October 20, 2014

Miami-Dade mayor heads to D.C. for meetings


There's a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting Tuesday, but Mayor Carlos Gimenez won't be there.

Instead, he'll be traveling to Washington D.C., where he has been invited to a transportation and infrastructure briefing by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the National Economic Council, Gimenez's office said.

Before that, the mayor will participate in a forum titled "Fix My Commute." The event, hosted by the Washington Post, is part of a series -- "America Answers" -- on tackling local government issues.

Later, Gimenez is tentatively scheduled to meet with the Federal Transportation Administration.

Gimenez will be traveling with his spokesman, Michael Hernández, and the trip will be paid for by the mayor's office travel budget, Hernández said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott campaigns en español. Praise, critics follow


As the number of Hispanic voters across the country has grown, so has the number of gringo politicians who want to say something to them — in Spanish.

But Miami is not always a good place to come practice. So many locals are fluent that they can be merciless to those who mangle the language of Cervantes.

More than a few of those critics privately assailed Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week when he used his closing at a debate against Democratic rival Charlie Crist to deliver a halting paragraph — far beyond the usual cursory few words — in Spanish, a tongue the Republican governor concedes he has yet to master.

Mi español no es perfecto,” Scott said Monday.

Yet Miami audiences can also be very forgiving. And plenty of people — namely Hispanic Republicans — have come to the defense of the governor, who is scheduled to participate in a third and final debate at 7 p.m. Tuesday on CNN.

At Monday’s GOP rally at the West Dade Regional Library, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami praised Scott in Spanish as “a governor who is even learning to speak Spanish. So his opponent’s campaign criticizes him... because he speaks with an accent.”

More here.

The Rick Scott and Charlie Crist management stories each campaign will alternately hate and love


Two stories about the management styles of the frontrunners for governor. Rick Scott's campaign and his supporters will probably hate the first one and love the second. It's the opposite for Charlie Crist. First the Scott story.....

From his poor poll numbers to his formidable fortune, Rick Scott’s political standing revolves around Columbia/HCA.

Scott was once hailed as a “wunderkind” for making the hospital chain the largest healthcare company in America. Then, he became a pariah after he and his company were investigated for Medicare fraud, leading to his ouster in 1997.

Today, Scott avoids even mentioning the words “Columbia/HCA.”

“In 2010, the Democrats attacked me,” Scott said at a debate earlier this month, omitting he was first attacked by Republicans. “And I said when I ran a company I would take responsibility for the actions while I was CEO.”

But Scott never really did take responsibility at the time. Initially, he denied anything was out of the ordinary. He ultimately faulted others under him.

For some former Scott allies, employees and supporters, the denial and blame-shifting is but one pattern of behavior Scott took with him from the board room to the governor’s mansion.

More here about Scott.

And as for Charlie Crist....

In his long history as a politician, Charlie Crist excelled at two things: making news and running for other offices.

Crist’s political biography is a chronicle of campaigning for: state Senate (1986 and 1992), U.S. Senate (1998), education commissioner (2000), attorney general (2002), governor (2006), U.S. Senate again (2010) and, now, governor again.

“The campaigning has always had more allure to him than the governing,” said George LeMieux, Crist’s former top political advisor who was appointed to an interim U.S. Senate post by the former governor.

Crist in 2010 sought that senate post LeMieux seat-warmed, making the governor the first in modern times to not seek reelection. It also marked the beginning of a stark political transformation that led Crist to flee the GOP, become estranged with LeMieux and ultimately become an independent and then a Democrat seeking his old job back under a new party banner.

In numerous interviews with the Tampa Bay Times, current and former advisors of Crist’s say they worked for an always-candidate, one who wasn’t so much obsessed with policy details as with poll numbers.

“I am,” he often reminded his advisers, “the most popular governor in America.”

More here about Crist

Former Florida GOP chairman Tom Slade passes away

UPDATE: Former state legislator and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Tom Slade has passed away.

