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February 13, 2017

Rick Scott begins the search for a new CFO


Suddenly Rick Scott is even more powerful.

As if running the third largest state in America weren’t enough, now the two term Republican governor gets an unprecedented chance to appoint a cabinet member with zero input from the Florida Legislature.

There are three elected members (Chief Financial Officer, Attorney General and Agriculture Commissioner) that serve on the Cabinet with Scott. The constitution envisioned those officials would be a check on Scott, assuring more oversight on land purchases, legal matters and agency appointments. But last week the elected Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced he is resigning to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. Now, it is up to Scott to appoint Atwater’s successor.

The choice for Scott comes down to what he values most. He could pick someone with political calculation about who could help him most if he does decide to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018 as has been speculated. Or he could settle on simply having a loyal confidant who would offer little drama at cabinet meetings. Or he could simply reward a close ally to give them an invaluable head start in running for CFO in 2018.

So who fits into those categories? Here’s a list of key contenders for the position and why or why they won’t get it.

Lenny Curry, Jacksonville Mayor

Pro: Curry is the former Republican Party of Florida chairman and is the mayor of the city with the largest population in Florida. He’s also from a county - Duval - that is a must win for Republicans to win statewide. He is also a CPA.

Con: Curry won the mayor’s race less than 2 years ago and has a term that runs until 2019. He would have to take a major pay cut from his $174,000 a year in Jacksonville to about $130,000 for CFO.

Tom Grady, a former state representative

Pro: He’s from Naples and is good friends with Scott who lives nearby. He was interim president of Citizens Property Insurance, important experience given the CFO overseas property insurance issues in the state.

Con: Grady’s short tenure at Citizens was beset with controversy related to travel expenses and hiring decisions. He was passed over for the full time position in 2012.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Lieutenant Governor

Pro: Scott has already vetted the Miami Republican once and appointed him to be his running mate for his 2014 election. Lopez-Cantera is from Miami-Dade and would give Scott a chance to appoint someone with a Cuban heritage to a key role, something that could help him win votes in Miami-Dade in 2018.

Con: Put kindly, Lopez-Cantera has been lightly used as lieutenant governor. Scott rarely holds events with his running mate. Also, does Scott want to look for a third lieutenant governor in six years?

Pat Neal, land developer 

Pro: A wealthy friend and consistent donor to Scott’s past campaigns. He’s served on Rick Scott’s transition team and was board member of Florida TaxWatch who would be well aligned with Scott.

Con: Neal is a former state senator who was in office in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a Democrat. Also, Neal declared last year that he was no longer interested in running for CFO, a position he said he was publicly interested in back in 2014 when Atwater first considered leaving the position.

Joe Gruters, State Representative

Pro: Loyalist for Scott. The Sarasota Republican Party chairman has already been appointed by Scott in the past to the Florida State University Board of Trustees and has vociferously defended the Governor’s positions in the Florida House. Gruters is a certified public accountant.

Con: Picking Gruters would mean losing a big supporter in the House. And Gruters isn’t quite a political outsider, given he’s been the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida, has run the Sarasota Republican Party for years, and has three times run for the Florida Legislature.

Teresa Jacobs, Orange County Mayor

Pro: Jacobs is a two term mayor for a county that is a critical piece of the Interstate 4 corridor. Jacobs has publicly defended Scott's response to the Pulse night club shootings and frequently appeared with the governor during the days and weeks after the tragedy.

Con: Jacobs still has nearly two years remaining on her term as mayor and would have to take pay cut from $156,000 a year to less than $130,000.

Tom Lee, State Senator

Pro: The former Senate President has already expressed interest in running for the position in 2018 and Scott could give him a headstart on any potential primary opponents by picking Lee.

Con: Lee has been part of the Florida Legislature for a long time and was budget chairman for the Senate last year when Scott did not get the tax cuts he asked for or the business incentives he sought.

