August 21, 2014

Florida set to get $1 billion of Bank of America settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a record settlement with Bank of America on Thursday that will provide $1 billion in relief for about 17,000 Floridians.

But it’s still not clear which ones will qualify.

They’ll likely be in addition to the 120,000 who were offered $9.2 billion in relief in a separate 2012 settlement with the nation’s largest banks, including Bank of America.

On Thursday morning in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced the newest settlement with Bank of America -- a $16.65 billion mortgage deal that includes a $9.65 billion cash penalty and $7 billion in relief to homeowners and blighted areas. It’s the largest government settlement by a company in U.S. history.

The settlement was the result of multiple U.S. attorney offices investigating the seemingly endless reams of bad mortgages approved by Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America bought. Along with the Department of Justice, six states --  California, Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, New York -- were party to the settlement. While Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office was not involved in the settlement, it had discussions with Bank of America regarding how Florida homeowners would be affected.

What’s not known yet is how most consumers affected by the foreclosure crisis will be helped. Of that $7 billion in homeowner relief and aid to blighted areas, Florida will get about $1 billion. It’s not clear which Floridians or blighted areas will be eligible for aid. According to Bondi’s office, consumer relief will come in the form of first and second lien principal reductions, loan forgiveness and other relief.

Although both Thursday’s announcement and the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement tout large penalties, some experts say consumers don’t get much relief.

“It’s all accounting tricks,” said Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg consumer protection attorney. “Rather than provide real relief to consumers, these settlements provide tax relief to the banks.”

Police-Union Peace Talks, Part II [Updated: Not so peaceful]


Updated at 3:05 p.m.:  Talks between Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the police union's executive director did NOT go well. Whether it's initial posturing or a true rift between County Hall and the Police Benevolent Association remains to be seen. Formal contract negotiations will start soon. 

Gimenez joined PBA executive director Blanca Torrents Greenwood in a Biltmore conference room Thursday to talk about stalled union talks. Both sides reported tension during the closed-door session, and afterwards Greenwood gave a definite thumbs-down to the talks.

"From my perspective, it was a completely useless and unneccessary meeting," she said in a telephone interview, citing a separate meeting Tuesday between Gimenez and PBA president John Rivera. Gimenez  "certainly didn't indicate any willingness to make law enforcement a priority."  

Last week, Gimenez announced his budget would require eliminating 110 police-officer jobs, about half as much as the initial proposal of 228 officer cuts. Gimenez said he would impose healthcare changes on supervisors and other non-union employees to create the extra savings, as well as redirect funds earmarked for the county's reserve funds and cancel a planned $1.4 million increase in tax funding for the Perez Art Museum Miami. All but $300,000 of the savings went to police payroll, allowing the lower job-cut figure, according to the county's budget office. 

Now, Gimenez says if police and other unions will accept a new healthcare plan with some benefit reductions and cost savings, MIami-Dade can avoid all police job cuts. 

In the interview, Greenwood said laying off "even one police officer is a disservice to this community." She also dismissed Gimenez's shrinking jobs-cut number, saying "it's like when a store has a sale and they hike-up the price" first. 

Gimenez and Rivera have been exchanging barbs through spokesmen and media interviews, but this week was designed to notch down the public animosity. The mayor's side said they were happy to meet with Rivera and Greenwood together, while the PBA blamed County Hall for the separate sessions. On Thursday, Greenwood continued the harsh tone Rivera had adopted during coverage of the mayor's budget, which currently includes cuts to 110 police jobs.

"From my perspective, he's condescending," she said of Gimenez. "It's the same thing you see on TV." 

We'll update this post when we get official word from the Mayor's Office on their take of the session.



Police Détente Week continues for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Two days after a sit-down with a top antagonist, police-union chief John Rivera, Gimenez is slated to meet Thursday with the union's executive director, Blanca Torrents Greenwood. Like the huddle with Rivera, Gimenez will meet with  Greenwood on neutral territory, at the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables, according to his public schedule.

It's not known why Gimenez and the Police Benevolent Association arranged separate meetings for Rivera and Greenwood, a lawyer and former prosecutor. People on both sides blamed the other for Rivera not being on the guest list for Thursdays' meeting.

 "We are going so we won't slow anything down," Stephanie Womble, a PBA spokeswoman, said in a text message Thursday. 

Continue reading "Police-Union Peace Talks, Part II [Updated: Not so peaceful]" »

Scott rolls out plan to increase per-student spending

Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday announced a plan to raise per-student spending to a record level next year.

Scott's proposal calls for $7,176 for each student in Florida -- a $232 increase over the current school year and a $50 increase over the record high from 2007-08.

