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May 22, 2017

Tampa mayor's remark about making reporters 'cry like little girls' goes viral


From Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Times:

At a time when journalists are under fire both literally and figuratively, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s “joke” this week at a military conference about pointing twin 50 caliber machine guns at journalists and watching them “cry like little girls” rankled several reporters in the room.

Buckhorn’s remarks at the Special Operations Industry Conference quickly became fodder for the Facebook page of Military Reporters & Editors, which represents about 300 journalists.

“Personally, I was appalled,” wrote Susan Katz Keating, a freelance writer and organization board member who was in the conference room Tuesday for Buckhorn’s keynote address. Katz Keading had guns pointed at her while covering unrest in Northern Ireland in 1988.

Buckhorn said his critics are being overly sensitive. “I think that is a silly reaction,” he said of those upset by a story he has told “a dozen times.”

But some journalists in the room said they weren’t being thin-skinned. No skin is thick enough to stop a bullet or bomb blast, something Daily Beast national security reporter Kim Dozier knows all too well.

In 2006, she was nearly killed in a car bombing that took the life of the U.S. Army officer her team was filming Capt. James Alex Funkhouser, along with his Iraqi translator and Dozier’s CBS colleagues Paul Douglas and James Brolan.

“As someone who had been under fire once or twice, and lost two colleagues to a car bomb in Iraq that nearly killed me, I didn’t appreciate the remarks,” said Dozier, who wrote a book about her experiences and efforts to recover. “The mayor probably didn’t realize how many of the reporters in the room had risked their lives to bring Americans the story of U.S. troops in the field, including veterans-turned-journalists with prior special ops service.”

Read story here

Photo credit: James Borchuk, Tampa Bay Times

Report: Charter school offered students 'extra credit' to voice support for bill


While some Miami-Dade charter schools were offering incentives to parents last week if they declared support for a controversial education bill, one charter school in Hialeah Gardens reportedly directed its teachers to offer students "extra credit" if they signed online petitions in favor of HB 7069.

Reporters Brian Entin and Daniel Cohen of WSVN Channel 7 obtained a copy of a directive the station says was given to teachers at Mater Academy. The school's principal, Judith Marty, denied that she sent the directive that said "teachers will guide the student" to write emails to Gov. Rick Scott's office -- and "ensure that students include in their emails ... support for HB 7069."

Marty told WSVN that she had been out of town and was surprised to see the written directive, which she told the station "went a little too far."

Read (and watch) WSVN's full report here.

The news, reported Friday, came as the Herald/Times reported earlier that day that at least two other charter schools in the Hialeah area -- including a sister Mater Academy school -- had offered to give parents five hours' credit toward their volunteer hours if they wrote letters or otherwise lobbied Scott to sign the bill.

Gathered outside her house, protesters ask for Baez's resignation


Protesters greeted state Rep. Daisy Baez outside her Coral Gables home Monday morning, asking for her resignation because she doesn't live in her House district as required by Florida law.

"Resign now!" the protesters chanted. "Liar liar liar," one of the signs read.

About 18 people held signs on the sidewalk in front of Baez's house on Malaga Avenue at around 8:30 a.m. The house is in House District 112, but Baez, a Democrat, represents neighboring House District 114, as the Miami Herald reported last week.

Three days later, Baez dropped out of a special Florida Senate election where she had been the Democratic Party favorite.

Several protesters said they had seen Baez leave the house a little earlier Monday morning.

"She read my sign and sped off in a white Mercedes," said Mercedes Plasencia, a West Miami retiree. No cars were parked in front of the house by the time a Herald reporter arrived.

Mauricio Pons, 20, criticized Baez for failing to live in her district, despite a Florida constitutional requirement that she do so.

"That's like if the mayor of Miami lived in Coral Gables," said Pons, who described himself as a conservative. Neither he nor Plasencia would say which political group organized the protest.

A Herald reader said she received a robocall early Monday afternoon “alerting” her about Baez’s residency issues.

Baez is registered to vote in District 112. She told the Herald last week that she keeps two residences, including a rented apartment on Anderson Road in District 114. She changed her voter registration to that address six days before Election Day last November.

But the apartment is occupied by its owner, who wouldn't explain what sort of arrangement she has with Baez. And a neighbor said Baez doesn't live in the boutique building.

Local blogger Elaine de Valle reported over the weekend that Baez acknowledged she sleeps in her Malaga Avenue house, outside the district. Baez told de Valle she made an offer Saturday on a property within District 114 boundaries.

Spotted outside of Baez's Malaga Avenue house Monday morning: a new "For Rent" sign.



Diaz to resign Florida House seat so he can run for Senate

Florida Legislature (3)

To run in a special Florida Senate election, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz will resign from the House later this year, according to a letter he filed late last week with the state division of elections.

Diaz's resignation will be effective Sept. 26, the day Gov. Rick Scott set for the special Senate District 40 election.

The Miami Republican submitted his resignation last Thursday. Florida law requires candidates in state office to resign to run for another state seat. The deadline to do so was Saturday.

Diaz is running to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned last month from his competitive Southwest Miami-Dade County seat. Other Republicans in the race include former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck.

