January 16, 2015

Survey: Most Support Stronger U.S. Ties With Cuba, but few expect Cuba to become more Democratic

From Pew Research Center:

Fully 63% of Americans approve of the Obama administration’s decision last month to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba after more than 50 years, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center. And there is equally broad support for going further and ending the decades-long U.S. trade embargo against Cuba (66% favor this).

Yet there is broad public skepticism that a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations will lead to greater democracy in Cuba. Only about a third (32%) say they think Cuba will become more democratic over the next several years, while 60% say it will be about the same as it is now.


Miami may pay legal bills of senior official investigated over nepotism allegations


Miami taxpayers may pay the legal expenses of a senior city official accused and cleared of nepotism.

City Commissioners will vote Thursday on whether to pay the $11,000 bill Deputy Police Chief Luis Cabrera racked up while fending off an investigation by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The ethics commission spent months looking into Cabrera, at the time an assistant city manager, after parks employees said Cabrera and then-parks director Juan Pascual hired Cabrera's half-brother and sister-in-law shortly after they came to Miami from Cuba.

Cabrera and Pascual -- whose own $3,500 legal bill was paid by the city last year -- denied any wrongdoing. And though an ethics investigator found the hirings suspicious, he found no evidence that Cabrera had abused his position and no probable cause to bring charges against either man.

Miami's city attorney says commissioners can reimburse Cabrera if they believe he was conducting a public service when engaging in the actions that brought the investigation.

Fact-checking claim by group collecting signatures for solar ballot question in 2016

When it comes to solar, the Sunshine State is, well, in the dark, say advocates.

coalition of folks across the political spectrum ranging from tea party activists to environmentalists have united to launch a campaign to allow the direct sale of solar energy to consumers. Currently, state law only allows utilities to sell power, but a new political action committee, Floridians for Solar Choice, wants to change that.

The PAC seeks to get a referendum on the ballot for the 2016 election. They will need 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016 -- an effort that could cost millions of dollars.

The PAC argues that Florida is out of touch with the majority of states on solar.

"Currently, Florida is one of only five states in the nation that prohibit citizens from buying electricity from companies that will put solar panels on your home or business," according to the group’s website.

We decided to shed a little light on how Florida stacks up on solar energy. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see what we found.

Diaz-Balart: Cuba already backsliding, re-arrested 2 of 53 political prisoners released in Obama deal


When President Obama and Raul Castro announced an effort to normalize ties between the United States and Cuba, the regime announced it would release 53 political prisoners.

But it never said it wouldn't re-arrest any of them.

And so, according to Hablemos Press via Capitol Hill Cubans, Rolando Reyes Rabanal and Luis Enrique Labrador are once again behind bars. And Cuba critics like Miami Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart are as outraged as they are not surprised. Here's the Republican's statement, which goes on to note the two were arrested along with another activist, Miguel Daniel Borroto Vazquez:

"According to reports, Cuban activists Rolando Reyes Rabanal and Luis Enrique Labrador, who are on the President's list of 53 political prisoners, were once again arrested while attempting to join a pro-democracy meeting of the Movement for a New Republic. Another opposition activist who was not on the list, Miguel Daniel Borroto Vazquez, was beaten, arrested, and ultimately imprisoned in El Vivac detention center.

“The President's flawed and arbitrary list of 53 political prisoners falls far short of a condition that should be non-negotiable: the permanent release of ALL political prisoners. When the Castro regime re-arrests political prisoners after the President "negotiated" their release, it makes a mockery of the entire bad deal. But, as the administration has conceded several times, the President is too invested in his policy of appeasement to change course over the regime's human rights abuses. It remains an utter disgrace that a decent human rights record, and Cuban prisons emptied of innocent men and women, was not part of the President's deal.”

Miami Commissioner: Use Patriot Act to go after gangsters


As a wave of shootings spread through inner-city Miami last year, City Commissioner Keon Hardemon took to calling gun-toting gangsters "domestic terrorists."

He says the phrase isn't just a soundbite.

Hardemon, who for months has called on the Department of Justice to help fight gang violence, met this week with U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. He says one of the ideas they discussed was using the Patriot Act to investigate and prosecute gangbangers who are paralyzing communities like Liberty Square with fear.

Federal prosecutors can and sometimes do go after local gangsters. But Hardemon believes federal, anti-terror legislation would be another useful tool in cutting through jurisdictional boundaries and bringing stiffer charges against Miam's killers. He says the Patriot Act can be used to target violent criminals because it defines "domestic terrorism" as actions that "appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population."

"This is in the realm of what I call creative prosecuting," said Hardemon, a former public defender.

Ferrer declined to comment through a spokeswoman, but according to Hardemon was receptive to the idea and agreed to research it.

January 15, 2015

Bondi reverses course, expresses dissatisfaction in Bailey's removal

Attorney General Pam Bondi made it unanimous on Thursday, joining fellow Cabinet members in dissing Gov. Rick Scott’s removal of Gerald Bailey from his perch atop the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"Attorney General Bondi is dissatisfied with the manner in which this matter was handled," stated Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale in an email to the Times/Herald.

Meale sent the one-sentence statement on Thursday, joining Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who made similar statements.

It’s quite the turnaround for all three, who only two days before unanimously supported Scott’s appointment of Rick Swearingen as Bailey’s replacement.

What made their reversal all the more remarkable was that Bailey, by Tuesday, had said he had been forced out by Scott. He even stated that Scott’s general counsel told him in December that the governor had the concurrence of all three cabinet members.

Bondi refused to answer questions on Tuesday about whether she communicated with Scott’s administration about removing Bailey, or if she asked why he was being removed. Like Putnam and Atwater, Bondi expressed no reservations at the time about the shakeup.

That was then. Since then, a media firestorm has erupted as revelations suggest the personnel move was politically motivated.

So if all three are now expressing concerns about how Bailey was removed, will they reconvene the Cabinet, as they have the power to do, to reconsider the issue (and help disprove growing evidence that they are a tool of the Governor)? Are they now saying that Scott did not have their concurrence on removing Bailey? Or did Scott have their concurrence, but only because he misled them?

The public awaits more information...


Miami-Dade's Bill Johnson may be up for Enterprise Florida post


Bill Johnson, Miami-Dade’s longtime port director and current head of water and sewer, may be in the running to take over Florida’s economic-development arm.

Johnson is "under consideration" by Gov. Rick Scott to replace Gray Swoope as head of Enterprise Florida, the state’s tax-funded economic-development agency, according to a county source.

It wasn’t known Thursday how many other candidates may be on Scott’s list, or whether the governor had already offered someone the job. Scott praised Swoope in a statement this week that announced his resignation after four years from the $275,000-a-year post.

Johnson is said to have formed a good relationship with Scott through the push to build the largely state-funded PortMiami tunnel. Johnson also traveled the world promoting cargo business in Miami, Florida’s top port.

He signed up for the county’s mandatory retirement system five years ago, so his tenure with Miami-Dade is slated to end in June. County records show his position at the water-and-sewer department pays about $275,000 a year.

On Thursday, Johnson declined to comment on the Enterprise Florida post. (“I don’t ever discount anything,” he said when asked about the job.) But he talked at length about his tenure at both PortMiami and Water and Sewer, and on his abilities as a leader.

“I have been paid over my career.. to solve problems, to motivate people,” said Johnson, a veteran county administrator. “Government will be successful when you can take all the good attributes of government and the private sector, and you can blend the two.”

In Miami-Dade, he gained a reputation as a manager who took on troubled projects, including the long-delayed construction  of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. But he also presided over financial stress at PortMiami, with the tunnel and other construction projects leading to a debt load approaching $1 billion and a credit downgrade.

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Atwater speaks out on Bailey exit


Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Thursday joined the growing chorus of those disappointed in how Gov. Rick Scott replaced Gerald Bailey, the former Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

An Atwater spokeswoman, Ashley Carr, issued a one-sentence statement Thursday afternoon.

“Our office is disappointed by the manner in which Commissioner Bailey’s separation was handled and the haste in which it occurred, but we expect that Cabinet appointments will be handled better in the future,” Carr stated.

Carr was replying to a Times/Herald request for comment on Wednesday after another member of the Florida Cabinet, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, expressed his disappointment with Bailey’s ouster.

Like Putnam and the third Cabinet member, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Atwater expressed no such concerns Tuesday when he voted in favor of replacing Bailey.

When asked Tuesday after Cabinet if he played a role in Bailey’s departure, Atwater said no. But he also showed very little curiosity about why Bailey was leaving. 

Check out the video.


Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo will deliver Spanish-language GOP response to State of the Union


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo has been tapped by the Republican Party to deliver the Spanish-language response to President Obama's State of the Union address later this month.

The speech will be a translated version of the remarks new Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa will make in English, House Republicans said in a news release.

"Carlos Curbelo is a fresh voice with a positive vision for a future of opportunity and prosperity," Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "He is exactly what Washington needs, and the person Americans should hear from in this time of challenge and opportunity for our country."

Curbelo, who defeated Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in November, called the gig "a true privilege."

"As part of America's New Congress, I am excited to work with my colleagues to advance good solutions that will empower American families to achieve a better quality of life," Curbelo's statement said. "We must work together towards policies that will lead to a healthy economy that offers greater opportunity for all Americans –- especially those who feel left behind. And we should insist on a strong foreign policy that recognizes the need for American leadership in an increasingly dangerous world."

Is Kevin McCarty Scott's next target? Atwater, Bondi & Putnam say they haven't discussed it

Kevin McCartyBy Jeff Harrington and Mary Ellen Klas

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has survived sitting on one of the hottest seats in state government for more than a decade. 

Since becoming the state’s first appointed insurance commissioner in January 2003, he’s endured a string of governors and Cabinets. He’s sidestepped controversy over soaring property insurance rates, a rash of insurer insolvencies, the ever-changing mission of state-run Citizens Property Insurance and how the state’s health insurance model should integrate Obamacare.

But there’s growing signs that Gov. Rick Scott may want his tenure to come to a close, just as he sought to end the career of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Sources inside and outside the insurance office acknowledge McCarty is under pressure to resign, after 26 years in state government. 

As head of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, McCarty is responsible for setting rates and regulating insurance companies throughout the state.

McCarty could not be reached Thursday. His office said he was traveling to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ gathering to assign committee posts and would not be available for comment.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz would not respond to questions about McCarty but insisted we print her statement indicating she was not dismissing it either.

"Government too often gets stuck in a rut and doesn’t like to change,'' Schutz said in a statement to ther Herald/Times. "But, just like in business – it is good to get fresh ideas and new leadership, especially as we move into a second term.  Executive office positions are not lifetime appointments and for the same reason there are term limits in elected office – it is important to search for the best and newest ideas whenever possible.  In regards to OIR, we have no announcements at this time.”

She did not respond to requests for an explanation of whether they thought the state's insurance regulation was "stuck in a rut."

McCarty's deputy chief of staff Monte Stevens said he could not address reports that the insurance commissioner may be stepping down.

“Commissioner McCarty is focused on doing his job,” Stevens said. “He has spent this week speaking to hundreds of corporate executives and investors, encouraging them to bring their capital to Florida.  He has also met with Legislative leaders to discuss what may be on the horizon during the 2015 session.”

Removing or replacing McCarty will take a majority of the three-member Cabinet, or a vote of the governor plus one other member. That didn't happen this week, when Scott unilaterally asked former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign or be fired.

After Scott admitted to forcing Bailey out, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he had been misled by the governor’s office, which had falsely told him that Bailey had agreed to step down. 

He and other Cabinet officials told the Herald/Times they have not discussed McCarty's fate, and now appear to be more careful in handling the governor's manuevers.

"Transparency and measured deliberation about the changes of those in leadership positions is important,'' said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. She said Atwater had "absolutely not" been consulted by anyone about a reported "deal" to replace McCarty.

Attorney General Pam Bondi has "absolutely not" been contacted about replacing McCarty, said her spokesman Whitney Ray. 

Erin Gillespie, press secretary to Putnam said he also "has had no discussions regarding Kevin McCarty in the second term.” 

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