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August 23, 2017

Rubio to Seminole County GOP: 'America is going to be OK'

@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a reshaped stump speech Tuesday night to the Seminole County GOP, touching on many of the same points he made as a presidential candidate but adapting it to the tumultuous politics of the moment.

"America is going to be OK," Rubio said. "America is going to be fine. In fact, America -- your America, my America, the America we're going to leave our children -- has a chance to be better than it's ever been. I believe our children have the opportunity to be the freest and most prosperous people that have ever walked the face of this earth."

"It's hard to believe that if you open up newspapers, watch the news, get on the internet, whatever," Rubio said, without immediately naming President Donald Trump. "But I really believe that with all of my heart, because that's been our history. It's at the core of who we are."

Rubio later praised the president's Monday night speech on Afghanistan and denounced the white supremacists and neo-Nazis instigators in Charlottesville.

"There is nothing conservative about those people. Nothing," he said to applause.

The senator noted that "there are people on the other side of the spectrum" who attack conservatives they disagree with.

"It's not acceptable, either," he said, noting he was speaking at the Seminole GOP's Lincoln Day fundraiser. "But first we have to take care of our own house. And our house is the party of Lincoln."

Elsewhere in his remarks, Rubio lamented the loss of civil discourse and said "the new Congress has failed" in enacting promises made to voters.

"That needs to change," he said. "Otherwise, people will conclude that there's no reason to vote for cons because it doesn't matter anyways."

 

GOP lawmaker's battles with Corcoran earn her a trip to Siberia

The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to Siberia might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political ladder.

Peters, a three-term Treasure Island Republican, had little use for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, in the 2017 session, as they battled over state money for tourism and his attacks on local government home rule. She's also an ally of Corcoran's enemy, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Fed up with Corcoran, Peters won't be back, and will instead run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2018.

Frustrated with Peters, Corcoran reminded her who's in charge. He removed her as chairman of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, relocated her to a fourth-floor office (gasp!) next to a Democrat, then isolated her to the end of a row next to two vacant seats to be filled by "redshirt" freshmen, beyond the Florida Channel's TV camera angles. "He could have put me on the 14th floor, I suppose," Peters said.

Peters was outraged in June when Corcoran told a Tampa crowd that special interests have more influence at City Hall than in the state Capitol. She told the Times/Herald that Corcoran's remarks were "silly" and "naive," and that Tallahassee is notorious for lobbyist influence and for shutting off public debate to people who drive six hours to testify.

Oddly, Peters raved about Corcoran just last month. Seeing an op-ed by former Senate President Don Gaetz about how well Florida is doing, Peters texted Corcoran on July 9: "You have done a great job in preserving and protecting Florida." Her explanation: "Sometimes he's right and sometimes we disagree." She's grateful that Corcoran left her on two House committees where she can continue to work on her priorities of mental health and addiction recovery.

Corcoran argues that other House Republicans who disagree with him weren't punished and that Peters' moves were needed to give House members, such as Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, better assignments: "You just move people around." Was Peters punished? "Nope."

All politics is local, and Peters' rival for the County Commission, term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, is a staunch Corcoran ally. That means their Republican primary will literally be a referendum on Corcoran's record, and especially his criticism of county governments as bloated, wasteful and inefficient. As Ahern defends Corcoran, Peters will campaign against what she calls an arrogant and out-of-touch capital. Just wait and see.  

With one session to go, Peters has nothing to lose. She accused Corcoran of rank hypocrisy, noting that his 2012 manifesto, Blueprint Florida, was full of criticism of the status quo that Corcoran vowed to change, such as: "The process is often autocratic, not democratic, and based on purely personal considerations."

August 22, 2017

Pence will try to escape long shadow of Trump’s military talk on Venezuela

Week That Was In Latin America Photo Gallery(2)
@PatriciaMazzei

The uncomfortable but inevitable question that dogged Vice President Mike Pence everywhere he went in Latin America last week will trail him to Miami on Wednesday: Is President Donald Trump really considering potential military action in Venezuela?

Pence tried over and over again to say no — without actually uttering the word or outright contradicting Trump — during his recent swing through Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama, where regional allies publicly rebuked the notion of any U.S. intervention.

