August 22, 2014

Judge approves legislature's fix for congressional maps, calls no special election


Florida’s flawed congressional districts may remain in place for two more years and newly drawn boundaries for seven north and central districts don’t have to take effect until 2016, a Tallahassee circuit court judge ruled late Friday.

Judge Terry Lewis upheld the revisions to the state’s congressional map approved by the Florida Legislature during a three-day special session earlier this month. But he said the current configuration, which he ruled unconstitutional a month ago, could stand for the 2014 election.

“An election in 2015 is not a viable option,’’ Lewis wrote in his four-page order. “The 2014 elections will have to be held under the map as enacted in 2012.

That will come as a relief to U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, whose congressional districts were the target of the court’s criticism. Brown and Webster feared being elected to a new term in November only to have to face a special election possibly next year under the newly configured boundaries.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that congressional districts 5 and 10 violated the state’s Fair District rules against political gerrymandering. He then gave legislators until Aug. 15 to modify the map and fix two districts in particular. Lawmakers responded by calling a rare summer-time special session and modified seven of the state’s 27 districts, then appealed to the court to approve it.

Although the judge validated the legislature’s map, the fight is not over.

David King, lawyer for the League of Women Voters, one of the voters groups that challenged the districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature, said they were disappointed in the ruling and will appeal.

Anticipatingn a protracted dispute, Webster recently set up a legal defense fund to help him finance any court fights that may emerge over his district.

Lewis wrote that he disagreed with the voters coaltion that argued the changes made to the original map were superficial and did not cure the flaws to Districts 5 and 10 and concluded that the Legislature’s “remedial plan adequately addresses the constitutional deficiences I found in the Final Judgment.”

He also rejected calls from the plaintiffs to create an east-west minority district that would stretch across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. They argued it would allow minority voters to elect two blacks to Congress instead of one but, under the plan, Brown’s districtg would be dismantled and a new Orlando-based minority district would emerge as a coalition district for both Hispanics and African American voters.

“The Legislature is not required, however, to produce a map that the Plaintiffs, or I , or anyone else might prefer,’’ Lewis wrote. “The Legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the Constitution.”

He noted that the plaintiffs “have not offered convincing evidence that an East-West configuration is necessary in order to comply” with the terms of the Fair Districts amendment approved by voters in 2010.

Lewis also rejected calls for a special session to implement the new map. He said that the plaintiffs “offered absolutely no evidence” to support their arguments that a special election could reasonably be held in time for the 2014 elections and thereby allowed the invalidated districts to remain in place until 2016.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was thrilled with the ruling and even sounded happy the Legislature got a do-over.

“I am pleased with Judge Lewis’ speedy, thoughtful and conscientious decision,’’ he said in a statement. “I am especially relieved that our overseas military voters and those Floridians who cast their ballots early will have their votes counted this election. You know, sometimes life affords you second chances; I am glad we got it right on the second round.”

Here's the opinion:  Download Romo.Order Approving Remedial Redistricting Plan



Pup patrol among the politicos




Politicians easily out-numbered pets at Friday's "ground-breaking" ceremony of Miami-Dade's new animal shelter, which is set to open in the fall of 2015. But there were a handful of four-legged guests that naturally stole the show from camera-loving elected officials. 

"This is Princess Leia," Lawrence Percival said of a docile shepherd-lab mix sitting by his feet amid the crowd at the packed reception in Doral. "She just turned two in August. She came from Animal Services as an eight-pound puppy." 

Leia and Percival took a seat in the front row as county officials touted the planned $13 million shelter, which will feature retail-esque adoption areas, quarantined and air-conditioned kennels to prevent disease infestation, and outdoor play areas for cats and dogs.

The 70,000-square-foot facility will replace the county's lone animal shelter in Medley, which will be sold as surplus to help cover the construction costs, said animal-services chief Alex Munoz. The new facility includes 25 percent more space for homeless dogs, and twice the space for cats, he said. The new shelter is being built in a retro-fitted warehouse, with renovation work already underway. 

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Happy Birthday to PolitiFact

On Aug. 22, 2007, we launched an experiment in accountability journalism just because we thought American politics could use more fact-checking. We called it PolitiFact.

Today, our fact-checking website is still going strong. The most exciting thing we did in the last year: We launched PunditFact, our website devoted exclusively to fact-checking the pundits. In 2010, we launched PolitiFact Florida

In honor of our seventh birthday, we’re counting down the 7 most popular fact-checks of the past 12 months from both PolitiFact and PunditFact.

- This was written by PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan.