His family just sent this updated press release and obituary:

Tom Slade, former Florida State Senator and State Representative and perhaps best known for his leadership as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida from 1993-1999, passed away this afternoon at Orange Park Medical Center following heart failure last week. Thomas H. Slade, Jr. was 78.

Tom Slade’s political career began in 1962 when he was elected to the State House of Representatives. He was elected to the State Senate in 1966. While seeking the Cabinet office of State Treasurer in 1970, Slade survived a plane crash at the Tallahassee Regional Airport with C.W. Bill Young, who was seeking the Congressional seat that Young served in until his own passing last year.

A successful Jacksonville businessman, Slade served as Chairman of the Florida Tax and Budget Commission in 1990 – a service that brought him back to the political arena, and he was encouraged to run for Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida in 1993. As of his election that January, Florida’s Governor’s Mansion, State Cabinet, State House were all controlled by Democrats, with the State Senate in a 20-20 tie.  Slade focused on building the Party’s messaging, candidate recruiting, fundraising and campaign training, which by the end of his three terms following the 1998 elections, Slade had led Florida Republicans to statewide victories with the election of Governor Jeb Bush and Republican control and leadership of the Florida Senate, State House, the Cabinet, and a large majority in the Florida Congressional Delegation.

Slade offered his candidacy as Chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1999, and following that unsuccessful bid, formed Tidewater Consulting, a governmental relations and political consulting firm with offices in Tallahassee.

Details of services for Tom Slade are pending and will be released in accordance with the wishes of the Slade family.


Continue reading "Former Florida GOP chairman Tom Slade passes away" »

Nearly 900,000 absentee ballots cast as early voting begins; GOP still leading big


More than 888,000 absentee ballots had already been cast of Monday morning when early in-person voting began in Florida.

Right now, Republicans lead Democrats 49-35 percent in terms of absentee ballots cast by party. That 14 percentage point margin is lower than it was in 2010 but it’s far higher than in 2012.

Here's what's remarkable: the number of absentee ballots cast at this point relative to the 2012 elections is actually greater, by 140,695. And that's despite the fact that midterm elections have about a 50 percent turnout compared to presidential election years when turnout is over 72 percent. 

Democrats typically excel at early voting while Republicans dominate voting by mail.

But at a Miami rally today, Gov. Rick Scott and a host of other local Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, said the GOP needs to start banking in-person early votes as well.

“In 2012, when Mitt Romney lost, he lost because Republicans didn’t early vote,” Scott said. “We can win this election. We’ve got to get out and vote.”

The first part of that statement is probably historical revisionism. Romney lost for a variety of reasons, but it’s likely cause in Florida is that the GOP is so outnumbered by Democrats.

That remains the case today, with Democrats holding a 39-35 percent registration advantage of 455,946 voters. One troubling sign for both parties: the rise of the No Party Affiliation voters, who account for 23 percent of the rolls. Add in third party voters, particularly those who think “Independent Party” is really like NPA, and the proportion of independents swells to 26 percent.

Despite having such an edge, Democrats have typically been killed in midterms in Florida. Will this year be different? We'll know more in one week's time, when African-Americans (the most likely to vote early in-person) have a chance to vote after church. If Democrats haven't lowered the Republican edge to single digits in pre-Election Day ballots, Democrat Charlie Crist likely has a huge problem on his hands.

Here are the top 10 counties sorted by party affiliation

 Ballots cast  Party County % of total
      40,225 REP PIN 43%
      36,157 REP LEE 56%
      36,067 REP DAD 47%
      34,027 DEM PIN 37%
      28,146 DEM DAD 36%
      21,899 REP HIL 43%
      19,706 DEM HIL 39%
      19,022 DEM BRO 52%
      18,851 REP ORA 42%
      18,696 DEM ORA 41%

FSU trustees approve John Thrasher's contract


A delay caused by technical difficulties with the conference call phone line took almost as long as the meeting itself. But Florida State University's Board of Trustees has approved John Thrasher's contract, including a $430,000 base salary.

