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November 27, 2015

Both sides now accuse the other of conspiring for political gain in Senate redistricting

Senate alt nfl

The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” trying to advantage Democrats.

The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,’’ wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.

But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.

The sparring legal briefs, filed late in the evening on Wednesday, offer a glimpse into the arguments in the Senate redistricting trial scheduled Dec. 14-18, before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.

Lawmakers tried and failed to adopt a Senate map for the 2016 elections during a three-week special session that ended early this month so the job was handed to Reynolds who has asked each side to present alternative maps.

The coalition named the incumbents they believed were protected by the proposed Senate map -- from Miami Sens. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, to Panhandle Sen. Greg Evers and Rep. Matt Gaetz -- and said the Legislature failed to enact a Senate map during its special session “because of partisanship, self-interest, and palace intrigue,’’ a reference to the Republican infighting over the future Senate presidency.

The Senate proposal was submitted to the court by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate redistricting chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a combination of two staff-drawn maps but it was never voted upon by the Senate.

The plaintiffs argued that the Legislature ordered staff to draw six “base” maps but never told them to “correct – or even consider – the constitutional defects identified by Plaintiffs” in the map the Senate had previously agreed had been illegally gerrymandered.

Continue reading "Both sides now accuse the other of conspiring for political gain in Senate redistricting" »

Lawmakers seek to crack down on gas pump 'skimmers'


With the simple swipe of a credit card at a gas station pump, it’s become easier for identity thieves to steal customers’ information and rack up fraudulent charges in their names.

State Sen. Anitere Flores’ family knows this all too well; a close family member’s credit card information was stolen from a gas station “skimmer” two years ago in Miami, she said.

“Within hours, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of charges — specifically gas station charges — were put on the card,” said Flores, R-Miami. “It was scary, but it was also a major inconvenience: canceling credit cards and changing account numbers. You shouldn’t have to go through all that just because you’re using the convenience of paying at the pump.”

With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Flores and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, want to crack down on the use of skimmers by requiring gas stations to have better security measures and by increasing the penalties for criminals convicted of credit card fraud.

Skimmers are devices that illegally capture and steal credit- and debit-card information. State inspectors in Putnam’s department have located and removed 161 skimmers statewide since March alone.

More here.

November 26, 2015

November 25, 2015

PolitiFact examines what Donald Trump has said about registering Muslims

Does Donald Trump want a registry for all Muslims? Or just some Muslims? Or no database at all?

The Republican presidential candidate’s comments on the topic have drawn a lot of criticism, with some pundits and commentators comparing it with the registration of Jews in in Nazi Germany. But Trump has said he didn’t propose such an idea -- a reporter did, and Trump just didn’t understand the question.

His comments and the media coverage of them have left us confused, so we did a deep dive into what exactly Trump said about registering Muslim people in a database.  

After going through all of his comments from this past weekend, it seems that Trump definitely wants a database of Syrian refugees, and he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a database for all Muslims -- though he isn’t actively calling for the latter. And we’ll warn you now that many of Trump’s comments strike us as contradictory or confusing.

See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found here.

Jeb Bush says the Brits 'are spotting us choppers.' Are they?

via @AmySherman1

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for using ground troops against the Islamic State and beefing up our military the week after the Paris terrorist attacks.

Bush criticized President Barack Obama and Congress for weakening the military through "careless, chronic neglect," summing up the lack of sufficient personnel and equipment with a single anecdote.

"To conduct training exercises under our NATO obligations in Europe, American forces have been borrowing helicopters and other vehicles from our allies. Really,"Bush said in a speech at The Citadel on Nov. 18. "We don’t have enough of our own hardware and equipment even for training purposes. So the Brits are spotting us choppers. That’s just not unsafe — that’s embarrassing for the greatest country on the face of the Earth. Whatever challenges we face in Europe or elsewhere, we’re not going to meet them with borrowed equipment."

China, however, has been spending heavily on new military equipment, Bush said.

We wanted to know if the U.S. military is so hard up that it’s borrowing choppers from the Brits.

More here.

Grayson, Murphy are thankful for... your campaign donations


Not even national holidays are immune from being politicized.

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, the two leading candidates battling for the Democratic primary in Florida's U.S. Senate race -- U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter -- have both sent out fundraising emails to their supporters asking for donations of "$3 or more" because of the holiday.

