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January 20, 2017

Trump vows to stop 'American carnage' in gritty inaugural address

@PatriciaMazzei and @NewsbySmiley

In his first, fiery words as the nation’s 45th president, Donald John Trump presented a nationalist vision of America, breaking with tradition to invoke his unapologetically raw campaign, rebuke the country’s principal political parties, and offer a populist ode to the “forgotten” people who, against all odds, elected him.

“Today, we’re not transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we’re transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you, the people. For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” Trump told energized supporters gathered under damp skies along the National Mall.

“That all changes starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you.”

Deploying unusually gritty rhetoric for an inaugural address, Trump, 70, portrayed a bleak nation in need of saving. He described “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

“This American carnage stops right here and right now,” said Trump, the only president never to have previously held public or military office.

To read the rest, click here.

Florida reacts to Donald Trump's inauguration


AP_DCDP148_TRUMP_INAUGURATIDonald Trump is now president of the United States.

Here is how Florida politicians reacted to his inauguration:

Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned for Trump and was on hand for the inauguration:

Scott also dropped a quote about Trump into his announcement Friday morning that Florida businesses created 237,000 jobs in 2016.

"Today, as we proudly welcome a new president who will make job creation a top priority across our nation, we stand ready to fight for another great year of economic growth in Florida," Scott said in the statement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes:

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who lost to Trump in the Republican primary:

Republican Party of Florida Chariman Blaise Ingoglia said in a statement: "The road to the White House was not an easy one, but regardless of where political loyalties lie, the peaceful transfer of power for this nation is a meaningful and historic day.  We are grateful to the millions of grassroots leaders and volunteers that worked arduously for this moment and for their unwavering passion of a government accountable to the people."

Continue reading "Florida reacts to Donald Trump's inauguration" »

Who wants to serve on the Constitution Revision Commission? Here's who has applied so far

Florida Constitution Florida MemoryToday is the deadline to apply to House Speaker Richard Corcoran to be a part of Florida's unique opportunity for a citizens panel to propose changes to the Florida Constitution, the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission.

The Senate set a deadline of Dec. 9 but today Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said the Senate has decided to continue accepting applications.   Download Senate MEMO re 2017 CRC Applications 2016 09 23 (1)The Supreme Court Dec. 31.

Gov. Rick Scott, who appoints 15 members and the chairman, also has decided to continue taking applications here.

For the list of applications we have collected so far, scroll to the end of our story here.


The story of one Florida woman's decision to march in D.C.

The last time Martha Barnett took part in a political demonstration was more than 30 years ago, back when Florida was debating whether to approve the Equal Rights Amendment. But the 69-year-old Tallahassee lawyer is making the 12-and-a-half hour drive to the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington Saturday.

Calling herself shocked and offended by Donald Trump’s views, especially toward minorities and women, Barnett joined thousands Barnett_Martha_72of Floridians flocking to the nation’s capital this weekend to make their voices heard. “Trump needs to know we care, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re going to hold him accountable,” Barnett said.

During the campaign, Barnett said she was disgusted by Trump’s treatment of women, and said she has become increasingly alarmed by his incessant use of Twitter during the transition to demean others, such as Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a pioneering civil rights leader.

“I had hoped for more,” Barnett said. “I hoped he would rise to the office. He has to know that there are men and women who care deeply about some of these issues he has treated with disgust, disdain and downright disrespect ... I want more out of the president of the United States than that attitude. We care about the office. We care about him being successful.”

Barnett, a Democrat and a former American Bar Association president, was the first woman partner at the Holland & Knight law firm. She was an invited guest to both of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations and said she did not think of her activism in Washington as confrontational or negative. She said her decision to go to D.C. was inspired in part by one of her mentors, Chesterfield Smith, another former ABA president. “He always said, ‘No man is above the law.’ That’s why I’m going,” Barnett said.


January 19, 2017

Miami teachers union protests Trump education secretary pick

via @KyraGurney

Dozens of Miami-Dade teachers joined more than 200 other teacher unions across the country Thursday in protesting President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education.

Close to 100 teachers and activists gathered outside Miami Jackson Senior High School to urge the U.S. Senate to reject Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. Similar rallies were held in 25 states in an effort intended to ramp up political opposition to DeVos, a powerful proponent of parental choice and charter schools, and to call for greater investment in public education and schools.