After $300K campaign, SkyRise polling 'very positive'


With just days to go until Miami voters consider a proposal to build a 1,000-foot tower behind Bayside, the marketplace’s operator and developer Jeff Berkowitz have unleased a campaign blitz.

Together, they’ve invested more than $300,000 into a committee that has poured most of those funds into radio spots, mailers and robocalls. The cash has gone to Friends of Bayside, which is also polling voters.

The ballot question will go before voters Aug. 26. It seeks to amend Bayside’s lease with the city of Miami by extending it to 99 years, requiring at least $27 million in improvements, and allowing a sublease with Berkowitz to build SkyRise Miami on a spit of land that juts into the bay. If the item passes, Miami's coffers get a $10 million injection, plus increased payments through the life of the deal.

So what are the chances the item passes? Political consultant Steve Marin, who is conducting the polling, would only say “we’re trending very positive.”

Education spending continues to dominate gubernatorial race


Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist released a new TV ad on Friday, accusing Republican Gov. Rick Scott of lying to a constituent about his education record.

"We thought it really important to remind Floridians that you cannot trust Rick Scott about public education," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, speaking for the Crist campaign. "You cannot trust him to care about your school children or to fund your schools properly."

The ad will debut in Orlando this weekend, campaign spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said.

It was the latest strike in the war over education funding.

Last week, Crist toured the state in a yellow school bus, reminding Floridians that Scott cut $1.3 billion from the state education budget in 2011.

The Scott campaign responded Thursday with a plan to pump millions of dollars into public schools and boost per-student spending to historic levels. (Democrats point out that the $7176 figure Scott proposed still lags the high watermark set in 2007-08 when you account for inflation.) 

Crist unveiled his latest ad on Friday morning.

The Scott campaign said Crist, a former Republican governor, was suffering from "education amnesia."

"While Rick Scott has funded education at record total levels –- and is proposing record per-pupil funding next year –- Charlie Crist left schools in worse shape, with his last budget giving each student $550 less than his first budget," campaign spokesman Greg Blair said. "And when Crist was in office, Florida Democrats said his cuts to education were 'harmful.' We give Crist an 'F' in both math and history."


Democrats to Scott, Bondi: Stop fighting against marriage equality

A day after a federal judge struck down Florida's ban on same-sex marriages, the state Democratic Party urged Republican Gov. Rick Scott to let the decision stand.

"While we had a great victory yesterday, we are hoping to see that change be implemented quickly," Florida Democratic Party Political Director Christian Ulvert told reporters on a press call. "It is now on the attorney general and Gov. Rick Scott to stop their efforts to appeal, in hopes that we can achieve the full equality that all Florida residents deserve."

Attorney General Pam Bondi has not said whether her office will appeal the federal decision.

Her office is, however, appealing similar rulings in other courts.

Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, noted that Thursday’s ruling was the fifth in Florida to declare the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

Saunders called on Scott to support gay and lesbian couples and families.

"For too long, we've seen Gov. Scott bob and weave around the issue of marriage equality in Florida," Saunders said. "I think voters want to know. They want to know whether he's going to stand on the right side of history."

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich, a former state senator from Weston, released a similar statement in January, before any of the court cases were decided.

"Florida’s same-sex marriage ban will ultimately lose in court, and it should," Rich said at the time. "Governor Scott and Attorney General Bondi should embrace equality for all Florida families and let this law die."

Miami Gardens candidate denies altering slate cards


A candidate in a Miami Gardens City Council race has been accused of attempting to mislead voters outside of an early-voting site.

Francis Ragoo has been blamed for tampering with an endorsement list for Tuesday's primary election prepared by Abraham Thomas, a Miami Gardens resident and former County Commission candidate. Ragoo has denied any involvement.

A campaign worker outside the North Dade Regional Library first noticed a Ragoo volunteer passing out the lists, which look exactly like Thomas’s lists but switch the endorsements for the two Miami Gardens council seats and for the Florida House District 107 race.

As reported in The Miami Times, Thomas’s list endorses the incumbents for the Miami Gardens seats, Vice Mayor Lisa Davis and Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, and state Rep. Barbara Watson. The altered list endorses their opponents, Ragoo and Charlene Butler in the respective council races, and Watson’s opponent, Michael Joseph.

Ragoo said he doesn’t know who printed the duplicates and said the volunteer for his campaign doesn’t know who gave her the duplicates.

“My camp was set up and taken advantage of,” Ragoo said. “Somebody gave her that document and she didn’t know what it was.”


