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July 20, 2015

Florida's special redistricting session set for Aug. 10-21

Florida legislative leaders issued a joint proclamation Monday setting the dates of the next special session on redistricting for Aug. 10-21. The proclamation says the "sole and exclusive purpose" of the session is to redraw congressional district boundaries in response to a recent decision by the state Supreme Court.

In a joint memorandum, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, wrote:

In preparation for the Legislature’s important work during an expedited special session, we are instructing professional staff of the House Select Committee on Redistricting and the Senate Committee on Reapportionment to work collaboratively with House and Senate legal counsel to develop a base map that complies with the Florida Supreme Court’s recent ruling and all of the relevant legal standards. This map proposal will be drafted solely by staff in collaboration with counsel, without our participation or the participation of any other member, and will be provided simultaneously to all members and the public prior to the convening of the Special Session. Our specific direction to staff is to begin their work by redrawing Congressional Districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, and 27 in compliance with the recent ruling of the Florida Supreme Court and to make any necessary conforming changes consistent with Article III, Section 20, of the Florida Constitution.  

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Fact-checking David Jolly, GOP candidate for Marco Rubio's seat

With only 15 months of congressional experience under his belt, U.S. Rep. David Jolly is announcing that he’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

The 42-year-old Dunedin native announced July 20, 2015, he was seeking the Republican nomination after winning a March 2014 special election in Pinellas County’s 13th congressional district. The district has been one of the few genuinely competitive districts in the country, but the state Supreme Court ruled that it’s one of several that will have to be redrawn to conform to fair-districts rules passed by ballot measure. Those changes are expected to make the seat significantly more Democratic-leaning by adding heavily Democratic-leaning St. Petersburg in southern Pinellas to the district.

A lawyer and former lobbyist, Jolly was an aide to the district’s longtime congressman, U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, who died in office in 2013. After winning the tight special election, Jolly won a full term more easily in the 2014 general election, without significant opposition.

He’s joining a Senate field that already includes U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who announced in May, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who announced his campaign on July 15. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller and former Attorney General Bill McCollum also are considering running. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and U.S. Rep.Patrick Murphy are looking to win the seat on the Democratic side.

Turn to Joshua Gillin's story about Jolly's Truth-O-Meter record from PolitiFact Florida.

Scott and Lopez-Cantera: We oppose diplomatic relations with Cuba

US CubaGov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera took time out of their schedules Monday -- which each listed "no scheduled events" -- to denounce the revival of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States.

The Cuban government reopened its embassy in Washington Monday, flying the Cuban flag over the building for the first time since 1961. Scott and Lopez-Cantera had previously been vocal about their opposition to the move. 

“I stand in firm opposition to the reopening of the Cuban embassy in the United States and the American embassy in Cuba,'' Scott said in a statement. "Last week, the Castro regime arrested 100 peaceful protestors in Cuba. Reestablishing diplomatic ties will only serve to legitimize this sort of oppression. The arrests of peaceful protesters in Cuba have also doubled in the past year and President Obama continues to make concessions to the Castro brothers.

"This move by President Obama will further tie our great nation to the oppressive Castro regime. As Governor, I will continue to stand with the people of Cuba in their pro-democracy movement.” 

Lopez-Cantera, who last week announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, echoed the sentiments. 

“Today, the Obama Administration capitulated to the Castro regime with no regard for the human rights or liberty of the Cuban people,'' he said in a statement. "I, along with Governor Scott, stand firmly against reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba.”

Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP

Freshman House member Carlos Curbelo near the top in raising funds


Freshman U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida has only been in Congress a little more than six months but his fundraising to date puts him near the top of all House members, federal campaign finance records show.

Curbelo, a Kendall Republican who beat a sitting Democrat in the 2014 election, has raised more money in the first half of the year than hundreds of his more-senior colleagues.

His district, which extends from southwest Miami-Dade County to Key West, already has a declared Democratic challenger – Annette Taddeo – and the two of them combined have raised more than all but about 20 districts nationwide.

The data from the Federal Election Commission reflect campaign activity from the first half of the year, through June 30. The reports were generally filed by members of Congress and their challengers last week.

Of about 600 House members or their challengers, Curbelo’s total receipts from the first half of the year put in him the Top 10.

The top fundraisers were House leaders such as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. All of those national figures pulled in more than $2 million in the first half of the year, FEC records show.

Curbelo’s total was $1.2 million, which included both individual and political action committee donations.