Grayson's email on Tuesday, suiting his fiery, sometimes-combative personality, offers supporters the chance to "win a call from me to your most conservative relative on Thanksgiving."

"You know that Republican in your family who always tries to get into a political debate with you over Thanksgiving dinner? This year, they can argue with me instead," Grayson writes.

Meanwhile, this morning, Murphy's finance director released a fundraising pitch for Murphy -- intentionally or not, countering Grayson -- and pledging that "Thursday is off-limits" and that he has a "strict no-politics-on-Thanksgiving policy."

So instead, Murphy's campaign is asking his supporters to donate the day before -- so as not to infringe on the sanctity of the holiday, of course.

Marco Rubio supporter backs anti-Ted Cruz ad

via @learyreports

The battle between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz continues with an ad from a political nonprofit attacking the Texan as soft on terrorism.

Cruz hit back on Fox News last night, accusing Rubio and his allies of trying to shift attention from Rubio’s immigration work.

The ad comes from American Encore, a group that does not have to disclose donors. Politico reported that founder Sean Noble is backing Rubio and co-hosted a fundraiser for Rubio in Arizona last week.

Noble asserts his group isn’t pro-Rubio. Yet the Florida Republican first opened up the attack on Cruz for voting to curb the NSA’s data collection. That came after Cruz went after Rubio on immigration.

A new poll shows Cruz surging to a near tie with Donald Trump in Iowa. Coincidentally, the anti-Cruz ad is playing in Iowa.



--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Opa-locka ousts City Manager Steve Shiver amid financial turmoil

By Michael Sallah and Katie Lepri

Just weeks after revealing Opa-locka was on the edge of financial failure, City Manager Steve Shiver was fired by elected leaders in yet another tumultuous turn for a city that’s millions in debt and the target of a federal corruption probe.

During a brief but emotional meeting on Tuesday, commissioners ousted the 49-year-old manager three months after hiring him to stem the city’s mounting deficit and out of control expenses.

Moments after the 3-1 vote, Shiver abruptly rose from the dais and walked outside, where residents gathered and began shouting at one another over the move.

“This is sad. It’s absolutely sad,” said Dorothy Johnson, a former Opa-locka mayor who turned out to support Shiver.

The firing, led by Mayor Myra Taylor, comes shortly after the city manager pleaded with the state for help in resolving a deficit — now at $8 million — in a move that the mayor criticized because she said Shiver should have taken the issue to the commission.

“Mr. Shiver wanted to be in charge,” Taylor said. “It seems he wanted to expose everything we did wrong.”

More here.

Emilio and Gloria Estefan receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

US NEWS MEDALOFFREEDOM 12 ABAvia @maria_e_recio

WASHINGTON -- Emilio and Gloria Estefan were honored and celebrated along with 15 other distinguished Americans at the White House on Tuesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Miami-based Cuban-American couple are entertainers, musicians and producers known for their philanthropy. They entered the East Room to raucous applause, Emilio, 62, first and then Gloria, 58, as all the recipients walked into the stately room in alphabetical order. President Barack Obama presided over the ceremony that was also attended by first lady Michelle Obama.

Obama told the story of how the Estefans first met. “On a Miami night in 1975, a young woman named Gloria walked into a wedding reception and saw a handsome young man named Emilio leading his band. He was playing `Do the Hustle' – on an accordion. I’m quoting her now – she said she found this `sexy and brave.’“

“I mean, the brave part I understand,” said Obama to laughter.

“He brought her up to sing a few songs that night,” he said. Emilio Estefan a few months later asked her for a birthday kiss. “It wasn’t his birthday. He got the kiss,” said the president.

More here.

Photo credit: Olivier Douliery/TNS

November 24, 2015

GOP Rep. Fred Costello proposes bill to open Florida to third-party solar generation

Solar 111315State Rep. Fred Costello is having his Ormond Beach home fitted with solar panels. He has invested in a company that is seeking a patent on new energy generation technology. He considers himself an energy wonk.

So when the former mayor filed a bill last week to open the state’s energy market to solar energy competition — by allowing homeowners and businesses to lease their rooftops to companies that generate solar power and sell it back to the grid — it seemed like the logical thing for a free-market Republican to pursue.