Demonstrators in Allapattah lined 36th Street outside the high school, waving signs and chanting “Betsy needs to go!” and “Save our schools!” as some passing cars honked in support.

“How can we have a nominee who has never even attended a public school, whose children have never attended public school?” asked Donna Walker, a special-education teacher at Brucie Ball Educational Center, voicing a common complaint among the protesters.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Obama's inaugural poet to debut new poem on Trump inauguration day

Richard blanco
via @Carlos_Frias

Richard Blanco assigned himself a writing prompt.

During the most divisive stretch of the presidential campaign, about six weeks before Election Day, the Miami-raised poet asked himself a simple question.

What if he, the immigrant son of Cuban parents, the first Latino and openly gay man asked to write a poem for a president’s inauguration four years ago, were asked to write a poem to read at Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump?

And so he began to write.

Blanco turned down the noise from television, radio and the internet and turned up his inner monologue.

“You can’t help but put yourself back in those shoes and ask, ‘How would you approach a poem in this situation?’” Blanco said.

After months of wrestling with what started as an exercise, he will publish his new poem, “Declaration of Inter-Dependence” on Friday at the poetry site He shared an exclusive excerpt with the Miami Herald.

“We’re them. They’re you. You’re me ... . We’re a poem in progress,” his newest work opens.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Miami's Helen Aguirre Ferré gets White House post


Miamian Helen Aguirre Ferré, who took a rather thankless job during the presidential campaign as a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, won a post Thursday in incoming President Donald Trump's White House. 

Aguirre Ferré will be a special assistant to the president and director of media affairs, Trump's transition team announced.

Time is running out to apply to the Constitutional Revision Commission

Scott Negron CorcoranFriday is the last day to apply to be a member of what may be one of the most influential groups assembled in Florida in two decades — the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission.

The unique panel has the power to put proposals directly on the 2018 mid-term ballot to reform and update the state’s constitution, and shape Florida’s future. The list of applicants is long, and many have been carefully recruited by Gov. Rick Scott, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and Florida’s top two legislative leaders. Those four men will make the appointments.

The state has done this twice before: in 1978 — after the 1968 rewrite of the state Constitution — and 1998. If past experience is any indicator, the commission will be mostly political insiders.

Want to know who has applied this time? Read more here.

Report: Rick Scott is helping Trump craft Obamacare replacement



Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital executive, is lending his friend President-elect Donald Trump a hand in dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, he said he's working closely with Congressman Tom Price, Trump's pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, to write legislation that would replace President Barack Obama's signature health care law, McClatchy D.C. reported.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time already with Congressman Price, who I’ve known for a long time, to try to come up with a plan to repeal what doesn’t work and to replace it with something that’s going to drive down costs and improve access,” Scott told reporters, according to the report.

He did not provide specifics.

Scott --who ran the hospital company Columbia/HCA before becoming governor -- has been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Scott was at Columbia/HCA during what was then the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history. The case was settled after he left the company, though Scott wanted to fight the accusations.

In 2015, he sued the federal government, saying the Obama administration was wrongly trying to coerce the state into expanding Medicaid. Scott fought hard against legislation expanding health care coverage to low-income Floridians that year.

He also launched a health care commission that dug into hospitals' billing practices and targeted what Scott termed "price gauging" practices.

This post has been updated to clarify details about the Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud case.

Photo: Gov. Rick Scott. (Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)

Court overturns three death sentences, including cop killer's


OT_392168_KEEL_15_FLGOV0305The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned death sentences for three men, including a convicted cop killer.

Lancelot Uriley Armstrong was convicted of killing John Greeney, a Broward County sheriff's deputy and Air Force veteran, during a 1990 armed robbery at a Church's Fried Chicken in Fort Lauderdale. The jury voted 9-3 to sentence him to death and gave another man involved in the armed robbery a life sentence. 

Now, Armstrong, as well as Donald Otis Williams, convicted of kidnapping and murdering an 81-year-old woman in 2010, and William M. Kopsho, sentenced for killing his wife in 2000 after learning she was having an affair, will have new sentencing hearings.

It's possible they could still be sentenced to death, but they could also see their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Courts will empanel new juries to decide how to sentence each of these men, though they will not determine whether they are guilty, as their first-degree murder convictions have not been overturned.