"I am proud to announce that in the upcoming legislative session we will propose an increase in Florida’s per-pupil spending to the highest level in our state's history," Scott said in a statement. "We already have the highest total spending in K-12 this year and gave every teacher the opportunity for a pay raise. Because we were able to get Florida's economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education."

The announcement may seem a little premature, considering the November election still stands between Scott and the 2015 legislative session. 

But it makes perfect sense in the context of the campaign.

Last week, Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist traveled the state in a yellow school bus, reminding Floridians that Scott cut $1.3 billion from the state education budget during his first year in office in 2011.

Crist promised more money for public schools, but did not provide specific figures.

The Florida Democratic Party responded by calling Scott's announcement an election-year gimmick.

They pointed out that the record-high per-pupil spending level of $7,126 from 2007-08 equates to $8,191 in 2014 dollars.

"The truth is, Rick Scott cut $1.3 billion from Florida’s education system in his first year," FDP Chair Allison Tant said. "Every year since then, he has failed to bring school funding back up to where it was under Charlie Crist. This new proposal continues that four-year record of failure.

Tom Lee's anti-Crist robocalls target of complaint

Those recent robocalls to Democratic voters, featuring the voice and the conservative views of then-Republican Charlie Crist, have prompted Democrats to file a formal complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. Their target: Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.

Lee engineered what he said were about two million robocalls to voters, using the same calls Crist used in his successful 2006 Republican campaign for governor, in which he called himself a pro-life, Ronald Reagan Republican who opposed same sex marriage and supported public display of the 10 Commandments -- views now starkly at odds with his Democratic philosophy.

Lee has taken responsibility for the robocalls and used an electioneering communications organization (ECO) called The Conservative, headed by Stafford Jones, a Republican activist from Gainesville, and there's also a site featuring many of Crist's re-robo'd audio clips at

The election law complaint was filed by Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party. It cites a state law, Ch. 106.147(1)(c), which states that "No telephone call shall state or imply that the caller represents any person or organization unless the person of organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to make such representation." 

A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor. Also named in the FEC complaint is Gov. Rick Scott. Democrats say Lee was acting on behalf of Scott's campaign in arranging the robocalls to Florida voters.

DNC chair Wasserman Schultz bucks lame-duck Obama on deporting unaccompanied minors


It's August, and in Washington Democratic insider circles that usually means some anonymous person from Obama World would have something nasty to say about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Weston's congresswoman.

But the third time wasn't the charm.

And last night it looked like Wasserman Schultz was ready to put some daylight between her and President Obama over a most-sensitive topic: the unaccompanied minors who flooded the border.

Here's Politico:

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also thinks deporting children detained at the border is sending them back to “certain death.”

The White House went apoplectic last month when likely 2016 presidential candidate Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death.” Tuesday night, Wasserman Schultz said twice — strongly — that she thinks O’Malley was right.

“As you know, Gov. O’Malley said that to send them back would be to send them to certain death. Do you agree with him?” Fusion’s Jorge Ramos asked in an interview.

“Not only do I agree with him, but,” the Florida congresswoman said, launching into a long story about a boy she’d met during a visit to a facility in Miami who told her of being kidnapped and forced into the drug trade, and showed her a bullet wound through the back of his arm.....

“That was the first she was hearing about Martin O’Malley,” said Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office communications director Sean Bartlett. “She was reacting to Jorge’s question and thinking about the tour she had just come from.”

Putting aside the potential political calculus of courting Hispanics or firing up liberals or simply saying something heartfel, maybe it's just a coincidence that Wasserman Schultz happened to say this now.

But regardless, the lame-duckness of President Obama is looking lamer and lamer.

August 20, 2014

Legislative lawyers detail role of national Democratic operatives in redistricting feud

Democratic operatives working for two national groups played a significant role in helping one set of plaintiffs in Florida's redistricting trial draw alternative maps that are now being offered as an alternative for the court to consider, according to depositions made public Wednesday in the trial.

The depositions were cited at a hearing before Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis by George Meros, a lawyer for the Florida House of Representatives. Meros worked to discredit a map presented by the the Romo plaintiffs, one of the voters groups that brought the lawsuit. The other group of plaintiffs is led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. 

This is the second time that Democratic political operatives were found to be as interested in gerrymandering their districts as Republican operatives were accused of doing for their maps. According to records released last year, Florida Democrats plotted with congressional leaders and political consultants to redraw congressional districts to benefit their party, according to new court records that show they were just as interested in gerrymandering as Republicans.

Lewis ruled on July 10 that Republican legislative leaders allowed GOP political operatives to "infiltrate" the redistricting process and "making a mockery" of their claims of transparency. Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats do not control the Legislative process and there is no evidence to show that the maps drawn by their operatives were ever voted on by lawmakers. They have relied on the court as the venue for them to make their case about alternative maps. 

