August 31, 2016

Scott praises Beruff after loss then (13 hours later) Rubio on victory

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@JeremySWallace & @ByKristenMClark

Carlos Beruff may have lost badly in his race against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, but his effort is still winning praise from Gov. Rick Scott who helped encourage Beruff to run and heaped praise on him during joint speaking events with Beruff. Within minutes of Rubio salting away the win, Scott took to Twitter and Facebook to congratulate Beruff -- not Rubio.

Beruff wasn't the only one to get praise from Scott. The governor also celebrated Republicans Matt Gaetz and Francis Rooney for winning GOP primaries for Congress.

But Scott conspicuously waited almost 13 hours to congratulate Rubio -- the Republican incumbent who trounced Beruff 72 percent to 18 percent in unofficial results from Tuesday's primary.

The Facebook post this morning praising Rubio came shortly after a Herald/Times reporter asked Scott's spokeswoman why the governor had congratulated Beruff but not Rubio.

Gov. Scott declares emergency in 42 counties as Gulf storm expected to make landfall Thursday

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Almost two-thirds of Florida's counties are now under a state of emergency because of a tropical depression that's intensifying in the Gulf of Mexico and expected to make landfall Thursday afternoon as either a tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott issued the state of emergency for 42 counties on Wednesday morning, while he attended a morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. Metro areas covered by the emergency declaration include Tallahassee, Tampa Bay, Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville and the Space Coast. South Florida is "in the clear," one state official said.

(See Scott's emergency declaration here for the full list of affected counties.)

Tropical Depression 9 is still moving slowly in the Gulf at about 2 miles per hour but it's starting to take shape. The storm is expected to pick up steam and veer northeast toward Florida's Big Bend over the next 24-36 hours, said Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Coastal areas from Walton and Bay counties to the Anclote River are under a tropical storm warning, and much of that same area is under a hurricane watch.

MORE: "Swath of Florida Gulf Coast under tropical storm warning"

State officials expect landfall in Florida's Big Bend by late afternoon or evening Thursday, with the worst of the impacts overnight on Thursday.

Affected areas could see 5-10 inches of rain, with up to 15 inches in some areas. Three- to six-foot storm surges along the coast are expected from Indian Pass to Bonita Beach; they could be as high as 7-9 feet, depending on the intensity of the storm, officials said.

Any school closures necessary because of the storm are expected to be announced later today.

Speaking with reporters after the morning briefing, Scott urged preparation and vigilance.

"You've got to take care of yourself and be prepared," Scott said.

He advised Floridians to make sure they have battery-powered radios so they can monitor the weather and be alert of storm or tornado warnings. He also cautioned residents against driving in flooded waters and approaching downed power lines.

Photo credit: Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses the media after a storm briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

August 30, 2016

With tropical depression in Gulf, Rick Scott goes to Tampa for storm prep



Rick Scott's office announced the Republican governor is traveling to Tampa this afternoon for briefings on storm preparation, while a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to strengthen and make landfall along Florida's west coast in the next 48 hours.

Scott will monitor the storm from the Emergency Operations Center in Tampa and hold a press conference at 5 p.m.

"Florida families on the Gulf Coast and in the Tampa Bay area need to prepare for five to 10 inches of heavy rainfall as well as potential tornadoes," Scott said said in a statement. "Floridians should always remember to never drive on flooded roadways, seek shelter in the event of severe weather and always have a plan in place to keep your family safe."

To reduce the chance of Zika virus spreading, Scott also advises homeowners to dump standing water, which can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Officials elevated the status of the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee to Level Two this morning in preparation for the storm, currently called Tropical Depression 9. Level Two means the activation of mission-specific emergency support and planning functions.

The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will strengthen to tropical storm status today -- with the potential to produce coastal and inland flooding, storm surge, rip currents and strong winds. It's expected to reach Florida's coast by Thursday.

"Whether this is your first tropical storm or you’re a seasoned veteran of past hurricanes, you need to take this storm seriously and be prepared for the very real threats it could produce," advised Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management.

Photo credit: AP

August 25, 2016

Rubio raps FEMA over algae blooms

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Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the Obama administration for again declining to issue a federal disaster declaration in response to toxic algae in Florida's waterways.

"Even though the end to this disaster is not in sight, the President is telling our state we are on our own," the Miami Republican said Thursday in a statement.

