February 24, 2015

JIm York replaces George Sheldon in lawsuit challenging Gov. Scott's failure to disclose

Jim YorkWith former Attorney General George Sheldon now named as the top welfare chief for the state of Illinois, he is being replaced as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott alleging he failed to accurately and publicly disclose his finances.

Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jim York has been named as the plaintiff in the case in an amendment filed in Leon County Circuit court today. Scott is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and the case is awaiting a June 22 hearing. Download the complaint here.

Sheldon, who was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for attorney general in November,  filed the lawsuit in early October requiring Scott to fully and completely disclose his financial interests. He said the lawsuit was prompted by a story in the Miami Herald that reported Scott's disclosure failed to include as much as $200 million in assets controlled by the governor through various accounts shared with his wife and family. 

Sheldon said he filed the lawsuit in honor of his mentor, the late Gov. Reubin Askew who  spearheaded the adoption of The Sunshine Amendment to the Florida Constitution which requires politicians disclose "financial interests" of more than $1,000.

York, an outspoken critic of Scott on Facebook, also worked for former Gov. Bob Graham, is being represented by Tallahassee lawyer Don Hinkle.

“This case was filed on behalf of all Floridians and is about upholding the Florida Constitution,'' Hinkle said. "We will continue to pursue the case on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Photo courtesy of the Florida Memory Project.

Florida lawmakers weigh in on VA secretary’s false special forces claim


The Florida lawmakers who lead the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee weighed in Tuesday on the nation’s top veterans’ official for his statement inflating his military service.

The Republican who chairs the committee, Jeff Miller of the Pensacola area, said he was “disappointed” in the claim by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that he served in the special forces.

The top Democrat on the committee, Corrine Brown, whose district runs from Orlando to Jacksonville, said, “I am confident that his statement was not intended to mislead.”

The two top veterans committee officials were responding to a statement by McDonald, who took over the scandal-ridden VA last year, that he had served in the special forces, among the most elite and prestigious military units.

McDonald’s comment to a man in Los Angeles was captured by CBS News for a story on the VA’s efforts to eradicate veteran homelessness. “Special forces? What years? I was in special forces!” McDonald said. The comment was originally flagged by The Huffington Post.

McDonald, a former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, is an Army veteran and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was not, however, a member of special forces units, which he has since acknowledged.

He has apologized for his comment and was scheduled to speak with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Miller, the Republican veterans committee chair, said in a statement: “I’m disappointed in Secretary McDonald’s comments. After a rough couple of weeks that also included inflated claims of accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I hope Secretary McDonald will redouble his efforts to ensure his statements – and those of all VA officials – are completely accurate.”

Brown, the Democrat, said: “The secretary gave an appropriate apology following his misstatement, which demonstrates his commitment to accountability. I am confident that his statement was not intended to mislead… Clearly, Secretary McDonald’s military service and dedication to our nation should not be ignored.”

Miami-Dade judge who told store owner to 'Go f--- yourself' accepts disciplinary charges


Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz broke judicial conduct rules when she told the owner of a Coconut Grove convenience store last year to "Go f--- yourself" in a dispute over a political campaign sign, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has found.

The commission also found Schwartz engaged in inappropriate conduct in a separate incident where she wrote notes on the margins of a legal file. The file, notes included, was photocopied by one of the parties in the case. But when a request came in later for the full file and notes, Schwartz instructed her bailiff to remove her notes, interfering with the court record and making it impossible to appeal any decision based on those pages. The pages were placed in a manila envelope and then lost.

Schwartz agreed to the charges in a disciplinary hearing last month and apologized for her behavior, according to court filings. She declined comment Tuesday through a courts spokeswoman.

"Judge Schwartz accepted full responsibility for the conduct set forth above, and admitted that it should never have occurred," one of the filings says. "She also expressed regret that her conduct reflected so poorly on the judicial office that she holds."

More here.

Were some Florida students forced to cite Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs?

A spat between parents and administrators over a Seminole County high school history lesson in Islam has simmered into a minor cause célèbre for online critics.

Ron Wagner of Longwood complained to a local TV station that his 15-year-old son was required to recite an Islamic prayer as part of a world history class at Lyman High School. The students also had to make an Islamic prayer rug as a homework assignment, according to Wagner, who said lessons like that don’t belong in public schools.

"There’s a difference between teaching of the significance or the impact of a religion and teaching the specific tenets of the religion," Wagner told WFTV on Feb 9, 2015.

Blogs and right-leaning media seized on the report, decrying the lessons as attempts to indoctrinate students.

One blog, DownTrend.com, featured a post on Feb. 12 with the headline, "Students In Fla. High School Forced To Recite Islamic Prayer, Make Prayer Rugs."

We don’t mean to pick on this one site -- because there are manymany other placesthat have reblogged the report -- and the writer did update the story after we asked him some questions. But the headline encapsulated the alleged events that have outraged so many people. Were students forced to recite an Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs at Lyman High School? Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida did his homework.

