Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

February 06, 2016

Dave Barry: New Hampshire voters prepare to undo what Iowa voters did

From Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry:

NASHUA, N.H. -- With the Iowa caucuses finally behind us, the big question on the minds of millions of Americans, as the nation looks toward an uncertain future, is: Who will win the Super Bowl?

Also some people are wondering who will win the New Hampshire primary. This is an election held every four years to give the voters of New Hampshire a chance to urinate all over whatever the voters of Iowa did.

This year they have targets aplenty:

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses. Or maybe she didn’t. It’s possible that the late Hubert Humphrey won the Iowa Democratic caucuses, which were run so incompetently that it’s hard to believe Florida was not involved. They featured mass confusion and multiple coin flips. Yes: Coin flips. Why not go totally “high-tech” and use a Magic 8-Ball? (“Reply hazy, try again in 2016.”)

The other Democratic news is that Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race, fueling speculation that he had been in the race. It is not yet clear who will inherit O’Malley’s supporter base, which consists of Mrs. Martin O’Malley and their dog, Rex.

So the Democratic race is now a contest between Sanders and Clinton, who are engaged in an increasingly nasty debate over who is more progressive. Sanders seems to have the edge here, especially now that he is ending his rallies by setting fire to a live Wall Street banker.

More here.

Bobby Jindal backs former rival Marco Rubio

via @learyreports

Bobby Jindal is the second former 2016 presidential candidate to endorse Marco Rubiothis week.

"He can unify the party," Jindal said on Fox News. "He can win this election in November."

Jindal's endorsement follows Rick Santorum, who failed to name an accomplishment of Rubio's. The fomer Louisiana governor may have to explain this line from October 2015: "We've got a first-term senator in the White House. We need somebody with a proven track record."

But is shows how the GOP is beginning to unite around Rubio.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 05, 2016

Clinton campaign to open Broward office in Pompano Beach

Hillary Clinton's campaign announced it will open a Broward County office in Pompano Beach this month in advance of Florida's March 15 primary.

So far, Clinton hasn't spent much time publicly in Broward -- she spoke to the National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale in July and held a public event at Broward College in Davie in October. But she is expected to spend more time in South Florida before the primary.

Broward County could play a key role in Clinton's battle with Bernie Sanders next month and if she becomes the nominee in the general election. Broward has about 550,000 registered Democrats -- more than any other county in the state. 

The office will be located at 50 NE 26th Ave. in Pompano Beach. The exact opening date hasn't been announced yet. (The office opening was reported earlier today by the Sun Sentinel.)

For Miami-Dade mayor, four deputies is a selling point that sticks


After a reorganization of his senior leadership team, one feature remains a constant for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez: he has four deputy mayors and doesn't want more. 

This week, Gimenez won formal approval for a restructuring that left one of his deputy mayors with a significantly reduced portfolio, and a new department head overseeing two large agencies without the deputy-mayor title. 

Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak used to oversee the Transit and Public Works departments, two agencies that made up the heart of her portfolio as an Gimenez deputy. But after the mayor hired Alice Bravo, a former Miami administrator, to be his new Transit director, he soon a created a new mega-agency for her to run: the Department of Transportation and Public Works.

Under the reorganization, Bravo reports directly to Gimenez while running Transit, the county's second-largest department, as well as Public Works.  Hudak retains her title as deputy mayor, overseeing Animal Services, Elections and Solid Waste (where she also does double-duty as director of the department).  

Gimenez touted the arrangement as a more efficient way to deal with transportation, with one department chief overseeing both roads and transit. That the plum assignment didn't come with the cachet of deputy mayor reflects a broader trend of Gimenez maintaining a small circle of official deputies. 

Continue reading "For Miami-Dade mayor, four deputies is a selling point that sticks " »

Challenger to Miami-Dade commissioner begins rallying support against the West End


The lone challenger to Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan C. Zapata is looking for support as he runs a campaign against incorporating the West Kendall area and renaming part of it the West End.

Zapata favors the West End push, and challenger Felix Lorenzo laid out the two issues as his campaign platform in an email to supporters Friday.


Fellow Citizens of Miami Dade County:


After long and thoughtful consideration I have decided to run for the position of District 11 Commissioner in Miami Dade County.

There are many important unresolved issues in the district that need our attention, the first is the intent to create two new cities within the district and the second is to change the name of the area.
 Both of these propositions are costly to us the tax payers. These two issues affect our area exclusively and will be a priority but there are other issues that will need our attention as well.

I am politically independent, having been in the private sector my entire life, with experience in finance, marketing and sales.

