August 08, 2014

House and Senate give early approval to congressional fix, voters group issues warning

RedistrictOldNewFlorida House and Senate redistricting committees gave swift approval Friday to a proposed fix to the invalid congressional redistricting map hatched in private by legislative leaders and staff. 

The House Redistricting Committee voted along party lines to approve the map after rejecting an alternative drawn by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando intended to remove the partisan advantage in Districts 7 and 10, held by U.S. Reps. John Mica, R-Orlando, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden.

Democrats joined with Republicans in the Senate and unanimously approved the fix that was created by House and Senate redistricting staff in private meetings with Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, and their outside legal counsel.

The fix attempts to resolve the issues raised by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis when he threw out the congressional map and ordered Districts 5 and 10 to be redrawn. The proposalcleans up the meandering District 5, now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and slightly modifies District 10, held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. 

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Gov. Scott to meet with climate change scientists Aug. 19th

Updated to include a comment by Gov. Scott's spokesman:

Gov. Rick Scott has agreed to meet with scientists about climate change for 30 minutes Aug. 19th, said Susan Glickman, a clean energy lobbyist during a conference call this morning organized by a liberal group Florida for All.

Scott himself will be at the meeting held in his office, Glickman said.

In July, climate scientists sent a letter to Scott seeking a meeting. Scott’s likely Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, met with FSU oceanography professor Jeff Chanton in July while spokespersons for Scott’s campaign said he too would meet with them.

Chanton made the arrangements to meet with Scott, Glickman said. (Chanton is traveling and was not on the conference call.)

“I would like to hear from the governor that he recognizes climate change science is legitimate....” said University of Miami professor Ben Kirtman during the conference call. “It’s fair to have a fight over what the right policy is -- he has a right to disagree. But to deny that the best available science can help guide those decisions is disingenuous.”

In 2011, Scott said he did not believe humans could alter the planet’s temperature, but more recently simply says, “I’m not a scientist.” His environmental plan released this week makes no mention of climate change.

Climate change will get far more attention in this year’s race for governor compared to Scott’s first race because of the planned attacks by NextGen Climate, funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer. NextGen released it’s first TV ads attacking Scott today.

"Governor Scott looks forward to the August 19th meeting to discuss Florida’s recent environmental investments, his commitment to the Everglades and water quality standards, and how Florida can maintain its cleanest air quality on record," Scott spokesman John Tupps said Friday.





House Republicans say no to putting redistricting witnesses under oath

House remdial map 9057Partisan fire-fights continued Friday over redistricting as House Republicans rejected an effort by House Democrats to have each of the witnesses testifying about the proposed congressional map sworn in under oath. 

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, made a motion shortly after the House Redistricting Committee convened today. He moved to have any presenters before the committee put under oath since the map remains the subject of a pending court case. The committee, which is dominated by Republicans, rejected the motion on a party-line vote.

The committee is hearing a proposal to fix the congressional map that a judge declared unconstitutional last week. The map was created on Wednesday at a meeting behind closed doors, with no public input or record keeping, between the chairman of the House and Senate redistricting committees, their staff and outside legal counsel, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told reporters on Thursday.

The plan, which changes seven of the state's 27 districts, will be voted on and passed likely along party line votes in the GOP dominated committees today. Here's more on the proposed maps. 

Map above is the proposed deal. Here's a link to the detail:

Steyer's NextGen Climate blasts Scott in one-two ad punch over Everglades, Duke Energy


There's a reason Democrats were buzzing about billionaire Tom Steyer targeting Gov. Rick Scott: the investor-turned environmentalist is ready to spend big.

On Friday, Steyer's NextGen Climate Florida announced it was doing just that, launching not one but two ads that savage the Republican over the environment. The ads are supposed to run in West Palm Beach, Tampa Bay and Scott's hometown media market in the Naples area.

Fact check to follow. Update:

Scott's campaign spokesman, Matt Moon, said in a written statement that one of the ads is false:

“The FALSE ad by Tom Steyer’s group in support of Charlie Crist blatantly lies by saying the Governor took ‘campaign cash’ from driller Dan A. Hughes. In fact, no political entity associated with Governor Scott has ever received contributions from the company – in this election or 2010. It was Governor Scott’s administration who shut down Dan A. Hughes’ operations, filed suit against the company in Collier County and pulled their permits.

“Governor Scott acted swiftly to protect the environment and he continues to do so with his newly announced $1 billion investment plan to ‘Keep Florida Beautiful’ for years to come. But, once again, Charlie Crist’s allies don’t live by the truth, or the facts. They are lying and our campaign is putting any station airing this ad on legal notice that it would be a violation of the law to air Charlie Crist’s allies’ latest work of fiction.”

