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September 16, 2016

Scott picks Tampa water utilities veteran as the next PSC commissioner

Donald PolmannA water utilities veteran who has spent a career navigating the water wars of Tampa Bay was named Florida's next public service commissioner late Thursday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Donald Polmann, 59, who has twice been on the short list of nominees to come before the governor, will replace Lisa Edgar for the four-year term on the state utilities board beginning Jan. 2. Edgar, 53, is retiring after 12 years on the board.

Polmann is Scott's fourth appointment to the influential five-member panel that has the power to raise or lower customer utility bills. The four-year term pays $131,000 a year.

For the first time, the governor did not select a legislative insider or incumbent to the post, as he did when he reappointed Edgar in 2012 and subsequently reappointed PSC Commissioners Art Graham and Ron Brise to second terms, and named former state House Rep. Jimmy Patronis to an open seat. All were candidates preferred by the state's politically powerful utility giants which were among the largest contributors to Scott's re-election bid in 2014.

Polmann, was one of the finalists recommended in 2012 when Scott reappointed Edgar and again in 2013 when the governor reappointed Brise and Graham.

Polmann received his bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his master’s degree from the University of Florida, and a doctorate in civil engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Polmann served as director of science and engineering at Tampa Bay Water, a regional water supply authority. He has spent most of his 30-year career focused on drinking water regulation and protection and is currently self-employed as a consultant in civil and environmental engineering.

Polmann, who is currently self-employed as a consultant in civil and environmental engineering, has the support of Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. In a letter of recommendation on Polmann's behalf, Latvala said he had known Polmann, a constituent, for 15 years and that Polmann "was a major player in the transformation of Tampa Bay Water from the previous agency, the West Coast Regional Water Authority."

Latvala was an outspoken critic of Edgar's, who was first appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004, reappointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 and by Scott four years later.

Scott choose Polmann over two other candidates, Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase and Florida SouthWestern State College professor Cynthia Wilson Orndoff. He must be confirmed by the Florida Senate for his term to be official.

In his interview before the PSC Nominating Council on Aug. 18, Polmann said his "family heritage in construction and blue collar work" as well as his experience as a water manager will inform his outlook.

"On one hand, I've witnessed the struggles of making ends meet, both at home and in the family business, in a tough economy,'' he said. "How can we possibly raise utility rates with those conditions prevalent in so many places in our communities? On the other hand, we find infrastructure in our cities and towns throughout our state sorely in need of repair, replacement, upgrade, and yes, expansion, as our state's economy grows."

"...We've been seeing more and water breaks, sewer plant overflows, power outages, etc. -- quality of service -- and reliability must be addressed,'' he said.

He added that his expertise in water and environmental resource management; operations research, risk and uncertainty; regulatory and policy compliance; quality assurance and strategic planning and the state's Sunshine law will serve him well to find the balance between competing issues.interests, including utility investors.

The five-member PSC is in the midst of a controversial $1.3 billion rate case with Florida Power & Light.

The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature, but commissioners are appointed by the governor after receiving a list of recommendations from the PSC Nominating Council, which is dominated by legislators.

Negron upends Senate Appropriations Committee staff in effort to cushion any 'loyalty gaps'

Joe NegronFresh off a bitter two-year fight to become Senate president, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is shaking up the Senate's professional staff in a way the Legislature hasn't seen since former Senate President Mike Haridopolos six years ago.

The biggest turnover will occur in the Appropriations Committee, where nearly every high level staff director has been moved out.

As part of his rapprochement with his former rival, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Negron named Latvala head of the Appropriations Committee. But the scenario means that Negron must include people in his inner circle who had been previous rivals, so he has used his hiring power to surround himself with people Negron has brought to the job -- a management tactic often intended to increase staff loyalty.

Latvala, reached Thursday after a visit to Stuart where he met with Negron, said he had no problem with the staff shakeup. "It is the prerogative of the Senate president to do the staffing,'' he said. "I have no problem with it."

Negron spokesperson Katie Betta said the incoming Senate president's previous experience as Appropriations Committee chairman in the House and Senate gave him "an idea of exactly what he was looking for, and he could not be more pleased with the team he has put together for Senate Appropriations in the coming term."