The plaintiffs now want Lewis to consider their map as an alternative to the one drawn by the Republican-led Legislature last week. Mero said the testimony showed that the map was drawn by Eric Hawkins, a consultant to the National Committee for an Effective Congress, a Washington-based consulting firm organization that works to elect Democrats.

Continue reading "Legislative lawyers detail role of national Democratic operatives in redistricting feud" »

Racial divisions emerge as judge decides fate of congressional redistricting plan

Terry LewisThe racial tensions that coursed for years beneath the surface in Florida’s redistricting battle came into sharp focus Wednesday as lawyers for each side blasted each other for attempting to use black voters for partisan gain.

The arguments emerged at a hearing Wednesday called by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to decide whether the Florida Legislature’s redrawn congressional map meets the constitutional standards imposed by voters in 2010.

Lewis said he will decide "as quickly as I can’’ whether to accept the new map drawn by legislators last week in a three-day special session. Legislators had until Aug. 15 to revise two congressional districts he ruled invalid – one held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, and the other held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

At the center of the controversy is Congressional District 5, which has been held by Brown for 22 years since the Legislature linked together African American communities from North and Central Florida so they could elect the first black to Congress since Reconstruction.

Continue reading "Racial divisions emerge as judge decides fate of congressional redistricting plan" »

Miami-Dade commissioner in tough reelection fight gets heavyweight endorsement: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Less than a week before Election Day, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell unveiled the endorsement of popular Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

"I ask you to go out and vote for my great friend," Ros-Lehtinen says in a Spanish-language web video. "Lynda Bell has always fought for our values, creating jobs, keeping your taxes low and protecting our families."

Bell faces a serious reelection challenge from first-time candidate Daniella Levine Cava, who has been heavily supported by state and local Democrats. The race is nonpartisan, but Levine Cava is a Democrat and Bell is a Republican. So is Ros-Lehtinen, whose 27th congressional district partly overlaps with Bell's. Ros-Lehtinen drew no challengers this year and was automatically reelected.

With the video, Bell's campaign is trying to attract reliable, Cuban-American Republican voters -- many of whom may be going to the polls Tuesday for a different race, the GOP primary for Florida's 26th congressional district.

Decent turnout in that more high-profile contest could benefit Bell, since, relatively speaking, few nonpartisan voters cast ballots in primaries because there are fewer races for them to consider.

Here's the Ros-Lehtinen endorsement video:


Broward Democrats urge passage of medical pot

From the category of no surprises, last night the Broward’s Democratic Party officially voted in favor of the medical marijuana amendment on the November ballot.

The full body of the Democratic Executive Committee unanimously voted in favor of  Amendment 2, chairman Mitch Ceasar said. About 150 members were present.

The vote is symbolic, however it means that the county Democrats can now advocate for passage on palm cards they plan to distribute to about a half-million voters.

“Polling shows even Republicans, as well as Democrats and independents are overwhelming in favor this situation in florida,” Ceasar said. “Ask the typical registered Republican, they are in favor of the ‘vote yes’ [side in favor of medical pot] -- it's just power structure that’s not.”

The Florida Democratic Party passed a resolution in June in support of Amendment 2.

Statewide, polls indicate that about 70 percent of voters back the amendment -- it takes 60 percent to pass it. While support crosses party lines, it is strongest among Democrats -- lawyer John Morgan, who employs former Gov. Charlie Crist, is spearheading the effort to get the amendment to pass. Crist, who will be on the ballot the same time as the amendment, supports it while Gov. Rick Scott has said he personally opposes it.

The “Vote No” group is primarily funded by Republicans including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Earlier this month, amendment opponents gained the support of former Gov. Jeb Bush.


Yawn. RPOF files another Crist-billboard complaint




The Republican Party of Florida filed a complaint with the the Florida Elections Commission against the Charlie Crist campaign this week for allegedly failing to include the mandatory prominent disclaimers  that tell people who is paying for the ad. Yawn. Seemed like yet another petty complaint that nobody other than a couple campaign workers actually cares about.

This is the second Crist-billboard complaint RPOF has filed. The previous one was thrown out.

To us, the real scandal would be if the Charlie Crist campaign spent money to erect big billboards near his hometown where his name ID already is 99 percent. Turns out, the billboard were in-kind donations from W.S. Media Inc. of Sarasota, an outfit connected with chiropractor and longtime Crist ally Gary Kompothecras and Jay Burmer, another longtime Crist friend and political operative who works with Mr. 800-Ask-Gary.

The Crist campaign of course scoffed at the complaint and sent an image of their billboard clearly showing the disclaimer. That should put the matter to rest, except that the image released by the Crist campaign is nonsense. In reality, the billboard's disclaimer is virtually invisible. 

Does it matter? Not a bit to normal voters. It might to the Florida Elections Commission, however.