Barack Obama did not appear to be involved in the decision. In a brief letter earlier Thursday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate rejected Gov. Rick Scott's appeal of his agency's earlier denial of extra money to help fight the algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee discharges intended to protect its aging dike.

"After a thorough review of all information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that supplemental federal assistance under the Stafford Act is not appropriate for this event," Fugate wrote to Scott. "Therefore, I must inform you that your appeal for an emergency declaration is denied."

The thick algae blooms look like guacamole and smell bad. The algae has fouled Treasure Coast waterways fed by Lake Okeechobee.

"The Administration has chosen yet again to turn a blind eye to the livelihoods of Floridians who are affected by this toxic algae," Rubio said.

For more on Rubio's response:

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press


Read more here:


Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans another DC trip to ask for Zika money


Florida Gov. Rick Scott plans to return to Washington when Congress convenes after Labor Day to again press lawmakers for emergency funds to combat the Zika virus.

"I will travel to Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress on the day they return to work to make sure they immediately get something done on this urgent issue," Scott said in a statement Thursday. "During Congress's vacation, we have identified 43 cases of locally acquired Zika in four Florida counties. The Zika virus demands immediate federal action and I will impress upon our congressional members the urgency to protect our residents and visitors."

The Republican governor has already lobbied the GOP-controlled Congress for help, to no avail. Federal Zika dollars are scheduled to start drying up at the end of September.

Scott has blamed Democratic President Barack Obama for also failing to find money to deal with the virus outbreak. The president has requested a $1.9 billion allocation from Congress. Scott hasn't committed to any number.

Locally transmitted Zika has been identified in Wynwood and Miami Beach, and there are two cases under investigation in Pinellas and Palm Beach counties.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

August 22, 2016

Miami Beach mayor blames Florida governor for slow Zika response


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine on Monday blamed Florida Gov. Rick Scott for the confusing way in which his city conveyed information about the Zika virus outbreak.

"The governor made, I believe, a big mistake by not believing the folks that are on the ground -- myself, [Miami-Dade County] Mayor [Carlos] Gimenez -- informing us, telling us what he knows," Levine told reporters at a news conference.

"This issue is serious," Levine continued. "To play politics with people's lives is wrong, and there's no place for that. Information must be timely. It must be coming out."

Levine, a Democrat who wants Scott's job, had insisted to reporters Thursday night that Miami Beach had no confirmed Zika cases -- even after the Miami Herald and later other news media reported otherwise, citing sources inside the Florida Department of Health.

The next day, Republican Gov. Scott traveled to Miami to announce the new Zika cases on the Beach, making Levine look like he was either uninformed or more interested in protecting the city's tourism business.

Continue reading "Miami Beach mayor blames Florida governor for slow Zika response" »

August 20, 2016

Miami Beach mayor accuses Rick Scott of "playing politics" with Zika information



Amid the public health concerns and worries about impacts on tourism, the news of Zika spreading to Miami Beach has set off a political quarrel between Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine — rumored to be eying a gubernatorial run in 2018 — and Gov. Rick Scott.

He's taken to cable news channels to accuse Scott of withholding information from him about the presence of Zika in the popular resort city, which is a crucial economic engine for the region's tourism industry.

Fourteen hours after Levine told reporters late Thursday that there was "no outbreak, no epidemic of Zika on Miami Beach," Scott held his own press conference in Miami to announce that five cases were confirmed and Zika was being transmitted locally in South Beach. 

On Friday, Levine blamed Scott for a lack of communication that left the mayor unaware of what was going on in his own city. On Friday night and Saturday afternoon, the mayor took to cable news networks to blast the governor. 

"On Friday, the governor played politics with this horrible issue," Levine told CNN's Martin Savidge on a live segment aired just after 1 p.m. Saturday.

That's after a Friday night appearance on MSNBC.


"It is so sad that this governor is withholding life-saving information and playing politics with it," he said.

When the Herald asked Scott's office for a comment Friday, a spokesperson seemed to say, in the same breath, that Scott has been in contact with local officials, but he didn't tell them about the new local cases until after his press conference.

"Governor Scott has been in contact with mayors, local officials and community leaders for weeks and will continue to keep them informed," a spokesperson wrote. "Friday afternoon, the Governor hosted a call with all of the local officials in Miami-Dade to give them updates on what is going on."