That level for a freshman congressman is unusual – but could represent the wave of the future.

More here.

Bill Nelson cancer-free after prostate surgery


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's doctors have told him he is cancer-free after his prostate surgery last week, the Florida Democrat's office said Monday.

"Our prayers have been answered," Grace Nelson, the senator's wife, said in a statement. "The pathology report confirms Bill is completely free of cancer.

"We're humbled and grateful for all your prayers and well wishes. Bill is raring to go but the doctors won’t let him out of the house for a few more days."

Broward GOP chair quits

The chair of the Broward GOP has resigned after less than a year which continues the cycle of years of frequent turnover.

According to Red Broward, Christine Butler sent an email to the Broward Republican Executive Committee stating that she is getting married and moving to Palm Beach County where she might run for Supervisor of Elections. Her resignation is effective Aug. 31. Butler could not be reached.

As a newcomer in Palm Beach County, Butler will likely face an uphill battle if she decides to challenge Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. A former state legislator who was first elected to the supervisor position in 2008, Bucher will have the advantage of name recognition and being a Democrat in a county with 360,000 registered Democrats and 238,000 registered Republicans. She was also one of the leading critics of the botched attempted by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to purge the voter rolls of non-citizens.

Butler, an attorney, was elected to her position by party activists in December to replace former Davie mayor Tom Truex who served for about a year before deciding not to run again.

The chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee has the difficult task of trying to make inroads in a left-leaning county amid various GOP factions that range from tea party types to more moderate Republicans.

In recent years, Broward has rarely elected Republicans countywide but the party can have more influence in statewide elections because it has one of the larger contingents of GOP voters in the state.

There are about 240,000 registered GOP voters in Broward while the Democrats have about 550,000 and independents total about 300,000.

Ideally, such groups serve as the foot soldiers and help spread the word about local, state and federal candidates. But Republicans campaigning for president and U.S. Senate will set up their own grassroots operations to reach out to local voters.

Some activists have said that the group has strayed from that mission at times by getting distracted by internal fighting -- for example whether to oust a member who favored same-sex marriage. In 2014, the group’s invited speakers included a conspiracy theorist and a woman parodied on The Daily Show for her opposition to a long-time mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee that wanted to expand.

While the Broward Republicans have struggled to keep a chair in the position for two years, the Broward Democrats have their own internal brawl every four years about whether Mitch Ceasar should remain the chair.

This post has been updated.


Bush on Trump: McCain is a 'legitimate hero' and Trump 'ought to apologize'

Former Gov. Jeb Bush continued the chorus of criticism in response to presidential candidate Donald Trump's latest attention-seeking insults urged him to apologize to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"He was in a POW camp for five years and could have gotten out early but said he wanted to stay to show respect for the other POW members," Bush said after his 30-minute speech to a crowd of supporters in Tallahassee on Monday. "This is a legitimate hero that has served his country lots of ways. Mr. Trump knows that. He should just apologize."

McCain, a former Navy pilot, was held by the North Vietnamese as a prisoner of war in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.”  McCain was repeatedly tortured and spent two years in solitary confinement.

"I'm not into the process side of this,'' Bush said. McCain is "a legitimate hero for this country. He serves with distinction. Mr. Trump ought to reappraise what his thoughts are on that subject."

Bush, who called Trump's comments "slanderous" in a Twitter comment over the weekend, suggested there will be more of the same attention-seeking behavior from the flamboyant businessman.

"I think next week there'll be another one," he said. 

Privatized Medicaid cut Florida costs, but insurers say they're underpaid

via @dchangmiami

In less than a year, Florida’s switch to privately managed healthcare for more than 3 million poor, disabled and elderly residents has achieved one of its primary goals: cutting costs for Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income people that accounted for roughly one-fifth or about $9.5 billion of state spending last year.

But the savings may be short lived after the private companies that took over insuring Florida’s Medicaid patients asked for a mid-year raise of nearly $400 million, and a 12 percent rate increase starting Sept. 1.

That has state health officials, including Elizabeth Dudek, head of the Agency for Health Care Administration, worried that “the vast majority” of Medicaid savings from the first year could be wiped out if Florida gives in to the insurers’ demands.

State healthcare officials report that early assessments of the program have been positive: The cost per member per month for Floridians on Medicaid has been reduced by slightly more than the 5 percent required under state statute.

“We were able to achieve that, not by much,” said Justin Senior, Florida’s deputy secretary for Medicaid.

