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November 18, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott not persuaded to accept refugees after White House call


Gov. Rick Scott was among a group of 34 governors who were on a conference call with the White House on Tuesday to talk about accepting Syrian refugees, but it did little to persuade Scott to end his objection to more refugees coming to Florida.

“The conference call with the White House yesterday didn’t help me at all,” Scott told Brian Kilmeade, a host of Fox & Friends, this morning. “It made me even more concerned.”

Scott said the administration officials told them they were doing thorough background checks but were not willing to share those checks with Florida law enforcement.

“They couldn’t explain to me how the U.S. vetting process is any better than the French vetting process, even though we know one of the terrorists posed as a Syrian refugee,” Scott said.

His comments follow a letter he sent U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to stop the administration from settling more Syrian refugees in Florida. Florida is set to receive another 425 refugees, Scott said.

The Associated Press reported that 34-governors participated in the 90-minute call with the White House, which included President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, Health and Human Services, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center.

'It's offensive,' new web ad says of immigration rhetoric from Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio's harder line on immigration is the subject of a new digital ad from American Bridge and Latino Victory Fund. "Yes, people will have to be deported," Rubio is heard saying.

The ad also features Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The groups have not yet provided details on where the ad will be seen.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

FAU poll: Jeb Bush fades to 5th in Florida


Jeb Bush's popularity continues to drop in his home state, according to a new robopoll by Florida Atlantic University that shows the former Florida governor in single digits and in fifth place among his Republican presidential rivals.

Bush trails Donald Trump, who holds a comfortable lead in the field with 36 percent. The lineup after Trump? Marco Rubio (18 percent), Ben Carson (15 percent) and Ted Cruz (10 percent). Bush garnered 9 percent support -- half of Rubio's and a quarter of Trump's.

"Despite conjecture that Donald Trump has plateaued, his support in Florida remains very strong and could be growing," Kevin Wagner, associate professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative, said in a statement.

The poll's error margin is 5.2 percentage points, which means Bush is effectively tied with Cruz and perhaps not that far removed from Carson. Bush's campaign has acknowledged the bad polls but insisted Bush's budget cuts and revamped approach -- focusing more on early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire -- will eventually push his numbers back up.

FAU, which is based in Boca Raton, is relative newcomer to the state's presidential polling scene. In its last presidential poll in September, it found Trump in first place, followed by Rubio, Bush, Carson and Carly Fiorina.

Read the full poll:


Ethics commission again seeks help to fix its 'greatest weakness'

SnipImageFor nearly two decades, Florida's Commission on Ethics has sought the power to tackle investigations on its own, without waiting for a complaint to be filed. For all that time, the Legislature, which writes the ethics laws, has said no -- the same Legislature whose members are frequently subjects of ethics inquiries.

The idea will be back before lawmakers in the 2016 session that begins in less than two months. It faces an uphill fight in a Capitol where the powers-that-be have long wanted ethics watchdogs kept on a very short leash.

"The inability to act on cases on its own initiative is perceived as the commission's greatest weakness, and the commission perceives it as its greatest weakness," said Virlindia Doss, the agency's executive director (left). She noted that the idea has been around since former Gov. Jeb Bush convened a public corruption study commission in 1999.

Under the proposal, the commission could start an investigation by a public vote of seven of its nine members. In past years, lawmakers have shelved the idea because of a fear that they could be subject to ethics witch hunts.

Doss presented the commission's legislative priority list to the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee Tuesday. It also includes requiring thousands of elected city officials to file the more detailed financial disclosure, known as Form 6, that lawmakers, county commissioners, sheriffs and other constitutional officers must file.

The commission also wants the power to place liens on property owned by public officials who refuse to pay fines, and to increase the maximum fine from $10,000 t0 $20,000.

Miami congressman, a former school board member, will help rewrite No Child Left Behind law


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo will have a seat at the table to work out the final details of the overhauled No Child Left Behind education law, a massive, controversial piece of legislation that has taken years for lawmakers to reform.

House Speaker Paul Ryan appointed Curbelo, a Miami Republican and former Miami-Dade School Board member, to the conference committee on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as the legislation is formally known. The committee of House and Senate members will try to agree on the wording of the law. Both chambers have passed different versions.

"Building a better education system for every child in America is one of my great passions. I began this work five years ago as a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board and have been able to continue it on the Committee on Education and the Workforce here in Congress," Curbelo said in a statement.

"This reauthorization of the ESEA puts children at the center of America's education system, reduces burdensome regulations on school districts and teachers, and promotes school choice. On the conference committee, I will fight for a strong but fair accountability system and to protect the interests of English language learners and the teachers and districts who serve these students -- a major priority for our schools in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties."

Earlier in the legislative process, Curbelo passed an amendment giving students learning English more time to achieve proficiency in reading and math.

Teresa Sarnoff gets 642 votes in predetermined Miami election


The results published Tuesday for Miami's District 2 Commission seat runoff election showed Ken Russell with 2,648 votes in his name, equal to 100 percent of the vote. But more than 600 people cast ballots in favor of Teresa Sarnoff, even though she pulled out of the race more than a week before Election Day.

