November 18, 2014

Miami-Dade mayor hires new press secretary


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has hired a local Spanish-language television reporter to join his communications office.

Stephanie Severino, who works as a weather anchor and reporter for WLTV-Univision 23, will become Gimenez's press secretary as of Dec. 1, according to the county. She will report to Communications Director Mike Hernández.

"We are excited to have Stephanie join the Miami-Dade County communications team," Hernandez said. "Her professionalism and experience made her a good fit to fill the position. I look forward to working with her to strengthen our countywide communications efforts to better serve our residents, businesses and visitors."

Despite the press secretary title, the job is unlike, say, President Obama's press secretary, who mostly handles questions from reporters. In the past, the Miami-Dade press secretary has been in charge of crafting the mayor's speeches. Severino will replace Ignacio Ortiz, who is leaving County Hall's 29th floor for the communications office at the county-owned Miami International Airport. The position was not publicly advertised.

Severino will make about $85,000 a year -- an increase from Ortiz's about $75,000 a year. The wiggle room for the extra money is a product of Gimenez's having yet to replace former policy director Inson Kim, who made about $105,000. It appears her successor will have to make less than that to balance Gimenez's office budget.

At the airport, Ortiz will replace Maria Levrant, who is going to work for incoming County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. As media and public relations officer, Ortiz will maintain the same salary he had working for the mayor, according to MIA.

Florida Senate elects Orlando businessman Andy Gardiner as its 86th president

Gardiner swearing inThe Florida Senate returned Tuesday with all but one of the same members as two years ago and elected Orlando Sen. Andy Gardiner as its new leader, adding a younger face to the chamber controlled by conservative, white Republican men.

Gardiner, 45, takes over from Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, as head of the 40-member chamber that includes 26 Republicans. A graduate of Stetson University and the father of three, Gardiner is the vice-president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health. He was first elected to the Florida House in 2002. He was elected to the Senate in 2008. 

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, who helped Gardiner beat back a challenge to his presidency two years ago organized by Gaetz and outgoing Sen. John Thrasher, told the chamber: "I will take a bullet for this man." 

Thrasher has resigned to become president of Florida State University and a special election will be held for his replacement -- who will be the only newcomer to the chamber in two years. 

Garcia introduced a biographical video of Gardiner that included interviews of his sixth grade teacher, his former baseball coach and two long-time friends. 

"The State of Florida is in incredible hands because Sen. Gardiner will put families first before politics,'' Garcia said.  

Gardiner called it a "humbling moment" and noted that his wife, Camille, asked him that morning if he was nervous. "I said, 'No. I'm not nervous,'" but he later realized he forgot to shave. 

Continue reading "Florida Senate elects Orlando businessman Andy Gardiner as its 86th president " »

Florida House rejects elections returns for District 64

Residents of Carrollwood, Citrus Park, Oldsmar and Safety Harbor won't have a representative in the Florida House -- for now, at least.

State lawmakers voted Tuesday to throw out the results of the House District 64 election, creating a vacancy in that district.  

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to call a special election.

State Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, had already raised questions about the integrity of the Nov. 4 contest, which he won comfortably. Earlier this month, he pointed out that an appellate judge deemed the election unconstitutional.

"You can't send a candidate to Tallahassee to office on the back of an election that was deemed unconstitutional," he told the Herald/Times.

Continue reading "Florida House rejects elections returns for District 64" »

Gov. Scott's official margin of victory: 64,145 votes

Gov. Rick Scott received not one but two sustained standing ovations Tuesday in the Florida House as part of the one-day organizational session celebrating the installation of a new speaker and Senate president and the elections of new members.

The sustained applause reflected the gratitude of Scott's fellow Republicans -- and a sense of relief -- that he will be around for four more years.

"It's good to see you back," outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told Scott.

Earlier, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said "I can't tell you how glad I was" to see Scott sitting at the front of the Senate chamber.

The state Elections Canvassing Commission certified the official final results from tthe 2014 election on Tuesday. Scott received 2,865,343 votes or 48.14 percent, and Democrat Charlie Crist received 2,801,198 or 47.07 percent. Scott's victory margin was 64,145 votes.

Fact-checking Jeb Bush, possible presidential contender who hosts national education summit this week

Amid growing talk about a possible presidential bid by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor has been focusing more on public policy than on politics.

Bush has crisscrossed the country giving statistics-laced speeches that address education, immigration and the economy. He’s defended Common Core education standards and additional work-related visas for immigrants -- views not always in tune with the Republican base -- and he’s advocated for more economic and technological growth.