The vice president’s cleanup tour will conclude Wednesday in Doral, home to the largest Venezuelan immigrant community in the U.S. In private meetings with local Venezuelans, and in remarks at a neighborhood church, Pence is expected to say the White House remains committed to punishing President Nicolás Maduro’s government for systematically dismantling the South American country’s democracy.

But exactly what the punishment from the U.S. might entail remains unclear, a month after Trump promised “strong and swift economic actions.”

Behind the scenes, the Trump administration has continued to debate its best move, with the eager-to-dialogue State Department clashing with the more-hawkish White House and National Security Council. But matters became much more complicated on Aug. 11, when Trump made his casual remark about a possibly “military option” against Maduro. The comment divided regional allies who had at long last come around to the U.S. position that Venezuela had become a dictatorship.

More here.

Photo credit: Victor R. Caviano, Associated Press

Former State Sen. Greg Evers killed in a car crash

Greg Evers and Piper Kerman
@MaryEllenKlas

Former State Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Florida farmer and veteran politician, was killed in a single car crash near his home in Okaloosa County late Monday. The Florida Highway Patrol said the death is being investigated. Evers was 62.  

According to a press release from the Florida Highway Patrol released late Tuesday, Lt. Eddie Elmore of the Florida Highway Patrol said that sometime on Monday night, Evers' vehicle "failed to negotiate the curve" on Griffith Mill Road near Baker, crossed the road, crashed through a guardrail, and landed "into a creek where the vehicle became submerged." His car was found on Tuesday afternoon.  Download Evers report - Okaloosa County 8-22-17 2 Form1

Evers, a Republican who left the Senate in 2016 to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress, was born in Milton, Florida, and grew up on his family's farm, later attending Pensacola Community College. He took over his family's fertilizer business and moved it to Baker, where he grew cotton, soybeans, peanuts, wheat, corn and strawberries.

He was fond of preparing strawberry ice cream and delivering it to his Senate colleagues in Tallahassee during session. He leaves three grown children and a wife, Lori Weems. 

A passionate advocate for law enforcement and corrections officers, he became a vigorous critic of the Florida Department of Corrections and the Gov. Rick Scott administration for failing to adequately pay corrections officers and sufficiently staff the state's prisons. He used the opportunity to bring Piper Kerman (photo above) to the Senate to speak to his colleagues about her best-selling book and NetFlix series, Orange is the New Black. 

As chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Evers used the platform to scrutinize the Department of Correction's treatment of several whistleblowers on the inspector general's staff by having the staffers testify under oath about their allegations of cover-up and abusive treatment of inmates within the agency.

He ordered FDC Secretary Julie Jones to re-negotiate contracts with private vendors who supplied medical care to inmates, and he took advantage of a rarely-used state law that allows state legislators to make surprise visits to state prisons.

An outspoken Second Amendment advocate, Evers drew controversy in his 2016 congressional campaign when he offered to auction off a AR-15 rifle to citizens who liked his Facebook page.

Evers was first elected to the state House in 2001, where he served until 2010 and then ran for the state Senate.

After news of his death broke late Tuesday afternoon, Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, who was elected to the state Senate after Evers left, tweeted that Evers was "a dedicated public servant and an even better friend. He will be greatly missed. Go rest high on that mountain." 

Last Wednesday, Evers attended the Panama City launch of of Sen. Jack Latvala's campaign for governor. Latvala attached a photo to his tweet. 

The governor said in a statement:  “My wife Ann and I are heartbroken after learning of the passing of Senator Greg Evers. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Lori, and their entire family during this terribly difficult time.

"A dedicated public servant, Senator Evers truly loved Florida and devoted his life to serving his community – not only on his family farm, but during 15 years representing the people of North Florida in the state House and Senate. He will be remembered and missed by all who knew him as the kind, hardworking farmer from Milton who tirelessly fought for Florida families.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, notified his colleagues of Evers' death in a statement Tuesday. 

"Greg passionately represented his district for many years in both the House and Senate,'' Negron wrote. "He was especially dedicated to the men and women of his community who were serving or had served in the military, as well as our fellow Floridians across the state who serve as Corrections Officers.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens wrote:

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said: "I’ve known Greg for many years, and there’s no one who fought harder for his principles or for the people of Northwest Florida than Greg Evers. He truly believed in the value of hard work, and nothing was more important to him than his family, public service, and his North Florida farm. We served in the Florida House together, and I’m proud to have worked alongside him and called him a friend. Tonight, I join Florida in mourning his sudden and tragic loss.”

RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said: “Tonight, our hearts are heavy with the news of former Florida Senator Greg Evers passing. Senator Evers was a passionate and dedicated public servant in the Florida Legislature for 15 years.  He was an ardent supporter of our military, our Constitutional rights and an advocate of returning the power to the people.  We extend our deepest condolences to the Evers family, and pray for peace during this most difficult time.” 

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the Evers family, said in a statement: "On behalf of the family of former State Senator Greg Evers, it with great sadness that we announce his passing.  Senator Evers was involved in a single car accident last night near his home in Baker, Florida. The family asks for your prayers as they deal with this sudden loss. Funeral arrangements will be forthcoming."

Photo: Former State Sen. Greg Evers shakes hands with Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is the New Black, whom he invited to speak to his Senate colleagues about her work.

Nelson shares Scott's cautious stance on Confederate monuments

via @learyreports

On the issue of Confederate monuments, Sen. Bill Nelson is taking the cautious route of Gov. Rick Scott.

“My attitude is a monument, a statue, ought to signify unity instead of division,” Nelson, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Monday after a speech before the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

But should Confederate monuments be removed? “I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do," the Democrat running for re-election said.

That’s effectively what Scott, who is likely to challenge Nelson next year, told the Tampa Bay Times last week.

"We have a democracy," Scott said. "We have the ability to have conversations about things, whether it's policy or things like monuments, and that's what's going on around our country right now. Some of these decisions will need to be made locally, some will be decided at the state level, some will be decided at the federal level, but what everybody needs to do is go through the process that's set up to make policy changes and make changes if they do with regards to a monument."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio to make special appearance at Curbelo fundraiser

IMG_7571
@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio will help raise campaign money for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Thursday in Bal Harbour.

The evening reception will be held at the home of the Falic family, which has been politically active for years, particularly on issues related to Israel. In the past, family members have supported conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- as well as Weston Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine , a Democrat in a nonpartisan post.

An invitation to the fundraiser obtained by the Miami Herald shows contribution levels ranging from $2,700 to $10,400 a person.

Curbelo, a prolific fundraiser, has been ramping up his money efforts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. He's got a fundraiser scheduled for Wednesday with several well-known local Democrats.

Florida bishops call on Gov. Rick Scott to halt scheduled execution

AsayIt has been 20 months since a death row inmate has been executed in Florida and the state's Catholic bishops are pleading with Gov. Rick Scott to halt Thursday's scheduled execution of Mark James Asay.

In a letter delivered to Scott Monday, Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote: "Indeed, Mr. Asay's violent acts call out for justice and should be condemned. However, life without parole is an alternative and severe sentence. We hold that if non-lethal means are available to keep society safe from an aggressor, then authority must limit itself to such means."

Read the bishops' letter here.

After a lengthy suspension of Florida's death penalty due to prolonged legal battles and actions by the Legislature, Asay, 53, is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Thursday at Florida State Prison in Starke for the murders of two men in Jacksonville in 1987. One victim, Robert Booker, who was African-American, was shot in the abdomen after he and Asay had a racially-charged confrontation outside a bar according to a summary of the case by the state Supreme Court, which quoted Asay as having used the "N"-word three times.

Asay has been on death row since 1988, and his lawyers have repeatedly tried without success to prevent his execution. The lawyers unsuccessfully petitioned the Florida Supreme Court for access to the bullets that killed Asay's two victims, and they sought a rehearing based on the court's acknowledgement that it incorrectly identified McDowell as black, when he was white or Hispanic.

Asay will be the first white inmate to be executed for the killing of an African-American in Florida history. His sister, Gloria Dean, tells a Jacksonville TV station that her brother joined a white supremacist prison gang in Texas for his own protection, but that he is not a racist and that the killings were not racially motivated. 

For decades, Catholic bishops in Florida have consistently opposed the death penalty, without success. Prior to Asay's execution, the bishops said, prayer vigils will be held at locations around the state, including Miami, Miami Shores, Pompano Beach, Inverness and on Tampa radio station WBVM 90.5.

Asay is one of 362 inmates on death row in Florida.

