott returns to circle of loyalists with appointment of Tom Grady to constitution commission

Tom Grady and Rick ScottGov. Rick Scott returned to his circle of loyalists again on Thursday, appointing former state Rep. Tom Grady to fill the post on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission vacated when he named another of his early supporters, Jimmy Patronis, as state Chief Financial Officer.

Grady, a Naples Republican, serves on the State Board of Education, where he was appointed by Scott. The governor has also previously appointed him commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, president of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and trustee of Florida Gulf Coast University. 

During his time in state government, Grady had a history questionable personal spending. In less than two months overseeing the state-run provider, he spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride and a three-night stay in Bermuda. Grady defended the spending, saying he was actually “very frugal.” He lost the permanent job to a Maryland insurance executive, amid questions raised by the Tampa Bay Times about his spending habits. 

The Times also reported in 2012 that during his tenure running the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, Grady echoed Scott’s cost-cutting mantra, but also racked up hefty travel expenses — including $6,000 on in-state travel and $10,000 on office furniture.

Grady is CEO of both Continental Equities Group and GradyLaw. Grady received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and law degree from Duke University.

"Tom has been an advocate for Floridians throughout his entire career and I know he will continue to relentlessly work to make our state the best place for families and job creators to succeed for generations to come," Scott said in an statement.

The 37-member commission has the power to place constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot. The commission, which meets every 20 years, includes appointees of the House speaker, Senate president and chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. But the membership gives the advantage to the governor, who appoints its chair. Scott appointed Carlos Beruff, who has asserted strict control over the panel, shaping rules that have helped to concentrate his influence over ballot measures.

The commission is in the process of holding public meetings across the state.

Photo: Tom Grady and Gov. Rick Scott by Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat

Staff writer Kristen Clark contributed to this report. 

Corcoran amps up his campaign staff with hire of ad guy for the 'unannounced' campaign

Corcoran profile photo AP Steve Cannonvia @SteveBousquet

House Speaker Richard Corcoran's Watchdog PAC has hired Jamestown Associates, the Philadelphia-based Republican media firm that shaped Donald Trump's TV ad campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The firm's CEO, Larry Weitzner, and Barney Keller will provide strategic advice to Corcoran as he considers a possible run for governor of Florida next year. They will join with the Fort Lauderdale-based pollster Tony Fabrizio, who has advised Gov. Rick Scott in addition to a long list of GOP candidates around the country. Adding Jamestown Associates is likely to accomplish the obvious goal of generating more buzz about Corcoran's political plans.

"Speaker Corcoran founded Watchdog PAC with the intent that it would spread the message of conservative reform across Florida," said Watchdog PAC chairman James Blair. "We will continue to build an organization of people that will help achieve that goal."

Remember Trump's "Deplorables" TV spot? That was the work of Jamestown Associates. Weitzner also was involved with a pro-Trump "super PAC" in the 2016 election. The Washington Post ran this enlightening piece on Weitzner's Trump ad strategy last December.

July 13, 2017

Republicans fail in last-ditch push to ban medical treatments for transgender troops


@alextdaugherty @verambergen

As the House of Representatives debated a proposal that would ban medical treatments for transgender individuals serving in the military, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California had a brief message:

“Choose what gender you are before you join.”

A smattering of Democrats gathered to oppose the amendment offered by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., quietly gasped.

After Hunter finished speaking, Sean Patrick Maloney, an openly gay congressman from New York, took his turn at the podium.

“No one in the Pentagon has called for this,” Maloney said. “The Hartzler amendment would single out and rob a small group of military service members and their families of their health care merely because these folks, or members of their family, experience gender a little differently.”

Just under an hour later, the House of Representatives narrowly voted down Hartzler’s proposal 214-209, to audible cheers from the House floor.

Two dozen House Republicans voted with 190 Democrats to sink the amendment that would prohibit military funds for soldiers seeking medical treatment related to gender transition.

“It’s a hurtful amendment, it’s not needed,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, a noted advocate for LGBT rights who has a transgender son. “I view it as a personal issue, because as a mom I’m impacted, but it’s an issue of fairness for everyone. You don’t have to know someone that’s transgender or have someone in your immediate family to feel this impact. It’s just needlessly hurtful and serves no useful purpose.”

Ros-Lehtinen was among the 24 Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who voted against the amendment. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor.

Hartzler argued that her amendment would save the military money, and said the Department of Defense could buy 13 more F-35 fighter jets with the money that would be used for gender reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender service members.

Read more here. 

Fact-checking President Trump's interview with Pat Robertson



President Donald Trump talked about his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson on The 700 Club.

Trump said that the two nuclear superpowers need to have a good relationship, but that Russia and United States will not always agree.