More here.

Integrity Florida study: Higher minimum wage does not cost jobs

The research and watchdog group Integrity Florida released a report Monday that called it a myth that a higher minimum wage results in job losses.

"We wanted to take an objective look at the claim made by some that an increase in the minimum wage means employers will cut jobs," said Ben Wilcox, research director of Integrity Florida. "Our research found no evidence that claim is true."

Integrity Florida compared state-by-state jobs numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics with changes in the minimum wage from Jan. 1, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015.

During that period, 25 states raised the minimum wage, and every state experienced job growth except for West Virginia. The report also found higher job growth in states that raised the minimum wage, including Florida, than in states that didn't.

The report by Wilcox and Alan Stonecipher also examined five cities and counties that increased the ninimum wage, all of which saw year-to-year job growth. They are the Washington, D.C. suburbs of Montgomery County and Prince George's County, Md.; Las Cruces, N.M.; Sante Fe County, N.M.; and SeaTac, Wash. The data shows that Washington State has the nation's highest statewide minimum wage of $9.47, and ranked second among states in job growth during the period at 6.8 percent.

A total of 29 states and the District of Columbia (which recently increased its minimum wage to $10.50 an hour) require employers to pay a higher minimum wage than the federal rate. Florida's minimum wage of $8.05 an hour is tied to the consumer price index following passage of a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2004. Another petition drive is underway that would ask Florida voters to approve a $10 minimum wage in 2016.

In his campaign for re-election last year, Gov. Rick Scott opposed a higher minimum wage, and Democratic rival Charlie Crist supported raising it to $10.10 an hour. Scott signed a law in 2013 that prohibits cities and counties from establishing their own minimum wage ordinances. Scott relies on the same BLS data that Integrity Florida used to show job growth in Florida.

Integrity Florida, a private organization funded with private money, has no position on the question of a higher minimum wage. Wilcox said the group receives no money from unions and that the study was not funded by any group with a stake in the minimum wage debate.

Jeb Bush vows to take on bureaucracy and revolving door of influence if elected

With Tallahassee as his backdrop, Jeb Bush vowed to “disrupt” the Washington establishment if he's elected president, by shrinking government, seeking a line-item veto, campaigning for a balanced budget amendment and imposing a six-year ban on the revolving door of Congressmen entering the lobbying corps.

"The ultimate disruption of Washington is to reject, as I do, the whole idea of a government forever growing more, borrowing more, and spending more,’’ Bush told 350 supporters at Florida State University. It was the first in a series of speeches intended to outline his priorities. 

Standing before a sign that proclaimed “DC Reform,” Bush took a subtle dig at some of his rivals – Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- by emphasizing his outsider status. He called for legislation to pay Congress only on days they show up for work and joked that "it would at least get them to show up for a vote."

He then launched a multi-part proposal that he said would reform Washington the way he changed Tallahassee. His proposals include many of the spending limits Republican candidates have been touting for decades -- asking states to ratify a balanced budget amendment, embracing the line-time veto, reforming government contracting, and imposing limits on agency spending.

But Bush offered a few updated approaches, based on his time in Tallahassee.

Noting that he was the first governor to make his budget available online, he said agencies should have to justify their spending and provide more transparency. Citing his push to reduce the state workforce by 13,000, he said he would shrink government payroll 10 percent by freezing hiring and then hiring only one worker to replace every three that retire.

He called for lobbying reforms, noting that in Washington "spending on lobbying has risen by more than 45 percent over the past decade, translating to $12.5 million per member of Congress at last count."

Referring to the Florida lobbyist reforms, backed by Bush but initiated in Florida by former-Senate President Tom Lee, he said he would end the revolving door of Congressmen getting jobs as lobbyists by imposing a six-year ban on the practice. 

"We need to help politicians to rediscover life outside of Washington, which – who knows? – might even be a pleasant surprise for them,'' he said. 

The friendly audience of supporters included former campaign and agency staff he had hired throughout his career -- many of whom have now become lobbyists. He nonetheless aim at the livelihoods of some of them calling them an "ambiguous class of consultants who lobby but call it something else."

"The definition of the term ‘lobbyist’ should be expanded to address the cadre of ‘government relations’ and ‘government affairs’ specialists now populating the Capitol,'' he said.

Bush blasted the federal civil service system as “ruled by inertia” where “people are hired, promoted, and given pay increases often without regard to performance.”

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