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November 22, 2016

New Florida House speaker calls teacher's union 'evil' for challenging scholarship program



In some of his first remarks as the new Florida House speaker, Rep. Richard Corcoran lashed out at the state's largest teachers union on Tuesday, calling the organization "downright evil" for continuing to challenge a Legislature-approved tax credit scholarship program in court.

Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican and a staunch supporter of school choice, declared that the Florida Education Association is "fixated on halting innovation and competition" -- citing the ongoing fight over the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program as an example.

The program helps low-income, mostly minority children afford to attend private schools, and the union has been fighting it in Florida's courts for almost a couple years, arguing it's a "voucher" program that diverts would-be tax money from traditional public education.

"They [the union] are attempting to destroy the lives of almost 100,000 children, mostly minority, and all of them poor. This flies in the face of research. It defies common sense.  It is downright evil," Corcoran said in a speech after accepting the speakership.

He urged House Democrats to challenge their "status quo" of the teachers union. "Tell the teachers union they're wrong. Tell them to stop the suit," Corcoran said.

In later remarks to reporters, Corcoran doubled-down, elaborating that the union's actions were not only "evil" but also "disgusting" and "repugnant."

He also referred to the teachers union as "crazy people" and said they have a false, "crazy a-- notion" about what is and isn't a fair law.

Continue reading "New Florida House speaker calls teacher's union 'evil' for challenging scholarship program" »

Eduardo Padron gets high honor from Obama

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President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron and other luminaries from education, sports, entertainment, architecture and culture.

Obama hung the medals around each recipients neck in the ornate East Room of the White House with long gold-embroidered curtains, a giant chandelier and oil portraits of former first ladies.

Recounting Padron's childhood journey from Cuba, Obama said his career as an educator has helped countless young people follow in his footsteps of arriving an immigrant and realizing the American Dream.

"Eduardo made his choice to create more stories just like his," Obama said. "Dr. Padron has built a dream factory for one of nation's most diverse student bodies."

Among other recipients were singer Diana Ross, basketball legends Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, actors Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Jordan received the loudest applause, while Los Angeles Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully got the most sustained ovation.

Joining Obama and the recipients for the ceremony were Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other dignitaries.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, El Nuevo Herald



Trump adviser repeats wrong claim about Florida Democrats and Sharia law



Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, tapped by Donald Trump to be his national security adviser, repeated a false claim that Florida Democratic senators voted to impose Islamic Sharia law in an August speech.

CNN broke the story about Flynn’s speech Nov. 22.

Here is the Florida portion of his speech at Ahavath Torah Congregation in Stoughton, Mass., on Aug. 23 (start at minute 28:40):

"Our country was built upon the foundation of Judeo-Christian principles, values, norms. We should fight this idea of this imposition of Sharia law into our system. And believe me, folks, it is happening.

All you have to do is go and look up something called 'the American laws for American courts.’ I don't know if it's happening up here in Massachusetts, it's happening in other states. I have had people in the media, mainstream media, say, 'oh, that's all a conspiracy, it's a lie.'

No, in the state Florida. The state of Florida, they have 36 senators at the state level. 36 senators at the state level. 12 of them are Democrats, the Republicans hold the majority in the Florida state senate. All 12 Democrats, all 12 Democrats voted to impose Shariah law at the local and state level. Now, it was beaten because the Republicans are in charge. I'm telling you, this is 'American laws for America's courts.'"

PolitiFact Florida fact-checked a similar claim by bloggers in 2014 and ruled it Pants on Fire.

Keep reading here.

Fact-checking Bill Nelson's claim about Donald Trump and oil drilling



Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson spent the week after the 2016 election fighting against a bill that would have steered more royalties from oil drilling to some Gulf states.

Nelson’s state of Florida already bans offshore oil drilling near its coasts. But Nelson feared that by dangling more royalties, state leaders would be more open to drilling near Florida in the future.

In a speech on the Senate floor Nov. 16, Nelson said President-elect Donald Trump’s position on the issue is concerning to environmentalists.  