I am asking for your support of my candidacy so that I as one of you may represent this district with honesty and transparency.

I encourage and appreciate your active participation in support of my candidacy. I look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.


Please show your support with a modest donation at:                  

FELIX M. LORENZO                          e-mail:

P. O. BOX 653253,                            Phone: 305-227-2511

Miami, Fl. 33265


Lorenzo, a former pharmaceutical salesman, filed to run for Zapata's District 11 seat in December. Finance records show he has raised no money for his campaign, besides a $1,500 contribution from himself. 

Attention, parents: Sample score reports unveiled for 2016 statewide assessments



State education officials are letting teachers and parents know what the new, redesigned score reports will look like for this year's Florida Standards Assessments, which students will take this spring.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart first discussed the new score reports with the State Board of Education in early January, and her department rolled them out officially Friday afternoon so parents will know what to expect when they get their children's scores.

There's also a new website to help teachers, parents and students understand the information presented on the score reports.

“Our goal is to ensure Floridians have access to an education system that prepares all students for future success," Stewart said in a statement. "The standardized statewide assessments and the corresponding score reports are critical to achieving that goal because they provide students, parents and educators insight into what students have learned."

"By knowing how well students grasped the information they are expected to know in each grade level, these individuals can work together to make adjustments that will lead to greater success in the future," Stewart said.

Score reports for all statewide standardized assessments are distributed to parents and students through their school districts.

The new design was prompted by lengthy discussions among state board members and Stewart over terminology -- such as "satisfactory" or "proficient" -- and concerns that words are used interchangeably instead of what they actually mean in relation to students' scores.

The Education Department highlighted these new features of the report:

-- Color-coded levels (1-5), so it is apparent which level the student achieved at first glance;

-- clear explanation of what each level means, including the difference between “satisfactory” and “proficient,” with additional detail about the level that the student achieved;

-- comparison of the student’s performance to other students in their school, district and the state;

-- and, references to specific DOE websites that offer resources parents and students can use to increase preparation for the next grade/course. 

Image credit: Florida Department of Education

Florida superintendents, Rep. Erik Fresen spar over school construction costs



Earlier this week, Florida's superintendents sought to correct what they described as inaccurate and flawed information discussed by the Florida House Appropriations Committee a couple of weeks ago, and that response has now ignited a letter feud between the superintendents and the man who controls school funding in the Florida House.

In late January, the Appropriations Committee held a lengthy discussion -- led by House education budget chairman Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami -- about what Fresen and House leaders called a “disturbing pattern” of cost-overruns on public school construction projects paid for, at least in part, with state funding.

Because of those alleged abuses, Fresen said he's prepared to propose limits on how districts use the fixed-capital outlay dollars they get, as well as penalties, should they exceed spending caps. (More here on that meeting.)

The Florida Association of District School Superintendents responded with a two-page letter on Monday -- penned by president Barbara Jenkins, Orange County schools superintendent -- detailing why they felt Fresen's conclusions were "not sound" and didn't show the full picture of the circumstances schools face.

For one, they pointed out: "Many districts across the state have levied local referenda to meet the facilities needs of their communities because of limited capital funding from the state. These locally generated funds are meant to benefit the local community from which the funds were raised."  Download FADSS_Response

Fresen's data depicting cost over-runs didn't specifically include details on the source of funding or how much of it was state versus local dollars for the examples he cited.

Today, Fresen fired back and doubled down.

Continue reading "Florida superintendents, Rep. Erik Fresen spar over school construction costs" »

Jeb Bush trolls Donald Trump on Twitter for canceling campaign event due to New Hampshire snow


Donald Trump took a snow day from the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, calling off an event because he couldn't fly into the state. (Trump likes to fly home to New York rather than stay in local hotels, generally speaking.)

Jeb Bush was still out campaigning -- with his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush -- and let Trump know so on Twitter.

Only four more days til the primary, guys.

Head of Miami's Omni CRA on the outs as Commissioner Ken Russell shakes things up


Ken Russell, Miami's newly elected District 2 commissioner, is shaking things up after two months in office.

On Wednesday, Russell informed Pieter Bockweg, the executive director of the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, that he intends to fire him, the Miami Herald has learned. Russell is the chairman of the agency, which is tasked with using property taxes to eliminate slum and blight in the Omni district north of the I-395.

Bockweg, who is also the head of Miami's Midtown CRA, did not return a phone call Wednesday evening. A vote by Miami commissioners, who sit on the Omni CRA board, would be needed to actually terminate his contract.

