February 18, 2018

Al Hoffman to Rick Scott: support an assault weapons ban or no endorsement -- and no money

Al Hoffman Florida TrendFor decades Florida real estate developer Al Hoffman has used his clout to elect conservative Republicans to office but the gun tragedy in Parkland has prompted him to add a new condition to that support: he refuses to back any candidate, including Republican Gov. Rick Scott, unless he actively works to pass a national ban on assault weapons. 

In a letter to Republican party donors on Saturday, Hoffman laid out his ultimatum which was first reported in the New York Times. He asked them to support the cause and, in an interview on CNN late Sunday afternoon, he said he was getting some response. 

"I have heard from a couple of them already and they are endorsing the concept totally and I am waiting to hear back from the others,'' he said. "But I believe we can achieve a movement consensus here and achieve our objective."

Hoffman, who was a leading fund-raiser for George W. Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004, said he raised over $600 million in those years for conservative Republican issues. But, he said, the tragedy at Parkland hit home.

"I was so blown away,'' he told CNN. His development company, WCI, had a "very close affinity with Parkland,'' where they built thousands of homes, golf courses, clubs and retirement communities in the middle to upper middle class community.

"I watched as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School start construction, get finished, opened and dedicated,'' he said. "So I've developed a personal affinity with the students."

When he heard of the tragedy, he said, "I felt my heart just drop. I felt like I was holding my heart in my hands."

He said he realized then that his efforts trying to persuaded elected officials to support "better guns laws" wasn't working and it was time to organize a movement of political donors. 

To gun rights advocates, who say the problem is not what kind of weapon but who is using the weapon, he was dismissive. 

"That was a totally preventable catastrophe,'' he said. "That gun massacre could have been avoided. That gun would not have been sold to that kid if he had gone through a background check and the authorities had the ability to take that gun away and take him into custody for examination."

Scott told CNN last week that "everything is on the table" and he will "look at every way that we can make sure our kids are safe."

But Hoffman said he is not interpreting that as support for an assault weapons ban.

"I love Rick Scott. I want him to run for Senate,'' he said. "I believe he is the best Republican that we could vote into office and I'm going to ask him to support that principle of banning assault weapons. That's the litmus test.

"If he does, I would be glad to support him and continue to raise money for him. If he doesn't, in all good conscience I don't see how I could vote for him. That's just the way it is. I hope he changes his mind."

As for the National Rifle Association and its political clout, he said, "I don't care about the NRA.''

He said he is an owner of a concealed weapon and believes in the Second Amendment but, "the NRA is not my party."  

Photo credit: Florida Trend



February 12, 2018

Scott and Cabinet seek sole power to change felon voting rules




Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet told a federal judge Monday that the four Republican officials should decide on their own how to change a vote-restoration system for felons that the judge ruled unconstitutional.

But a national voting rights advocacy group that persuaded the judge to strike down the current system wants the judge to order the restoration of the right to vote for all felons after they complete "any waiting period of a specified duration of time."

"Such an order," the Fair Elections Legal Network said in its filing, "will effectively eliminate the requirement for ex-felons to affirmatively apply for restoration and eliminate the state's obligation to investigate each ex-felon in the state of Florida."

Fair Elections said its proposal defers to whatever waiting period exists in state law.

At present, all felons must wait five years after completing their sentences before they can apply for a restoration of rights. Murderers and sex offenders must wait seven years.

But that appears to go far beyond what Scott and Cabinet members want.

In their legal brief filed with U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, state leaders said it would be "inappropriate" for a court to order them to create any new vote restoration system.

"This court should not issue an injunction prohibiting the state from exercising its right to choose a particular course, so long as its course is compatible with the requirements of federal law," the state argued in a brief filed by Attorney General Pam Bondi's solicitor general, Amit Agarwal.

"An injunction requiring (the state) to affirmatively act to create a new vote-restoration procedure would be inappropriate," the state also argued.

Rather, the state asserted, Scott and the Cabinet should consider a number of options, including a uniform policy of declining to restore any felon's right to vote; amending its rules to permanently revoke voting rights of certain felons; providing for discretion or non-discretion in all cases or continuing the current system with its mandatory waiting periods.

The state's brief noted that Walker, in his Feb. 1 order, acknowledged that states have the power to pass laws that disenfranchise convicted felons by permanently stripping their right to vote.

