September 19, 2014

John Thrasher's FSU foes point to political links with Koch brothers


One of the latest lines of attack against state Sen. John Thrasher becoming Florida State University's next president: Tying him to the billionaire libertarian Koch brothers.

But Thrasher's ties to the political activists — whose name at FSU is especially radioactive since a controversial gift several years ago — are not as clear as some are suggesting.

Thrasher has accepted campaign donations from the Kochs and attended events with other conservatives that were sponsored in part by Koch dollars. But Thrasher's conservative politics have conflicted with Charles and David Koch's libertarianism.

"I have been saying I've never met them, I've never talked to them and I wouldn't recognize them if they walked into the room," Thrasher told the Times/Herald Thursday.

Thrasher's campaign received a $1,000 check in February from Koch Industries, the Kansas-based company that made the brothers billionaires. He received another $1,000 from the company in 2012.

Thrasher raised nearly $847,000 in total during those two campaign cycles.

Read more here.

Scott raises money in Texas, dines with Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Scott was in Texas Thursday, meeting with Gov. Rick Perry and raising campaign money in Dallas. Scott attended law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and later worked there as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. Perry appeared on Fox Business Network's Opening Bell Friday where he talked up Scott's record. The Dallas Morning News has a story on Scott's visit.

Putnam goes shopping to pitch weekend tax holiday

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam went shopping Friday to promote the state's latest tax holiday for consumers: a first-of-its-kind three-day break from sales tax for purchases of energy-efficient and water-efficient appliances.

Through Sunday, retailers will waive state and local sales taxes on products that carry an Energy Star or WaterSense logo up to the first $1,500 of the purchase price. Putnam picked up a new shower head and some light bulbs at a Lowe's store in Tallahassee.

"It will continue to save you money," Putnam said. "By definition, Energy Star rated products save 10 percent on electricity and WaterSense products save 20 percent. It's an excuse to check some things off that honey-do list that somebody's been after you to do."

The Legislature set Sept. 17-19 for the dates of the holiday and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law. Putnam's state web site lists the items that are tax free and more information about the energy tax holiday can be found on the Florida Retail Federation's web site.

First convict in David Rivera campaign-finance case asks for lighter sentence


Federal prosecutors and the lawyer for the first conspirator convicted in a campaign-finance scheme linked to ex-congressman David Rivera will ask a judge Friday to reduce the man's sentence.

Justin Lamar Sternad was sentenced last year to seven months in prison for taking more than $81,000 in illegal campaign contributions, which Rivera allegedly steered to him in a failed 2012 congressional bid.

Sternad hasn’t yet served his sentence. And his lawyer, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, says the former hotel-desk worker and father of five should get more credit for helping investigators, who used his information to nab a friend of Rivera’s in the conspiracy.

Continue reading "First convict in David Rivera campaign-finance case asks for lighter sentence" »

September 18, 2014

NextGen builds an ark and says Gov. Rick Scott is picking the passengers

 And now for the latest gimmick: NextGen Climate has built an ark, and the Democrat-leaning enviro group is trucking it around Florida using a pretty low-efficiency vehicle to bring home the point that Gov. Rick Scott won't talk about, yes, climate change. 

The ark made its first stop in Tallahassee on Thursday and is headed to Tampa on Friday. The high-profile visual comes a day after 42 scientists from universities around the state asked the governor and other state leaders to call a Climate & Solutions Summit to bring the issue front and center. Scott met with five scientists last month but wouldn't say whether he has changed his mind from denying that human-induced pollution has caused climate change. He did say he likes solutions. 

In Tallahassee on Thursday, Dr. Ron Saff, an alergy and asthma specialist and a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, warned that the time for talk has already passed as Florida is feeling the effects of human-induced global warming with increased cases of mosquito-borne illnesses such as enchephalitis and dengue fever. 

"The medical implications of global climate change are catastropic,'' he said. "Parts of Miami are regularly flooding and climate change isn't a thing we have to worry about in the future. It's already here."

Jillian Mushman, a junior at Florida State University, told the small crowd at the Tallahassee park that "two by two, Rick Scott’s special interest campaign contributors'' -- such as sugar lobbyists, oil drillers, and the Koch brothers who recently spent $25,000 -- will get a "ticket on Scott’s Ark."

"Florida families may not have the campaign cash to get a ticket on the ark but what we do have is the choice in November,'' she said. 

South Florida advocate pushes Congress for action in assisting poor, ailing Holocaust survivors


Citing “tragic and unacceptable” poverty numbers among Holocaust survivors in the U.S., a leading advocate from South Florida told a congressional panel Thursday that Congress should do more to help such survivors get the care and resources they need.

Jack Rubin

While emphasizing that survivors are not seeking additional funds from American taxpayers, Jack Rubin said Holocaust survivors were looking for Congress to help secure the funds from the German government and businesses that profited from the Holocaust.

“Unfortunately, the existing system has fallen tragically short of what survivors need and deserve,” Jack Rubin said in his prepared testimony. “The current funding and care delivery system is difficult for survivors to access, and also severely underfunded.”

Rubin is from Boynton Beach, Fla. He was born in the former Czechoslovakia and survived several Nazi concentration camps and death camps.

He spoke before a joint subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, which was exploring the difficulties in recovering assets for Holocaust survivors.

Driving Rubin’s effort is the fact that about 55,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S. today live near or below the official federal poverty level, and that they need help with basic medical and dental care, as well as food, rent, utilities and transportation, he said.

He testified about the effort in January as well, before a Senate committee.

On example he cited in his Thursday testimony concerned dental care – or the lack of it.

