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March 18, 2015

UPDATED Andrew Korge to run for Florida Senate, setting up potential match-up against David Richardson

@PatriciaMazzei

Andrew Korge, the son of prominent Miami Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge, intends to run for the Florida Senate whenever incumbent Gwen Margolis' seat becomes open.

Margolis is term-limited in 2020, and that's the race for which Korge said he has filed his candidacy. But should Margolis retire in 2016, Korge indicated he will run then. His father is close to Hillary Clinton, the Democrats' likely presidential nominee next year.

"If she decides to qualify in 2016 I stand ready to knock on doors and support Sen. Margolis in every possible way," Andrew Korge said in a statement. "If she chooses an alternate path and the seat becomes available, I will be prepared."

That could set up a 2016 Democratic battle royale between Korge and state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Florida's first openly gay lawmaker.

Richardson announced in January that he would run for Margolis' seat. At the time, Margolis, 80, said she didn't know if she would seek reelection, though she has an open 2016 campaign account. District 35 spans the eastern edge of Miami-Dade County, from south of Cutler Bay to Golden Beach. She did not immediately respond to a reporter's call Wednesday.

Richardson said in a statement that he would back Margolis -- and presumably back out of the race until 2020 -- if she runs for re-election. That suggests Richardson filed earlier this year assuming Margolis would retire but perhaps got ahead of himself by not letting her make that announcement on her own.

"She has my unwavering support as she charts her path forward, including my endorsement if she qualifies for re-election," Richardson's statement said. "With the legislative session under way, I am focused on fighting for the issues that will grow our middle class and help Floridians have a better quality of life, strengthen our public education and provide access to quality and affordable health care."

Korge's filing papers have yet to appear on the Florida division of elections website. But he already has a campaign site of his own -- which, needless to say, is unusual for a candidate who expects his race to take place in five years. Richardson has a website as well.

"As a 3rd generation Miamian and father of two young children, and after speaking with voters all across the district, it is abundantly clear that we need to remodel our lagging education system to prepare our kids and empower working families to compete in the 21st century economy," Korge said. "We need to facilitate a culture where entrepreneurs can thrive and build the next Google in our own backyard."

Richardson has raised about $85,000 for the race -- and lent himself $100,000. Margolis, of Miami, has about $26,000 in reported contributions so far.

This post has been updated to include Richardson's comments.

Wednesday: Five things to watch in Tallahassee

Another jam-packed day awaits in the Florida Legislature Wednesday as lawmakers debate guns, schools and water.
 
Here are five things to watch:
 
* The Senate convenes its first session since opening day to take up a series of bills including one to move Florida's presidential primary to the third Tuesday in March for 2016, SB 7036. 
 
* The Senate will also take up a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that would allow special provisions for gun owners in state-declared emergencies. The measure, SB 290, would allow people without concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns during the first 48 hours after emergency evacuation orders are given.
 
* Education choice becomes the focal point of the Senate K-12 Committee which takes up a bill to give parents more flexibility in their children's education. The measure, SB 1552, by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, would require school districts to allow parents to enroll their children in any public schools that have not reached capacity and require school districts to give parents the opportunity to request specific teachers under certain circumstances. 
 
* A House proposal to make vast changes to the way the state regulates water policy gets a hearing in the Senate. The workshop on the wide-ranging issue will be held by the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.
 
* The debate over the implementation of Amendment 1 continues in the Senate as the Appropriations Committee takes up a series of bills intended to provide the framework for the preservation of land and water as required by the new constitutional provision. The bills: SB 576, SB 578, SB 580, SB 582, SB 584, and SB 586.
 
--MARY ELLEN KLAS, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Miami-Dade mayor scores win in mega-mall vote

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez won a lopsided vote Tuesday approving a land deal needed to bring the nation's largest mall to the Miami area.

County commissioners approved spending $12 million of the developer's money to obtain 82 acres of real estate from Florida. Developer Triple Five, owner of the Mall of America, needs the land to complete a 200-acre assemblage near Miami Lakes and Hialeah.