"Ever since I was a young congressman, I’ve been fighting to keep oil rigs off of Florida’s coast," he said, "and now it's especially important at this time as we have a new administration coming in that took a public position in the election declaring the president-elect's intent to open up additional areas off the coast to oil drilling."

The American Energy and Conservation Act of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., failed to get enough Senate votes to move forward on Nov. 17. But the future of oil drilling along coasts in Florida and the United States will remain a hot topic of conversation under Trump’s administration and potentially in Nelson’s re-election campaign in 2018.

Here we will look at Trump’s position on opening up additional coastal areas to drill for oil. We heard back from Nelson’s office but not from Trump’s transition team.

Keep reading here from PolitiFact Florida.

Family Feud Miami style: Legislators re-elect Rep. Jose Felix Diaz as delegation chair after partisan battle

Jose Felix DiazDemocrats played their rules cards aggressively Tuesday in the quest to name the chairman of the powerful Miami-Dade delegation that includes 13 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

Despite their attempt to flex their muscles, four Democrats crossed over and the group re-elected Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, to the one-year post that has the power to make appointments to several local boards of directors.

Diaz was challenged by the current vice chair, newly-elected state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami. He collected 14 votes to Rodriguez's 9 while Diaz failed to vote.

Democrats who voted for Diaz over their party's candidate were Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura, Rep. Roy Hardemon of Miami, Rep. Nick Duran of Miami Beach and Sen. Daphne Campbell of Miami.

"I think it's still a united delegation,'' Diaz said after the vote. "Every election gets like this. The best part about our delegation is that no matter what happens today at the election, we always work together throughout, so it's going to be a good couple years. I'm excited. I felt confident I had the votes, but we still need to come here and that we follow through with the right protocol."

The meeting began when Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, called a point of order suggesting the need a for a quorum after only 10 members of the 24-member delegation were in attendance, including eight Democrats and two Republicans. 

Diaz then started recruiting members by text and phone and several more showed up until they had a quorum.

"I'm disappointed,'' said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Lakes, who voted for Rodriguez by proxy. "I think Pepe [Diaz] will be a good delegation chair but that's not the point. The eternal question is, what do Democrats really want? We had a chance to have a position of power and elect a Democrat for the first time and we didn't do it." 

The partisan fight was the first rift in what was promised to be a unified delegation. Traditionally, the delegation has been split less by partisan bickering than by the personality and political infighting among Republicans within the delegation. This time, Democrats said the election gave them a majority in the delegation for the first time in years and therefore should rightfully take the leadership.Republicans, led by Diaz, argued that the position of chair is traditionally held for the same person for two years and he was entitled to another year. 

The delegation also elected Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay, to be vice chair. He edged out Campbell, who refused to vote for Rodriguez saying she resented the lack of support from the Democratic Party in her tough re-election effort.

Campbell was courted by Republicans to vote for Diaz and the written tally sheets showed that five Republicans voted for her to be vice chair as well as three of the Democrats who supported Diaz but a total of 11 voted for McGhee while three abstained.

Miami Herald staff writer Kristen Clark contributed to this report. 



Negron, Corcoran now officially in charge of Florida Legislature


@stevebousquet @MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Under new leadership, the Florida Legislature entered a strange new world Tuesday as the House speaker condemned the entrenched power of lobbyists and called for major changes in spending sure to be opposed by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, described a Capitol controlled by lobbyists and politically-wired vendors, with lawmakers doing their bidding at the expense of taxpayers.

“Too many bills filed in session are given to members by lobbyists and special interests,” Corcoran said. “Too many lobbyists see themselves as the true power brokers of this process. Too many appropriations projects are giveaways to vendors and the decision of whether they get in the budget has more to do with their choice of lobbyist than the merits of the project … It all ends, and it all ends today.”

But it won’t all end as easily as it sounds.

