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February 21, 2015

NYT profiles Jeb Bush's wife, Columba

The New York Times reports on the political reticence of Columba Bush, the former Florida first lady, who has always been far more private than her husband and likely Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush

For 20 years, Columba Bush anticipated the day she would have to answer one big question: Would she support her husband, Jeb Bush, if he decided to run for president?

Last summer and fall, as she wrestled with whether to say yes, her sense of duty was mixed with dread.

Born in Mexico, she had married into a famously political American family and had always been an outsider: a prayerful Roman Catholic, a sensitive loner and lover of the arts who still speaks in heavily accented English. As Florida’s first lady, she had arranged Mass in the governor’s mansion and endured weeks of bad press for a European shopping spree. She blamed politics for friction in her marriage and as a factor in her daughter’s drug addiction. A run for the White House would expose her to the spotlight as never before.

“She knows the good and the bad of being around politics,” said Jim Towey, an official in the administration of President George W. Bush, Jeb’s brother, and a close friend to both Jeb and Columba. “It’s opened the door to extraordinary experiences for her. But she’s paid quite a price, as well.”

A note: The Times piece says Columba Bush gave her final blessing to her husband's presidential ambitions on Thanksgiving. Past Miami Herald reporting suggests she had given her tacit approval by 2011.

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush question President Obama's policies, not his patriotism

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio was asked by a Florida radio station on Friday about Rudy Giuliani's comment that President Barack Obama does not love America.

"I don’t feel like I’m in a position to have to answer for every person in my party that makes a claim," Rubio replied. "Democrats aren’t asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing, so I don’t know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I’ll suffice it to say that I believe the President loves America; I think his ideas are bad."

And here's Jeb Bush: "Governor Bush doesn't question President Obama's motives. He does question President Obama's disastrous policies," spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

In D.C., Gov. Scott gushes anew about Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Scott, in Washington on Friday, gushed to Politico about his fondness for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a story that will revive all that man-crush talk in Tallahassee.

"Rick is a ball to be with," Scott is quoted as saying (ever heard him talk that way about a Florida politician? The piece describes Scott as "introverted by nature" and leaves aside the question of whether Scott might seek a U.S. Senate seat in either 2016 or 2018. The full story is here.

February 20, 2015

Immigration activists briefly interrupt Marco Rubio book-tour stop at Miami Dade College


A hometown visit by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to promote his new book drew a crowd of hundreds to Miami Dade College on Friday evening -- including at least a half a dozen immigration activists who interrupted the Republican several times before being escorted out by security.

"You're a hypocrite," a young activist yelled at Rubio. Another flipped him off and swore at the senator as she was being ushered out.

Rubio, who has repeatedly had to face activists at public events, took the interruptions in stride, even cracking jokes about it.

"I just hope they bought the book," Rubio quipped. "I'm the only one who gets heckled by both sides of the immigration debate."

The Rubio-friendly audience rallied behind him, standing up to applaud and in some cases yell back at the protesters, who were not detained. So many people had RSVP'ed -- about 1,000, according to the university -- that the event was moved to a larger auditorium.

Rubio stuck to a theme familiar to anyone who has followed him in Miami: pursuing the American Dream. His new policy book is, in fact, titled American Dreams.

Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate, emphasized ways the federal government can help the middle class -- which he illustrated as a 30-year-old single woman trying to raise two or three children and unable to improve her professional qualifications to get a better job.

"The problem is that in order to achieve those skills, often times, depending on where you live, that requires you to drop everything and go to school for two years," he said.

Instead, Rubio proposed that higher education take into account a person's work experience, military service and other background to get an "equivalent" of a degree. He also touted his idea that private investors pay student loan costs in exchange for a percentage of a graduate's income.

Before the event, Rubio took questions from reporters who, as is typical for Miami, asked in English and Spanish l about issues ranging from Cuba to Colombia to Argentina.

He made no mention of his possible GOP rivals but did address a report that Senate Republicans worried about an open seat in the nation's largest swing state were urging him to run for reelection.

"That may be how they feel, but in terms of pressure and so forth, it's just not accurate," Rubio said. "I don't think I've had a single member of the Senate pressure me.

Bloomberg: The 8 biggest donors who could change the Republican race for president

From Bloomberg:

There are billionaires who could upend the state of play simply by opening their checkbooks.

Bush takeaway: Jeb Bush hasn't hooked the biggest fish of all: Multimillionaires and billionaires who have shown their willingness to write $1 million checks if they take a shine to a particular candidate. Their nearly unlimited ability to donate to super-PACs can give poorly funded campaigns a booster shot of outside assistance, usually in the form of attack ads.  