“I believe in innovation and competition because that’s how we get better,” said Costello, a dentist by trade. The current system imposes hurdles to competition and hurdles to innovation, he said. “That’s not what the free market is all about.”

But Costello’s idea is disruptive, and uncharacteristic for Republicans in recent years.

If it succeeds, it would create a crack in the powerful utility monopoly in Florida that allows only regulated power companies to distribute energy to others. For the first time, it would allow homeowners and businesses that generate 2 megawatts of power to generate and sell energy to their neighbors, and sell any excess energy produced back to the grid.

With fewer new demands on electric companies, the state’s utility giants would have less need to build expensive nuclear power plants or natural gas fired generators. “And that would be a good thing,’’ Costello said.

But the bill, HB 687, also would put into law much of what a proposed constitutional amendment being pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice would do. The coalition of renewable energy advocates, tea party and environmental groups pursued the solar choice amendment after years of trying and failing to get legislators to support opening the solar market to competition. Story here. 

Photo: From left, Joseph Molina, Martin Cabrera and Luis Vergara of Cutler Bay Solar Solutions install solar panels at a home in South Miami-Dade County on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 AL DIAZ


Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida



Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican.

The most high-profile Democratic mayor to endorse Scott's pitch is Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, who announced his support last week.

Others in South Florida who have backed Scott's $250 million funding request include Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo Gort, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (whom Scott's office two weeks ago originally misidentified as Miami's mayor before issuing a correct version of the press release).

Photo credit: Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

Miami for-profit college owner goes to prison, had ties to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings


Miami for-profit college operator Alejandro Amor had a 54-foot yacht, a $2 million waterfront home, and his own private plane.

Now he’s headed to prison.

On Tuesday, a Miami federal jury convicted Amor of 12 counts of theft of government money, and one count of conspiracy. He will be sentenced on Feb. 3.

Before being raided by the FBI in 2012, prosecutors say FastTrain admitted roughly 1,300 students who didn’t have high school diplomas — using fraud to make the government think the students were eligible for financial aid.

In return, FastTrain received $6,560,000 in Pell grants and student loans for those students. For-profit colleges are known for aggressive recruiting, but FastTrain turned it up a notch. Ex-employees told investigators that Amor boosted enrollments by hiring former strippers as recruiters, some of whom wore “short skirts and stiletto heels” to work.

Amor allegedly told one employee to “hire some hot mommas” and “hire the sluttiest girls he could find.”

When it came to high school diplomas, FastTrain took advantage of lax federal rules that are vulnerable to abuse. A college that wants to enroll non-eligible students can accept diplomas from a “diploma mill” school — and there is no federal or state of Florida list that identifies known diploma mills.

Some accreditors allow their colleges to simply take a student’s word that they finished high school. The student signs an “attestation” that they have a diploma, and no further verification is done.

More here.

Hillary Clinton rally to be held Dec. 2 in Orlando


Hillary Clinton will campaign in Central Florida next week as part of her fundraising swing through the state.

The Democrat plans to hold a "grassroots organizing event" Dec. 2 in Orlando. She has scheduled fundraisers Dec. 1-2 in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Miami Beach.

Her last Florida event was in October in Davie.

An earlier version of this post listed the wrong date for the event. It's Dec. 2, not Dec. 1.

New Miami Beach commissioners sworn in, call for unity across the dais



After an election in Miami Beach that grew divisive between supporters and critics of Mayor Philip Levine, the reelected mayor and three new commissioners were sworn in Monday.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán officially joined the City Commission in a ceremony at a packed City Hall. All spoke of putting the campaign behind them getting to the business of governing.

They will get started at their first meeting Dec. 9. The political newcomers come on board as the city tackles major big-ticket projects, including a half-billion dollar renovation to the Miami Beach Convention Center and a five-year, $400-$500 million flooding mitigation plan to build pumps and raise roads to combat sea level rise.

More here

Donald Trump expands Florida campaign team


Donald Trump has made four hires to his Florida presidential team, the campaign announced Tuesday.

Joining the operation are Jennifer R. Locetta as deputy state director, Ken Mayo as director of field operations, John Ross Pughe as southeast regional field director and Craig Bachler as director of coalitions.

