October 08, 2014

Joe Garcia, Carlos Curbelo disagree on expanding Cuba travel, future of Cuban Adjustment Act


Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia and Republican opponent Carlos Curbelo disagree on whether more Americans should be allowed to travel to Cuba and send more money to relatives on the island.

But that significant policy difference didn’t get much attention until this week, when a pro-Cuba-travel television advertisement began airing in Miami.

The TV spot, launched Monday by the Miami-based liberal-leaning Cuba Now nonprofit, sticks out because of what it isn’t: a slick, highly produced piece bashing Curbelo or Garcia, like most of the others funded by well-heeled outside political groups in the close contest for Florida’s 26th congressional district.

Instead, the ad has a throwback, low-budget feel. Unidentified people speak directly into the camera in Spanish and urge voters to back candidates who support more Cuba travel. Their words are subtitled in English.

It’s a straight so-called “issue” ad. Most ads funded by outside groups technically fall under that category as well, but usually they make clear which candidate they’re supposed to benefit. This one makes no mention of Garcia or Curbelo.

Yet after the two candidates debated in Marathon on Monday evening and were asked about U.S.-Cuba policy, Cuba Now released a statement criticizing Curbelo, who said at the forum that he could not “support any unilateral concessions to an enemy of the United States — in this case, the Cuban government.” The congressional district stretches from Westchester to Key West.

More here.


Candidate’s financial disclosure raises questions about consulting company

State Rep. Erik Fresen’s most recent financial disclosure includes tens of thousands of dollars in income from a company he started called Neighborhood Strategies.

But the company was dissolved — and effectively put out of business — by the state in 2009.

The Miami Republican explained that he still has a few contracts with clients who have been with the company since its dissolution.

"If, in fact, I do have to go back to the [state Division of Corporations] and re-register, I will," he said, adding that all of the business has been publicly disclosed.

Florida law prohibits companies that have been administratively dissolved from carrying out any business, except that which is needed to "wind up and liquidate [their] affairs."

Continue reading "Candidate’s financial disclosure raises questions about consulting company" »

Michelle Obama is Orlando-bound to fundraise for Crist

From Politico:

First lady Michelle Obama will headline a fundraiser for Charlie Crist next week in Florida — the White House’s first foray into the governor’s race in the Sunshine State.

The event will be held Oct. 17 at the Orlando-area home of former basketball star Grant Hill.

No events have been set so far for President Barack Obama in Florida, but a trip of his own to campaign for Crist hasn’t been ruled out.


DCCC's Pants on Fire claim about Southerland and 'health care for life'

Gwen Graham and U.S. Rep Steve Southerland are getting some help from their respective national parties in their hotly contested Panhandle Congressional district race.

To bolster Graham, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is using a new commercial to revive an old attack.

"Congressman Southerland voted himself health care for life," the Sept. 30, 2014, ad says. This claim is followed by a laundry list of actions about which the DCCC thinks voters will dislike.

Southerland’s office denied this, and when we’ve looked at this claim before, we took a dim view of such hyperbole. When a pro-Democratic group said Arkansas Republican Rep. Tom Cotton voted in favor of "taxpayer-funded health care for life," PolitiFact rated it Pants On Fire!

Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check at PolitiFact Florida.

PolitiFact Florida's preview to the Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist Telemundo debate

Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist will share the debate stage for the first time on Telemundo on Oct. 10 as they battle for the Hispanic vote.

The candidates will face questions at Telemundo’s studio in Miramar at 11 a.m. Friday; the debate will air at 7 p.m. (The candidates will answer questions in English, and the station will translate into Spanish.)

PolitiFact Florida, a partnership of the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald, will fact-check the Telemundo debate. (Follow us on Twitter at @PolitiFactFLand suggest fact-checks with #PolitiFactThis).

We have fact-checked dozens of claims in the governor’s race, including by the state political parties and outside groups like NextGen Climate.

Scott, a Republican, and Crist, a Democrat, are likely to repeat or tweak familiar talking points about education spending, the economy and Obamacare. Some of their previous statements we have fact-checked specifically relate to Hispanics, including the state’s attempt to purge suspected noncitizens from the voter rolls and the battle in Florida to give in-state tuition to young people brought to the country illegally.

Both candidates have advertised in Spanish as they try to sway the approximately 14 percent of Florida’s voters who are Hispanic before the Nov. 4 election.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for our debate preview

State recognizes first gay marriage, but only after death

Carol and arlene@SteveRothaus

Fort Myers widow Arlene Goldberg has finally received official Florida recognition of her marriage to Carol Goldwasser: Under a judge's order, the state amended Goldwasser's death certificate to read “married.”

“I was really excited. I couldn’t believe they did it,” Goldberg told the Miami Herald two weeks ago, when she first saw the amended death certificate. “Of course, the judge mandated it be done. And it’s done.”

Partners for 47 years, Goldberg and Goldwasser moved from the Bronx to Florida in 1989 and married in New York in October 2011. Goldwasser died March 13.

Goldberg’s primary income is Social Security. Because Florida doesn’t recognize Goldberg’s marriage, she is unable to qualify as Goldwasser’s widow and collect her Social Security payments, which were $700 more each month than Goldberg’s.

It’s unclear whether Social Security will immediately accept Goldwasser’s amended death certificate and change Goldberg’s monthly payment.

“Our attorneys are exploring all possibilities. We are certainly going to continue to fight on Arlene’s behalf to ensure that she gets all the rights, benefits and protections to which she is entitled as a married woman,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “But for today, we are focusing on the bittersweet and very late recognition of Arlene’s marriage by Florida officials. Unfortunately, it had to be by court order.” Story here. 