At PolitiFact, we have been fact-checking Bush since 2010 -- a total of 17 times. He’s earned four True ratings, six Mostly Trues, two Half Trues, four Mostly Falses and one Pants on Fire.

The Republican is best known for his stances on education reform -- something that he championed as governor between 1999 and 2007 and later through his Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Bush and the foundation will co-host the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington on Nov. 20-21. Topics include testing, school choice, funding and the achievement gap.

Here’s a look at some of PolitiFact's most notable fact-checks of Bush.

Gardiner and Crisafulli take control of Legislature today

One climbed the legislative ranks rung by rung for more than a decade, his steady progress made possible by a quiet determination.

The other is a scion of a politically powerful family who made it to the top only after scandal and an election upset cleared the way for his rise.

Their paths converge at the apex of Florida politics today when Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, becomes president of the Florida Senate and Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, becomes speaker of the Florida House.

Neither promises to be much different than outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford. Both are staunch conservatives, embraced by the GOP establishment. Both are widely regarded as safe bets to manage the spoils for a party on a winning streak.

"The last two years were good," said lobbyist Brian Ballard. "This will be a continuation. These are two solid guys who are grownups. They get along real well."

No one expects the drama that swirled about the Capitol when Republicans had a House supermajority four years ago. Gardiner, 45, and Crisafulli, 43, are longtime friends who haven't revealed many of their priorities yet.

"Our styles are very similar," Gardiner said. "Neither one of us is coming in with a huge ask."

The two Central Florida lawmakers — Crisafulli lives in Gardiner's district — have agreed to make drafting a comprehensive water policy a main goal over the next two years. Protecting the Indian River Lagoon will rise to the level of a pressing state issue.

"I don't see a lot of red meat political issues going back and forth," Ballard said.

Read story here.


November 17, 2014

Friends gather to remember former GOP chairman Tom Slade

Tom SladeFormer chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Tom Slade, 78, was remembered Monday at a ceremony in Tallahassee as a skilled strategist who was responsible for bringing the party to its current dominance in Florida politics today. 

"If he had not been there, I'm convinced we would not have the party we have today,'' said John Thrasher, former House speaker, Republican Party chairman who is now newly-elected president of FSU. "Tom practiced tough love. I'm not sure he was always right but he never thought he was wrong."

Slade, a former state legislator, was chairman of the Republican Party of Florida from 1993 to 1999. He died of heart failure on Oct. 20 at Orange Park Medical Center.

Friends recalled his prowess as an intuitive strategist, a disciplined organizer, and a good quote who "really loved the press." They spoke of how he could cajole donors for funds, persuade reluctant candidates -- like Bob Milligan and Frank Brogan -- to consider running for statewide office and how he used Patton-like precision to get candidates to agree to avoid bloody primary battles.

 "Tom Slade had an imposing personality" who "owned the room," said former GOP chairman Carole Jean Jordan. 

She recalled how he tried unsuccessfully to run for national Republican Party chairman, a defeat that she believes had lasting consequences for the party. 

"We lost the U.S. Senate the next term'' because of it, Jordan said. 

David Johnson, who served as party executive director under Slade, organized the memorial service.

Johnson said when he came to Tallahassee there were few Republican jobs in town but working for Slade "was like playing for the Yankees."

Slade's former staffers and veterans of the media spoke about his willingness to speak openly to the press without talking points or spin. He never needed to go off the record, and he could employ his considerable verbal dexterity to advance the GOP position in any debate.

"He never met a reporter he didn't want to talk to,'' Jordan said. "And that was somewhat unfortunate."

In 1996, when Pat Buchanan was trying to control the platform debate over abortion, Slade told the Miami Herald’s Tom Fiedler: "The truth is, he has lost. The game's over. There's a Southern saying that 'There ain't no education in the second kick of the mule.' "

Jordon recalled how remarks like that once prompted a call from the George W. Bush White House.

"It wasn't the president but it was close,'' she said. "They said, 'Can you please stop Tom Slade's non-positive comments?' "

Al Cardenas, a Miami Cuban who succeeded Slade as party chairman, said that after he met Slade he thought, "I never met a guy more different than me" but realized they both had one thing in common: "We both hate to lose."

The era in which Slade ran the party was a "glorious decade" Cardenas said, but it was also "our most challenging." 

