April 01, 2014

American Bridge's Bright Futures attack faces Truth-O-Meter

Republican Gov. Rick Scott paid for college by working at a doughnut shop and getting help from the GI bill. Now he says he wants low-income students to have that same shot at the American dream that he did.

Scott has called for lowering the cost of college, including challenging colleges to offer $10,000 degrees. On March 17, 2014, he repeated that message at a college affordability roundtable at Barbara Goleman High School in Miami Lakes.

Democrats were watching. American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, used a video clip of a reporter interviewing Scott at the event to produce an online attack video.

While a smiling Scott appears to be standing in a library, a reporter asks: "In your first year in office you proposed millions of dollars in cuts to public education. Then in 2011-12 over those two years (you) signed off on tuition increases of 13 percent. You presided over cuts to the Bright Futures college scholarship program. To what extent is your recent efforts to boost education and hold the line on costs of education re-election politics?"

"All of that is incorrect," Scott responded, and then the video cuts him off. Text on the screen says, "Scott approved cuts to Bright Future scholarships," followed by, "Rick Scott is bad for Florida."

We heard the rest of Scott’s defense thanks to a recording by Miami Herald education reporter David Smiley. Scott talked up funding increases for K-12 education, "record funding for universities" and his fight to cut higher education tuition -- but he didn’t mention Bright Futures.

Education funding has been a hot topic in the race between Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic frontrunner. Here PolitiFact will examine American Bridge’s charge that Scott presided over cuts to Bright Futures.

Gov. Scott signs tougher sexual predator laws

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed into law four bills targeting violent sexual predators, following the murders of two young girls in the Jacksonville area and news coverage that exposed problems with the sexual predator law known as the Jimmy Ryce Act.

"As the father of two girls and the grandfather of three little boys, I think about how the legislation I'm signing today will affect Florida's families. It will make Florida's children safer," Scott said.

The bills, which passed by unanimous votes on the first day of the 2014 session, impose minimum mandatory 50-year prison sentences in certain cases, prohibit gain time for offenders convicted of certain sex offenses, and require offenders to give specific information to police, such as address and vehicle changes.

"Florida will not be a catch-and-release state as it relates to violent sexual predators," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. He said that in the 15 years since the Jimmy Ryce law was implemented, 596 violent sexual predators have been released from state prisons, many of whom committed new crimes.

At an emotional bill signing ceremony in the Capitol, Scott was joined by legislative leaders, law enforcement officers and victims of sexual abuse and family members. Present was a Jacksonville-area mother, Deina Thompson, whose eight-year-old daughter Somer was abducted and killed, and a tearful Ron Book, a prominent South Florida lobbyist, whose daughter Lauren, an abuse victim, has spearheaded a national effort to call attention to the widespread problem of sexual abuse.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, credited a series of articles in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel with forcing legislators to confront the issue quickly. "Sometimes, good things happen when the media digs deep," Gaetz said.

Who is behind the attacks from the left on Charlie Crist?

UPDATE 4:10 p.m.: We have heard from Fontaine via email. Her comments are included in this blog post.

A shadowy group calling itself Progressive Choice is attacking Charlie Crist as "a conservative Republican" who is "no friend of progressive Democrats."

Mailers started showing up in Tampa Bay area homes (and in Tallahassee, we're told) over the weekend, claiming Crist is pro-life, A+ rated by the NRA and that he signed a petition banning gay marriage.

The attacks aren't surprising, and most of the specific claims are rooted in truth (though they ignore Crist's changes of positions/flip flops). The more intriguing question is: Who's behind and paying for the mailers?

Progressive Choice has a bare bones website that describes the group as "a diverse coalition of fair-minded, forward-thinking individuals and organizations advocating for leadership that stands firm on progressive principles and genuinely reflects the interests of all progressives across the nation."

The group is not yet listed with the Federal Election Commission or the Florida Division of Elections, so we don't know where its money is coming from. The mailer lists a Washington D.C. P.O. box and says the mailers were sent from Orlando.

On a Facebook page, the group said its leader is Jamie Fontaine, who runs a Baltimore political advocacy firm and who "has been pushing women's and LGBT issues for 20 years."

In an email, Fontaine would not say who is funding the mailers, robocalls and Web adverstising being paid for by Progressive Choice.

"I will not at this time provide the names these supporters because their only motivation is to engage and have a meaningful impact," Fontaine said. "They did not ask to be placed in the spotlight or bullied by operatives with clear (or not so clear) corporate and political agendas — all while important issues like access to health care, more investment in public education and workforce advancement are buried by shadowy horse race coverage."