 

 

 

August 21, 2017

Gov. Scott flubbed a line on Charlottesville. When a newspaper noticed, his staff got mad.

@PatriciaMazzei

The problem with being a politician who religiously sticks to scripted talking points is that slip-ups become very noticeable.

See: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who on Monday appeared to echo President Donald Trump assertion that "both sides" were to blame for violence in Charlottesville.

"There's no moral authority on both sides," Scott said, according to the Naples Daily News.

Oops.

His staff told the newspaper that's not what Scott intended to say. But when the Daily News reported the flub anyway -- noting the governor "misspoke" -- Scott's deputy communications director, McKinley Lewis, sent an email blast to the entire Florida press corps denouncing the story as "false."

"Governor Scott inadvertently said the word 'authority' instead of 'equivalency' while meeting with reporters in Fort Myers today and the Naples Daily News reported this as a policy change," Lewis wrote. "This is false and the Naples Daily News distorted the facts."

Except does the Daily News refer to a different "policy." It says Scott "diverged from an earlier position," because by referring to "no moral authority on both sides," Scott appeared to soften his comments from last week.

While denouncing white supremacists, the governor has been careful not to criticize Trump's widely criticized contention that counter-protesters bore some of the blame for the Charlottesville unrest.

Scott misspoke Monday in Fort Myers when he was pressed on whether he agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio, who urged Trump to place responsibility solely on white supremacists.

"As you know, it was horrible what happened in Charlottesville. It was evil. There's no place in our society for KK(K), for neo-Nazis or for white supremacists," Scott said. "There’s no moral authority on both sides. We saw white supremacists accused of killing that young lady. And I have a daughter about the same age as her.”

His office's subsequent statement said Scott has been "very clear on his stance against evil, hatred, white supremacists, Nazis and any forms of racism.

"And, he has said many times over the last week that there is absolutely no moral equivalency between the two sides in Charlottesville."

Pence is coming to Miami

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@PatriciaMazzei

To cap off his recent trip to Latin America, Vice President Mike Pence will travel Wednesday to Miami — the region’s unofficial capital — to keep focusing international attention on Venezuela’s political crisis.

The White House has yet to publicly announce the trip. But according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald, Pence is scheduled to deliver remarks at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Doral, Miami’s Venezuelan enclave.

Pence is also likely to stop by U.S. Southern Command, whose headquarters are in Doral, though neither Southcom nor the White House would confirm his plans Monday.

Last week, Pence got an earful from regional allies about President Donald Trump’s offhand remark that the U.S. might consider a “military option” against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

More here.

August 20, 2017

Lopez-Cantera won't run for Congress

Carloslopezcantera05wmm
@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has decided not to run for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in Congress, though he may seek another office in 2020.

“We have decided that being a candidate in 2018 is not what’s best for our family,” Lopez-Cantera, who is married and has two young daughters, said in a statement.

He pledged to remain involved in politics and suggested he could launch a future candidacy for an unnamed position. He’s considered a possible contender to become Miami-Dade County’s next mayor.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I will continue to look for ways to be a part of the solution,” he said. “I may run for public office again, but not in 2018.”

Instead of jumping into the race for Florida’s 27th congressional district, Lopez-Cantera said he will complete his term as lieutenant governor, which ends next year. He’s No. 2 to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“I will also be supporting candidates and causes that lower the cost of government on our citizens, such as the upcoming constitutional amendment for an additional homestead exemption,” said Lopez-Cantera, the former Miami-Dade property appraiser.

More here.

Photo credit: Walter Michot, Miami Herald file

August 19, 2017

Is competition good for GOP? Tom Lee's says he's in for CFO race, crossing Rick Scott and his hand-picked choice Jimmy Patronis

Tom Lee TBT@WilliamEMarch

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, appears to have stirred a hornet’s nest by announcing publicly that he intends to run for state chief financial officer in 2018.

It’s long been known that Lee wanted to run for the office -- he ran in 2006 -- and he’s made it no secret that he was considering it.

Still, many political insiders expected Lee would eventually decide to run for re-election to his state Senate seat instead of starting a primary fight with the current CFO, Republican Jimmy Patronis. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Patronis to the vacant post in June and solidly backs Patronis to run to hold it in 2018.