"We are the most powerful country in the world and we are getting more and more powerful because I'm a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me. And that's why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military. He doesn't want to see that," Trump told Robertson in the 30-minute interview that aired July 13.

Trump boasted about his progress on promises including his effort to reduce regulations, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and his eagerness for senators to give him legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it.

Keep reading from PolitiFact.

Florida's response to Trump voter fraud commission remains on hold



Florida's plan to partially comply with a request by President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission to hand over data on millions of Florida voters remains on hold due to litigation.

In June, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked states to send publicly available voter roll data by July 14th. But on July 10, the commission asked states to hold off due to litigation in Washington D.C.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner's spokeswoman Sarah Revell told the Miami Herald that the state's plan to provide data is on hold.

"The commission that made the public records request asked the department not to submit the requested information," she said in an email July 12. "As with any public records request, if the requester indicates they no longer wish to receive the information, we do not process their request."

On July 10, the ACLU of Florida along with other plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit in Miami seeking to stop the work of the commission and to prevent Detzner from handing over data. The ACLU filed an updated motion seeking a temporary restraining order Thursday.

Trump repeatedly alleged massive voter fraud, but there is no evidence that widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2016 election.

Here is the letter sent to election officials including Detzner from the Trump commission:

Dear Election Official,

 As you may know, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) in connection with the June 28, 2017 letter sent by Vice Chair Kris Kobach requesting publicly-available voter data.  See Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Until the Judge rules on the TRO, we request that you hold on submitting any data.  We will follow up with you with further instructions once the Judge issues her ruling.

Andrew Kossack

Designated Federal Officer

Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity

Rubio will vote yes on motion to proceed with Obamacare repeal bill

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Sen. Marco Rubio will vote yes on a motion to proceed with the second draft of the Senate's Obamacare repeal bill. 

The bill, released on Thursday, was satisfactory to Rubio after he tweeted three provisions as conditions for his support on Wednesday night.

The provisions included more Medicaid payments to hospitals that serve a large number of low-income people, an option to choose catastrophic coverage plans with low monthly payments but high deductibles and flexible Medicaid caps for public health emergencies like Zika.

Rubio said that despite his support on the motion to proceed with the bill, he will introduce an amendment that ensures Florida, which chose not to expand Medicaid, isn't locked into a baseline "that puts us at a disadvantageous position." 

"It depends what the final bill looks like, if Florida's not treated fairly it'll be a problem," Rubio said. "But ultimately, I campaigned to repeal and replace Obamacare and that's what I want to but I want to do it in a way that's positive for the country and fair for Florida." 

Even though Rubio is in favor of proceeding with the bill, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican and conservative Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul both said Thursday they are not in favor of proceeding with the bill. A number of other Republican senators said they are undecided. 

"We have at least 51 insurance markets in the country, we don't have one, so everybody's approaching it from the perspective of their own state," Rubio said.  

The bill can still be changed if the motion to proceed passes with additional amendments. 

High court tells homeowners who lost trees to go back to court after governor's veto

Canker 1997Homeowners in Broward and Lee counties who lost their citrus trees to canker were told by Florida's highest court Thursday that because of the governor's veto, they'll have to go back to court to get the money.

The 6-1 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court continues the legal limbo that has trapped homeowners for the last decade as they try to get redress after the state destroyed their healthy citrus trees as part of its ailed Citrus Canker Eradication Program between 2000 and 2006.

After years of litigation, the Legislature for the first time set aside the money in June -- $20.9 million to 70,036 Broward tree owners and $16.4 million to 167,677 homeowners in Lee County.

But Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the $37.3 million, ignoring the order by the court that the state pay the money on the grounds that destroying the trees without adequate compensation was an unconstitutional “taking” and instead argued that the veto was warranted “because of ongoing litigation.”

Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class-action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court has ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest. One one case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending. The bench trial in that case ended in June 2016, but the judge has not ruled.

Homeowners petitioned the court last month to invalidate Scott's veto but the court rejected their request, saying the better approach is to return to the lower courts to compel the state to pay.

"We hereby dismiss this petition without prejudice to seek redress in the pending circuit court actions,'' the majority wrote, adding that: "Nothing about the start of the new fiscal year prevents the respective circuit courts from issuing the relief requested, if those courts determine that relief is commanded by the facts and law."

However, Justice Barbara Pariente, who concurred with the majority that the high court could not invalidate a veto, wrote a separate opinion with a scathing criticism of the governor.

"Adding further insult to injury, the Governor’s veto was based on misinformation that the litigation in these cases was still ongoing when that was not the case,'' she wrote. "...These petitioners have the right to full compensation. The time has come for the State to pay up." Justice Peggy Quince concurred.

Justice R. Fred Lewis was the lone dissent on the court. He also blasted Scott for failing to understand the Florida Constitution, but also accused his partners on the court of abdicating their responsibility by elevating the governor's veto over the constitutional right for compensation when the state takes property.

