April 09, 2018

Gov. Scott announces Senate run, says 'this concept of career politicians has got to stop'


Rick Scott and Anne Scott. [AP]

Gov. Rick Scott announced his long-expected run for the U.S. Senate today in an Orlando rally, setting the stage for a contentious and expensive battle against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

"Today, with my wife by my side, I’m announcing I’m running for U.S. Senate for the great state of Florida," Scott said in a sweaty construction company warehouse in Orlando, surrounded by wooden pallets and supporters fanning themselves with his campaign signs.

He kicked off his campaign by taking direct aim at Nelson, who was first elected to Senate in 2001, by calling for term limits for members of Congress.

"We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington," he said. "This concept of career politicians has got to stop."

Nelson, in response, sought to project confidence Monday.

"I've always run every race like there's no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent," Nelson said in a statement. "While it's clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I've always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself."

The race between the two-term governor and three-term senator promises to be a test of the popularity of President Donald Trump. Scott was an early and consistent supporter of the president, which Nelson is expected to exploit.

Scott did not mention Trump, but he picked up Trump's message, promising to "fix" Washington and denouncing the "tired old thinking" in the nation's capital.

"We gotta stop sending talkers to Washington. Let's send some doers to Washington," he said.

"Drain the swamp!" someone in the audience yelled.

The race between Scott and Nelson is one of the most expensive and closely watched in the nation, and it's likely to be close.

Scott, a 65-year-old disgraced former health care executive, used his millions to eke out narrow wins in both races for governor in 2010 and 2014. He frequently generated controversy during his governorship, and he's never been considered an especially beloved or charismatic figure on the campaign trail.

But his opponent, whom Floridians have been voting for since the 1970s, is a moderate Democrat with few distinctions during his 17 years in the Senate. The 75-year-old is Florida's only Democrat currently elected to statewide office.

Scott on Monday made a clear play for a constituency he thinks can help him win: Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. He was introduced at the rally by the territory's lieutenant governor, Luis G. Rivera-Marin, and Scott closed his speech in Spanish.

Scott came out of nowhere in 2010 to win his first elected office. He was known primarily as the health care executive who oversaw massive health care fraud. His company, Columbia/HCA, paid a record $1.7 billion in fines and pleaded guilty to 14 felonies.

But he found success running on an obsessive jobs platform at the height of the Great Recession. That message was apparently so successful that Scott repeated it verbatim Monday, in both slogan - "Let's get to work" - and style - U.S. Navy baseball hat and blue dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves.

Scott tried to cast himself as an outsider who reformed Tallahassee politics.

"I didn’t fit into Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider games," he said. "And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington, either."

Scott will be in Fort Myers at Sun Harvest Citrus for a second rally at 2:30 p.m. today, and he's expected to be in Hialeah for another rally Tuesday afternoon.

March 19, 2018

Florida suspends $5.5 million in federal funds for FIU bridge after collapse



Gov. Rick Scott said Monday the Florida Department of Transportation will suspend all remaining federal payments — about $5.5 million — for work on the collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University.

The collapse, which killed six when the bridge crashed onto traffic passing underneath, happened just days after the span had been installed over Southwest Eighth Street in Miami.

“Before another dollar is spent on this bridge, we must know exactly what happened,” Scott said in a statement. “FDOT is working hand-in-hand with the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] in its investigation and until this is completed, all taxpayer dollars will be withheld.”

Of the bridge’s nearly $16.6 million price tag, more than $13.6 million was supposed to come from federal funding, which passes through FDOT to FIU, officials said. Only $57,000 of the bridge’s cost — already spent — came from state funding, and the project called for another $2.9 million from local funds. The governor’s order does not apply to the local funds.

The Department of Financial Services said $8.1 million in federal and state funds had been paid since the project began.

At least $5.46 million had been paid to Munilla Construction Management, which was building the bridge, by early February, according to project meeting minutes released by the city of Sweetwater.

FDOT, which is led by an appointee of Scott’s, and the university have feuded publicly after the state agency moved quickly to distance itself from the project, even though documents show the agency helped approve the design-build team, attended regular team meetings, consulted on construction details and even attended a meeting on the bridge’s progress hours before it collapsed.