If the Florida Legislature updates the state's death penalty laws to require a unanimous vote for a death sentence -- as state Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, has proposed (SB 280) -- then a vote of all 12 jurors could put them to death. Anything less would lead to a life sentence. (The state Supreme Court threw out Florida's death penalty laws as unconstitutional last year because they did not require unanimous jury votes.)

By demanding new sentencing hearings in these cases, the court is putting into practice a Dec. 22 ruling that could lead to life sentences for some of the 200-plus death-row prisoners whose cases were finalized after a key U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2002.

It's likely similar decisions will continue to trickle out of the court in the coming months.

In the December rulings, the justices decided that death sentences finalized after June 2002 were unconstitutional because they did not require a unanimous jury vote and because the judge could impose a death sentence without the jury's approval. It's a standard critics, including Senior Justice James Perry, have criticized as "arbitrary."

Older sentences still stand. The court affirmed two of them Thursday, as well, including the case of Stanley McCloud, convicted of killing his wife with a .357 magnum in front of their two young children.

Photo: Florida Supreme Court. (Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times)

After Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, a look at how Florida lags behind on mental health funding

FLL Airportpeoplerunning


The suspect in the mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport told the FBI in Alaska in November that he was hearing voices.

Anchorage police confiscated Esteban Santiago’s handgun and took him for a mental health evaluation. Police returned his gun to him in December when he asked for it.

On Jan. 6, he flew to Broward County and is the suspected gunman in a rampage at the airport that left five dead and several others injured. Days later, Democratic state legislators held a press conference in Tallahassee to argue for gun control measures and more mental health funding.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said that Republican legislators argue that the way to reduce gun violence is not through gun control but mental health care funding. But Florida, he said, has the worst record in the nation in terms of funding mental health care treatment.

"We see once again Florida is ranked 50th in the nation for mental health care funding — 50th," he said. "There is no one that is doing worse than we are when it comes to making sure we that we are providing comprehensive mental health care."

Florida is near the bottom of the pack in mental health funding, and one key ranking cited by many experts places the state at 51st in per capita spending. However, there are some caveats about the ranking.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott's Sunshine Ball in Washington


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of guests packed Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium Wednesday for Gov. Rick Scott's Florida Sunshine Ball, which featured a Beach Boys performance and kicked off a days long celebration for incoming President Donald Trump.

"When Florida throws a party you have to show," said former U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff.

Among those we saw in the crowd: U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney and Matt Gaetz, former Rep. Allen Boyd,  Blaise IngogliaAl Cardenas, Lew Oliver, Nick Diceglie, J.J. Beyrouti, Christian Ziegler, and Brian Ballard, who arrived in a Cadillac SUV with Joe Negron. Sen. Marco Rubio was apparently inside the room, which was lit up in neon.

January 18, 2017

Trump inauguration draws South Florida attendees from outside politics

Palmetto Ridge Band Sendoff

Tickets in hand for Friday’s main event — and for three nights of celebratory balls — Rachel Sapoznik packed her fur coat and boarded a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to Washington on Wednesday, prepared to bundle up to experience the pomp surrounding Donald Trump’s inauguration.

She arrived to a pleasant weather surprise at the nation’s capital: “It’s beautiful, absolutely beautiful!” she said by phone, coat in hand.

Sapoznik, who owns an employer health-benefits company in North Miami Beach, made big plans to attend her first presidential swearing-in, starting with Wednesday night’s Florida Sunshine Ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott.

South Floridians of all stripes started trickling into Washington this week ahead of Friday’s inauguration and the many festivities leading up to it.

As always, there will be a robust contingent of Republican politicians. In addition to the governor and his wife, Ann (who is hosting a tea), Attorney General Pam Bondi, one of Trump’s closest allies, will be in town. So will Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes and state Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart, as well as Miami state Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo, who are splitting a two-bedroom apartment they found on Airbnb. Members of Congress will be welcoming constituents to their Capitol Hill offices — in U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s case, with donuts and cafecito.

A few Democrats — Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Darren Soto of Orlando and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens — are skipping the inauguration.)

Some attendees already know how special inaugurations can be: Diaz attended President Bill Clinton’s second inaugural — and the Florida ball — as a high school student.

“It’s probably one of the coolest trips I’ve ever taken in my life,” he said. “It’s probably one of the reasons I’m in politics today.”