Scott's office noted Monday that the judge had denied a request by Fair Elections Legal Network to automatically restore the voting rights of convicted felons.

As the legal skirmishes go on, supporters are mobilizing to win passage of a ballot initiative to automatically restore the right to vote to most felons in Florida, not including murderers and sex offenders.

Known as Amendment 4, it would require passage by 60 percent of participating voters to change the Constitution.

Florida is one of four states, along with Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia, that impose a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons.

Those rights can be restored only after a five-year waiting period followed by the felon's successful petition to Scott and Cabinet members, who meet four times annually to decide each case.

Voting rights advocates say about 6 million Americans with felony convictions have been permanently barred from voting, and about 1.5 million of them are from Florida — far more than any other state.

Walker is expected to issue an order in the case, and Scott has indicated that the state will appeal it to a federal appeals court in Atlanta.

"I've been clear," Scott said in Tampa several days ago. "If you're a felon, I believe you should take the time so we can see that you have re-integrated and done the right thing to society before you get your rights back."

Led by Scott and Bondi, the state in 2011 scrapped a policy under which most felons could regain their voting rights without a formal hearing, a process that takes years. 

Instead, Scott, Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater approved a policy under which most felons had to wait for five years after completing their sentences before applying for clemency. That can take a decade or more.

The Fair Elections Legal Network and other advocacy groups challenged the constitutionality of Florida's vote restoration system, and on Feb. 1 Judge Walker granted a motion of summary judgment that said the Florida system, by giving "unfettered discretion" to four elected officials, is unconstitutional.

The next scheduled meeting of the clemency board of Thursday, March 8.

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

February 07, 2018

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott neck-and-neck in potential U.S. Senate race

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Florida Gov. Rick Scott hasn't decided whether he'll run for Bill Nelson's U.S. Senate seat this year, but if he does a new poll suggests the race will be a photo finish. 

A poll conducted last week by Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy shows Nelson with a 45 percent to 44 percent lead over Scott, with 11 percent of voters undecided. Nelson's one percentage point lead is within the poll's four percentage point margin of error. 

Scott received a slight bump in Mason-Dixon's poll in October after Hurricane Irma, but little has changed in the four months since as Scott finishes up his last legislative session in Tallahassee while Nelson tries to forge an immigration deal and a disaster relief bill for Florida in Washington. 

Nelson has the advantage among Democratic, women, black and Hispanic voters while Nelson leads with Republican, white and male voters. Nelson has a 33 percentage point lead in Southeast Florida while Scott maintains big leads in North Florida and Southwest Florida. Scott leads Nelson by six percentage points in the crucial I-4 corridor in Central Florida though Nelson leads Scott by five percentage points in Tampa Bay. Scott has both a higher favorability and unfavorability rating compared to Nelson. Only three percent of Florida voters don't recognize Scott while Nelson is unknown to 12 percent of voters. 

The Mason-Dixon poll was conducted statewide by telephone from January 30 to February 1 and included a total of 625 registered Florida voters. 


Scott is expected to make a decision on the Senate race after the 60 day legislative session ends.

Republicans currently control 51 U.S. Senate seats, and beating Nelson, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, would go a long way towards Republican control of the upper chamber of Congress in a year where Democrats are expected to make gains. 

January 22, 2018

Bill Nelson votes to reopen the federal government without an immigration deal



Senator Bill Nelson was under pressure after voting to reopen the federal government on Monday, three days after he voted to shut it down.

Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 opponent, said Nelson’s vote to shut down the government “didn’t make any sense.”

Some Democrats weren’t happy either, arguing that moderates like Nelson surrendered to Republicans and reopened the government without a deal to protect nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.

But Nelson was unfazed.

After negotiating a deal to reopen the federal government for three weeks, Nelson was unable to contain a wide smile while explaining that a deal he helped broker was the best possible compromise to get federal employees back to work while getting Republicans to commit to a vote on the status of Dreamers.

“Before this agreement they (Dreamers) had no assurance for protection and we were not getting any help from the White House, we weren't getting any help from the House and we really weren't getting any help from the Republican leadership in the Senate. But now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not commit to a deal or compromise for Dreamers on Monday, something that many Democrats previously said was a condition for reopening the government after it shut down on Friday night, though he did commit to debate and vote on the issue.