Governor makes defense of economic incentives, tourism programs

Monica Herndon/Tampa Bay Times


Not even a week after the Florida House voted to kill both the state's job incentives program and its tourism marketing arm, Gov. Rick Scott is fighting back.

The Republican governor has stops planned in Cape Coral, Tampa and Flagler Beach today where he will meet with business leaders. In each city, he's holding a roundtable discussion about how important Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida have been to the state - a counter argument to House leaders who last week blasted both agencies as "corporate welfare" that puts the power in the hands of the government to pick winners and losers.

On Wednesday, the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 to kill both agencies, despite Scott's warnings the move would hurt the economic momentum Florida has had since he was elected in 2010. Only one Republican on the panel defended Scott's position and the two programs.

The House plan face major obstacles still. Even the biggest critics of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida in the Senate have said while both agencies need to be recast, they shouldn't be eliminated completely.

February 12, 2017

Meet the rookie House Republican who is defying Speaker Corcoran


When a key a committee in the Florida House voted this week to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, every Republican on the panel agreed -- except one.

Joe Gruters.

The Sarasota Republican knows he’s on an island fighting against one of the top priorities of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. Gruters not only was the sole member of the GOP to vote against the idea, but sounded every bit like Gov. Rick Scott in defending Enterprise Florida during the hearing.

“Jobs, jobs jobs,” Gruters said just moments before committee voted to kill the agency. “The state wins when we bring targeted industries to our communities. We will have another economic downturn and we need to do everything we can to diversify our economy.”

Gruters speech - just like Scott’s plea days earlier - did nothing to stop the outcome. The Careers & Competition Committee voted 10-5 for the bill that would kill both agencies. Nine Republicans and one Democrat (Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami) voted for the bill. Gruters and four Democrats voted against it.

“I’m not trying to poke the Speaker,” Gruters told the Times/Herald after the vote. “I’m just doing what I think is right.”

Continue reading "Meet the rookie House Republican who is defying Speaker Corcoran" »

'We started this because of our kids,' Florida 'recess moms' say

Recess moms1 0207@ByKristenMClark

Last Tuesday, five mothers from Pinellas, Orange and Polk counties were on the road before dawn for their second, round-trip trek to Tallahassee this year, so they could persuade Florida lawmakers to support 20 minutes of recess a day in Florida's public elementary schools.

They're a passionate and dedicated group of "recess moms" -- a few of just many in Florida -- who have been fighting for several years to get mandatory daily recess, not only for their own young children but for all Florida elementary students.

IN-DEPTH: "Quest for daily recess: Moms renew fight for more free play in Florida Legislature"

Two of the moms -- Angela Browning and Amy Narvaez, both of Orlando -- have already seen victory in their local school district. Orange County adopted a 20-minutes-a-day policy in December with language that mirrors what lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering again in the upcoming 2017 session (SB 78/HB 67).

And while some school districts, like Miami-Dade, have made strides toward daily recess, there's still great disparities in Florida schools in which schoolchildren actually get traditional recess and how often. District administrators say there are logistical obstacles -- such as time in the day or space at the school -- that might make it difficult to implement recess in the daily routine.

Many moms -- like Christie Bruner and Stephanie Cox of St. Petersburg, and Mandy Lipham, of Lakeland -- are still fighting to get guaranteed daily recess for their children. And Browning and Narvaez continue to fight with them.

"Of course, we started this because of our kids, but is it fair for those moms who have worked alongside us all these years, and their kids still don’t have recess?" said Browning, a founder of the group Recess for All Florida Students.

Here's what Bruner had to say about why recess is so important for her three daughters, and click here to read our in-depth report on the political complexities of passing a statewide mandate for daily recess.

Herald writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, right, meets with a group of “recess moms” on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 in the Florida Capitol. The mothers -- from left: Amy Narvaez of Orlando, Stephanie Cox of St. Petersburg (not pictured), Angela Browning of Orlando, Christie Bruner of St. Petersburg, and Mandy Lipham of Lakeland -- were joined by Florida PTA legislation chair Angie Gallo (not pictured) in petitioning lawmakers to pass a state law for mandatory, daily recess in public elementary schools. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau.