Gimenez championed the deal as a major boost to Miami-Dade's economy, while challenger Raquel Regalado said the $4 billion project represents a misguided pursuit of low-wage tourism and retail jobs.

The back-and-forth inserted Triple Five's American Dream Miami as a campaign issue for the 2016 mayoral race, raising the stakes as public opinion forms around a massive project that was a secret until just two weeks ago.

Gimenez and several commissioners cited traffic as the top constituent concern. Mall of America reports about 40 million visits a year. American Dream Miami would be a larger destination.

In the photo below, Gimenez congratulates Triple Five's Eskandar Ghermezian after the 11-2 vote.

Read the story: Massive mall project wins approval for Miami-Dade land deal.

Miami-Dade mayor scores win in mega-mall vote

March 17, 2015

Texas Tribune: On Jeb Bush's early years in Texas

From the Texas Tribune:

Before Jeb Bush was a likely White House contender, or the governor of Florida, or a wealthy real estate broker, a banker, a college tennis player or even a pot-smoking prep school student — before all of that, he was in the newspaper business.

Ten-year-old John Ellis Bush was co-editor of the “Neighborhood Round-Up,” a handwritten periodical he created with best friend Rob Kerr and distributed door-to-door for “only 5 cents” apiece in the wealthy Tanglewood subdivision of Houston. In the Feb. 23, 1963, edition, slipped discreetly between scribbled articles on new neighbors moving in and boyhood shenanigans, there was a news nugget of particular importance:

“Mr. Bush wins unanimously as head of Harris County Republicans.”

The fifth-grade scrawl marked what would become a landmark moment in the Bush family legacy: the launch of a political career that would land George H.W. Bush in the Oval Office. 

More here.

Maybe ex-Florida congressman's crisis management firm could help Illinois rep who resigned

via @learyreports

The sudden but not entirely surprising resignation today of Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock was a reminder of the scandal that fell Florida Rep. Trey Radel.

Their situations are different -- Schock faces allegations of misusing taxpayer money; Radel bought cocaine from an undercover officer -- but both men exhibited an unusual level of narcissism, even by the standards of modern politics.

Radel, 38, was constantly on Twitter, showing off his love for hip hop and the best bars in Washington.

Schock, 33, preferred showing off his body on Instagram. The Associated Press used metadata from Schock's Instagram account to "track his reliance on donor flights and his attendance at concerts and festivals where a Super PAC supporting his campaign spent more than $24,000 for tickets. "

Radel, who resigned in January 2014, is rebuilding. He recently opened a media consulting firm.

One of his offerings could serve Schock now: “Intimate, exclusively tailored crisis management.”

House Amendment 1 plan long on land management, short on parks, trails

Amendment 1 supporters got the first real indication on Tuesday of how lawmakers would interpret the new constitutional requirement to buy and improve conservation land.

And the reviews aren't good.

“The House has gone in a very different direction from what the voters intended when they voted yes on Amendment 1,” said Will Abberger, chair of the Amendment 1 sponsor committee. “There is little to no funding for the purchase of new parks, wildlife habitat, or trails. That’s what people voted for.”

Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, who chairs the House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Committee, released the board’s proposed $772 million Amendment 1 spending plan.

It directs $241.9 million from the documentary stamps on real estate transactions, $225.7 million from other environmental trust funds, $274 million from general revenue, and $30.3 million from other trust funds for a total of $772 million on the amendment.

That’s about $15 million more than what Gov. Rick Scott proposed spending on Amendment 1 in January. It’s heavy on land management projects like water treatment and storage, but modest on acquisition.

“Land management is a priority with the House,” said Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. “I will tell anybody that’s interested or would like to know, they should probably go read that amendment and know that it is very much in line with the amendment. The amendment is about the acquisition and maintenance of land and water in this state.