The minutiae of where the group's money is coming from is noteworthy because Republicans backing Gov. Rick Scott said in September that they might spend money helping little-known Democrat Nan Rich in a primary versus Crist. The idea being to attack Crist from both sides to weaken him in November.

Progressive Choice would seem to fit that bill.

On its Facebook page, Progressive Choice seems to be supportive of Rich, asking that Crist debate Rich and posting a headline titled "Nan Rich Blasts Rick Scott and Charlie Crist on School Choice." Progressive Choice Web ads also have appeared on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel website and on the Buzz, attacking Crist and calling Rich his "progressive Democratic opponent." (The ads are paid and placed through third-party vendors -- i.e., we don't know where they came from.)

Progressive Choice also showed up in a robocall featuring former National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland, who is supporting and fundraising for Rich.

According to BrowardBeat.com, Ireland said in the call that she was "gravely concerned" about Crist's candidacy.

"For too long, Charlie Crist led the pack of Republicans waging war on women," Ireland said. "...He blocked reproductive choice for too long."

Ireland urged people in the call to join her on Progressive Choice Florida, which BrowardBeat described as an anti-Crist Facebook page. (We've reached out to Ireland.)

Or this could have nothing to do with Republicans pounding Crist from the left, and that a group of concerned Democrats supporting Rich could be doing the work. We'll know more if Progressive Choice disclosed its donors, as required under Florida law.

Brandes seeks investigation of PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas

 Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is asking the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending money on its Greenlight Pinellas program.

In a letter he sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes is asking the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 on an information campaign on a Nov. 4 referendum asking voters to support a sales tax increase of 7 percent to 8 percent to pay for new routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

The campaign uses taxpayer money for propaganda purposes, a violation of state law that should require the money to be returned, Brandes said.

Download Brandes DOT Letter

"It’s extremely concerning that taxpayer dollars could be spent for what I believe is to advocate for a tax increase," said Brandes, who chairs the senate's transportation committee. "I think PSTA may have crossed over a line. I want an investigation to see if that is the case or not."

Continue reading "Brandes seeks investigation of PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas" »

Latvala plans to take the House position on immigrant tuition

A bill that would extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented students won the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

But could it be in trouble with Gov. Rick Scott?

The sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, said Tuesday that he plans to "pass the House [version of the] bill."

So far, Scott has expressed his support only for the Senate version.

The big difference between the two is the tuition differential. The Senate version forbids universities from raising tuition above the rate set by the Florida Legislature. The House bill allows for a differential of up to 6 percent.

Scott has said he considers "holding the line" on tuition one of his top priorities for the session. The governor likes the Senate version of the tuition bill (SB 1400) because it "keeps college affordable for Florida's students," he wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Scott has been mum on the House version (HB 851, by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami). 

But if it were to pass both chambers and the governor were to veto it, the tuition differential would remain at 15 percent.

We're waiting to hear back from Scott's press office.


Governor's new ad features former South Bay city manager convicted of grand theft

Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign released a new web ad on Tuesday, featuring footage of the governor talking to the now-convicted former South Bay City manager Corey Alston, and Alston's brother Tory in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

"That's definitely Corey and his brother,'' said Sen. Chris Smith, the Democratic leader in the Florida Senate from Fort Lauderdale, who knows both Alston brothers. (Corey is on the left.) 

Corey Alson, 35 of Lauderhill, pleaded not guilty in March to charges of grand theft, corrupt misuse of a official position and misuse of public office or employment. Prosecutors accused him of coordinating a deal to be compensated $25,139 for 498 hours in unused sick time and he resigned in February. He  was later indicted on four additional counts of grand theft, one count of grand theft over $20,000 and one count of aggravated white-collar crime. 

After the incident, the governor suspended the three city officials who approved the payout to Alston.

Campaign spokesman Greg Blair released the following statement after being contacted by the Herald/Times: “The ad uses old footage from 2010 and is not running as part of any paid digital effort. The footage will not be used again going forward."

The white man with Scott in the video is Spencer Geissinger, former external affairs director for Scott, who worked as an advance man on the governor's first campaign. The ad features the governor walking along a street with Guissinger and a white woman, talking to the Alston brothers and a black woman and talking to Hispanics in uniform. The ad titled "540,000" touts what Scott says is the creation of 540,000 jobs in Florida since December 2010.