But without filing officially, Lee told a local reporter this week he intends to run – and did so on the day before attending a high-profile public event with Scott and Patronis in Brandon.

Awkward.

On Friday, Lee stood with Patronis, Scott and other Republican luminaries at Brandon Honda, while Scott and Patronis touted Scott’s election-year proposal to make it harder for the Legislature to impose tax or fee increases.

Then a reporter asked Scott about the CFO race and about Lee’s announcement, and Scott made it clear where his loyalties are.

“I’ve known Jimmy for a long time,” he said. “I appointed Jimmy because I think he’s going to do a really good job as CFO. I know he’s concerned about whether he’s going to run or not. If he runs I’ll be a big supporter … I’ll do everything I can to see that he wins.”

Patronis hasn’t said whether he intends to run in 2018 to hold onto the CFO post, but he’s acting like a candidate.

He recently founded an independent political committee, Treasure Florida, and Scott will headline a fundraiser for that committee in Orlando in September.

Lee, however, has a substantial head start over Patronis in both statewide name recognition and money – nearly $2 million in his own committee, The Conservative.

Scott, of course, is expected to run for the U.S. Senate next year.

In the past, Lee and Scott have been allies. Scott appointed Lee’s wife, Laurel Lee, to a circuit judgeship in 2013, and Lee took over the Hillsborough County Republican Party, a time-consuming and thankless task, during Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign.

However, the relationship has been less smooth lately. In the 2016 legislative session, Lee opposed Scott’s plans for public school funding, and in the 2017 session, Lee was considered an ally of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who clashed with Scott over economic incentives.

Lee sought the appointment as CFO, but Scott picked Patronis instead.

Also attending the Brandon event were a couple of the local state House members who’d be interested in running to replace Lee in the Senate if he vacates his District 20 seat to run for CFO, Ross Spano of Dover and Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills.

They and Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, all said they’d be interested if Lee left the seat vacant.

That means dominoes lined up to fall. If one or more of the GOP House members run, it will set off a scramble in GOP-leaning East Hillsborough to replace them. If Harrison runs, it would open up a House seat in a swing district that could easily go Democratic.

Should Capitol's Confederate monument be removed? Scott won't say.

Capitol confederate monument@ByKristenMClark

Florida’s Republican governor won’t take a position on what should be done with a monument that honors slain Confederate soldiers on the state Capitol grounds, even as a growing number of elected leaders around the country take steps to remove such monuments after last weekend’s violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.

Rather than lead on the issue, Rick Scott is deferring to state lawmakers and has remained silent on whether such monuments in Florida — and particularly the one at the Capitol — should be taken down.

After Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, on Wednesday called on Scott to remove the Capitol monument, Scott’s office would only acknowledge they had “received” that request.

His office on Thursday pointed to general remarks Scott had made two days earlier about how federal, state and local officials ought to “review” what should be done with Confederate monuments. “We need to go through a process where everyone comes together and has a legitimate conversation, then we go forward,” Scott had said.

But Scott, through his spokesmen, has repeatedly declined to answer questions from the Herald/Times this week — including again on Friday — about what direction he wants elected officials in Florida to take: Whether monuments celebrating the Confederacy, such as the one at the Capitol, should be removed or kept, and why.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

What the 2018 congressional campaign looks like in 2017

ENDLESS CAMPAIGN d epf

@PatriciaMazzei

The exasperated man answered the door of his West Kendall home, annoyed at being interrupted from work and hollering at his furry little dog, Sacha, who had rushed to sniff out the unexpected visitors: a pair of high school volunteers holding clipboards and a stack of political fliers.

The volunteers promised they had only three questions. Had he heard of his congressman, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo? (He had.) Which issue — tax reform, the economy, the environment — mattered most to him? (Lower taxes.) Was he familiar with Curbelo’s efforts to combat climate change?

“I don’t believe in that,” the man said in Spanish. “That’s a lie. That’s just normal, in nature.”

The volunteers said thank you. The man picked up his dog and shut the door.

This is what the 2018 campaign looks like — in 2017.

Fifteen months before next year’s congressional midterm elections, political organizations are already involved in field operations, making calls to voters and knocking on their doors in what has become a never-ending campaign cycle.

And in this case, the volunteers sweltering under the summer sun don’t even work for Curbelo.