The board made some small changes, such as clarifying that a potential $100,000 annual bonus will be tied to Thrasher's ability to meet performance goals approved by him and the trustees. But members generally agreed on the substance of the contract (detailed here) and approved it unanimously.

Thrasher is expected to start work Nov. 10. The state Board of Governors must sign off on his contract first, but that should happen during its meeting Nov. 5 and 6.

Once that happens, Thrasher has promised to step down from the state Senate.

FSU Provost Garnett Stokes served as interim president but was unsuccesful in her bid for the permanent job. The Tallahassee Democrat reported last week that she agreed to stay on under Thrasher as his second-in-command and head of academic affairs. 

Thasher is expected to focus on fundraising and working with elected officials in obtaining more resources for FSU, leaving many of the day-to-day operations in Stokes' hands.

Scott wins endorsement from anti Common Core crowd

Opponents of the Common Core State Standards spent months trying to push Republican Gov. Rick Scott to take a stronger position against the controversial benchmarks.

But on Monday, one of the state's largest anti-Common Core groups announced that it would be supporting Scott on Election Day.

Florida Parents Against Common Core sent an email to 22,000 sympathetic parents on Monday, urging them to vote for the Republican incumbent.

"[Democratic candidate Charlie] Crist's unwavering support of the standards and federally aligned assessments confirmed the group's vital need to endorse Gov. Scott," founder Laura Zorc said in a press release.

Zorc said Scott had received the endorsement "because ONLY Gov. Scott has called for an independent Florida Standards Review Committee to evaluate additional improvements."

"Gov. Scott has committed to giving parents the opportunity to have a voice at the table for legislative recommendations and the adoption of better standards and policies," she said. "Once past the election and with a steady resolve and an aligned force, parents can continue efforts to improve the curriculum and assessment methods used in Florida."

With Charlie Crist outraising him, Rick Scott says he 'might' self-fund after saying he wouldn’t


In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott was clear about plowing his personal fortunes into his reelection campaign: “I won’t have to.”

But now that Democrat Charlie Crist outraised him 6:1 last week, Scott appears ready to open his personal piggy bank. He has spent $56.5 million on ads (at least two-thirds of them negative) to Crist’s $26.5 million (also heavily negative) yet he and Crist remain tied.

Rumors for weeks in Tallahassee were that Scott would commit $20 million to $22 million – a vast sum that still pales in comparison to the $75.1 million of his own money he dropped in 2010. The Crist campaign is trying to make that $20 million amount into gospel so it can scrounge for more cash. But that’s likely far too high.

“If I put in money, it will be nothing compared to what Tom Steyer – the radical, left wing billionaire from the West Coast – is helping Charlie with to bring these policies to Florida,” Scott said Monday in Miami at an early voting rally. “So if I end up putting money into the race, then it’s to make sure we have a strong finish.”

Steyer is on pace to spend more than $10 million in the race, as we first noted in August.

Asked if he might therefore put his own money into the race, Scott only said: "we’ll see.”

Question: “You haven’t yet though?”

Scott: “We’ll see.”

Scott could be plowing money into the Republican Party of Florida, which doesn’t have to report its finances until the end of the month. Scott signed an election bill that required more disclosure, but it omitted disclosing these types of transactions.

Scott and Crist: beyond the rhetoric, here's where they stand on the issues

Crist and Scott at Debate 2Florida’s race for governor may be one of the nastiest on record as candidates shout it out in more than $83 million in television ads, but beneath the rhetoric is a record of real differences between Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican, and his predecessor and challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democrat.

Here is where they stand, and where they have been, on key issues:

For all our election coverage, keep the Miami Herald's Voters Guide page handy. 


PolitiFact's guide to final Crist vs. Scott debate

CNN is hosting the third and final debate of the governor’s race Tuesday night  and the network has been clear: No fans.

That may avert another standoff like the one that held up last week’s debate for seven minutes. But it probably won’t stop the candidates from spinning on the issues. 