In May, Negron announced he would replace Appropriations Staff Director Cindy Kynoch with Mike Hansen, who was Negron's staff director when he was head of the Appropriations Committee under former Senate President Don Gaetz. Hansen, a legislative veteran and former budget aide to Gov. Jeb Bush, is currently CEO of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health in Tallahassee.

Continue reading "Negron upends Senate Appropriations Committee staff in effort to cushion any 'loyalty gaps'" »

September 15, 2016

Trump returns to Miami with Florida campaign on upswing

Trump doral
@PatriciaMazzei

Donald Trump is coming to a different Florida on Friday — a Florida where he’s on the upswing.

Last time he visited the southeastern end of the state, for a Sunrise rally a little more than a month ago, Hillary Clinton continued to edge him in Florida polling averages. He’d suffered a spate of bad press over his campaign’s criticism of the Gold Star Khan family. He falsely accused President Barack Obama of “founding” ISIS.

When he returns Friday, to hold a rally at downtown Miami’s James L. Knight Center, Trump will be fresh off a batch of new polls showing him tied with Clinton in Florida — or ever so narrowly ahead. Florida’s a swing state because it moves with the country; his uptick here is also reflected nationally, and in other battlegrounds like Nevada and Ohio.

Trump has noticed. At a Wednesday night rally in Ohio, the Republican nominee went back to his old self from the primaries, ditching his TelePrompTer and bragging about the Florida and Ohio numbers. A Real Clear Politics average of recent Florida polls shows him leadingClinton by 0.7 percent, even when Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are taken into account.

“It feels good — there’s momentum,” said Brian Ballard, a Trump Florida finance chairman. “In the finance part of the campaign, you can always feel it. Calls get returned faster.”

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

Rubio criticizes Murphy, Obama over Gitmo

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday criticized a vote by Rep. Patrick Murphy against a GOP measure to prevent transfers of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

“Today, Patrick Murphy voted to fund the release of terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, despite even more evidence that they are rejoining militant groups,” Rubio campaign spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “Murphy continues to stand in lock step with the Obama administration’s liberal policies that pose a direct threat to our national security and the safety of all Americans.”

Murphy supports President Obama's attempt to close the prison.

Florida lawmakers voted party line with the exception of Democrat Gwen Graham, who joined Republicans.

Rubio also condemned the Obama administration amid a report that two former detainees had returned to fighting. Nine total have done so, according to the government.

“We know that the remaining detainees are considered ‘the worst of the worst,’ and with a confirmed recidivism rate of 30 percent, it’s baffling the Administration continues to set these terrorists free to threaten America and our allies, including our military men and women serving overseas,” Rubio said. “The President’s efforts to preserve his legacy at any cost is hindering U.S. national security precisely at a time when the threats to our country are growing, and terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS are giving these former detainees more options for reengagement. This is why I will continue to urge President Obama to stop setting terrorists free from Guantánamo and immediately work to recapture those who have returned to terrorist activity.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

TSA says no U.S. marshals aboard new Cuba flights

via @HeraldMimi

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for the suspension of the regularly scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba that began in recent weeks because he says, despite previous claims, federal air marshals still aren’t aboard the new flights to and from the island.

In response to a request from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the TSA issued a statement in August that said: “In the spirit of enhancing the security of international civil aviation, the United States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of U.S. in-flight security officers — more commonly known as federal air marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba.”

But during a House hearing Wednesday, TSA Deputy Administrator Huban Gowadia said that the Cuban government has not yet signed the agreement, meaning the first scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba since 1961 began without the deployment of air marshals.

Gowadia clarified that air marshals only fly on select charters rather than the new flights, and said the United States and Cuba are continuing to work toward an agreement covering regularly scheduled flights.

More here.

Everglades restoration plan passes senate

Everglades aerial (2)

by @jenstaletovich

Everglades restoration took a step forward Thursday when the U.S. Senate passed a massive waterworks bill that includes a plan aimed at fixing the overlooked heart of the vast wetlands.

In 94-3 vote, senators approved the Water Resources Development Act, which includes about $2 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The project, launched in 2011 to speed up restoration and focus efforts on central wetlands critical to moving fresh water south into Florida Bay, got a big assist in the spring when Sen. Jim Inhofe vowed to throw his weight behind it. The powerful chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, remembered for being the only no vote opposing the original comprehensive restoration plan in 2000, said he changed his mind after Sen. Marco Rubio convinced the work was necessary.

The vote comes after a brutal winter for the region. Record rain forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repeatedly release dirty water from Lake Okeechobee into coastal estuaries, triggering a massive algae bloom along the Treasure Coast.

The WRDA still has to pass the House, no small hurdle, which has not yet scheduled a vote. However, including $220 million in emergency funding to address the water crisis in Flint is drawing support that may help push it through.

"It addresses a lot of big ticket items that have gotten a ton of attention this year," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of policy for Audubon Florida.

Hill-Gabriel was hopeful the House schedules a vote this year on the plan. Two years ago, the plan stalled when the Corps, which oversees work, balked at approving it in time for that year's WRDA bill.

 

 

"We’re hopeful it will happen this year," Hill-Gabriel said. "Whether it’s next week or the lame duck session, we hope the House steps up and gets it done."

 

 

Connecticut U.S. senator uses Twitter to attack Rubio, defend Murphy

Chris murphy-ct_ap

@ByKristenMClark

One of the U.S. Senate's leading Democratic voices in favor of gun-control reform -- and an early supporter of Florida U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy -- unleashed a bit of a Tweet storm Thursday afternoon in response to a new bill introduced earlier in the day by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio's U.S. Senate office touted his "Terror Intelligence Improvement Act" as a bill that "would make it harder for suspected terrorists to purchase firearms and easier for law enforcement agencies to go after suspected terrorists, while safeguarding law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment and due process rights." (More here.)

But in one of a handful of tweets, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy -- no relation to Patrick Murphy -- said: "This bill won't stop one terrorist from getting a gun. This is a rehash of the gun lobby's proposal."

Less than an hour after Chris Murphy's tweets, Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign released a lengthy statement from Chris Murphy with a message to the same effect.

Chris Murphy famously filibustered on the Senate floor for 15 hours in June in support of gun reform after the Orlando shooting.

Patrick Murphy and his campaign earlier Thursday were also quick to criticize Rubio for both the timing and content of his new bill.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

*We have asked Rubio's campaign for comment and will update this post when they respond.

Rejecting Don Gaetz, UWF trustees promote provost to president

Trustees of the University of West Florida voted Friday to make provost Martha Saunders the school's next president, bypassing a better-known finalist for the position, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

The vote was 9-4 with Saunders getting nine votes and Gaetz four.

Saunders will succeed Judy Bense as president of the Pensacola university. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the state university system's Board of Governors.

Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County school superintendent, school board member, and chairman of a Senate budget subcommittee on education, was seeking to be at least the fourth political figure in Florida to head a state university.

The decision followed a meeting at which students, faculty and community representatives all testified about the selection. The Pensacola News Journal reported that 366 UWF students signed a petition opposing Gaetz's appointment.

Gwen Graham votes with Republicans on Gitmo transfers

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Rep. Gwen Graham was one of only 12 Democrats to vote this morning for a GOP bill to prevent the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The bill, which passed 244-174, comes as President Obama seeks to empty the prison and fulfill a campaign pledge. He’s unlikely to succeed.

"Our greatest responsibility is to protect the American people and keep our country safe," Graham said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "I've read the classified documents on the detainees and personally toured GTMO. I believe it's the safest place to hold these criminals who would stop at nothing to murder innocent Americans."

Graham is likely to run for governor in 2018.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

David Rivera seeks to take ethics case to Florida's high court

@ByKristenMClark

Former state Rep. David Rivera isn’t giving up yet on his attempts to vindicate himself on charges that he broke Florida ethics rules while in office six years ago.

The Miami Republican’s attorney, Leonard Collins, filed a request Sept. 8 asking the Florida Supreme Court to take up Rivera’s case because, Collins argues, a ruling this summer by the First District Court of Appeal “conflicts” with a 1984 ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal.

The Florida Supreme Court should settle the matter and overturn the First DCA’s ruling, Collins argued, in his three-page notice this month to Florida’s highest court.