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

Taddeo denounces GOP ad that casts her as apologist for Castro, FARC

  Florida_Candidates 01 EKM (2)
@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Democratic Senate candidate Annette Taddeo has denounced as false an explosive Spanish-language radio ad from Florida Republicans casting her as — wait for it — a tax-hiker, job-offshorer, Colombian-guerrilla sympathizer and Fidel Castro apologist.

The ad reflects a tried-and-true campaign tack in Miami politics: paint your opponent as soft on Cuba, or soft on Communism.

Particularly offensive to Taddeo is the suggestion that she wanted to “legitimize” the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Taddeo was born in Colombia and fled as a teenager after the FARC captured her father, an American military veteran, at the family ranch.

“How dare my opponent, lobbyist Jose Felix Diaz, use our community’s painful history for political gain?” Taddeo said in a statement. “My father was kidnapped by the FARC and my family had to flee Colombia because of our safety.”

She will face Diaz, a state representative, and independent candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth in the special Sept. 26 Senate District 40 election to replace Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in disgrace in April. 

The ad claims that “when [former President Barack] Obama insisted on a peace plan in Colombia that would legitimize the FARC, Taddeo put partisanship over everything else to support it.”

More here.

Listen to the radio ad here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

August 18, 2017

Former Wasserman Schultz aide indicted

Wasserman_Schultz_Staffer_Arrest_40608 (1)

@amysherman1

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s former information technology aide and his wife have been indicted on bank fraud charges.

A grand jury late Thursday returned an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Imran Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, of Lorton, Virginia, on four counts: conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on a loan or credit application and engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Awan, 37, previously had been charged in a criminal complaint with one count of bank fraud. The indictment expanded on the charges and also added Alvi, 33, as a defendant.

The indictment states that Awan and Alvi conspired to obtain home equity lines of credit for $165,000 and $120,000 from a credit union on two properties. They provided false information that the properties were Alvi’s principal residence and second home when they actually rented out the homes. Then, they transferred the proceeds to Pakistan.

More here.

Miami’s downtown panhandling ban is unconstitutional, court says

Panhandling (2)

@NewsbySmiley

A controversial law banning panhandling in downtown Miami has been struck down by the courts.

In a ruling that could stoke tensions between condo tenants and downtown’s homeless, a judicial panel of the 11th Circuit’s appellate division ruled this month that Miami’s blanket ban on street begging is unconstitutional.

Relying on the Supreme Court’s recent Reed v Town of Gilbert decision rebuking “content-based” messaging bans, the panel found that Miami’s law, passed under the pretense of protecting tourism and downtown businesses around the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the AmericanAirlines Arena, crossed the line by dictating what people can say in public.

To read the rest, click here.

Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS

August 17, 2017

House committee reshuffle elevates 21 freshmen

Florida Legislature lobbyHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran released his version of musical chairs on Thursday, giving 21 of the 27 freshman Republicans elected last fall vice chair positions, ousting veterans in many cases and replacing three lawmakers who have resigned since session ended -- Reps. Jose Felix Diaz, Eric Eisnaugle and Dan Raulerson

The big winner appears to be Rep. Jamie Grant, who lost a bitterly fought race for House speaker designate for 2020 earlier this summer, and was awarded the chairmanship of the Health Quality Subcommittee. As we have already reported, Rep. Paul Renner becomes the new chair of Ways and Means and the Ways and Means Chair, Rep. Jim Boyd, becomes the new chair of Commerce, replacing Jose Felix Diaz.

Republican Reps. Kathleen Peters and Cary Pigman, seem to have gotten the biggest demotions.

Last session, Peters resisted but consented to the House leadership's insistence that the committee hear a high priority bills for Florida Power & Light that would have allowed them to charge customers for fracking operations in other states. Corcoran removed her as chair of the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee and a position on the Ways & Means Committee. She will now have two new committee assignments: Public Integrity & Ethics Committee and Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. The new chair on the utilities subcommittee is Corcoran loyalist Jay Trumbull.

Pigman, a doctor who had an embarrassing arrest for drunk driving last session, lost his chair of the Health Quality Subcommittee.

Here are the other vice chair shuffles:

* George Moraitis, Appropriations Committee, to Jeanette Nunez.

* Larry Ahern, Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, to Thad Altman.