Bockweg learned about Russell's intentions in a face-to-face meeting just days after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez suggested the agency contribute money to help subsidize the operations of the suddenly cash-strapped Frost Museum of Science, a proposal Russell opposes.

Russell, who campaigned on CRA reform, did not immediately return a text message. An office staffer said Russell would release a statement Thursday about recent personnel decisions.

Updated: On Friday morning, Russel's interim chief of staff, Eleazar Meléndez, sent an email stating that Russell did not tell Bockweg he intended to fire him. Rather, Meléndez says Bockweg offered to resign.

"The commissioner did have a face-to-face conversation with Mr. Bockweg this week where he shared with Mr. Bockweg his view of what a CRA should and should not focus on," Meléndez wrote. "During the meeting, Mr. Bockweg offered to resign. Please be aware that the only people at the meeting were myself, Mr. Bockweg and Commissioner Russell. If anyone other than those three people is telling you they witnessed the meeting, they are lying to you."

Meléndez requested a retraction and provided the following statement from Russell: "Replacing the executive director of the CRA is not the chairman’s privilege, but a matter that needs to be considered by that board.”

Russell's move to fire Bockweg comes shortly after he parted ways with his chief of staff, Kirk Menendez.

Menendez, a City Hall veteran who has been hired and fired from several other positions, said he left Russell's office a few days ago. He wouldn't say whether he was fired or resigned, and declined to discuss the circumstances around his termination.

"We had a talk," Menendez said Thursday. "I just really need to move on. I'm a dad and that comes first."

Are majority of pain meds prescribed in U.S. as Jeb Bush says?


As New Hampshire officials work to contain the state’s opioid crisis, presidential candidates have been called upon to address the problem and offer solutions. At an editorial board meeting with Monitor staff, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush outlined his plan -- and dropped an interesting statistic.

Bush said Americans have a tendency to overmedicate in general, but addictive painkillers are even worse. "I read this, I believe, that 90 percent of all pain medications are prescribed in the United States in the world," Bush said.

Could this be true? Are so many of the world’s pain medications dispensed in this country alone? We decided to check out the number and its origins.

See what Clay Wirestone of PolitiFact New Hampshire found.


Marco Rubio says China is practicing how to blow up U.S. satellites


The 2016 presidential campaign has inspired discussion of plenty of scary foreign-policy scenarios, from ISIS attacks to cyber warfare. But at a Feb. 3 town hall in Manchester, N.H., Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio offered one we hadn’t heard much about – the possibility that China could blow an American satellite out of the sky.

China, Rubio said, is "practicing how to blow up our satellites."

Experts told PolitiFact that Rubio is basically right. "Regrettably true," Michael Krepon, a space-policy expert and co-founder of the Stimson Center, said of the claim.

Most spectacular was an incident on Jan. 11, 2007, when a six-foot-long Chinese weather satellite flew over China and was blasted to smithereens by an 18,000-mile-per-hour missile launched by China. "And then it was gone, transformed into a cloud of debris hurtling at nearly 16,000 mph along the main thoroughfare used by orbiting spacecraft," as Popular Mechanics magazine put it.

Keep reading Louis Jacobson's fact-check from PolitiFact

Bring in the bro: George W. Bush cuts TV ad for Jeb


The question lingered over Jeb Bush's Republican presidential campaign: Would his brother George W. Bush make an appearance, and if so, when and where?

Here's the answer: The former president cut a political ad for Right to Rise USA,  the super PAC backing his brother's campaign. The spot will air in South Carolina, where George W. Bush remains popular.

"I know Jeb. I know his good heart and his strong backbone," the elder Bush says. "Jeb will unite our country."


Fact-checking Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the MSNBC debate

DURHAM, N.H. -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders traded jabs over the other’s political identity and sharp policy differences Thursday in their first head-to-head debate ahead of the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.

They squabbled over what is practical in Sanders’ presidential wish-list and what Clinton has said, or hasn’t said, about being a moderate or a progressive. Clinton again pointed out Sanders’ votes against the Brady bill for gun background checks (five times), and Sanders stressed Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War in 2002and campaign donations from Goldman Sachs.

They still ended the debate on good terms. "In our worst days, I think it is fair to say, we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate," Sanders said to close the debate.

That’s not for us to fact-check. But we did hear a number of statements by both candidates that needed clarification or were misleading. See what PolitiFact found (fact-checks by C. Eugene Emery, Jon Greenberg and Louis Jacobson).