But Trump was an unusual candidate who did not cozy up to the political establishment. So while his inauguration is attracting the usual plugged-in crowd, it’s also drawing the same grassroots believers who lifted him to victory.

More here.

Photo credit: Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News via AP

Florida members of Congress ask Trump to save federal hospital funding


Seven Florida members of Congress from both political parties want incoming President Donald Trump's administration to renew -- and perhaps grow -- federal hospital funding for the state.

Florida's Low Income Pool, which helps pay for a hospital safety net across the state, is set to expire June 30. Gov. Rick Scott sued the Obama administration over recent cuts to the funding, alleging it was attempted coercion to get Florida to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"The State of Florida has chosen not to expand Medicaid," the lawmakers write, and add that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service's "prescribed policy change has had unintended and detrimental consequences for children’s hospitals including Nicklaus Children’s, Joe DiMaggio Children’s, and St. Joseph’s Children’s, among others."

"Floridians should not be held hostage in healthcare policy reform negotiations between the state and federal governments," they added. "Regardless of the form that future federal healthcare reform efforts may take, a robust and improved LIP should be in place to ensure that Florida’s healthcare safety net is strengthened and secure."

According to the office of Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who put the effort together, the letter has been signed by fellow Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis of Gainesville, Carlos Curbelo of Miami and Dan Webster of Clermont, as well as Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Darren Soto of Orlando.

Read the letter below.

Continue reading "Florida members of Congress ask Trump to save federal hospital funding" »

Obama: Wet foot, dry foot 'was a carryover of an old way of thinking'


At his final White House news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama made his first remarks about ending the special immigration policy for Cubans last week. Here is his answer in full, to a question about why he did away with wet foot/dry foot:

We underwent a monumental shift in our policy towards Cuba. My view was, after 50 years of the policy not working, it made sense for us to try to reopen diplomatic relations to engage the Cuban government, to be honest with them about the strong disagreements we have around political repression and treatment of dissenters and freedom of the press and freedom of religion. But to make progress for the Cuban people, our best shot was to suddenly have the Cuban people interacting with Americans, and seeing the incredibly  success of the Cuban-American community, and engaging in commerce and business and trade, and that it was through that process of opening up these bilateral relations that you would see over time serious and significant improvement.

Given that shift in the relationship, the policy that we had in place, which treated Cuban émigrés completely different from folks from El Salvador or Guatemala or Nicaragua or any other part of the world, one that made a distinction about whether you got here by land or by foot, that was a carryover of an old way of thinking that didn't make sense in this day and age, particularly as we're opening up travel between the two countries. And so we had very lengthy consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, we had some tough negotiations with the Cuban [government], but we arrived at a policy that we think is both fair and appropriate to the changing nature of the relationship between the two countries.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Florida Gov. Rick Scott won't say if he's looking for potential Pam Bondi replacement

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - If Attorney General Pam Bondi is preparing to take a job in the Trump administration, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday gave not an inch in acknowledging the task of appointing a replacement.

"She's been a good partner in our governor and cabinet meetings," Scott said. "I hope she doesn't leave. I hope she stays in Florida."

But if she does leave, do you have plans in place?

"I'll worry about that when it happens," he said. "I hope she doesn't leave."

This post will be updated with responses Scott gave to a number of issues, from Obamacare to the pardons President Obama has given drug offenders, many of them in Florida.

Scott declined to comment on that, saying he didn't know details of individual cases, but pivoted to yesterday's commutation of Chelsea Manning. "There is no question in the world this guy, or this person, committed treason. ... It's despicable. We have got to decide as a country that we're going to support our military."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Trump spoke to widower of slain Orlando police officer

via @adamsmithtimes

Donald Trump had met Orlando Police Sgt. Debra Clayton while in Florida and was horrified to hear she had been shot and killed Monday while trying to track down suspected murderer Markeith Loyd, Attorney General Pam Bondi told The Tampa Bay Times.

"He was deeply, deeply disturbed by the murder of Sgt. Debra Clayton. In fact, he called and spoke with Seth (her husband)," said Bondi, who hooked up Trump and the officer's widower. "He had met Sgt. Clayton and remembered her well, and the president-elect was very upset by her homicide and we're just thrilled they have her widower in custody."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times


University of Miami grad bids farewell to working 'dream job' in Obama White House


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - The University of Miami was buzzing over hosting the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry and for one undergrad, it was a career defining moment.