“It’s important to focus on the land management component today and recognize that there’s certainly opportunities that will come about to buy additional properties that may tie corridors together or provide opportunities for water storage or what have you. But as we stand today, I think it’s important to recognize that we need to take care of what we currently own.”

But environmental groups were still puzzling over the details of the spending plan. Like the $191.1 million on “Continuation Florida Forever, Everglades Restoration and Water Management District debt service.” Those are all very different things that could mean land purchases, stormwater treatment projects or paying off bills from projects done long ago.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, said the details of the spending plan were worse than what environmental groups had feared.

“The primary thing that voters thought they were voting for -- habitats, trails, parks -- is just not part of the bill,” Draper said. “We knew they would short parks. We didn’t know they’d do it by this much.”

The Florida Senate hasn’t released its proposal, but should by Thursday. But from what he saw in the House version, there wasn’t much detail, said Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness. Dean, who chairs the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, said he was particularly interested in how the House steered more than $100 million from general revenue and an array of other trust funds to Amendment 1.

“It looks nice,” Dean said. “But what projects are they taking the money away from?”

Dean said that while the Senate has had public hearings to discuss how it will pay for Amendment 1 projects, he doesn’t think the House has been as forthcoming. Dean said the House also didn’t vet its overhaul of water management in the state in HB 7003, which his committee would take up on Wednesday, bumping his own counterpart water bill, SB 918, back a week.

“The House proposal has never been vetted in a committee,” Dean said. “It’s better to vet these bills rather than doing it on a wing and a prayer to see what sticks.”

Jeb Bush sharpens Obama critique in South Carolina

From the Associated Press:

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- On his first extended trip to South Carolina this year, Jeb Bush on Tuesday blasted President Barack Obama as a failed leader and pitched himself as a principled conservative who gets things done.

"It's the president's responsibility to reweave the web of civility and to improve the discourse, and this guy does not believe it's his priority or his mission to do that," Bush said.

The former Florida governor has yet to formally declare his intention to run for president in 2016, but winked at the idea during his speech to a chamber of commerce breakfast, telling the crowd "you'll be seeing a lot of me."

Bush said he would be more personally engaged than Obama with world leaders and members of Congress. Those "personal relationships," he said, pave the way for better governing outcomes.

More here.

Florida Senate pitches modest increase in education funding

via @jeffsolochek

The Florida Senate education appropriations subcommittee has released its budget plan, just one day after the House unveiled its version.

The Senate proposal includes a 3 percent increase in per student funding, to $7,122.85. That's just slightly below the House recommendation of $7,130, a number aimed at setting a historic level (not accounting for inflation).

But like the House, the Senate comes in short of the $7,176 that Gov. Rick Scott wanted.

Senate education appropriations chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, explained that when Scott wrote his budget, the state expected to get full funding for its Medicaid Low Income Pool (LIP) program. But that's not happening, Gaetz noted, so the legislative plans must look different.

The state also has seen enrollment rise by about 25,000 students, Gaetz said, and that further impacts the amount of money available.

As an overview, he said, the Senate proposes increasing K-12 public education by $745 million, K-12 private education programs by $4.3 million, Florida colleges by $57 million, and the State University System by $72 million. It would decrease funding to Voluntary Prekindergarten and private higher education programs.

The plan also would more than double the amount for personal learning scholarships, or vouchers, for students with disabilities. And it would double performance-based funding for universities.

These recommendations led Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to celebrate that the budget represents opportunity and accountability.

Gaetz noted that the proposal comes with cuts. Those include elimination of some non-recurring programs that could not account well for the money they received in the past.

He said he and Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, sought information to justify the expenses before making the proposal.

"In light of having less money than we thought," Gaetz said he asked others, "what are the most important things we can do?"

The committee plans to review conforming language and a proviso when it meets on Thursday.

Judge rules that DOC 'gag order' followed the law, dismisses lawsuit

Hankinson hearingIn another blow to the inspectors at the Department of Corrections who have attempted to call attention to abuse and cover-ups in the prison system, a Tallahassee judge ruled Tuesday that the agency did not violate the law when it ordered employees to sign a new confidentiality agreement. 