In historic move, Jorge Labarga to remain as Florida Supreme Court chief justice for second term


Jorge-Labarga-2015Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga continues to break historical records.

Two years ago, he became the first Hispanic person to lead the state's judicial system. On July 1, he'll begin his second term in that role -- becoming the first chief justice to succeed himself since the end of the Civil War and the first in four decades to serve more than one term.

The court announced this morning that the six other justices chose Labarga to serve for another two-year term as chief justice.

The Supreme Court has long followed a custom of rotating the chief justiceship to the next most senior member who has not yet held the post.

But in this case, Justice James E.C. Perry normally would have received the rotation in 2016, and he will be forced to retire due to age only a few months later. He chose not to stand for election, the court said.

As chief justice, Labarga leads the state's top bench and also serves as the administrative head of the state's judiciary.

“It is a privilege to serve the people of Florida,” Labarga said in a statement. “My second term will continue the work started during the first -– especially the efforts of the Access to Civil Justice Commission and implementation of both our new long-range plan and the first comprehensive statewide communications plan developed for the state courts system.”

Labarga, 63, was the second Cuban-American appointed to Florida’s high court. He came to Florida at 11 years old after the Cuban revolution. He graduated high school in West Palm Beach and then went to the University of Florida, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. Before becoming a Supreme Court justice seven years ago, he was a trial judge in Palm Beach County.

The court said the last chief justice to succeed himself was Charles H. Dupont, who was elected in 1860, served during the Civil War and then succeed himself in 1865.

Labarga also will become the first person to serve more than a single term as chief justice since the late Justice B.K. Roberts. He held the post for three non-consecutive terms, the last of which was in the early 1970s, the court said.

Capitol Buzz: Things to watch today in Tallahassee


After a week talking guns and budget plans, Florida's lawmakers get a break today.
There's no House or Senate floor sessions nor committee meetings scheduled, so members are headed back to their home districts for the weekend.
Here in our bureau, we're wrapping up some deeper stories about the details within the budget proposals that the House and Senate will consider on the floor next week. Watch for those stories later today and this weekend.

The tied fates of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in New Hampshire



DERRY, N.H. -- If Jeb Bush is going to go down, then he’s going down swinging — at the guy he once treated as one of his political heirs in Florida.

Bush cut into Republican competitor Marco Rubio repeatedly and by name with renewed urgency Thursday, five days before New Hampshire’s all-important primary. In the span of only an hour or two, the former governor called the sitting senator a “career politician” with “no record” trying to “rewrite history” in his surging campaign.

“He was elected when he was 26,” Bush told employees at Globe Manufacturing in Pittsfield, the same firefighter-suit producer Rubio had visited a day earlier. “But he has never done anything in his life.”

These days, it’s impossible to tell the Bush-in-New-Hampshire story without mentioning Rubio. Rubio represents the biggest obstacle for Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the three current or former governors still in the race.

The same man Bush once endorsed for the U.S. Senate, the one to whom he offered a symbolic sword when Rubio took over as Florida House speaker, could crush Bush’s ambitions.

Rubio’s candidacy has undeniable buzz. He's picked up enough new support since his third-place finish in Monday's Iowa caucuses that he’s surpassed Bush in congressional endorsements. His aides announced Thursday that they’d even gotten the backing of a Nevada assemblyman who had originally endorsed Bush. (This from a campaign that for months gave Bush endorsement announcements the brush-off.)

Rubio dismissed the experience attacks by Bush and Christie, telling reporters Thursday that it sounded like “desperation.”

More here.

Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

February 04, 2016

PolitiFact fact-checks the MSNBC Democratic debate in New Hampshire


The two remaining Democrats running for president square off starting at 9 p.m. tonight on MSNBC. PolitiFact will be listening to the statements made by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and rating their claims on our Truth-O-Meter. Follow our live coverage tonight.

Here is our most recent fact-check of both candidates:

Clinton said in the CNN town hall that when terrorists killed more than 250 Americans in Lebanon under Ronald Reagan, "the Democrats didn’t make that a partisan issue." Clinton has a strong point that the Democrat-held House did not react as forcefully to the 1983 Beirut bombings as the Republican-held House reacted to the 2012 Benghazi attack, which killed four. But Walter Mondale, running against Reagan in 1984, and some congressional Democrats repeatedly said Ronald Reagan had failed personally regarding Lebanon. We rated Clinton’s partially accurate claim Half True.

Sanders said in an ad that he was endorsed by the Valley News newspaper, a newspaper in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. While the paper published a laudatory editorial about the Vermont senator, it hasn't offered him an official endorsement. PolitiFact New Hampshire rated that statement False.