"This is a sad day for Florida citizens with a majority and concurring opinion that refuse to protect the right of compensation for the massive government taking of property from Florida citizens,'' Lewis wrote. "The right to own private property and the corresponding right to receive full and complete compensation when private property is taken by a government is a foundational cornerstone of this democracy."

He criticized the court's majority and Pariente's opinion for using "artful and eloquent give an illusion of protecting a sacred constitutional right then to only crush that right by refusing to require payment of that compensation."

He said the governor's argument in support of a veto was "misdirected" and failed to understand both the separation of powers and the constitution.

"This is not a game and our citizens should not be toyed with as if a yo-yo, and yet that is exactly what this veto accomplishes,'' Lewis wrote. "Now, with the opportunity to stop this ten-year game of yo-yo, this Court abdicates its responsibility when it allows state actors to disregard their constitutional obligation by playing further games of delay and obfuscation. Justice demands that it stop now."

Lewis also lampooned the governor, a lawyer, and his understanding of the law. 

"The Executive’s response oozes executive power in what he terms his unfettered veto. However, the Executive forgets or has failed to read the first lines of the Florida Constitution: 'All political power is inherent in the people. The enunciation herein of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or impair others retained by the people.'

"...We simply cannot allow another ten years to go by for the Executive to continue playing games of hide the money through a veto power and word games in the courts,'' Lewis concluded. "Furthermore, every day that goes by, the State owes more and more in postjudgment interest for a judgment that has long been final."

Scott spokesperson John Tupps said it is  “unfortunate what happened to these Floridians over a decade ago and Gov. Scott sincerely understands their concern." But he said the governor stands by the veto and is "hopeful that all litigation regarding this issue will be completely resolved, allowing the issue to be addressed comprehensively across the state.” 

During the citrus eradication program, state agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chain saws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.

Lawmakers added the money to the budget for only two of the four counties in which judgments have been rendered. They did not include money for homeowners in Orange and Palm Beach counties.




Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduces amendments that would revoke Jared Kushner's security clearance



Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced two amendments on Thursday that would revoke Jared Kushner's security clearance if they pass Congress. 

Both amendments failed on a party-line vote after a debate in the House committee that determines federal spending. 

The first amendment prohibits federal funding for presidential security clearances for someone who is under a criminal investigation by a Federal law enforcement agency for aiding a foreign government. The second amendment bars funding for security credentials for anyone who "deliberately fails" to disclose a meeting with a foreign national if the disclosure is required as part of the individual's security clearance credentialing process. 

In June 2016, Kushner, met with a Russian attorney who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to emails between Donald Trump Jr. and a music publicist. Kushner's lawyers failed to disclose the meeting on his security clearance form. Knowingly omitting the meetings is a crime but Kushner's lawyers say omitting the meeting was a non-intentional mistake. 

"This is an intentionally narrowly drawed amendment," Wasserman Schultz said. 

Donald Trump's digital operation during the campaign, headed by Kushner, is also under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department over whether the campaign helped to guide Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a report by McClatchy DC. Kushner is a senior Trump adviser who has access to classified information. 

Wasserman Schultz's amendments were inserted into the annual Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill during a markup on Thursday.

The amendments did not garner any Republican support. 

Conservative group targets Bill Nelson and Carlos Curbelo in tax reform ads




Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative group, is targeting U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, in digital ads urging them to support tax reform.

The ads target House Ways and Means lawmakers who have expressed support for comprehensive tax reform, but who have yet to take a stand against the Border Adjustment Tax on imported goods, according to Freedom Partners. The ads, which also target key Senate members, target members from both parties and in Florida also includes U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Freedom Partners supports a series of changes to taxes including lowering individual and corporate rates, eliminating most tax credits and deductions and the estate tax and taxes on gifts.

When asked for his opinion about the proposed changes, Curbelo's spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez replied: “Congressman Curbelo is still reviewing all the different proposals and concepts for comprehensive tax reform. His goal is a simpler, fairer tax code that leads to greater economic growth, prosperity, and opportunity for Florida families and employers.”

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC, helped Curbelo in the 2014 race by attacking his Democratic rival U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.


Miami's lame duck mayor pushes ambitious agenda in final months



In the home stretch of a 20-year political career, Tomás Regalado is hustling to the finish line.

With just four months left in his final term and legacy on his mind, the mayor of Miami is loading whatever politics will allow onto the November ballot in order to accomplish as much as possible before leaving office. A new theme park hotel, around $100 million in marina upgrades, long-term contracts to redevelop prime waterfront land and a quarter-billion in public works projects are all on the agenda.

It’s an ambitious plan for a lame-duck administration.

To read the rest, click here.