The ads land just as Scott has launched his "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" tour this week. Now Steyer is making sure less flattering aspects of Scott's record are told to voters. 

We still don't know how much NextGen plans to drop. But Democratic sources indicate it's at least $10 million.

The press release is below:

NextGen Climate today released two new television ads in Florida underscoring Governor Rick Scott’s record of financially benefiting from wealthy donors—standing with corporate energy interests at the expense of Florida’s kids, health and economy.

The first ad, "Shock," calls out Gov. Scott for letting utility companies—his big-time campaign donors—keep collecting billions from ratepayers on failed energy projects. After Scott's administration approved a plan to let the utility company continue billing consumers for $3.2 billion in higher electric rates to pay for two failed power plants, Duke Energy donated half a million dollars to Gov. Scott's campaign.

The second ad, "Fountain," highlights Gov. Scott’s ties to oil drilling near the Everglades, which threatened drinking water for seven million Floridians. Gov. Scott raked in $200,000 in campaign contributions from oil interests, whose company profited from the pollution. 

To view the full ad click here:

Miami's auditor general seeks second opinion on freebie Ultra tickets


Days after the office of Miami’s city attorney issued an 11th hour memo that there was nothing wrong with city employees receiving free VIP tickets to the Ultra Music Festival, the city’s independent auditor general has requested an outside opinion.

Auditor Theodore Guba made the request Thursday through an addendum to his July 31 review of Ultra’s agreement with the Bayfront Park Management Trust. His review was prompted by concerns about comped tickets going to city employees – including several current and former employees of the city attorney’s office.

Though Guba sought guidance from the city attorney’s office while conducting his review, he said Thursday that the attorney may have a conflict of interest. He also noted that the opinion issued by assistant city attorney George Wysong differed with one issued by a lawyer for the county’s commission on ethics.

“Due to these differing opinions … and the fact that the OCA [city attorney’s] opinion affects possible actions against OCA employees who accepted tickets, which can be viewed as a conflict of interest, we recommend that the City obtain an outside independent legal opinion,” Guba wrote.

Attempts to reach City Attorney Victoria Mendez by email and at her office Friday morning were not successful.

Guba's review stated that several members of the Bayfront Park Trust and the city attorney’s office may have violated the city’s charter by taking free VIP tickets to Ultra, a massive electronic dance music festival held each year at the park. The city’s charter indicates the receipt of free tickets by city employees and board officers may be a misdemeanor.

The attorneys named in Guba's audit -- former city attorney Julie Bru, former deputy city attorney Maria Chiaro, and assistant city attorney and current judicial candidate Veronica Diaz -- have insisted there was nothing improper about receiving Ultra tickets. Chiaro says she didn't even receive free passes.

Guba sought guidance from Mendez’s office in early June, but at the time he issued his audit he wrote that he had not received an opinion. Just hours later, Wysong sent his memo, saying that the part of the city’s charter at question included “archaic” and outdated references to old franchised transportation services.

On Thursday, Guba countered that the charter was reviewed as recently as 2001 with the help of the city attorney's office, and the "archaic" language was left in place.

The matter, according to Guba, has been referred to the commission on ethics.

August 07, 2014

Elections complaint filed against Miami-Dade pets group




MIami-Dade's Pets Trust  group is under scrutiny for its organizers' central role in mounting a challenge to incumbent county commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz.

A state elections complaint filed this week by lawyer J.C. Planas accuses organizers of violating dislclosure laws by switching their campaign activities from a political-action committee, which must report contributions and expenses during the election, to a non-profit, which doesn't.

The complaint to the Florida Elections Commission formalizes an argument Diaz's campaign has been making in recent weeks against Pets' Trust founder Michael Rosenberg.

Rosenberg's new group, Pets' Voice, funded the television campaign soliciting candidates to run against Diaz, a three-term incumbent who last year rejected a call to raise taxes to fund more animal services. Marjorie Figueira, a retired schools administrator, responded to the ad is now Diaz's lone opponent for the District 12 commission race in Miami-Dade.

Thursday night, Rosenberg forwarded to Naked Politics an email he sent to a Florida elections official summarizing his approach. Pets' Voice, a non-profit under the 501c4 federal tax code, is funding the campaign efforts but the spending will make up only a portion of the organization's overall mission to help pets.

In an email to us, Rosenberg wrote that his group was advised "that the 501c4 can support and endorse candidates, as long as it is not the main goal.   We endorsed Philip Levine for Mayor of Miami Beach....and we endorsed Jeff Porter for Mayor of Homestead.  Both mayors told us our network of people helped hugely in their victories."