“So long as the government remains open it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare and other important matters,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Read more here.

January 15, 2018

Bill Nelson raised $2.4 million in last quarter, campaign says


via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson raised about $2.4 million in fourth quarter of 2017, his campaign said Monday, and has $8 million cash on hand.

The Democrat "received more than 30,600 contributions from more than 21,500 individual donors during the last three months of 2017 alone," his campaign said in a release.

Nelson is seeking a fourth term and is expected to face Gov. Rick Scott, though Scott hasn't declared he's running.

January 11, 2018

Targeting Florida Republicans in 2018 will be tricky for Puerto Rican leaders

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI (1)


Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló intends to throw his political weight around in the 2018 elections, mobilizing Puerto Ricans who recently moved to the mainland to vote against lawmakers he says “turned their back” on the U.S. territory in its time of need.

Rosselló’s threats are ostensibly aimed at Republicans in Congress tasked with doling out billions in disaster aid and in charge of an overhaul of the nation’s tax system, where Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory creates rules that don’t exist on the mainland. He called out Sen. Marco Rubio by name in December, saying he was “disappointed” in his tax bill vote, though Rosselló stopped short of offering any specific political retribution against the Florida Republican.

“Once it’s crunch time for the elections, that’s when our organization is going to start saying, ‘These are the folks who have been for Puerto Rico and these have been the folks that are against Puerto Rico,’” Rosselló said this week in Washington.

But carrying out political advocacy in swing state Florida, where Puerto Ricans who are Democrats and Republicans hold elected office, is a tricky balancing act for Rosselló, a Democrat.

Puerto Ricans in Florida could form a large enough voting bloc to affect statewide elections for governor and U.S. Senate in 2018. But Florida Republicans like Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott enjoy widespread support among many members of Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, in contrast to heavily Democratic states with many Puerto Ricans, like New York, Illinois and Connecticut.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, one of two Puerto Rican Republicans in the state Legislature.

Read more here.

January 05, 2018

Trump plan for oil drilling off coast ripped by Florida leaders — in both parties

Trump offshore drilling


Florida waters long closed to offshore drilling would open up under a Trump administration plan to dramatically expand domestic oil and gas production.

The plan drew swift criticism from political leaders of both parties in Florida. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who previously opposed protections put in place by the Obama administration, objected. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who have fought to extend a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf, also criticized a draft proposal released Thursday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said in a statement.

According to the proposal, open to public comment for the next 60 days, the nation would more than quadruple the number of drilling leases available in U.S. waters. The plan covers parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast not available since 1988, as well as the Atlantic coast and Florida Straits. In total, the plan would open the nation’s offshore oil and gas reserves in all but one area off Alaska over the next five years.

“This is clearly the difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” Zinke said in a press call.

Zinke said Florida’s worries, still colored by thedisastrous oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig failure in 2010, would factor into the final plan, along with concerns about sensitive military operations in the Gulf.

“Certainly, Florida is going to have a say,” he said. “Interior should not be the role of adversary. We should be a partner.”

Read more here.

January 04, 2018

Rick Scott agrees with Bill Nelson and opposes Trump's oil drilling plan

055 Hurricane Irma Gov Scott 091117


Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that he opposes a planned measure by the Interior Department that would potentially open up Florida for offshore drilling, putting him in agreement with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott is likely to run against Nelson, a longtime opponent of offshore oil drilling, in 2018. 

“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling – which is something I oppose in Florida," Scott said in a statement. "I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary (Ryan) Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration. My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected, which is why I proposed $1.7 billion for the environment in this year’s budget."

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump, was largely silent on opening up Florida for offshore oil drilling during his tenure in Tallahassee, an idea opposed by many Florida Democrats and Republicans in Congress. 

Nelson vehemently opposed the Interior Department's plan, which is expected to be officially announced later on Thursday, during a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. He argued that loosening regulations and expanding drilling could lead to more environmentally destructive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. 

"I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints, and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state," Nelson said.  

With one year to go, numbers sum up Rick Scott’s governing legacy

055 Hurricane Irma Gov Scott 091117


Rick Scott rewrote the playbook of Florida politics, not once but twice, as a candidate and governor, in ways that will endure long after he leaves Tallahassee.