Meanwhile, Levine himself could benefit politically by throwing darts at Scott.

This isn't the first time the millionaire mayor has taken on Scott. Earlier this year, Levine bought a radio ad in California touting his proposal to create a citywide minimum wage, and the ad ran while Scott was in California. During that trip, Scott criticized the state's high taxes and labor costs.

He's also promoted Beach issues on a national level, putting the oceanside city in the spotlight when it comes to sea-level rise and U.S.-Cuba relations. And he is now a regular contributor on cable news shows talking about the presidential election (he's a Hillary Clinton surrogate and personal friend of the candidate).

Levine has said he wants to run for a third term as mayor, but he has not ruled out a run for the top spot in Tallahassee. 

August 16, 2016

Rick Scott biggest donors? It's all business



It’s unmistakable who Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest fans are if you look at his political fundraising over the last two years.

The latest campaign finance records show Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee this month has received another $100,000 combined from a pair of political action committees affiliated with Associated Industries of Florida, one of the most influential business groups in the state. Now three groups with ties to AIF have combined to give Scott’s committee $740,000 since the start of 2015.

But they are still not his top donor. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and a political committee tied to it, hold that spot. They have combined to donate more than $925,000 to Let’s Get to Work.

It’s a big drop off after that. Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts gave Scott more than $252,000 last year. And U.S. Sugar Corporation, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik are next in line, both donating $200,000 to Scott’s committee.

Scott continues to raise money in Let’s Get to Work, despite facing term limits and being unable to run for another term as governor because of term limits. Scott has used the fund over the last two years to run television ads and fuel bus tours around the state to promote his agenda. He has raised $6.8 million for the fund since the start of 2015.

August 15, 2016

Four people control who is disenfranchised in Florida; three say it's time for reform

Restrictions on felons voting is one of the two ways Florida legally disenfranchises voters.

One way, the write-in law, which allows a write-in candidate to close a primary to all voters, is intended to undercut the constitutional provision that allows all voters to vote in a primary election.

The other is the law that permanently requires felons who have completed their sentences to apply and petition for their voting rights to be restored. But unlike the write-in laws, which the Florida Legislature can revise to make less restrictive, the laws regulating ex-felons voting is controlled by the governor and Cabinet and the state Constitution. Any change in the rules requires the governor to be on the prevailing side.

In interviews with the Herald/Times, everyone but Gov. Rick Scott said they are open to changes in the system they installed five years ago.

“If someone does an analysis, we have been granting civil rights to those who were waiting who would have automatically had their rights restored [under the previous system] and it’s probably time for us to revisit,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

“Having had some time and experience on the Clemency Board, I’ve come to believe that there are opportunities for improvement,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was open to some reforms before an application may begin.

"I wouldn't mind reevaluating the time frame of how long we wait,'' she said. "I would reconsider reevaluating the time frame to three years." But she does not support automatic restoration for non-violent felons.

“Serving your time meant that you lost your rights,” she said. “If you’re going to have your rights restored, I want you to ask for them.”

Scott, however, said through a spokesperson he does not support any changes. 

Florida leads the nation in the number of felons who have served their time who are disenfranchised with an estimated 1.5 million Floridians barred from voting. According to the Sentencing Project, Florida holds nearly one-fourth of all disenfranchised former felons in the nation. Read more on that here. 

The practice is a vestige of post Civil War white supremacy and now disenfranchises more whites than blacks. There once was a time when more blacks were registered to vote in Florida than whites. Our story on the history of disenfranchising black voters here.

August 09, 2016

PolitiFact: Debbie Wasserman Schultz claim about Rick Scott and mosquito money stings, but it's misleading


U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz pointed blame at Republicans -- namely Gov. Rick Scott -- for not doing more to dish out dollars to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

"While he seems to be saying out loud that he wants Congress and the president to provide more funding, he conveniently leaves out that he cut nearly $1 million dollars from mosquito control and closed down the state’s mosquito research lab a few years ago," Wasserman Schultz said at a town hall in Broward County on Aug. 8.

Wasserman Schultz is running for re-election in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary against first-time candidate Tim Canova.

Did Scott cut funding and close the state’s mosquito research lab? There’s a lot more nuance to this story than Wasserman Schultz lets on.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Photo by the Sun Sentinel