Judge James C. Hankinson dismissed a lawsuit brought by Inspectors Aubrey Land, John Ulm, Stacy Harris, David Clark and Doug Glisson, who believed that the so-called gag order was intended to have a chilling effect on their ability to speak out about corruption at the troubled agency. Each of them have sought and been denied whistleblower protection by the state's Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel and last week a federal judge dismissed a whistleblower lawsuit by some of them. 

At issue was a confidentiality agreement ordered by DOC Secretary Julie Jones in February, just days after a legislative committee started an aggressive questioning of her inspector general. Jones said later that the timing was coincidental and told a House committee that the document was needed because when she arrived at the agency she was told "we have no policy and we have no confidentiality agreement.”

However, Jay Vail, the agency’s attorney entered as evidence two confidentiality agreements he said were routinely used by DOC and signed by the inspectors who brought the lawsuit. He called as a witness DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley who testified that the department did require staff to sign the confidentiality agreements to prevent confidential information from becoming public but it was limited to those who had access to the case database system and not to the entire department.

Steven R. Andrews, lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that rather than impose the same agreement on additional employees, Jones broadened it to include new language that defined confidential information as "not limited to confidential information as defined by law."

He said that opened the possibility that employees could be punished for releasing or discussing information that otherwise was a public record but deemed confidential because it was in a DOC file. He argued that the language allowed DOC to alter the definition of public record, something that only the Legislature can do. 

"This does not follow the law,'' Andrews said. "They can be terminated for lawful activity."

Beasley denied that the intent of the new agreement was to change the law and argued that anything that currently may be released as a public record will continue to be released as a public record. He told the court that Jones asked him to issue the new confidentiality agreement to capture a broader swath of employees in his department.

That response satisfied Hankinson who concluded that it was a “plausible interpretation” of the confidentiality agreemen and did not appear to violate the constitutional protections of the public records law, as the plaintiffs alleged.

“Clearly, the Department of Corrections cannot redefine the public records law,’’ Hankinson said after ruling against them. “I do not find that they have attempted to redefine the public records law. They can, and properly have, controlled the method in which public records are disseminated.” 

Photo: Hearing in Judge Hankinson's chambers. From left to right: DOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, DOC attorney Jay Vail, Judge Jame. C. Hankinson, plaintiff's attorney Steven R. Andrews, Andrews' partner, Brian Finnerty, Inspector John Ulm. 

Alternative to Medicaid expansion moves swiftly through the Florida Senate

A second Senate panel on Tuesday approved a proposal to extend federally-subsidized healthcare coverage to nearly one million poor residents.

The plan -- known as the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange Program, or FHIX -- would create a state-run private health insurance marketplace. Participants would have to pay small monthly premiums and meet a work requirement.

Several members of the public spoke out against the bill Tuesday, including Bill Herrle of the National Federation of Independent Business.

"Business owners are very concerned for the future of this state when we become attendant to the whims of federal agencies," he said.

Other speakers voiced concerns about the work requirement and monthly premiums.

But by and large, representatives from hospitals, the business community and consumer advocacy groups gave their support.

"Extending healthcare coverage will benefit every Florida family, including those in our Hispanic community, and it will help Florida businesses," said President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Julio Fuentes.

Members of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee agreed, approving the bill by a unanimous vote.

"This is no longer a Republican or a Democratic issue," said Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. "Are there issues with the Affordable Care Act? Absolutely... But to deny the hardworking men and women of this state access to health care, to me, is completely irresponsible."

The panel put the pressure on the House, which has opposed expanding Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act.

"It's time that the House takes up the bill, looks out for Floridians, stops dealing in talking points and moves on," said Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington.

When asked if he believed the House would consider the plan, Senate Health Policy Committee Chairman Aaron Bean turned to baseball.

"It's the third inning of a nine-inning ball game," Bean said. "I'm looking for some big play in a latter inning for us to score on this issue. It's early."