As Scott begins his eighth and final year as Florida’s 45th governor, he’s considering a bid for the U.S. Senate against three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. If he were to win, it would extend an improbable winning streak for a multi-millionaire who as recently as 2010 was a political novice and unknown.

But one cornerstone of his legacy is secure: He’s the tireless and nerdy CEO with a singular focus on jobs that bordered on an obsession while he was governor, who’ll be remembered chiefly for leading his state out of the Great Recession.

The rest of Scott’s legacy is less glowing.

He relegated Florida motorists and tourists to decades of gridlock by killing a high-speed rail system that would have linked Tampa to Orlando, and later to Miami.

His reversal on Medicaid expansion denied up to a million low-income Floridians access to affordable healthcare, left billions of federal dollars on the table and brought criticism from fellow Republicans that he was a flip-flopper.

Scott is the first governor who was sued successfully for violating state public records laws, including the failure to disclose emails involving public business sent from a private account, and was forced to spend $700,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay his opponents’ legal fees. He publicly apologized for mishandling the firing of a top state law enforcement official that cost taxpayers another $55,000 in legal fees to advocates for open government.

He has exercised the death penalty more than any governor in Florida history. More inmates have been put to death under his watch (26) than by any of his predecessors.

Read more here.

December 14, 2017

Court tosses lawsuit over whether Scott or his successor appoints new justices

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colThe Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit over whether Gov. Rick Scott or his successor has the power to appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court saying that action is not "ripe" because the appointments have not yet been made.

In a majority opinion, in which Chief Justice Jorge Labarga joined the three conservatives on the court, Justice Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, the court held that the "writ of quo warranto," the method used by the litigants, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, was inappropriate.

"Until some action is taken by the Governor, the matter the League seeks to have resolved is not ripe, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to determine whether quo warranto relief is warranted,'' the majority ruled.

But the decision was blasted by Justice R. Fred Lewis, who warned that the court may not have invited a "constitutional crisis" and created a dangerous precedent when the majority required "that that illegal and unconstitutional conduct which produces disarray must have already occurred to allow judicial action."

"Under the majority view, elected politicians can announce their intentions and plan to engage in all types of illegal and harmful conduct but no relief is available until the illegal and harmful act has already inflicted its damage,'' he wrote. "Magnificent trees cut, pristine waters fouled, and unthinkable harm inflicted upon our citizens, which may not be prevented when the actor plans and even announces his intentions. Today, we have a new test. The writ is only available when the illegal act is taken and harm is actually inflicted—at times even irreparable harm."

Lewis was explicit that the court was creating a new precedent that has the potential to harm future generations.

"I fundamentally disagree with depriving the citizens of Florida of their ability to challenge inappropriate action by a state official simply based on this unfounded limitation,'' he said. Today’s decision - 16 - allows state officials, such as Governor Scott, to circumvent this extraordinary writ at the convenience of the office holder based on a ripeness challenge that does not, in my view, have any legal justification."

Agreeing with the result, but not the reasoning, was Justices Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente. Quince wrote the opinion and Pariente concurred, arguing that both the majority opinion and Lewis confuse the issue because they under court precedent in a previous case involving a Scott appointment to the court, the court has shown "we have the authority to act prior to the Governor’s making an appointment that is contrary to law."

Quince wrote that "while I agree with the majority that it is not appropriate for us to rule on the petition at this time, I do not agree that it would only become appropriate to do so after Governor Scott has consummated an appointment."

Quince, however, noted that Scott's lawyers conceded in their oral arguments that he may not have the authority to make the appointment.

Dan Nordby told the court that “the Governor’s term concludes at the end of the day on [the first] Monday” in January, “the same day that the Justices’ terms end" and if the justices do not leave before the end of their terms and “if the new governor’s term has begun, then the new governor would have the authority to make the appointment.”

Quince noted that this is what voters concluded when they rejected a 2014 amendment to the state Constitution to clarify the law and give the appointment power to the outgoing governor. Lewis also noted in his dissent that he disagreed with this interpretation as well.

The Florida branch of the League of Women Voters and the government watchdog group Common Cause filed a petition with the Supreme Court in June saying Scott's successor should make the appointments.

Age limits are forcing three justices to retire on the day Scott leaves office in January 2019 because of term limits. Scott has said he plans to name their replacements that same morning.