Kaelan Richards started out as an undeclared major then history, then political science. “I loved politics but didn’t necessarily know what that means in terms of a job,” she said.

Richards staffed the 2004 debate, taking tickets at the door. Then a coordinator said she and a group of other volunteers could go inside. “It was life changing,” recalled Richards, who grew up on Anna Maria Island.

“I was like, ‘I’ve got to do this. I don’t know how yet, but I have to do it.’

This week, Richards wrapped up her “dream job” in the White House press shop. “It’s an incredible honor to be here,” she said in an interview. “With anything ending, there’s a little bit of nostalgia and wistfulness.”

Richards' work kept her focused on Florida. She was a senior regional communications director interacting with reporters in the southeast, midwest and the west coast.

“While national outlets and broader media trends change, people still rely on their local news. That’s a really important job and I’m honored to do it,” she said.

She worked on Capitol Hill for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and joined the White House team in April 2014.

One of her biggest moments was briefing President Obama for the first time in January 2016. The president was sitting down with regional news reporters to talk about the Affordable Care Act and Richards and others were tasked with filling him in on local issues.

“There’s really nothing that can match walking into the Oval Office for the first time to do your job,” Richards said. “It was a little bit nerve-racking but mostly exciting. This is dream job, a dream opportunity.”

The job ended Tuesday.

Richards walked out to see Press Secretary Josh Earnest give his final briefing to reporters. She took photos with colleagues from the North Lawn and turned in her badge.

She says she’ll take some time off, and maybe visit Florida, before deciding what to do next. “It’s a unique opportunity to get a little perspective and think about things.”

Earnest, who worked on Jim Davis' 2006 gubernatorial campaign against Charlie Crist, said Richards "has worked tirelessly and effectively to bring President Obama's message outside of the Washington beltway, directly to people living in communities across the country. She's done so with a level of integrity and enthusiasm that has earned her the admiration of journalists and colleagues alike."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Courtesy the White House

NRA wants to block sheriffs from opposing its Capitol agenda

For years, National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer has clashed with Florida sheriffs on gun issues. But what truly rankles Hammer is the spectacle of sheriffs traveling to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense, armed and in full uniform, to battle elements of the NRA's agenda such as open carry or campus carry legislation.

"It's just patently wrong," Hammer told the Times/Herald. "They are there to protect our rights, not to come to Tallahassee at taxpayer expense to take away our rights." She said it's "intimidation" for a sheriff to lobby for gun free zones while standing before a legislative committee with a holster strapped to his hip.

Hammer said a sheriff who wants to lobby for stricter gun laws should be required to take a day off from work, switch to street clothes and travel to Tallahassee at personal expense. She said she has found a House sponsor for a bill to address the issue, but no such proposal has surfaced yet, and the idea will face resistance because the timing seems all wrong.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has criticized the practice of local governments hiring outside lobbyists and says sheriffs and other elected officials should walk the halls of the Capitol, not pay other people to do it for them. Corcoran agrees with the NRA on gun issues, but he said sheriffs should be lobbying in person in Tallahassee.

"I think they have a First Amendment right to do that," Corcoran said. "A sheriff absolutely has the constitutional right to come up and advocate for what he thinks is best for the safety of his county."

Gualtieri081316_17759497_8colAn obvious target of Hammer's wrath is Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (at left), who again this session will be the Florida Sheriffs Association's point man on legislative issues and who has never backed away from a fight with Hammer.

Gualtieri called Hammer's criticism "self-serving and disingenuous," noting that the NRA doesn't appear to have a problem with sheriffs in uniform showing up to support the gun lobby's priorities, as Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey did in the 2016 session on open carry legislation. That bill stalled amid resistance from law enforcement and the singular opposition of a committee chairman, former Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami.

"It's totally self-serving," Gualtieri said of Hammer. "Let people engage. Let the chips fall where they may. They (the NRA) can wrap themselves in the Constitution all they want. I listen to my constituents."

Sheriffs are constitutional officers, and Hammer accused Gualtieri of violating his oath of office in his actions. "Sheriffs are elected and sworn to uphold the constitutional rights of their constituents," Hammer said. "Continuing to talk about taking away those rights is contrary to their oath of office."