He recalled Slade's fierce determination to raise money -- at one point charging each Republican candidate for president $50,000 to speak to GOP audiences in Florida. "Sure enough, they came and they paid,'' Cardenas said. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson, however, arrived in Florida with laryngitis and had his wife fill in for him as a speaker. 

When Wilson's aides asked for a discount on the fee, Slade's responded firmly: "hell no," Cardenas said.

Randy Enwright, another former political director under Slade, recalled how he was barely making $1,000 a month when he started working for the party but, under Slade, the landscape shifted to yachting trips and donor parties that helped enrich the party coffers.

"It's a little different ball game because of Tom Slade,'' he concluded.

Johnson joked that while Republicans came to the memorial to pay their respects, there were some Democrats in the audience who probably came "to make sure he was gone."

In honor of Slade, a hard-drinking veteran of Tallahassee watering holes, the group adjourned to Clyde's and Costellos. 



Pafford elected House Democratic minority leader with no muss, no fuss

In a Monday evening ceremony devoid of the public infighting that had been expected, Rep. Mark Pafford was elected to lead a shell-shocked 38-member House Democratic caucus still nursing its Election Day losses.

“It’s important that we maintain our unity over the next two years to be the best at what we do,” Pafford told Democratic members. “And that’s to be the voice for those who don’t have a voice.”

Pafford, 48, had been on the defensive since Nov. 4 after House Democrats lost six seats, giving Republicans a super-majority that gives them near absolute command of the lower chamber.

Leading the challenge against Pafford was Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach. Taylor alleged that Pafford underperformed in raising money for candidates, which led to the losses. He submitted his name for consideration at Monday’s caucus meeting.

But this was the second time Taylor had tried to oust Pafford this year. Near the end of the spring’s legislative session, Taylor also moved to have Pafford replaced because of concerns about his fundraising prowess.

Leaders in the Florida Democratic Party rallied around Pafford, saying that he had raised record amounts for House candidates and shouldn’t be blamed. After FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant gave her full support to Pafford in a series of interviews, it was clear Taylor’s support was thin.

He announced he was dropping his bid Monday, hours before the showdown. He said concluded over the weekend he couldn’t work with leadership.

So what could have been a messy and humiliating scrap on the House floor Monday night turned into a subdued ceremony welcoming Pafford to the minority leader position.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, a Pafford rival who backed Taylor, ended the uneventful meeting with words of support not just for unity, but acceptance of dissent.

“Our actions will determine whether we are an irrelevant debating team,” Rouson said. “Or a collaborative, substantive political force with a policy agenda embraced by the majority of Floridians.”

It was a muted affair, filled with reminders that Democrats still matter. At one point, Pafford told Democrats that if they add up all of their 155,000 residents, they represent a total of 6 million people. 

"That's an awesome responsibility," Pafford said.

But it's not clear if the Democrats, which are legislatively irrelevant for the next two years, will find the unity they need.

Taylor didn't speak, adding he wasn't asked to and he didn't volunteer. He said he objects to leaders in the Florida Democratic Party playing favorites. Not only did they rally around Pafford, but they also get involved in primaries.

During the ceremony, Democratic members chanted the name of Rep. Reggie Fullwood, who was sitting in the gallery because he's still running for reelection to his Jacksonville house district. Taylor said party leaders have supported Fullwood while snubbing his fellow Democratic rival, Johnny Gaffney.

"I just personally don't like it when the FDP gets involved in other Democratic elections," he said. "That's wrong, they should not be doing it...the same member you're campaigning against will be the same member in this caucus. That's what divides this caucus with the Democratic Party trying to select which member comes and sits here as opposed to leaving it to the people of Jacksonville."

Pafford said he had spoken with Taylor earlier Monday and characterized the conversation as "good."

"Dwayne is a friend," he said. "We've always been friends. This is just part of a process."
Pafford said he was not concerned divisions in the caucus.
"We naturally come together when we need to come together," he said. "That's the great thing about being the minority caucus."
Pafford said he found incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli's remarks to be less partisan than those given by former Republican House Speakers Will Weatherford and Dean Cannon. 
He said he had a good relationship with the new speaker -- and was hopeful Democrats would find common ground with Republicans over the next two years.
One potential point of consensus: water policy.
"Water is something Democrats, Republicans and independents all enjoy using," Pafford said.





Senate's new Dem leader proclaims 'there's no freedom' for many in Florida

Arthenia JoynerSen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa was formally elected Monday as the next leader of the 14-member Senate Democratic caucus, promising to be a voice for "the little" guy in the chamber dominated by 26 Republicans.