Scott camp seeks signs of Democrat enthusiasm gap

Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager issued a memo Friday forecasting that Democrat Charlie Crist will defeat rival Nan Rich by a margin of 81 to 19 percent or better on Tuesday. The memo by Tim Saler also seeks to forge a post-primary narrative that Democrats face an "enthusiasm gap" in the upcoming general election campaign.

Saler writes: "Judging by history, if Democrats have any enthusiasm at all on their side in 2014, they should be able to bring in several hundred thousand more primary votes compared to Republicans. The last time a Republican governor ran for re-election (2002), Democrats had 40% more votes in their primary than did Republicans. This is the baseline performance for Democrats in the 2014 primary. If Democrats fall short of that metric, it would be a dangerous sign for their base enthusiasm entering the general election, and we are watching that metric closely."

Saler is right that Democrats should turn out in bigger numbers than Republicans because they have two statewide contests (Crist vs. Rich and George Sheldon vs. Perry Thurston for attorney general), and Scott faces two no-name GOP challengers.

But Saler's comparison to 2002, the year Jeb Bush became the first Republican governor to win back-to-back terms, is flawed for a couple of reasons.

The only race on the Republican primary ballot that year was a down-ballot three-way primary for attorney general -- won by Charlie Crist, by the way. Democrats had a spirited and extremely close primary for governor in which Bill McBride narrowly defeated former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for the right to face Bush.

Reno, a Miami native, ran a South Florida-centric strategy in that race while McBride focused on the I-4 corridor and North Florida, so two well-financed candidates were aggressively pushing Democratic turnout in different regions. The year 2002 was also the first midterm election in the presidency of George W. Bush, who was in the White House because of his disputed 537-vote Florida victory. Those wounds were still raw and Democrats were angry and in a fighting mood, but in the end, Jeb Bush easily won re-election.


Developers funding ads to 'keep developers accountable' in Miami


Radio spots and mailers touting a Miami charter amendment to “keep developers accountable” are being funded by developers.

Campaign finance reports provided by the City of Miami show that of the $60,500 raised by The Committee Supporting Voters’ WishesOverPublicLand as of Aug. 8 (the last date available) at least $26,000 was contributed by real estate corporations and affiliates. The committee is promoting a ballot question that would force developers building on city land to seek voters’ approval a second time for their project if they fail to secure the proper permits within four years.

Among the notable contributions: $5,000 from Grove Bay Investment Group, which last November secured voter approval to refurbishing of a portion of the Coconut Grove waterfront.

Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo proposed the charter amendment, citing the long-stalled, voter-approved mega-yacht marina project on WatsonIsland as an example of why the change is needed. He said developers’ contributions to the effort show that even the industry believes the additional regulations are needed.

“The concensus is that this is good public policy. Four years to obtain the necessary permits is more than reasonable,” he said. “They realize that. Everyone realizes that. That’s why there’s consensus across the board.”

NextGen revives its attack on Rick Scott for taking cash from Collier family


 NextGen Climate on Friday recrafted its attack on Gov. Rick Scott and began airing a second ad telling him to return the $200,000 in campaign cash he accepted from the Collier Family, which leased land that became the site for oil drilling near the Everglades. 

Like the first ad, the ad is airing in West Palm Beach and Fort Myers television markets.

NextGen Climate is funded by hedge fund billionaire and environmentalist Tom Steyer who promises to be a player in Florida's governor's race if he follows up on his promise to spend millions to defeat Scott.  Steyer has committed $50 million of his own money to oppose the use of fossil fuels. 

After NextGen Climate released its first ad earlier this month, the Republican Party of Florida responded with its own attack on Charlie Crist in the same markets.

As PolitiFact Florida found, there are a few degrees of separation between Scott and the oil drilling. The ad nonetheless accuses the Collier family of profiting from drilling on their land near the Everglades and calls on Scott to return the cash. The family's company, Collier Resources, leased about 120,000 acres of mineral rights to the Dan. A. Hughes Company. Hughes received a state permit to conduct the controversial hydraulic fracking in the region. 

After injecting the acid, Hughes workers injected a mix of sand and chemical gel under pressure to prop open the new fractures and let the oil flow out, a process not covered by the DEP permit. DEP fined Hughes $25,000. 

The governor has tried to repair his environmental record in recent weeks in the face of Steyer's t announcements. launching a "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful Tour" and vowing to steer more money into environmental causes.

He also sat down with climate scientists this week in his office who urged him to act now to develop a plan for Florida to mitigate the impact of climate change. The governror, however, neither accepted their conclusion that the globe's warming is caused by humans, nor would he commit to doing anything to address their concerns.