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Miami-Dade Democratic Party elects Dwight Bullard as new chairman

From a press release:

Today, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party elected by acclimation State Senator Dwight Bullard to succeed Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, who resigned from the post to become Governor Charlie Crist’s running mate. 

Taddeo-Goldstein, largely credited with rebuilding the local party, nominated Senator Bullard for Chair. “Dwight is a born leader, and with him at the helm, I am confident that Miami-Dade will – once again – be the reason Democrats win Florida," she said. Seconding the nomination was Congressman Joe Garcia.
Senator Bullard becomes the first elected African-American Chair in the history of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. 
“I am honored that my fellow Democrats have entrusted me to lead the Party at this important moment," said Senator Bullard. "My number one priority will be to defeat Rick Scott in November. I have personally witnessed the damage he has done to our public education system, our civil rights, and our environment, and the many missed opportunities to do the right thing like expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, or pass equal pay for women. Scott has been a nightmare for main street. It’s time to wake up and vote him out.”
Senator Bullard has been a long-time leader of the Democratic Party. He was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 and then elected to the Florida Senate in 2012, where he currently represents the 39th district in the Florida Senate. He also serves as the Chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

Prominent PR firm sues family of brain-damaged Broward man for payment

A prominent Tallahassee public relations firm is suing the family of a paralyzed Broward County man, saying the family owes $375,000 for services rendered over the course of four legislative sessions.

The firm, Sachs Media Group, says it had a contract with the family of Eric Brody — and worked overtime to ensure the passage of a 2012 claims bill that awarded the Brody family $10.75 million in damages.

“I’m as proud of the work we did for Eric Brody as anything else we’ve done in 19 years of business,” president Ron Sachs said. “But we never agreed to do this pro bono. We believe we deserve to be paid.”

But the state lawmaker who sponsored the $10.75 million claims bill said the Brody family cannot pay the Sachs Media Group without jeopardizing his entire trust.

The reason: the claims bill made it clear that none of the money could go to “lobbying fees, costs or similar expenses incurred” in pursuit of the claim.

“Everyone agreed to waive the fees and costs, and have all of the money go to Eric Brody’s care,” said Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, of Tampa. “For a PR firm to file a lawsuit is disgusting.”

Read more here.

Maps are starting to emerge as proposed fixes to Florida's flawed maps

Plaintiffs remedial mapThe Florida House has proposed a map with minor fixes aimed at repairing the broken congressional redistricting map.

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, has submitted his own proposal to repair the map. State Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and his aide have drawn map also aimed at fixing the flaws. 

And the group of left-leaning voting groups who filed the lawsuit and successfully persuaded a judge to throw out two of the state's 27 districts offer a detailed new map. It includes a new east-west District 5, which is now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, that they say will increase the opportunities for minorities to elect a candidate in Central Florida.

The House and Senate redistricting committees, both dominated by Republicans, will decide which of the proposed maps to adopt at meetings tomorrow. The big question: how vast will the changes be to the controversial 10-county district held by Brown.  House remdial map 9057

Map 1: Plaintiff's proposed fix; Map 2: House proposed new map

The House and Soto make minor changes to Brown's district and Soto's map makes two other districts, those held by Republican Reps. Dan Webster of Winter Garden and John Mica of Orlando, equally split between Democrats and Republicans.

Galvano's also makes minor changes, preserving most of the meandering district but taking out the black Democrats added to it in an effort to bleach neighboring districts to favor Webster and Mica.

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Appeal filed in dispute over Gov. Scott's blind trust

A former top aide to the late Gov. Reubin Askew will continue his legal battle to strike down a state law that allows Gov. Rick Scott to place his personal financial assets in a blind trust.

Circuit Judge John Cooper upheld the law in a decision in late July.

Jim Apthorp, who was Askew's chief of staff, is asking the First District Court of Appeal to transfer the case to the Florida Supreme Court. Apthorp asserts that a blind trust law skirts a requirement in the state Constitution, championed by Askew, that elected officials must make a "full and public" disclosure of their financial assets (Scott did file a financial disclosure statement when he submitted his qualifying papers in June).

"We appealed Judge Cooper's ruling because we believe it contradicts the clear meaning of Gov. Askew's Sunshine Amendment and would weaken financial disclosure requirements in Florida," Apthorp said in a statement Thursday. "we're confident that a higher court will agree with our assertion."

Numerous Florida news organizations, including The Miami Herald, Associated Press and Florida Society of News Editors also filed arguments siding with Apthorp's position.

Apthorp's attorneys are Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte, a former president of Florida State University, dean of the FSU law school and Democratic state legislator from Miami, and his wife, Patsy Palmer. The lawyers filed their original lawsuit with the Supreme Court, which reassigned it to a lower court.