“Most survivors have extensive dental needs because during the Holocaust, we had no opportunity to care for our teeth, suffered extreme malnutrition, as well as beatings and other horrible deprivations,” he testified. “Unfortunately, dental services are paid for from the same emergency funds that are limited to $2,500 per year. And the dental work that many survivors need costs thousands and thousands of dollars… This is a very, very big problem. The lack of proper dental care harms survivors’ dignity, and also puts them at risk for bad nutrition and cardiac problems.”

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican who chairs one of the subcommittees, said “more can and must be done.”

“With the average age of Holocaust survivors estimated at 82, time is truly running out for us to bring them some form of justice, some kind of closure so that they can live out the rest of their days in dignity and comfort,” she said in her prepared statement.

Rubin’s testimony, as well as that of other witnesses, is available at the committee Web site.

In battle over Politico article, DNC offers defense of Wasserman Schultz


U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston who doubles as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, was blasted in a lengthy article in Politico that documented her rocky relationship with the Obama White House and indicated her tenure might be limited.

As Miami Herald colleague Marc Caputo has already recounted, such assessments -- driven in large part by unnamed sources – have become something of a seasonal staple.

The take by Politico, a Washington-based news organization: The congresswoman is “in a behind-the-scenes struggle with the White House, congressional Democrats and Washington insiders who have lost confidence in her as both a unifying leader and reliable party spokesperson at a time when they need her most.”

Her spokesman said she was traveling and unavailable for comment (although the Politico article quoted her at length).

As for the Democratic National Committee, press secretary Michael Czin offered the committee’s defense, in a statement:

“The chair has worked tirelessly for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ballot in her three and a half years at the helm of the DNC. That’s why President Obama reappointed her following his own reelection.

“The chair’s record and accomplishments at the DNC speaks for themselves. Just this cycle she has traveled to 99 cities and 37 states to participate in hundreds of events in support of Democrats up and down the ticket. This cycle the DNC has raised more than $120 million, retired more than $20 million in debt that helped us win in 2012, built a groundbreaking program to expand access to the ballot box while providing campaigns of all size the same data and technology platforms that the Obama campaign pioneered. That’s a record anyone would be proud of.”

Naked Politics changes commenting requirements

Attention Naked Politics blog readers/commenters:

Starting this week, to comment on this blog you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account.

The Miami Herald wants to encourage lively discussion on the blog, but we also believe that respect and civility must be part of a good debate.  

This change brings commenting on blogs in line with our policy on the rest of our website. We made that change in February 2013.

Your blog posts will carry the name on your Facebook account; you will have the choice of whether your post also appears on your own Facebook page.
Thank you.

Crist supporters want Scott to take down controversial ad


Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano and former Department of Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil on Thursday called on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to take down a controversial attack ad.

The ad, which has run about 4,000 times in Florida, features an unidentified man saying he was “swindled" by both Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist.

The Miami Herald later idenfitied the man as Fort Lauderdale investor Dean Kretschmar — and found that he "never made that allegation [about Crist] in his successful lawsuit to recover millions of dollars in Rothstein-related losses."

Fasano, a longtime Republican and former state senator, called the ad "nothing but a lie."

Continue reading "Crist supporters want Scott to take down controversial ad" »

Gov. Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis and Julie Brown to utility board

Jimmy_Patronis (1)

Four years after the state Senate rejected two of former Gov. Charlie Crist's appointees to the Public Service Commission because they had no industry experience, Gov. Rick Scott has appointed state Rep. Jimmy Patronis to the same board, even though he has had no industry experience.

The difference: Patronis is a Panama City Republican who announced last year  he will step aside as a candidate in 2016 for the state Senate seat held by Senate President Don Gaetz, making room for Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, to be the heir apparent. Patronis was also an early support of Scott's against former Attorney General Bill McCollum. 

Scott also reappointed, as expected, Tampa lawyer Julie Brown based on a list of six candidates, sent to him by the legislatively-controlled PSC Nominating Council.

Patronis, who is term-limited out of office this year, fills a seat now held by Eduardo Balbis on the board that has the power to approval utility rates in Florida. Balbis surprised observers in May when he announced he would not seek a second term after being appointed to the post by Crist.

Balbis got the job after legislators sided with electric companies in 2010 to oust Crist appointees David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens who rejected controversial rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy Florida.

On Thursday, Scott also announced the reappointment of Tampa lawyer Julie Brown, 39, from a list of six candidates sent to him by the legislatively-controlled PSC Nominating Council. She has been on the commission since 2011.

Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $131,036 and the appointments are subject to Senate approval.

Patronis is the vice president of Captain Anderson’s Restaurant in Panama City Beach and listed no utility experience on his application for the job. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and was an early and avid supporter of Scott's first campaign for governor in 2010.

Scott held a rally last Friday at Patronis’ Panhandle restaurant with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Patronis is also a member of the panel evaluating the finalists for the FSU presidency.

Brown, 39, of Tampa, has been a PSC member since 2011 and is a University of Florida graduate. The two four-year terms begin Jan. 2, 2015, and end Jan. 1, 2019.

Among the candidates Scott rejected was former state Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, and Patrick Sheehan, director of the Office of Energy in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Scott's appointment of Patronis shows how far he has shifted from the outsider in 2010 who said in his Republican primary victory speech that "the deal-makers are crying in their cocktails." The Patronis pick is an obvious reward for an early and loyal Scott supporter. Patronis' wife Katie has donated $500 to Scott's re-election.

“Representative Patronis has faithfully served Florida families during his years of service in the Florida House of Representatives,’’ Scott said in a statement. “I am confident that Jimmy will make an excellent addition to the Public Service Commission as he continues to put Florida families first.”
Here's the press release today from the governor's office:

Continue reading "Gov. Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis and Julie Brown to utility board" »