February 10, 2017

The unexpected legal link between Trump's travel ban and ritual Santería animal sacrifices in Hialeah

via @DavidOvalle305

In ruling against President Donald Trump’s “Muslim travel ban,” a trio of federal judges relied in part on a distinctly South Florida court case – one that granted religious protections for the ritual sacrifice of chickens and goats.

The unanimous ruling Thursday night upholding a halt to the White House executive order cited a famous 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a Hialeah law banning Santería animal sacrifices. Justices found that the city ordinance infringed on constitutionally protected freedoms.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit court made clear that judges can consider outside statements made by elected leaders — in this case, President Trump himself — in trying to figure out if the intent of a government action was to discriminate against a religious group.

“In Hialeah in the 1990s, it was Santería. With Trump, it’s Muslims,” said University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, an expert on religious liberties who successfully argued the Hialeah case.

Decades ago, the city of Hialeah — a large blue-collar city of mostly Cuban-American immigrants outside Miami — was sued by the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, which wanted to operate a place of worship in an old used-car lot.

More here.

Photo credit: Jeffery A. Salter, Miami Herald file

Broward Mayor Sharief, Lieutentant Governor Lopez-Cantera discussed axed Port-Cuba deal

Carlos Lopez-Cantera 0621


Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief and Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera met Friday and discussed Port Everglades projects and why the port pursued an agreement with Cuba and then axed it. 

In January, port officials in Fort Lauderdale planned to sign a memorandum of understanding with Cuba but cancelled it after Gov. Rick Scott threatened to cut off funding to any Florida port that does business with Cuba. The agreement would have covered future cooperation and could have led to joint marketing studies and training.

Sharief said she explained that the agreement was "benign."

The Port-Cuba agreement was one of many topics that Sharief, a Democrat, and Lopez-Cantera, a Republican, discussed Friday morning at her Pembroke Pines office.

Sharief said they discussed putting Port Everglades "on the governor's list for priority in terms of what the President Trump administration has said about moving major port projects and capital improvement project to the top of the list." 

While campaigning, Trump promised to invest $550 billion in infrastructure.

Sharief and Lopez-Cantera also discussed funding plans for the C-51 reservoir project and the county's request for state funding for the northbound ramp off Pat Salerno Way near the Sawgrass Mills mall.

Sharief said this was her first individual meeting with Lopez-Cantera and that he sought the meeting. His schedule showed that he also planned to meet with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo.

VIDEO: Miami Gardens kindergarteners explain why they love recess

@ByKristenMClark @KyraGurney

As Florida parents and school administrators debate over whether lawmakers should require daily recess in public schools, here's what some kindergartners at Miami Gardens Elementary have to say about why they love recess.

The school is one of 11 in Miami-Dade County that are testing out daily recess. The rest of the district's elementary schools have recess at least two or three days a week, with the option of having it four days.

Speaking with Miami Herald photographer Emily Michot, the children offered a variety of explanations on why they enjoy the daily playtime outdoors -- because they "like to run" or play hide-and-seek or tag, and because they "all have fun together and play together as friends."

Kindergartner Mariam Mompremier even offered this adorably emphatic explanation: "We would not have air... We're gonna die!"

"And if you don't breathe, you die!" chimed in her classmate, Jenny Farias.

Watch the cuteness overload below, and read our full in-depth report here on the politics of playtime.

Video credit: Emily Michot / Miami Herald

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater resigning for 'expanded' CFO role at FAU


@ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen @MaryEllenKlas

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced Friday he’s resigning from his Cabinet position to return to Palm Beach County and take a job as the CFO of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Atwater, who is from North Palm Beach, will be the university’s vice president of strategic initiatives and CFO — where he’ll “lead strategic initiatives and economic development opportunities for FAU as well as manage the university’s finances and budget.”