Photo credit Associated Press.

Florida House member from Aventura 'mortified' by 'mistake' on campus-carry vote



CaptureRep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, says he's "mortified" and "very embarrassed" today by what he calls an honest mistake Wednesday night.

As the House was called to vote on a controversial measure to allow concealed handguns on Florida's public college and university campuses, Geller said he pressed the wrong button -- not only for himself, but for his seatmate, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.

That's why the two Democrats came in as "yes" votes in the 80-37 result, which passed the bill out of the chamber. (The only Democrat to intentionally vote for it was Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who co-sponsored the bill.)

"It was absolutely a mistake. I just hit the wrong button and they locked the machine too quickly for me to fix it," Geller told the Herald/Times.

The voting board was open for nine seconds, during which time members could cast their votes.

During House floor speeches earlier in the night -- and the night before when amendments were considered -- Geller had railed against allowing guns on campuses, so his "yes" vote raised a few eyebrows.

He and Bracy changed their votes to "no" within about five minutes of the vote, which is reflected in the House record but not in the vote tally itself.

Geller said that Bracy was on the other side of the House chamber -- talking to another representative about a different bill -- when the voting happened, so Geller pushed Bracy's button for him, as they had agreed to.

The practice, though frowned upon, is allowed under House rules, so long as the member is in the chamber when another votes for him and as long as that other member does so on the member's "specific request and direction."

Geller said he normally double-checks the board, but was briefly distracted by someone who came up to speak with him.

And then it was too late.

He said he's gotten calls from constituents today about his recorded vote, and he's kicking himself for what happened.

"I own it; I own the mistake," he said. "I'm sorry for it. I regret it. I'm mortified by it."

Photo credit: Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, speaks on the House floor during the 2015 session. (Florida House) // The Florida Channel

Surgeon General John Armstrong answers to health department cuts, rising HIV cases


Surgeon General John Armstrong is addressing concerns that could come up in his Feb. 16 confirmation hearing in an interview published Thursday by the News Service of Florida.

Armstrong addresses questions about rising infections of HIV in Florida, which leads the nation for new cases, over the last four years, as well as staffing cuts to the county health departments following Times/Herald reporting on the issue. And he discusses changes to the state's Children's Medical Services program.

The surgeon general declined requests to be interviewed ahead of the Times/Herald story.

From the News Service:

Q: Why does Florida have such high rates of diagnosed HIV cases, and what are we doing about it?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think that's an important point. I'm very familiar with HIV/AIDS, very familiar as a professional. I trained when HIV/AIDS was emerging, and I saw it for what it was: A very cruel disease, very cruel. So I invested a lot of time learning about it, so that I understood what needed to be done: how to be safe, but how to really help people. And I've carried that with me. So when I came into this department and looked at where we were with HIV/AIDS, I kind of reset the playing field. I talk a lot about eliminating things. I find in general there's talk about, "Let's reduce this." … I don't want to reduce it, I want to eliminate it. To those who push back and say, "You'll never eliminate it" --- well, of course you won't, if you say you'll never eliminate it. You've got to start somewhere. And it turns out remarkable things have happened when people say, "You know what? We're going to eliminate this."

Continue reading "Surgeon General John Armstrong answers to health department cuts, rising HIV cases" »

Gov. Rick Scott: Zika public health emergency expanded to Broward


After the number of confirmed cases of Zika virus in Florida grew to 12, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday expanded a public health emergency in the state to include Broward County.

Speaking in Tampa alongside Dr. John Armstrong, the state’s surgeon general, Scott urged Floridians to be prepared, “just like a hurricane.” He is asking the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide at least 1,000 kits to test pregnant women who show symptoms of the virus.

“It’s no different than what I do in hurricanes. You always try to get out in front of something, try to prevent the problem but know if you’re going to have a problem you’d rather be prepared.”

All 12 of the confirmed cases in Florida are travel-related, and there have been no known transmissions within the state, either from mosquitos or between people. None of the people who have been infected are pregnant women, according to Scott’s office. Reports have connected Zika to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly, although according to the CDC, “knowledge of the evolving.”

On Wednesday, Scott signed an executive order declaring the public health emergency in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Santa Rosa and Lee counties.

The governor’s action is reminiscent of his response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa, but he has not declared public health emergencies for outbreaks of other illnesses, including other mosquito-borne diseases.

“With regard to Ebola, we got ahead of it,” Scott said. “We put a lot of effort into making sure everyone was informed in our state in case something happened.”