In a fiery, poetic speech, the 71-year-old lawyer and one-time civil rights advocate, spelled out the inequities facing Floridians from minimum wage to health care, rigid criminal sentencing and environmental destruction.

"There's no freedom for the more than one million Floridians with no access to a family doctor so long as Medicaid expansion is blocked," Joyner said after being unanimously elected by her Democratic colleagues. "If your family's sick and you cannot get access to a doctor, you are not free."

"When most of the gains are going to the very top, bypassing the ones who have helped to get that success, working people are not free,'' she said. "There's no freedom when tens of thousands of Floridians are locked up for minor drug possessions and their civil rights are not restored because of some arbitrary waiting period.

"There's no freedom when a judge's discretion in sentencing is removed and prison times become mandated by lawmakers far removed from the court rooms.

"There's no freedom when our lakes and rivers and streams slowly suffocate and we cannot drink or swim or boat or fish in our waters. There's no freedom when our homes and businesses and our farms and orchards are under threat because of rising sea levels aimed at Florida's coast line. And there is no freedom when our kids can't get ahead in an education system based on punishment rather than excellence. There's no freedom when unaccountable private schools become more attractive because government has failed the accountable public ones.

"All of these issues individually and collectively can break people already stretched to the breaking point to the edge of being durable. But it doesn't need to be that way. As a woman, especially as a black woman, I learned many years ago what it meant to be on the outside looking in. I remember what it was like when fears of one group trumped the fair treatment of many and denied those willing to work hard the right to the success they had earned. 

"I learned deep down in my heart the constant ache for freedom that some enjoyed but many more were denied. When hard working people are blocked from basic health care because one ideology is against it. When they are shunned from sharing in the success they helped a company achieve, when they are struggling to pay the bills in a system stacked against them, when they have erred in some minor crime and their sentence is unchallengable, that is the edge of the undurable. As the incoming leader, I pledge to you that like I did a quarter century ago, this wall erected in the name of politics to curb the freedom of the people, will also fall,'' she said to applause.

"In grateful acknowledgement of the trust you have placed in me, I will do everything in my power to make it happen -- together we will. he 14 members of this Democratic caucus have a proud tradition for standing for -- as one of my Republican senator once said, the little guy and little girl -- that's who we stand for. 

"The 14 of us believe that moderate minds and willing hearts will embrace what is right for the people over the greed of any one party and the people of Florida will be better for it."

Joyner is a Lakeland native who received her undergraduate and law degrees from Florida A&M University. She was elected to the House in 2000 and to the Senate in 2006.

Several Republican senators attended Joyner's ceremony including outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz, incoming President Andy Gardiner and Sens. Greg Evers, Bill Galvano, Wilton Simpson and Jack Latvala. But some Republicans didn't welcome her message. GOP political operative Rick Wilson quipped on Twitterthat Joyner's speech was "on the cutting edge of the most relevant issues to the greatest number of voters."

Also present was Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, a Texas judge and two Georgia lawmakers who have been long-time associated of Joyner's in a nationwide group of black state legislators.

Fact-checking Jack Seiler's claim about Arnold Abbott

The city of Fort Lauderdale’s latest attempt to regulate outdoor homeless feedings made international news when police nabbed "Chef Arnold" -- a 90-year-old caught in the act of such a public feeding.

"One of the police officers said, 'Drop that plate right now,' as if I were carrying a weapon," Arnold Abbott said, recalling his early November arrest for the Associated Press.

Multiple news reports -- and Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report -- recounted the tale of Abbott’s arrest, which reignited a long-running debate about how the city should handle the homeless population downtown and at the beach.

On Nov. 5, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler issued a statement in which he said he wanted to "set the record straight" about the city’s services for homeless. He said that the media had misrepresented the facts.

"Contrary to reports," Seiler wrote, "the City of Fort Lauderdale is not banning groups from feeding the homeless."

Seiler said outdoor feeding is legal, but added that a new city law regulates the activity.

Then Seiler addressed the situation regarding Abbott:

"At two recent outdoor food distributions, citations were rightly issued for non-compliance with the process enacted to ensure public health and safety. Contrary to what was reported in the media, no one was taken into custody. ..."

As the public-relations crisis escalated, Seiler gave multiple interviews to the media.

On CNN Nov. 11, Seiler said Abbott "was not arrested and taken into custody."

At PolitiFact Florida we agree with Seiler’s goal of setting the record straight. Was Abbott taken into custody? Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read more.