The campaign's a stage and Jake Rush says he's being attacked for merely acting


Political newcomer Jake Rush says he's being unfairly attacked by Congressman Ted Yoho's campaign over his acting and gamer past. Here's part of his statement:

SuperheroesALACHUA, Fla., April 1, 2014 -- “As a straight shooter, yes, I play and have played video games, role playing games, board games, Yahtzee, Clue, and I have acted in dozens of theatre productions,” states Jake Rush.

“My undergraduate degree is in the classics, and I have been raised with a deep appreciation for theatre, costumes and art,” continues Jake Rush.

Continue reading "The campaign's a stage and Jake Rush says he's being attacked for merely acting" »

Even by FL standards, Jake Rush campaign is 100 percent strange


Screen-Shot-2014-03-31-at-10.22.30-PMNothing like a little gamer-occult-rape-cocaine imagery to keep Florida in contention for the Capitol of Weird.

So thank you, Jake Rush.

The Republican lawyer and former cop wants to topple tea party Congressman Ted Yoho. Rush's first web ad shows him swearing on the Bible, wearing his old Alachua County Sheriff's Office uniform and teaching kids about the U.S. Constitution.

The images of him wearing black contact lenses while dressed in Dracula-like leather outfits? Not so much.

But an anonymous emailer on March 23 began outing Ross as a member of a role-playing gamer-group called Mind's Eye Society.

Rush's campaign responded hours later by saying he's an actor and he's being attacked unfairly by Yoho et al.

“As a straight shooter, yes, I play and have played video games, role playing games, board games, Yahtzee, Clue, and I have acted in dozens of theatre productions,” Rush said in a statement that included pictures of him in less-ominous garb (full statement here).

Saint Petersblog was first up with the original story. A sample:

Chazz Darling appears to be one of Rush’s favorite personas. As an active participant, Rush (as Darling) published regularly in both the Camarilla Wiki Project, a wide range of message boards and sites connected with White Wolf Publishing, the company which created the first Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game in 1991..... the same person, as Chazz, wrote in one Yahoo message board, titled “The Fallen,” dated February 12, 2010:

At first I thought you were just stupid and I wanted to stick my dick in your mouth to shut you up while I snorted a line off my new machete that was blessed by Rui (sic) but then I remembered that you were typing so my dick would really have to be in your hands to keep you from typing but since you are walking in Omaha that’s not really realistic right now.

I’m sorry, I tried.

Rae tells me that you are a Maiden, and it’s your job to be kind of stupid and that I’m not supposed to have intercourse with Maidens.

You shouldn’t believe everything that people tell you or you’re going to end up naked and sore, tied to the floor of a van marked “Free Candy.”

And stop letting people torpor (sic) you.

–Chazz Darling
Power of Discord
Important member of the LS

March 31, 2014

Rick Scott: Obama's 'not caring about Venezuela'


Ruth Alcalá just wants the president she twice voted for, Barack Obama, to speak forcefully about the government violence in Venezuela.

But for more than a month, she says, she and other natives of Venezuela have been “disappointed” in the administration’s relative silence, even as she gathered 1,000 signatures on a letter that calls on Obama to act -- or at least speak.

“At the least, we want to hear the president say something,” said Alcalá, a private citizen who teaches computer training in Miami.

On Monday, the 57-year-old Democrat found herself standing next to an unlikely ally: Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, who promised to personally deliver her letter to the White House and pressure Venezuela’s regime to stop cracking down on protestors.

“Mr. President, you’ve got to declare economic sanctions. You’ve got to show up,” Scott told an enthusiastic crowd of Venezuelan exiles at the Don Criollito restaurant in Kendall.

Scott contrasted Obama’s low-key Venezuela diplomacy and the president’s talks with Russia over its invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

“He cares about Ukraine. But he’s not caring about Venezuela,” Scott said.

Continue reading "Rick Scott: Obama's 'not caring about Venezuela'" »

MIA, FLL to get more passport control agents


Miami International Airport will get more passport control agents to handle long immigration lines, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday.

Airport administrators won’t know for a while how many more agents they’ll get. They have been promised by Sept. 30, 2015. Some 2,000 additional agents will be deployed across 44 ports in 18 states.

MIA is one of four Florida ports that will benefit from the staffing boost, said Greg Chin, an airport spokesman. The others are Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Orlando International Airport and Port Canaveral.

Emilio González, the director of Miami-Dade County’s aviation department, flew to Washington D.C. last week to lobby federal officials for more agents. South Florida members of Congress have also been pushing to ease the burden on travelers.