Photo: Carol Goldwasser and wife Arlene Goldberg of Fort Myers, together for 47 years, at a 2012 Visuality LGBT youth fundraiser. Goldwasser died in March.VIA FACEBOOK

Florida's hangup: High cell phone fees and taxes

If you think you're forking over too much of your paycheck to pay your cell phone bill, you're not imagining things.

Florida has the fourth highest average state-local cell phone tax and fee rate in the country at 16.55 percent, according to a study by the Washington-D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

"If you add in the 5.82% federal rate, Floridians are actually paying 22.38% of their wireless bill in taxes fees on average. The U.S. average combined federal, state, and local rate is 17.05%," according to the group's press release.

 Gov. Rick Scott is now promising that he will give Florida voters a $120 million annual reduction in the communications services tax, which collects revenue from a variety of sources, including cell phones. Lowering cell phone fees has been a state budgetary consideration in the past, but the effort hasn't gone anywhere. 

The Tax Foundation reports the following highlights of its study:

* The five states with the highest state-local rates are: Washington State (18.6 percent), Nebraska (18.48 percent), New York (17.74 percent), Florida (16.55 percent), and Illinois (15.81 percent).

* The five states with the lowest state-local rates are: Oregon (1.76 percent), Nevada (1.86 percent), Idaho (2.62 percent), Montana (6.00 percent), and West Virginia (6.15 percent).

Continue reading "Florida's hangup: High cell phone fees and taxes" »

North Miami councilwoman fined after admitting she got special treatment for her mother


The county ethics commission voted Wednesday to settle the case of a North Miami City Council member who used her position to get upgrades to her mother’s city-subsidized home renovation.

Councilwoman Marie Steril will have to pay more than $5,000 over the next five years after reaching the settlement and pleading no contest to charges that she violated the county conflict of interest and code of ethics ordinance.

The settlement indicates that Steril “understand that she admits to a violation.” Her attorney in the case, Michelle Delancy, said that Steril couldn’t afford to fight the case any longer.

“It was in her financial best interest to settle and she did,” Delancy said. “They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

More here.

Governor's office now won't release completed prison report into alleged corruption


Florida’s chief inspector general is refusing to release an investigation that sources say will exonerate four veteran law enforcement inspectors who allege they were threatened and retaliated against for trying to expose corruption in the Department of Corrections.

FDOC Inspector General Jeffery Beasley launched the probe into possible misconduct by the inspectors after they uncovered a possible cover-up in the 2010 death of a 27-year-old inmate at Franklin Correctional Institution.

When they tried to pursue criminal charges last year in connection with the death, Beasley allegedly filed complaints alleging they had botched two other unrelated criminal cases, according to a federal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by the inspectors in July.

Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, who was informed by the inspectors of Beasley’s threats, denied the inspectors whistle-blower protection, but did agree to take the internal affairs complaint out of Beasley’s hands. She ordered that the case be probed by another agency, the inspector general’s office for the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Their investigation, conducted by F&W inspector Amy Schmidt, was completed in early June and turned over to Miguel, several sources have told The Herald. Three months later, with just weeks before the election, Miguel has failed to explain why it remains on her desk, other than to say that it isn’t finished.

Thomas Winokur, assistant general counsel for the governor, said in a statement to Miami Herald attorneys Tuesday that “the investigative report is not complete. Appropriate action will be taken when the report is final.’’ He would not elaborate.

Bonnie Hazleton, from the Governor’s Office of Open Government, told the Herald a week earlier that Miguel “does not conduct internal affairs investigations into law enforcement agencies.’’ So it remains unclear exactly who is conducting the “open’’ investigation.

DOC Inspector Aubrey Land, a 30-year veteran law enforcement officer, told Miguel, in a recorded interview in April that a FDOC official was part of the cover-up into the Franklin inmate’s death.

“My skin don’t crawl very often. They killed that kid. He laid there five hours begging for help,’’ Land told Miguel.

The inmate, Randall Jordan-Aparo, was repeatedly gassed in a confined cell at the prison in September 2010. His death was initially ruled by natural causes. It has since been reopened by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI is also involved in the case.

Photo: Melinda Miguel

-- By Julie K. Brown

Super PAC against super PACs bashes 'lobbyist' Carlos Curbelo in mailers


IMG_3339Every Voice Action, a liberal political group that promotes campaign-finance reform and backed Miami Rep. Joe Garcia in 2012, has come to the congressman's aid in his reelection campaign.

The super PAC -- which supports the very reforms that would do away with super PACs -- says it has mailed three different fliers attacking Republican Carlos Curbelo to some 21,000 voters in the Westchester-to-Key West 26th congressional district. The ads cost the group about $17,000, spokesman Adam Smith said. IMG_3338

Two pieces say Curbelo is "bought and paid for" by charter-school interests who have donated to his campaign that he has supported as a member of the Miami-Dade County school board. The third hammers Curbelo on his remark, caught on video and rated False by PolitiFact Florida, that Social Security and Medicare amount to a "Ponzi scheme." 

As has become routine in the tight, tit-for-tat race, Curbelo spokesman Wadi Gaitan called the fliers a diversion from Curbelo's attacks in which he highlights state and federal investigations into Garcia's past campaigns.


"Carlos Curbelo is the only candidate that can truly run on ethics, honesty, and effecitve leadership, and he is firmly committed to protecting Medicare and Social Security for current beneficiaries and guaranteeing it for future generations," Gaitan said in a statement. "Furthermore, as a School Board Member, Carlos has a record of working on bipartisan solutions to put the interests of students, teachers, and taxpayers first."