Candidates have until next Wednesday to qualify for the ballot. Diaz's resignation will require a special election to replace him.

View Diaz's letter here.

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, Associated Press

If Gov. Rick Scott vetoes K-12 budget, here's what will happen

Every day brings Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature closer to an inevitable clash over the budget.

County school superintendents from Miami to Pensacola want Scott to trash the K-12 education chunk of the budget that increases spending by $24 per pupil next year. A similar education-only veto of that size hasn't happened since 1983 when Gov. Bob Graham blasted his fellow Democrats' "willing acceptance of mediocrity" in public education.

Graham1983As the AP's Ken Klein reported, Graham dramatically vetoed the education budget after midnight on June 30, 1983, after lawmakers refused to raise taxes, forcing school districts to start a new fiscal year with no new state money. They kept the lights on with reserves, property taxes and loans, and Miami-Dade Superintendent Leonard Britton said that was better than Tallahassee's "abandonment budget."

Britton told The Miami Herald that he wasn't sure Graham had the nerve to make such a big move. But he did. The Legislature did not override Graham's veto and after a quick special session of wheeling and dealing, he got most of what he wanted.

Now it's Scott's turn. A similar Scott veto would make him the toast of Florida educators -- for the moment, anyway -- and how could Democratic politicians or the teachers' union fault him for demanding more money for schools? But Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the two main architects of this budget, won't like being portrayed by Scott as secretly plotting to punish innocent children, so it's a safe bet that tensions in Tallahassee would get worse. Maybe a lot worse.

The K-12 budget of nearly $24 billion accounts for nearly one-third of the entire $82.4 billion budget, so if Scott is willing to go that far, why not go all the way and veto the whole thing? After all, some back-bench House Democrats got more out of this budget than Scott. His sweeping veto would remind people who's in charge, and if Republicans try to override his veto by two-thirds votes (likely in the House, less likely in the Senate), Scott has a new reason to campaign against "those politicians in Tallahassee," one of his favorite sound bites.

Scott, who's expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018, began his first term in 2011 with a politically disastrous call for a 10 percent cut to public schools. He later tried to make amends with a call for $2,500 raises for teachers, but their union, the Florida Education Association, still backed Democrat Charlie Crist for governor in 2014 -- and the union will stand by Nelson next year, too.

Scott has no serious Republican primary challenger in sight, but if he tacks to the left again, it will unleash more wrath from Corcoran, who will accuse Scott of nakedly pandering to a liberal teachers' union and bloated school districts, and if Scott also vetoes Corcoran's signature charter school legislation (HB 7069), it's only the beginning.

Words matter in politics. Scott has spent weeks traveling the state, criticizing every aspect of the Legislature's budget. How can he now possibly sign a budget he has spent so much time condemning? For the governor, it will soon be put-up-or-shut-up time. 

A Castro brother (no, not those Castros) backs Gillum for Florida governor


Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has been getting some national attention for his Florida governor bid, what with a mention last week in the New York Times.

On Monday, he notched another little bit of attention: an endorsement from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who will host a fundraiser for Gillum in South Florida on June 3.

"Our nation is at its best when it matches hard work with real opportunity. That's the essence of the American Dream," Castro said in a statement released by Gillum's campaign. "I'm proud to support Andrew Gillum for Governor because Andrew, the son of a construction worker and a bus driver, has worked hard to achieve his own dreams--and he's worked just as hard to ensure that Floridians from every walk of life can achieve theirs."

Castro had previously tweeted praise at Gillum when he announced his candidacy.

Conservative group thanks senators, urges Scott approval of schools bill



A national Hispanic conservative group is showing its gratitude to 18 Republican state lawmakers who were crucial to passing a controversial and charter-friendly K-12 public schools bill, in the hopes of building more support for Gov. Rick Scott to sign the legislation into law.

The LIBRE Initiative -- which is supported by the Koch Brothers -- is mailing out bilingual fliers this week to voters represented by the three House members and 15 senators. The group is letting residents know their senator supported HB 7069 and is urging the resident to ask Scott to approve it.

The Initiative and another Koch-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, are among the school choice proponents of HB 7069 that want to see it enacted -- in contrast to county school superintendents, almost all elected school boards, and parent groups and teachers unions that want the legislation vetoed.

"Right now, too many Florida students are trapped in failing schools that are not meeting their educational needs. This is why it is essential for Governor Scott to sign H.B. 7069 into law and empower students and parents with more options to choose schools that better serve their educational needs," Cesar Grajales, the LIBRE Initiative’s coalitions director, said in a statement. "We urge Gov. Scott to quickly sign this bill and remove unnecessary barriers so our students don’t have to remain stuck in schools that are failing to provide a quality education."

Those targeted by the mailers are: House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, and Reps. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah and Michael Bileca of Miami; and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart and Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Anitere Flores of Miami (shown above), Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, Debbie Mayfield of Vero Beach, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Keith Perry of Gainesville, Wilton Simpson of Trilby, Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota and Dana Young of Tampa.