They will work under state director Karen Giorno and campaign co-chairs Joe Gruters and Susie Wiles, whom Trump hired last month. He's scheduled a rally for Saturday in Sarasota. 

"I have created thousands of jobs and own some of the most iconic assets in the state," Trump said in a statement, which also touted his lead in Florida GOP primary polls. "I love the people of Florida and I am proud to have such overwhelming support and a great staff in place. I look forward to visiting often and working with my team to share my vision to Make America Great Again."

Here's a little background on each of the hires, per the campaign:

Continue reading "Donald Trump expands Florida campaign team" »

Activists plan Dec. 7 antiabortion rally at Florida Capitol


An antiabortion group is planning a rally at the Florida Capitol next month to demand that Gov. Rick Scott end state Medicaid contracts with Planned Parenthood.

The rally at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 is part of a campaign being run by the Florida Family Policy Council that has called out the governor for not taking a harsh enough stance against Planned Parenthood in response to videos of the organization's fetal tissue donation programs that have sirred outrage among conservatives.

"In both his gubernatorial campaigns, Rick Scott campaigned that if elected he would be a pro-life Governor," the Council's President John Stemberger said in a written statement. "We would now like him to take action like a pro-life Governor. The pro-life and pro-family community that supported the governor in the last two election must have their voices heard on the urgency of this matter, and we hope this rally will finally force the governor to listen.”

The group plans to bus activists up to Tallahassee from Orlando and Miami.

But the governor's office does not intend to cancel the contracts, which require the state to pay out a small amount to match federal Medicaid funds. In total, they cost the state $45,000.

Asked last month if the governor had any interest in or plans to stop the matching funds, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz replied, simply, "No."

Schutz said this week that the governor hasn't changed his stance.

Scott has taken a harsh stance against Planned Parenthood since July, when the videos first went viral online. He ordered investigations of the state's Planned Parenthood clinics, and his office was involved in sanctions ordered by AHCA.

A lawsuit is ongoing over allegations that Planned Parenthood in Florida performed unlicensed procedures.

Francis Suarez sworn into office, makes case for 'New Miami'


Sounding as much a 2017 mayoral candidate as a reelected city commissioner, Francis Suarez laid out his vision Tuesday for a "New Miami" after being sworn in for his second and final four-year term representing the neighborhoods of Flagami, Coral Way and Shenandoah.

Suarez, first elected as Miami's District 4 commissioner in 2009, was re-elected without opposition in 2011 and again this fall. His wife, Gloria, administered the oath of office Tuesday during a noon ceremony at City Hall, and then Suarez spoke about what he sees as a changing city.

"I'm entering my last term as commissioner with a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and some well-earned grey hairs," he said to an audience that included Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Suarez's father, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. "One of the unique provisions of this office is being able to see into the future. What I see is a new Miami."

Reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter, Suarez spoke about stemming Miami's brain-drain, addressing a widening income gap, creating more affordable housing and reducing crime. He said he wants to do more to spur the tech industry, and continue to push for greater mass transit options. He name-dropped Senator Marco Rubio -- while drinking from a glass of water -- and filmmaker Billy Corben, whom Suarez credits for his recent use of the city nickname Ourami.

Many expect Suarez, 38, will campaign soon for the office of mayor, with Tomás Regalado forced to leave office in 2017 due to term limits. Suarez made no mention of those expectations, but said he will continue to push to make that office a "strong," executive mayor, "so that the mayor's position is accountable to the people of the city of Miami."

Suarez believes that Miami voters are looking to a new vision embodied by younger, new-minded candidates, and plans to meet expectations.

"I will continue to be creative and forward-thinking on policies and projects," he said. "In order to create this new Miami, we must be united and we must be bold."

A protester was kicked at a Donald Trump rally. It wasn't the first time that happened.

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A protester who interrupted Donald Trump at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday after yelling, "Black lives matter!" fell to the floor and was kicked and punched by attendees, according to video recorded by CNN. "Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump told Fox News the next day.

The incident -- followed by Trump's comment -- quickly made news. But it wasn't the first time a Trump rally had gotten violent.

Protesters disrupted a Trump rally in the Miami suburb of Doral last month on three occasions. “The fourth group, I'll say, 'Get the hell out of here!'" Trump promised. One of the protesters had already been dragged out and kicked by a rally attendee.