FDOT issued a statement shortly after the tragedy saying the bridge was a local project and that FDOT was responsible only for traffic-control permits, serving as a “pass-through” for funding and authorizing the use of the space above the state road where the bridge was installed.

“It’s not an FDOT project. It’s an FIU project,” Scott said that evening at a press conference. “There will clearly be an investigation to find out exactly what happened, and why this happened. We will hold anybody accountable if anybody has done anything wrong.”

The following night, the agency also issued a statement saying it had no idea that “stress tests” were being conducted — which might have required permits for closing the road — and that an engineer for FIGG, the contractor that engineered and designed the span, had discovered cracks in the northern part of the bridge and left a voicemail with FDOT reporting it. The agency participated in a meeting with FIU that Thursday, though it did not say if the cracks were discussed, and that the engineer’s voicemail — which said there were no safety issues — was not heard until after the collapse.

Over the weekend, FIU said the cracks were the subject of the two-hour Thursday meeting with FDOT, in which a FIGG engineer “concluded that there were no safety concerns and the crack did not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge,” according to a statement. FDOT then responded by saying its consultant who attended was acting in an administrative capacity only to ensure that the project was on time and still qualified for federal funds.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg defended the university’s actions Monday in a letter to the “university community,” saying: “We are confident that FIU followed all proper procedures and protocols.”

The university resumed classes Monday, though the road where the bridge collapsed remains closed until further notice.

This story has been updated. Miami Herald reporter Douglas Hanks contributed to this report. 

March 08, 2018

Drum roll: Top lawmaker predicts governor will sign Parkland bill Friday

Gov. Rick Scott, speaks at the AP Florida Legislative Planning Session, October 14, 2015. Walter Michot wmichot@miamiherald.com

A top lawmaker said he believes that Gov. Rick Scott will sign the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law Friday.

Incoming Senate President Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Thursday that because of the changes the Senate made to modify the school safety proposal, Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill, SB 7026, after meeting with parents.

"The changes we made were significant to him," Galvano said of the amendment that removed most classroom teachers from the proposal to arm school personnel, called the "guardian" program.

Keep reading this story here

March 06, 2018

Nelson votes in favor of banking bill trashed by liberal Democrats

Bill Nelson


Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted against the majority of his party on Tuesday, joining Republicans to pass a bill that eases regulations on banks. 

The Senate bill sponsored by Idaho Republican Mike Crapo lessens oversight requirements on banks that hold between $50-250 billion in assets. Every Republican present, including Marco Rubio, voted in favor of the bill while 16 Democrats and independents who caucus with Democrats voted with Nelson and the Republicans to pass it with 67 votes.

A host of Democrats with 2020 presidential ambitions, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have said the bill could have dangerous financial implications for the nation's markets. 

Proponents of the bill say it reduces the regulatory burden on financial institutions while maintaining oversight of the nation's biggest banks. 

Nelson, a moderate Democrat, is up for reelection this year but doesn't face a serious primary challenge from the left. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to announce if he'll challenge Nelson after the current legislative session wraps up in Tallahassee. 

February 26, 2018

After Parkland, Florida looks to mental health programs and campus officers as fixes. But it's underfunded both.

PARKLAND, FL - FEBRUARY 25: People visit Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 25, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. Today, students and parents were allowed on campus for the first time since the shooting that killed 17 people on February 14. Police arrested 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz for the 17 murders. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Just two days after the Parkland massacre, a couple of high school girls were injured by a drive-by shooting outside Middleton High School in Tampa.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, visited the school shortly after to see what he could do. He said he was shocked to learn the school's 1,600 students had only one psychologist, who only worked three days a week.

“It’s virtually nonexistent what school districts are doing to help the mental health of our students,” Rouson said.

Middleton's situation is not uncommon in Florida, where school mental health programs have been chronically underfunded and short-staffed for decades. Yet Florida's leaders are pointing to this same cash-starved system as a way to treat more students who could pose possible threats.

To make good on that, they'll have to make up for lost ground.

Read more here


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.