Despite Corcoran’s zeal for reforming the process of lawmaking, he controls only one side of the Capitol. The Senate, led by Republican Joe Negron of Stuart, has very different ideas.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Accepting his speakership, Corcoran digs in on lobbyists


The first thing Richard Corcoran did after being officially elected speaker of the Florida House was excoriate lobbyists, criticize the teacher’s union and call out judges for “putting power over principle.”

In a sweeping speech, the Land O’Lakes Republican set the stage for the next two years when he will lead the 120-member chamber: New ethics rules, a budget process that has Tallahassee lobbyists on edge and Corcoran’s devotion to his own conservative ideology.

“We are only one half of one Legislature in one state, and some would say that delivering that dream back to the people of Florida is beyond our ability,” Corcoran said in prepared remarks. “But that will not stop us. The special interests will not stop us. The mainstream media will not stop us. Our own party leaders will not stop us. We will fight.”

Corcoran has caused a stir in the capital city by pushing for a new budget process that would require budget line items to be passed individually by both chambers and rules forcing lobbyists to disclose all the issues they’re trying to influence.

“Too many bills filed in Session are given to Members by lobbyists and special interests,” Corcoran said in the prepared speech. “Too many lobbyists see themselves as the true power brokers of this process. Too many appropriations projects are giveaways to vendors and the decision of whether they get in the budget has more to do with their choice of lobbyist than the merits of the project."

On education and health care, two issues he's focused on in the past and where he supports what he terms free-market innovation, Corcoran dug in against the status quo.

He called out teachers unions for fighting a lawsuit against tax credit scholarships. And he issued a call to leaders in Washington, D.C.: Let Florida lead the charge on reforming health care.

Hialeah lawmaker eyes Florida Senate seat in two years


Fresh off reelection to his third term in the Florida House, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. is already planning his political future.

Diaz opened a campaign account Monday to run in 2018 for Florida Senate District 36 -- which current state Sen. René García, R-Hialeah, will vacate in two years because of term limits.

The north Miami-Dade County seat overlaps largely with Diaz's House district -- an area that includes Hialeah, Hialeah Gardens, Miami Lakes and Doral.

Diaz is expected to have a powerful role in the Florida House for the 2016-18 term when it comes to education matters. He is likely to be named as an appropriations chairman for one of the subcommittees overseeing education spending.

It is quite common for lawmakers to open campaign accounts almost immediately after being elected or re-elected, so that they can begin fundraising for their next campaign.

Florida state Sen. Dorothy Hukill undergoing treatment for cancer


Newly reelected state Sen. Dorothy Hukill was the only senator not in attendance for Tuesday's organizational session of the 2016-18 term.

But she has a very justifiable reason for her excused absence.

The Port Orange Republican was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer and is undergoing treatment.

In a letter to new Florida Senate President Joe Negron, she said: "I am fortunate that it has been diagnosed in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good."

During Tuesday's session, Negron acknowledged Hukill's "health challenge." He said Hukill is expected back in Tallahassee in early December for the Legislature's first committee week preceding the 2017 session.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with her," Negron said.

Hukill -- who represents parts of Volusia and Brevard counties -- has been in the Florida Senate since 2012 and, before that, served in the Florida House for eight years.

Joe Negron reaffirms policy goals as he takes over as Florida Senate president



As Sen. Joe Negron officially took over control of the Florida Senate on Tuesday, the Republican from Stuart outlined once again his priorities for improving higher education, stopping harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and reforming juvenile justice.

Negron first detailed those plans in his designation speech almost a year ago, but now he's in a position to personally drive that agenda for the next two years.

The Florida Senate unanimously elected Negron as its chamber president for the 2016-18 term during the Senate's one-day organizational session on Tuesday, which lasted roughly two hours.

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores was also elected unanimously as Negron's No. 2; she is the first Hispanic woman to hold the position of Senate president pro tempore -- and among several Miami-Dade lawmakers in positions of power for this upcoming term.

MORE: "Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders"

In his 15-minute acceptance speech, Negron demonstrated some of his most well-known characteristics: thoughtful deliberation and a wonkish knack for public policy.

Continue reading "Joe Negron reaffirms policy goals as he takes over as Florida Senate president" »