And from our archives, here is a fact-check of a Pants on Fire claim that "Florida Democrats just voted to impose Sharia law on women."

WSJ: Jeb Bush plans to introduce big donors to campaign team in Miami in April

From the Wall Street Journal:

It may be the most coveted invite in Republican politics.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, still in the preliminary phase of an expected White House bid, plans to reward his biggest early financial backers with a mid-April meeting in Miami with his likely campaign team.

The confab is being organized for so-called bundlers who have “met or exceeded” their fundraising targets, according to an email circulated by Mr. Bush’s finance team. Heather Larrison, who runs his fundraising effort, told a group in Washington last week that the event would take place on April 13, a person present said.

More here.

Joe Garcia gets new gig with Miami Beach merchant and investment bank, talks new U.S.-Cuba policy


Former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has taken on a job as senior vice president of QueensFort Capital, a Miami Beach-based merchant and investment bank.

The ex-congressman told the Miami Herald he will work to expand investment opportunities through federal government's EB-5 visa program, which requires investors to put up big money -- at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high-unemployment areas -- in exchange for a two-year U.S. residency green card for themselves and their immediate family. If the investments succeed and create at least 10 U.S. jobs, investors gain permanent residency plus dividends.

None of the work will involve Cuba, said Garcia, a Cuban American who had been the only South Florida member of Congress advocating for greater engagement with the island before he lost reelection to Republican Carlos Curbelo in November. Still, he was surprised by the extent of President Obama's new Cuba policy, Garcia said Tuesday.

"I think the administration probably went a little bit further that I had assumed it would," he said.

He compared trying to bring about political change in Cuba to changing "a religion, not a policy" ingrained on the island for more than half a century: "The idea that this is going to be easy is nonsense."

"I think this could all be solved if Cuban Americans and Cubans were speaking," he said. "If the Cuba government was wise, it would reach out to leaders and opinion makers in South Florida to create some sort of rapprochement that benefits the U.S. and Cuba."

And if Obama wants a long-term change that outlasts his administration, then his government also has to reach out to Cuban Americans sidelined from the new policy, he added.

As for talk that Garcia might challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez next year, the former congressman brushed off the rumors.

"I am not running for any public office," he said.

Rick Scott signs executive order to suspend 11th grade exam

Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order on Tuesday suspending the new 11th grade exam in English language arts. 

The action comes in response to a growing backlash from parents and teachers to the state's standardized testing program.

Scott announced his plans to sign the executive order last week. The lag caused some confusion, as local school districts were told to continue preparing for the Florida Standards Assessment exam until a formal executive order was issued.

Leaders in the Florida Senate are also working on a plan to overhaul testing.

Seventh candidate files in Miami's District 2 race

Yet another candidate has filed to run for Miami's District 2 commission seat.

Ken Russell, the South Grove resident who fought the city over its cleanup plans for contaminated Merrie Christmas Park, filed campaign papers Monday. Russell is the seventh candidate to run for the seat, which is held by term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Read the news release after the jump.

Continue reading "Seventh candidate files in Miami's District 2 race" »

In New Hampshire, Marco Rubio pressed on immigration

From the Associated Press:

HOLLIS, N.H. (AP) - Back in New Hampshire for the first time since the midterm elections, it didn't take long for Sen. Marco Rubio to get a question about immigration.

Speaking to a group of people in a wooden barn in the southern part of the state, the Florida Republican - still debating whether to run for president or seek re-election to the Senate in 2016 - was asked about his past support for immigration legislation that includes a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally. Rubio's aides said the crowd was "more than 100."

"When I first heard you, I liked you a lot - and then you lost me," a questioner asked Rubio, to some applause from the crowd. "But I'm back, here to give you another chance. My question for you is, 'Can you commit if elected president to send home every single person that's violated our country's laws and is here illegally?'"

In reply, Rubio didn't hesitate.

"I don't think anyone can commit that to you," Rubio said. "You have 12 million human beings in America, most of whom we don't even know who they are and some of them whom our country's not going to tolerate rounding up and sending back. That's not a realistic proposal."

Read the full story here. Watch video of Rubio's Hollis speech here, via WMUR.

February 23, 2015

Zo charity fundraiser to feature Bill Clinton


Mourning inviteWhen he visits Coral Gables next for the Clinton Foundation's conference at the University of Miami, former President Bill Clinton will also drop by a fundraiser hosted by retired Miami Heat basketball star Alonzo Mourning.

The March 5 event, also in Coral Gables, will "support the life changing work of both the Clinton Foundation and the Mourning Family Foundation," according to an invitation, though the funds will go to the nonprofit Mourning founded with his wife, Tracy. Contribution levels are listed at $25,000, $10,000 and $1,000. 

The charity supports programs for children and families, including after-school centers and mentorship. Alonzo Mourning has taken part before in the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative University, where the former president is scheduled to speak three days after the fundraiser.