Video recorded by WTVJ-NBC 6 showed the attendee grabbing Florida International University student Ariel Rojas by his shirt collar, then kicking him when Rojas was on the ground. Trump's campaign stressed the man was not a staffer or employee at Trump National Doral. But the campaign didn't condemn the attendee's actions, either.

Rojas later told reporters in an Oct. 26 conference call organized by the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice that the rally was his first event with a group called Students Working for Equal Rights in Miami. The standing-room only rally, he said, didn't help protect protesters.

"There's very little safety in there, especially if you're in the middle of the crowd," Rojas said, adding that he wasn't injured. "To me, the most important part is maintaining a level head, not engaging. Just be nice."

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr. asks Florida Supreme Court to stay execution


A death-row inmate facing execution in January for a murder in Pasco County 30 years ago is asking the Florida Supreme Court for a stay in the case and to grant a hearing so his attorneys can argue "newly discovered evidence," which a circuit court recently rejected.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant for Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr., last month, scheduling his execution for Jan. 7.

Bolin killed three women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. He was sentenced to death for two of them and is serving a life sentence on the third. The scheduled execution is for the murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, whom he abducted from the Land O' Lakes Post Office in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 1986.

In a motion to the Supreme Court filed late Monday, Bolin's attorneys argue they have new evidence that needs to be heard, including that an Ohio inmate "confessed to having committed the murder." Download Filed_11-23-2015_Motion_Briefing_Schedule

A circuit court last month denied Bolin's request for an evidentiary hearing on the matter, reasoning that the "confession was not evidence of a magnitude that it would probably produce an acquittal or a sentence other than death if admitted at a retrial."

After Scott signed Bolin's death warrant, Bolin appealed his case once more to the Sixth Circuit Court, and on Friday, the court denied Bolin's motion for rehearing and a request to vacate the death sentence. 

Bolin was convicted of abducting Matthews and then bludgeoning her with a wooden club, spraying her with a water hose and loading her into a truck to dispose of her body. She was found wrapped in the sheet on the side of the road in Pasco County later that day with severe head injuries and stab wounds in her neck and body.

Bolin previously appealed his case to federal court but his petition was denied in 2013, and the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals also denied to review the case.

Bolin has been convicted of two other murders in Hillsborough County. He is currently sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of Stephanie Collins and is serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of Natalie Holley.

Redistricting challengers abandon Senate maps that do not cross Tampa Bay

Screen shot 2015-11-24 at 10.32.10 AMIn an effort to "narrow the issues for trial," the challengers to the Senate's redistricting efforts on Tuesday withdrew two maps that contained a black majority district that do not cross Tampa Bay and made two changes in North Florida.

The challengers, a coalition of individuals and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters, had argued that the Legislature should have updated its voting data to include the primaries of 2012 and 2014 which would have helped to show the strength of black voting performance in the districts.

They presented the Legislature with a map that was based on the primary data, but it was rejected by the House and Senate as inaccurate and incomplete. 

David King, the lead lawyer for the group, and his legal team have concluded that the argument is not worth the fight as they prepare for a trial before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds Dec. 14-18.

He wrote in the motion filed Monday hat "although there is a likelihood that the Hillsborough-only district would retain African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of choice, Plaintiffs will rely only on their alternative version of District 19 that crosses Tampa Bay in CPS-3a, CPS-3b, CPS-4a, and CPS-4b, in order to narrow the issues for trial and ensure that African Americans retain their ability to elect candidates of choice.'' 

The withdrawn maps are CPS-2a and CPS-2b (see above.) King also submitted a corrected version of CPS-3b, which is the same map submitted to the Legislature and the court last week," except that Districts 1 and 2 have been replaced to exactly match the versions of Districts 1 and 2 in the other Alternative Remedial Senate Plans,'' he wrote.

Regardless of the configuration of Tampa Bay, all of the maps produced by the plaintiffs include 20 districts in which the majority voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and 20 districts in which the majority voted for Democrat Barack Obama. There is no guarantee that those districts will perform that way in Senate races but all the proposed maps pose a threat to the GOP's 26-14 majority in the Senate, which was elected with the now-invalidated map of 2012. 

This post has been updated to include that the maps withdrawn did not cross Tampa Bay.