* Ben Albritton, Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee to Ralph Massullo.

* Justice Appropriations Subcommittee to Cord Byrd.

* Elizabeth Porter, Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee to Charles Clemons. She retains Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee vice chair.

* Neil Combee, Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee to Clay Yarborough.

*  Robert Cortes, Education Committee, becomes vice chair of Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

* Jake Raburn, Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee to Byron Donalds.

* Brad Drake, Transportation Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee to Michael Grant

* Jay Fant not only lost the vice chair of the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee to Erin Grall, he lost his position on the House Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. He was added to the Education Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

* Careers & Competition Subcommittee to Randy Fine.

* Pre-K Innovation Subcommittee to Jason Fischer.

* Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee to Don Hahnfeldt.

* Gayle Harrell, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee to Cyndi Stevenson.

* Sean Harrison lost Health Innovation Subcommittee vice chair to Frank White, but gained the Judiciary Committee vice chair -- previously held by Ross Spano -- and retained the Rules and Policy Vice chair.

* Blaise Ingoglia, Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to Bob Rommel.

* Clay Ingram, Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, to Robert Cortes.

* Jennifer Sullivan, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to Thomas Leek. Sullivan, however, is promoted to vice chair of the Education Committee.

* Energy & Utilities Subcommittee to Bobby Payne.  

* Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee goes to Mel Ponder.

* Charlie Stone, Government Accountability Committee, to Jayer Williamson. But Stone retains Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Some things will not change. David Santiago will retain the vice chair of Insurance & Banking Subcommittee and Health & Human Services Committee. Mike Miller retains the vice chair of Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee. Rene Plascencia remains vice chair of both Health Quality Subcommittee and Pre-K 12 Quality Subcommittee. Julio Gonzalez retains his vice chairmanship of both the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Bryan Avila retains his vice chairmanship of the Commerce Committee and remains as alternating chair of the Joint Committee on Public Counsel. Halsey Beshears loses his place on the Ways and Means Committee.

Colleen Burton is elevated in a couple of ways. She's now chief deputy whip and becomes vice chair of Ways and Means instead of the vice chair of Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. Danny Burgess is added to Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee.

There appear to be only a handful of changes for Democrats. Tracie Davis was added to the Health and Human Services Committee and Emily Slosberg was added to the Judiciary Committee.

Bush, Ros-Lehtinen to speak at summit on Iran

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will be among the speakers at summit on Iran next month.

The Florida Republicans will appear at the Sept. 19 event in New York hosted by United Against Nuclear Iran and timed for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

"The day-long event of interviews and discussions will examine the political and economic environment since the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran -- with particular focus on Iran's role in the region, its relationship with North Korea, and the future of Iran policy in the Trump administration," UANI said in a release.

Other speakers include David Petraeus; HRH Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies; former Gov. Bill Richardson; John Bolton and Joe Lieberman.

Bush sits on the UANI advisory board.

"Comprised of former diplomats and lawmakers, UANI is spearheading a global education campaign focused on the risks of doing business with Iran, warning hundreds of international companies that may be contemplating Tehran as a new investment opportunity," the group said.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Dem lawmaker also wants special session on Confederate statue. (Scott already rejected idea)

Berman

@ByKristenMClark

Echoing a request from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz two days ago, a Democratic lawmaker in Palm Beach County sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday asking for a special session so the Legislature can select a replacement for the statue of a Confederate general that represents Florida in the U.S. Capitol.

The statue of Edmund Kirby Smith is already set to be replaced, but lawmakers failed to agree last spring on whom to replace Smith with.

RELATED: "Confederate monument at Florida Capitol sparks debate after Charlottesville"

“With the recent acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is more imperative than ever that we complete the process we started in 2016 to replace this statue,” state Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said in a statement that accompanied her letter to Scott.

“There is no place for racism or bigotry in our civil society, and Florida certainly should not be represented in our nation’s Capitol by General Smith. Let’s finish the job and get this done immediately,” she added.

Read Berman's letter here.

Scott's chief spokesman John Tupps already rejected the possibility of a special session. He told the Herald/Times in response to Wasserman Schultz's request on Tuesday: "The Legislature meets in January, where they can take up this issue, and Governor Scott has no plans to call a special session."

Photo credit: Florida House