FAU’s previous CFO, Dorothy Russell, retired on Jan. 31.

Atwater was elected Florida’s CFO in 2010 and won re-election in 2014. He cannot seek a third term but still had about 23 months left in office.

Atwater’s office said there is no designated date yet for when he will officially resign, but he plans to leave after the 2017 legislative session ends — sometime after May 5.

“I am honored to join FAU in such a significant capacity,” Atwater said in a statement from his state office. “While I would have preferred to embrace this opportunity at a later date, the timing of crucial university initiatives warranted an accelerated transition.”

Atwater added in a statement from FAU: “I cannot think of a better place to begin the next phase of my career.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: AP

After Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, Broward may push for ban on guns in government facilities

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


One month after the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Broward County Commissioners will discuss a resolution Tuesday to oppose legislation that would allow guns at government facilities.

The resolution doesn't specifically mention airports but the sponsor, Commissioner Steve Geller, said he opposes State Rep. Greg Steube's bill to allow conceal carry permit holders to carry guns in airports, one of multiple proposed bills to expand where guns may be allowed.

Here is the text of the resolution:

"The Board supports legislation allowing local governments to regulate firearms in government owned buildings and facilities. The Board further supports legislation prohibiting the possession of firearms, weapons, and ammunition in substance abuse programs, mental health programs, and sexual assault treatment facilities.

The board opposes legislation allowing individuals with concealed-weapons licenses to open-carry firearms on college and university campuses; at state legislative and cabinet meetings; governing board meetings of counties, cities, school boards, special districts; and in courthouses."

The County Commission previously approved it's state legislative program which included statements on gun regulations, however Geller's resolution would make opposing certain bills about guns a priority for county lobbyists.

The Democratic-dominated County Commission located in the most left-leaning county in Florida doesn't typically carry weight in GOP-dominated Tallahassee on partisan issues such as gun control. However, Broward officials may have more of a bully pulpit this year after an Army veteran opened fire in baggage claim at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Jan. 6th, killing five and injuring six others. 

And Geller says he believes there is common ground with some senators, many of whom previously served in local government, who oppose efforts to allow guns in certain settings such as local government meetings.

Local government meetings "get very heated and to permit people to come in packing to me sounds absurd," said Geller, a former state senator. "What is it -- an attempt to intimidate elected officials?" 

The shooting has also renewed the debate about the city of Fort Lauderdale allowing gun shows at War Memorial Auditorium in Holiday Park. The City Commission has continued to support allowing the shows, the Sun Sentinel reported. 

- With Kristen Clark

Those hot congressional town halls? Don't expect many in South Florida


Over the past week, a string of town-hall meetings held across the country by Republican members of Congress have drawn hordes of constituents angry about repealing the Affordable Care Act and the GOP's embrace of President Donald Trump

But if South Floridians want a similar forum to vent to their Republican lawmakers, they're out of luck.

The only local member of Congress who plans to hold open meetings soon is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, who's got two scheduled -- in Wilton Manors and Pompano Beach -- Saturday. Democrats just haven't been getting the same sort of protests as Republicans at their public events.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has no town hall planned, a spokesman said, noting that the Senate is still in session. (Progressive activists say they will nevertheless stump outside his Doral office Tuesday to ask him for one.) Neither does Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. No in-person town halls are scheduled either for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, though he hopes to let constituents call into a "tele-town hall" in late March, a spokeswoman said. 

A spokeswoman for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart refused to admit the congressman isn't holding town halls.

"The Congressman is constantly traveling the district and meeting with constituents, but we do not publicize his schedule," Katrina Valdés said in an email.

When pressed if that means no public events without pre-screened attendees, she added: "He has countless meetings with constituents and constituent groups while traveling the district. Our office is in touch with those who he will be meeting with."

More than 200 pro-Obamacare protesters showed up last Saturday at a town hall for Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Palm Harbor, the Tampa Bay Times reported.