Whether it’s Democrat Charlie Crist or Republican incumbent Rick Scott, the two have been campaigning so long that they’ve started to repeat themselves on issues like jobs, education and same-sex marriage. PolitiFact Florida has been fact-checking the race for close to a year now.

Here’s a guide to some of the same campaign lines you might hear Tuesday night and how PolitiFact Florida has ruled on the claims. The debate airs at 7 p.m. ET and will be moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper and WJXT's Kent Justice. 

The Money Race: Crist fundraising outpaces Scott 6-to-1


Charlie Crist collected $6 for every $1 donated to Gov. Rick Scott during the most recent campaign finance reporting period covering Oct. 4 through Oct. 10.

Scott's campaign and political committees raised just $606,656 in cash and in-kind services, compared to Crist’s $3.2 million. This allowed Crist to move much closer to Scott in the amount of cash he has on hand to spend in the final two weeks of campaigning.

Just $656,537 separated Crist from Scott in cash-on-hand as of Oct. 10. With their campaign accounts and political committees combined, Scott had $7.5 million in the bank compared to Crist’s $6.9 million.

Crist’s political committee collected eight checks of at least $100,000 during the week, including several law firms that have collectively donated millions of dollars over the months. He also received another $200,000 from the Democratic Governors Association, bringing their total to $3.7 million.

Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee raised just $127,000, mainly $100,000 in the form of four checks from businesses related to Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company in Jacksonville that provides commercial and residential mortgages.

Continue reading "The Money Race: Crist fundraising outpaces Scott 6-to-1" »

Democrat Maurice Ferre and former P.R. Gov Luis Fortuño cut Spanish ad for Rick Scott


Republican Gov. Rick Scott released a Spanish-language two-fer ad Monday that attempted to both make him look bipartisan and reach out to a fast-growing, left-leaning segment of the electorate: voters of Puerto Rican descent.

The ad features former Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuño and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, a Scott appointee to a transportation board, who contrast Scott's record with Democrat Charlie Crist's. 

"He’s a Republican," Ferre says in Spanish, pointing to Fortuño as they both walk in view of the camera.

"And he’s a Democrat," Fortuño says.

Ferre: "Agreeing on anything isn’t easy..

Fortuño: "But here's why we agree that Governor Rick Scott deserves your vote."

They then mention jobs and education. (Note: it says Scott lowered Crist's higher-education tuition increases, a claim we'll have to examine more closey).

Scott, who began Spanish-language outreach earlier than any other recent candidate for governor, appears to have shored up Cuban-American Republicans in Miami-Dade, where they account for about 72 percent of the registered Republicans.

Puerto Ricans, who tend to vote Democrat and live in Central Florida, are a different story. That's where Ferre and Fortuño come in. Both men are of Puerto Rican descent and, by cutting this ad, it's a good bet Scott will run it in the Orlando-area.

Whether Fortuño polls well there is a good question: He lost his 2012 bid for reelection. Ferre, who ran as a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in 2010, isn't a big Crist fan. But his presence on camera is interesting in that Ferre chairs the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board and voted to raise tolls -- a board vote that led the Scott administration to claim it wouldn't re-appoint another board member because he supported the increase.

That board member, Gonzalo Sanabria, said Scott's administration invented the excuse only after he told them he was resigning in protest over the Scott campaign's shoddy treatment of former fundraiser Mike Fernandez. Adding to the intrigue: Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera's mother, Shelly Smith Fano, is vice-chair of MDX. 

Regardless of whether Sanabria quit first or was blocked first, it appears that toll increases are ok after all -- at least for the guy who cut an ad that helps Scott's reelection bid.  

Charlie Crist casts his vote


Charlie and Cafrole Crist hopped out of a staffer's car in front of the downtown St. Petersburg elections office and a crowd of nearly 50 started singing happy birthday. Today is the former and maybe future first lady's 45th birthday, and they celebrated it by taking advantage of the first day of early voting.

Someone presented Crist with a hand-held, battery-operated fan, an homage of sorts to his debate performance last week.

The Crists cast the ballots, and then he joined a couple teachers outside- "We're voting for education today. That's really what this is about" - before taking questions for about 90 seconds.

Q: Republicans want you to return donations from strip club owners.

A" We got it from a management company as i understand it, so I'm happy to vote today. That's what today is all about--early voting."

Q: Republicans have a big lead in mail-in votes cast so far. Are you worried?

A: "Three of the biggest Democratic counties didn't send their's out as early as some of the others did, so I'm encouraged. I think it's going to be fine and I know it's a lot better than it was in 2010."

Q: Are you intimidated by reports that Scott might spend another $22-million of his own money?

A" "I'm not intimidated by it. Rick Scott talked about spending $100-million and we decided to to run again anyway because people deserve a choice and it isn't all about the money. Maybe it is to them but not to me."

Q: So will you have a fan for CNN debate?

A: "I have no idea."

Hotly contested race could shape Florida Senate

The most closely watched race in the Florida Senate is a bare-knuckle battle between two political rivals.

But the contest between Democratic state Sen. Maria Sachs and former Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff is more than just a grudge match. It could also give Republicans a veto-proof majority in the upper chamber — and determine the Senate president in 2016.

Some observers say it could even help Democrat Charlie Crist become Florida's next governor.

"If this race turns out people in Broward and Palm Beach counties, those people are also going to vote for Crist," said Robert Watson, a professor of American Studies at Lynn University in Boca Raton.

Read more here.

Rick Scott ad: Obama backs Crist. Next Scott ad: water is wet


Maybe voters forgot that Florida's then-Republican governor, Charlie Crist, stood on stage and literally embraced President Obama and his stimulus plan.

Maybe voters forgot that, in 2010, Republican Marco Rubio used it against Crist in a Senate primary.

Maybe voters forgot that, in 2012, Crist appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention and advocated for Obama's reelection. And maybe they forgot, too, that Crist campaigned for Obama all over Florida.

Maybe voters forgot that, at the end of 2012, Crist tweeted out a photograph of himself and his wife at a White House event to mark his official decision to become a Democrat.

Maybe voters didn't hear about Crist stumping with Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, on Friday in Orlando and Miami Gardens.

So now that Obama's approval ratings are more abysmal than Crist's opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, the incumbent wants everyone to still know that Crist backs Obama. 

Gwen Graham, D-Margaritaville, gets Jimmy Buffett to host voter rally


Florida music icon Jimmy Buffett plans to hold an Oct. 29 get-out-the-vote rally for Democrat Gwen Graham in her effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland.

Buffett is set to perform “a short acoustic set with his friend Mac McAnally” and tout Graham’s candidacy, according to a press release. More details are forthcoming about the time, location and ticket availability.

From the free media exposure to voter mobilization to fundraising, Buffett’s appearance for Graham is the type of star-power help most candidates dream about. Polling indicates the race between her and Southerland is tight in Congressional District 2, which stretches from the Tallahassee area to Panama City.

The “Margaritaville” singer has been friends with the Graham family for decades. Buffett founded the Save the Manatees advocacy group in 1981 with then-Gov. Bob Graham, the candidate’s father.

Last month, Buffett was spotted in Tallahassee dining at the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee with lobbyists Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl. They represent Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings.

Sharkey and Biehl also represent the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, Inc., which would love to cash in on Florida’s new but limited prescription cannabis law. That law is highly restrictive, though, and the association and potential investors would love for Amendment 2 to pass.

It’s probably a good bet that the old smuggler at least supports the medical marijuana amendment, but so far he hasn’t said much (or been asked much) about it. Some polls show it struggling to get near 60 percent – the threshold needed to pass a constitutional amendment – while others have it polling at levels indicating it will be approved.

0ptimus FL poll: Rick Scott tops Charlie Crist 41-40, no Fangate Effect found


Widely reported and heavily mocked, the ‘Fangate’ from Wednesday’s governor’s debate doesn’t appear to have had any effect on the race, according to a new poll from the Republican-leaning firm 0ptimus that shows the contested remains tied.

Gov. Rick Scott gets 41 percent support from likely Florida voters and Democrat Charlie Crist gets 40 percent – a lead by the Republican that’s well within the poll’s 1.5 percentage-point margin of error.

Meantime, Republicans have been outvoting Democrats when it comes to casting absentee ballots. More than 890,000 have been voted and GOP ballots outnumber Democratic ones, 48-35 percent. That’s a better margin for Republicans than in 2012, but it’s worse than 2010.

Early in-person voting, which Democrats tend to dominate, begins today.

Continue reading "0ptimus FL poll: Rick Scott tops Charlie Crist 41-40, no Fangate Effect found" »

October 19, 2014

'Mediscare' accusations abound in debate between Miami congressional candidates


Accusing each other of trying to scare voters, Miami Rep. Joe Garcia and competitor Carlos Curbelo appeared in a pointed live television debate Sunday, a day before early voting begins in the close political contest.

Garcia, a freshman Democrat seeking reelection, charged Curbelo with misleading voters by referring to Social Security and Medicare as a “Ponzi scheme” that might not be around for future generations.

“He talks about turning the page, but what he’s turning the page to is fear tactics and scare tactics,” Garcia said.

Curbelo, a Republican Miami-Dade County School Board member, threw the accusation back at Garcia for running advertisements that claim Curbelo would end Medicare benefits for seniors.

“That is the ultimate hypocrisy,” Curbelo said.

The exchange was one of several cutting ones in the debate on WPLG-ABC 10’s This Week in South Florida, the first one between the men in Miami-Dade broadcast in English. They faced off last week on a Spanish-language station.

More here.

'Rick Scott is betting his mansion on Tampa' --and other tidbits from the $83m ad war

@SteveBousquet and @MarcACaputo

Gov ad spendFor the past year, living in Florida has meant having Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist as constant and mostly unwanted companions.

If you own a TV, you get the picture.

Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. About $83 million since March.

For months, TV viewers have been forced to withstand a seemingly endless barrage of vicious ads from Scott and Crist as they try to trash talk their way to the Governor’s Mansion, 30 seconds at a time.

Scott and Republicans have spent $56.5 million on ads and Crist and Democrats have spent $26.5 million. Scott has bought far more ads in Tampa Bay than anywhere else: It’s the biggest TV market in Florida and Crist’s home base.

“Gov. Scott is betting his mansion on Tampa,” said Scott Tranter, a principal and consultant for a Republican-leaning data analytics firm, 0ptimus.

Using data from broadcast stations and the Florida voter file, 0ptimus has concluded that Tampa Bay viewers have seen the most negative ads from Scott about Crist, with 95 million impressions since Sept. 1.

That means a Scott ad has been seen in whole or in part 95 million times across the Tampa Bay TV market.

In a first-of-its-kind race where both candidates have been governors, voters say the two men have cheapened and demeaned the high office they seek. Their total lack of mutual respect is magnified by the fact that they refuse to address each other as “governor” and instead use “Rick” and “Charlie.”

More here

Report: Florida's tip, Cape Sable, losing ground to rising seas


From the sky, Florida’s rugged tip looks like a scrap of emerald green lace: marshes and mangroves and tree islands all knit together by ribbons of creeks and lakes.

But at Cape Sable, a remote outpost where the Atlantic meets the Gulf of Mexico, the coast is fraying.

Usually, geological change is so slow that “you never see something in your lifetime,” Audubon Florida biologist Peter Frezza said recently as he piloted his boat around acres of mud flats filling Lake Ingraham. “But we’re watching this happen.”

For more than a decade, scientists have seen the cape as the tip of the sword in climate change. Sliced open by canals dug through the marl dividing marshes from the bay a century ago by Henry Flagler’s land company, the cape is particularly vulnerable to rising seas. Flagler was hoping to drain the wetland and lure homesteaders and ranchers. Story here.