Corcoran, Diaz and Bileca shepherded HB 7069 through the House, one of the chamber's top priorities of session. The 15 senators listed represent most of the 20 Republican senators whose votes were vital in ensuring HB 7069 passed.

It was approved on a 20-18 vote in the Senate, so one more opposing vote would have killed it. (Flores was the only Miami-Dade County senator to support it.)

The LIBRE Initiative's latest direct-mail campaign comes two weeks ago after the group sent out mailers hailing five select Republicans -- Negron, Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca and Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala -- who were key to pushing through the school choice measure in the final days of session.

May 21, 2017

Rubio acknowledges taking more 'forceful' stand on human rights than Trump

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday differed with President Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia, saying a more forceful stance on human rights is needed.

"We are not here to lecture," Trump said. "We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue a better future for us all."

CNN host Jake Tapper said he couldn't imagine Rubio saying that. Rubio replied:

"Well, I mean, yes, that would not have been a part of a speech that I would have delivered, for the reason that I think it's in our national security interest to advocate for democracy and freedom and human rights, now, with a recognition that you may not get it overnight. There needs to be a period of transition. And I think, further in that speech, they talk about gradual improvements in places, which I think is wise and pragmatic. That said, I would tell you that the White House and I have a different approach on the issue of human rights. I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record.

"The White House is convinced they can get better results by addressing those issues in private one on one. And, in fairness, there are issues we have raised with the White House. They have then raised it with foreign leaders and have gotten results. Aya Hijazi was released from Egypt, and Sandy Phan-Gillis was released from China. But those are, you know, one case. There are thousands of these cases."

Rubio also addressed his cautious approach to the Russia investigation and Venezuela.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

May 20, 2017

Another sign Latvala may run for governor?




State Sen. Jack Latvala continues to make moves that suggest he is serious about running for governor in 2018.

A political committee the Clearwater Republican runs is scheduled to meet on Sunday at 5 p.m. on Treasure Island with group of top political consultants. Latvala told the Times/Herald last week that his interest in running for governor is real and he expects to make a decision later in the summer.

Latvala has raised $8.2 million in that political committee, called the Florida Leadership Committee, since 2013. He has spent $5 million of that, leaving him with more than $3 million in the committee. That puts him well behind fellow Republican Adam Putnam, who has already declared for the governors race. Putnam has raised $11.4 million for the political committee he calls Florida Grown. He has spent about $3.1 million, leaving him with $8.3 million in the committee.

While Latvala is hardly a household name statewide, his long tenure in Tampa Bay politics would be a key part of any decision on whether he runs. The Tampa Bay area represents more than one-quarter of the Republican electorate in a potential primary race. Latvala was in the Florida Senate from 1994 to 2002 and then was elected again in 2010 and has been in office since.

 PHOTO: State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater (SCOTT KEELER/Tampa Bay Times)

May 19, 2017

Miami Dade public schools to host town halls on Legislature's K-12 spending plan

Carvalho at MH editboard 031417 (1)@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County Public Schools — namely through its superintendent, Alberto Carvalho — has been one of the most vocal opponents in the past couple weeks against the Legislature’s approved K-12 spending for 2017-18 and related legislation (HB 7069) that has $419 million earmarked for special programs and myriad policy critics say would diminish traditional public education.

Now Florida’s largest school district is taking its opposition on the road to amplify its message in local neighborhoods — by hosting a series of six town hall meetings next week in Miami-Dade County.

The purpose of the events is “to discuss the financial forecast for Florida and the proposed budget for public education for next year,” the district said in a news release.

RELATED: “Veto schools bill and ‘starvation-level’ K-12 spending, critics urge Gov. Scott”

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the economic development of our community will be greatly impacted,” the district said. “Please stay informed, and help maintain world-class educational opportunities for our nearly 350,000 students.”

The district wants “PTA members, M-DCPS alumni, community groups, taxpayers, students, employees, and all who care about education” to attend.

The events will be held:

-- at 6 p.m. Monday at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Miami.

-- On Tuesday, at 6 p.m. at Miami Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest, and at 7:30 p.m. at John A. Ferguson Senior High School in Miami.

-- On Thursday, at 6 p.m. at Miami Senior High School in Miami, and at 7:30 p.m. at Miami Beach Senior High School in Miami Beach.

-- at 4 p.m. Friday at the School Board Administration auditorium in Miami and televised on WLRN Channel-17.

The debate over the 2017-18 budget and HB 7069 has staunchly divided traditional public school advocates and supporters of school choice and charter school expansion.

Both sides are escalating their public awareness campaigns to urge Gov. Rick Scott to either accept or reject the Legislature’s funding and policy decisions. 

As of Thursday evening, the nearly 10,000 phone calls, emails, letters and individual petition signatures received by Scott's office were 3-to-1 against HB 7069 and/or the education budget.

Meanwhile, school choice proponents are stepping up their advocacy of the bill, in particular, through organized phone banks, letter-writing campaigns and even, in some schools, offering an incentive to parents if they write letters of support for the legislation.

Neither HB 7069 nor the main budget act have yet reached Scott’s desk. Once they do, he’ll have 15 days to either sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature.