Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

February 23, 2015

Names roll in for Jeb Bush PAC fundraiser in Gables

@PatriciaMazzei

Big donors have been named "co-chairmen" of an upcoming Coral Gables fundraiser for Jeb Bush's political action committee.

The March 9 soiree, organized by healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez, on Monday listed more than a dozen people contributing and raising money for Bush's Right to Rise PAC. A $100,000 contribution gets a donor on what the PAC calls the "Florida Executive Committee."

Fernandez wrote in an email that he intends for the reception to raise $5 million, Politico reported. About $1 million would come from him.

In addition to Fernandez and his wife, Constance, they are: businessman and longtime Bush friend Jorge Arrizurieta; Goldman Sachs VP Robert Barlick; businessman Rodney Barreto and his wife, Sheila; Tallahassee attorney and lobbyist Paul Bradshaw; healthcare executive Joe Caruncho; Ambassadors Sue and Chuck Cobb; developer (and Bush golf buddy) Ed Easton; auto executive Manny Kadre; auto executive Mario Murgado; Ambassador John Rood and former House Speaker Will Weatherford and his wife, Courtney.

More donors are expected to join the group as they make financial commitments closer to the event.

Asked about his participation, Arrizurieta, who recently swapped offices with Bush at the Biltmore Hotel to give Bush the more private third-floor space, said the excitement surrounding his friend's all-but-announced candidacy has been "pretty special."

"He's got a fleet of people who would go through walls for him," Arrizurieta said.

This post has been updated.

Miami Young Republicans to host new party chair

@PatriciaMazzei

InviteState Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, the new Republican Party of Florida chairman, will be feted Tuesday in a fundraiser by the Miami Young Republicans.

Ingoglia, of Spring Hill, should prove to be popular among the young party faithful. His Twitter handle, after all, is @GovGoneWild, after the web videos he produces that have gone viral. (Sample title: "Land of the Freebies, Home of the Enslaved.")

Rep. Bryan Avila of Hialeah will be a "special guest" at the event, headed up by a group that includes Miami-Dade GOP Chairman Nelson Diaz.

Media outlets ask judge to protect data in FDLE case

Florida news outlets asked a state judge Monday to issue an emergency "preservation order" to compel Gov. Rick Scott and all three Cabinet members to protect and preserve any materials that may be relevant to their lawsuit alleging a Sunshine Law violation in the ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen filed a 10-page emergency motion with Circuit Judge George Reynolds in Tallahassee that covers virtually all forms of what's known in legal circles as ESI, or electronically stored communication, including text messages on a smart phone.

Her motion cites an investigation FDLE completed in 2012 concerning destruction of emails by Scott's transition team in the weeks before he took office in January 2011. That probe concluded that the destruction of public records was "a result of an oversight by the members of the Gov. Scott transition team and not as a result of any malicious or criminal intent to destroy public records." 

"The Governor and his staff have previously purged public records without properly archiving them," the motion states. "Significant controversy exists about unusual policies of the executive office of the governor as it relates to the retention of public records by members of its staff."The reference is to another lawsuit in which Scott initially denied, but then acknowledged that private email accounts were used to transact official business and a written policy that allowed individual state employees to decide whether certain messages were "transitory" and could be destroyed.

As a result, the motion said, "Plaintiffs (have) a substantial reason to fear that records relevant to this litigation will not be properly preserved and archived."

The motion noted that the plaintiffs are separately trying to obtain written stipulations from all four defendants as to the preservation of evidence. Besides Scott, the defendants in the case of Matthew Weidner et al. vs. Rick Scott et al. are Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

It's Jeb Bush's 41st wedding anniversary, so he posted about it on Facebook

@PatriciaMazzei

Bush wedding

Jeb Bush married his wife, Columba, 41 years ago today, so the former Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate wished his bride a happy anniversary -- on social media.

"Happy anniversary to my beautiful wife of 41 years, Columba," he posted on Twitter and Facebook, along with a photo.

The Facebook post expands on the photo: It's apparently the only one the Bushes, who live in Coral Gables, have of their wedding day.

"True story: This is the only picture from our wedding. The photographer, my brother Marvin, accidentally rerolled from a Frank Zappa concert. Thankfully, my mom took one photo with a Kodak."

Bill, Chelsea Clinton - but not Hillary - to speak at UM

@PatriciaMazzei

Two Clintons will speak at the University of Miami in early March, though neither is the one expected to run for president next year.

Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, will address students at the Clinton Global Initiative University, an annual event organized by the Clinton Foundation. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an all-but-announced 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, is not listed as part of the program.

This year's conference will be held March 6-8 on UM's campus. The Clintons are scheduled to speak Sunday, March 8, before students volunteer for a day of community service.

'All in' with Jeb Bush, but Mario Diaz-Balart says Marco Rubio would also make 'darn good president'

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush is the presidential pick for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Yet  he also had nice things to say Monday of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, assuming both Bush and Rubio seek the GOP presidential nomination.

"I don't think anybody should minimize Rubio's appeal, his vast talent," Diaz-Balart said of his colleague. "Not only his ability to connect, but he's a hard worker. I think he'd be a darn good president. He clearly has a lot more experience than President Obama did when he got elected. Rubio was speaker of the [Florida] House, for God's sake."

But, Diaz-Balart added, "I just don't know of anyone who's better prepared to be president of the United States" than Bush. He reiterated, as he told The Hill last week, that he's "all in" with Bush, who has also received the support of Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Diaz-Balart's former congressman brother, Lincoln, has backed Bush as well, and been named one of the former Florida governor's foreign-policy advisers.

The only local GOP congressman who has yet to endorse is Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, who has been courted by Bush advisers -- and, before then, by advisers to Mitt Romney, when Romney briefly flirted with running again.

Mario Diaz-Balart warns Miami-Dade may have to make unpopular choices to fund transportation

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has a powerful new budget post in Congress, but don't expect federal dollars to start pouring in for local transportation projects.

There's not that much money to work with, the Republican told the Miami Herald's editorial board Monday. And Miami-Dade County must first draft detailed plans to extend public transit -- and find a way to pay for part of them on its own.

"There's not much we can do until the community gets its act together -- the local government, local governments, get their act together," said Diaz-Balart, the new chairman of the House transportation and housing appropriations subcommittee. "The key is to have a plan that is real. It's going to require a local match."

Interest in improving the county's disjointed transportation system has grown among politicians, with Miami-Dade's new commission chairman, Jean Monestime, citing it as a priority for his two-year term that begun last month. Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo, the new transit committee chairman, has already met with Diaz-Balart to discuss a way forward.

That will involve picking only a few projects that have enough potential ridership to back them, Diaz-Balart said -- which could mean making unpopular political choices. Metrorail lines have long been promised to different areas of the county, regardless of whether they would draw sufficient customers.

"We can't do everything. We can't fund everything," Diaz-Balart said, echoing Bovo's stated approach. "If the ridership isn't there, those days of just empty promises -- which, by the way, don't do anything other than just that -- have to be over."

Appeals court rejects challenge to blind trust law

From our friends at the News Service of Florida:

An appeals court Monday tossed out a constitutional challenge to a 2013 law that allows public officials to put their assets into blind trusts, pointing to the “speculative nature” of the case.

Jim Apthorp, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Reubin Askew, filed the challenge last year alleging that the blind-trust law violated a constitutional requirement that officials fully disclose their financial interests.

But a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal found that Apthorp’s case “wholly failed to allege a bona fide, actual, present practical need for a declaration that the qualified blind trust statute is unconstitutional.” In part, it said Apthorp did not allege any public official or candidate had used a blind trust in the most-recent financial disclosures.

“This case presents an important constitutional question, namely whether a public officer who includes a qualified blind trust authorized under (the section of state law) in any financial disclosure required by law complies with the requirement for full and public disclosure found in (the state Constitution),’’ said the ruling, written by Judge Lori Rowe and joined by judges Timothy Osterhaus and Brad Thomas. “However, notwithstanding the substantial interest in this case from the bench and bar, we are constrained to leave for another day the resolution of this constitutional question because this case lacks a justiciable controversy.”

More here.

Donald Trump plus Miami-Dade politics equals a story to watch

@doug_hanks

One of the reasons Donald Trump does so well in real estate, hospitality and television is his ability to draw the spotlight. The lobby of his resort in Doral features 21 photographs of him, including a Time cover story. 

So when Trump plays golf with Miami-Dade's mayor on a premiere county golf course and then proposes to rescue that golf course with a 99-year management contract, Trump's celebrity makes the story all the more intriguing. 

Here are two of the latest installments. The first, on how much of a rescue Crandon needs. The second, on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's role in the early stages of Trump's pursuit of the Key Biscayne course. 

Here are some of the key documents mentioned in the story: Trump's March 5, 2014 letter to Mayor Gimenez; Gimenez's April 15 reply; and the formal proposal Trump submitted to Parks on July 2

February 22, 2015

WaPo: After customs incident, Jeb Bush's wife took out loan to buy pricey jewelry

From the Washington Post:

In 1999, Columba Bush, the famously private wife of then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was detained and fined by federal customs officials for misrepresenting the amount of clothing and jewelry she had bought while on a solo five-day shopping spree in Paris.

The incident left the Florida first lady deeply mortified and her husband politically chagrined. Jeb Bush said the first lady had misled customs officials because she did not want him to know that she had spent about $19,000 on the trip.

“The embarrassment I felt made me ashamed to face my family and friends,” Columba Bush said in a July 1999 speech to the Central Florida Make-a-Wish Foundation, not long after the incident. “It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”

The ordeal did not stop her from spending freely, however. Less than a year later, she took out a loan to buy $42,311.70 worth of jewelry on a single day, according to records filed with the state of Florida by Mayors Jewelers.

That purchase was part of a pattern by Columba Bush of borrowing to buy tens of thousands of dollars of jewelry at a time from the South Florida store over a 14-year period. Documentation available online, which does not include the details of two transactions made less than six weeks apart in 1995, shows that she spent a total of more than $90,000 at the store.

More here.