When Sarnoff sent a letter to City Clerk Todd Hannon last week declaring her intent to withdraw from the race, the city responded by saying Miami would have to proceed with Tuesday's runoff election because the city charter requires that a winning candidate receive than 50 percent of the vote (Russell received only 41 percent on Nov. 3). But the city attorney said votes for Sarnoff were to be considered invalid and would not be published.

Votes for Sarnoff were, however, recorded and kept as public record. The Miami Herald requested a copy of those results from Hannon, who provided them early Wednesday morning. They show that despite Sarnoff's public withdrawal -- announced in a letter to the Miami Herald Editorial Board -- 642 people still voted for her, including 127 who went to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots.

November 17, 2015

A preview of Jeb Bush's defense policy


Jeb Bush had already planned to give a speech Wednesday about defense policy before the Paris terror attacks happened. Now the presidential candidate will focus more intently on ISIS while laying out his proposals, according to his campaign.

At The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, Bush will push for growing the U.S. military, reversing budget cuts to the Defense Department and revamping defense contracting in an effort to increase competition and cut costs.

Bush plans to criticize the Obama administration for not pushing a more forceful anti-ISIS strategy and for shrinking the size of the military and the Defense Department's budget. The former Florida governor will call for more U.S. involvement in NATO, and for more focus in the Indo-Pacific region. He will pledge to grow the active-duty military and step-up air force investment.

Bush has already endorsed sending more U.S. help to Iraqi security forces, Kurds and Syrian moderate rebels, and to implement a no-fly zone in Syria.

Here's what he had to say about his plans Tuesday:


Here's an outline of his ideas, as provided by Bush's campaign:

Continue reading "A preview of Jeb Bush's defense policy" »

Jack Abramoff in Tallahassee: Draconian reforms needed to 'stop folks like me'

Abramoff book signing

Jack Abramoff, one of Washington’s most notorious former lobbyists, came to Tallahassee on Tuesday as part of his crusade against what he calls “the corrupting influence of money on public policy.”

He called out a constitutional amendment on solar energy backed by the state’s utilities, as “one of the oldest lobbyists’ tricks in the book” because it is “intended to confuse people” and detract the proponents of a rival amendment.

He detailed his tricks of the lobbying trade before he was convicted on federal fraud and tax evasion charges: buying goodwill from members of Congress with campaign contributions, sports and concert tickets, meals and golf outings and the promise of lucrative jobs to members of their staff.

And he called for “draconian reform” to “stop folks like me” — including the banning of any corporate interest, special interest or individual who wants to petition government on public policy from contributing any money to any elected official or political campaign.

“Lobbying was for me a series of political battles. Unfortunately, winning became everything. I stopped paying attention to the lines in the sand — the rules,” said Abramoff who pleaded guilty in Miami on Jan. 3, 2006 on charges stemming from his lobbying activities in Washington on behalf of Native American tribes, including steering millions to favored lawmakers.

Continue reading "Jack Abramoff in Tallahassee: Draconian reforms needed to 'stop folks like me'" »

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, son and grandson of refugees, says 'new threat' of infiltrated ISIS prompted push for Syrian refugee ban


The question over whether the U.S. should continue to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terror attacks has roiled politics -- and not just among 2016 presidential candidates.

U.S. Senate hopefuls in Florida have weighed in too, including Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who issued a statement Monday backing Gov. Rick Scott's push to keep Syrians out of the state. States don't have the authority to ban refugees, so Florida has asked Congress to step in. 

"We must use whatever power we have to refuse to accept these so-called refugees in our state," Lopez-Cantera's statement read in part. The phrase "so-called refugees" seemed to question whether any of the Syrian migrants were in fact fleeing prosecution. Some of them already in Florida have shared harrowing memories of escaping bombs in Syria.

Lopez-Cantera, a Miamian who is seeking presidential candidate Marco Rubio's Senate seat, has Cuban and Jewish ancestry. "I am the son and grandson of refugees," he said. (His maternal great-grandparents were Russian Jews who immigrated to New York around the turn of the last century, he said; his father is a Cuban immigrant.)

Yet he told the Miami Herald in an interview Tuesday that he came to his hard-line position on Syrian refugees after learning one of the Paris attackers entered Europe using a Syrian passport.

Continue reading "Carlos Lopez-Cantera, son and grandson of refugees, says 'new threat' of infiltrated ISIS prompted push for Syrian refugee ban" »

Drone liability bill narrowly advances in Florida Senate

Drones AP


Facing opposition from prominent business groups, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday narrowly passed a proposal from a Miami Republican that would make Floridians who own or operate unmanned drones liable for the cost of any damage and injury they cause.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's measure by a 5-4 vote.

Drones have become increasingly more common for a variety of commercial and recreational uses. Senate Bill 642 would allow Floridians to recover costs from the owner or operator of a drone if "negligent operation" of the device caused them injury or damaged their property.

Lobbyists representing the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups said Tuesday they can't support the bill in its amended form, because of where the proposed law would be placed in statute and because of the wording it contains.

Continue reading "Drone liability bill narrowly advances in Florida Senate" »