Rubio takeaway: 

Harold Simmons, a Dallas-based investor whose holdings included a nuclear waste dump, spent more than $26 million on super-PACs and candidates in 2012, making him the cycle's second-most active donor, after Adelson.  He died in December 2013. It's an open question how much his widow, Annette,  will participate in 2016 politics, if at all. But there's one interesting sign: In December, she contributed $5,000 to Sen. Marco Rubio's political action committee. If she is inclined as her husband was to participate in presidential king-making, the Center for Responsive Politics noted, she "could be just the spark a candidate like Rubio needs to battle through the first primaries."

More here.

John Morgan calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz medical pot 'prohibitionist' in fundraising email


John Morgan, the major Florida political donor engaged in a public spat with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is using the incident to raise dollars and get signatures for a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. And he's not holding back.

"We don't negotiate with prohibitionists. Or bullies," reads the fundraising email Morgan sent supporters Friday afternoon, in the wake of a tussle -- through intermediaries -- with Wasserman Schultz.

Politico has reported that the Weston Democrat's office indicated Wasserman Schultz might reverse her opposition to legal medical pot if Morgan stopped publicly blasting her over it. The congresswoman, who is also chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has denied her office a potential deal, though text messages and emails obtained by Politico suggest otherwise.

The back-and-forth began when Wasserman Schultz started flirting with running for U.S. Senate, if Republican Marco Rubio doesn't seek reelection. Morgan and his allies warned they would oppose Wasserman Schultz, who last year likened a medical-marijuana dispensaries to prescription-drug "pill mills."

"When Debbie Wasserman Schultz came out last year against Amendment 2, she didn't just simply empower our opposition -- she obstructed thousands of patients who desperately need access to this medicine," Morgan's fundraising email says. "Her poor timing and very public stand against medical marijuana helped squander the efforts of thousands and volunteers and donors.

"Now she wants to have a conversation in exchange for me toning down my criticism of her position last year (and the damage she caused)? Not a chance."

Either the congresswoman supports the measure or doesn't, Morgan wrote: "Everything else is B.S. politics in order to rehabilitate the damage she's done to herself by being on the wrong side of the issue.  It's not support - it's a quid pro quo and I won't do it."

Read the full text of the email after the jump.

Continue reading "John Morgan calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz medical pot 'prohibitionist' in fundraising email" »

Obama to visit FIU for immigration town hall


President Obama will visit Miami next Wednesday to attend an immigration town-hall style meeting at Florida International University's main campus.

The nationally televised event, hosted by Miami-based Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart, will be in English and Spanish, according to MSNBC. His brother Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, has pushed Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"We've chosen this town hall forum because the president has a desire to engage in a genuine conversation about issues important to the community," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the network. Miami "makes for an interesting, dynamic place and a great symbol of how immigration has made our country unique."

Weatherford polishes up his resume

WeatherfordblogHow does he do it all?

Just last month, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, announced that he and his brothers Sam and Drew were opening a consulting company. The aptly-named Weatherford Partners would provide clients "with a broad range of business expertise and will invest capital directly into private companies with a strategic focus on Florida."

Sounds complicated. And still Weatherford has found time to get involved in other activities.

Only a day after he announced his fledgling company, the Florida Chamber of Commerce announced Weatherford was to sit on its Board of Directors, allowing him to join his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, a longtime Chamber power player.

Talk about timing. Weatherford got good mileage out of the previous day's announcement. The Chamber release identified Weatherford as managing partner of Weatherford Partners BEFORE it mentioned he also happened to be Florida's former Speaker of the House.

And then on Friday came news of yet another appointment, this time to the board of directors of the Republican State Leadership Committee. The committee's chairman, former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a release that he was "thrilled to welcome Will to our Board of Directors. Electing new, talented Republicans to state legislative chambers remains among the RSLC’s top priorities, and Will’s knowledge from his four consecutive terms with the Florida House of Representatives will be extremely valuable to our mission."

RSLC is a major force in campaign fundraising for legislative races nationally. In the 2014 election cycle it helped raise more than $600,000 for House and Senate races in Florida. Weatherford was known as a formidable rainmaker himself, so he should fit in nicely.

When term limits forced Weatherford out of the House last year, he was coy about his future. He said he was going to be a more present husband and father, and he was going to focus on bolstering his private sector bona fides. 

His political future? "I'm not looking for something," Weatherford said then. "If there's an opportunity, I'll take a look, but there's a value in stepping back."

As Friday's RSLC announcement shows, Weatherford might have stepped back, but he still has an eye on the stage. 

Continue reading "Weatherford polishes up his resume" »

February 19, 2015

Politico: Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office in 'tizzy' over medical-marijuana donor trouble


U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office offered to change the Weston Democrat's position against a legalizing medical marijuana in exchange for support from a deep-pocketed donor, Politico reports.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office offered to change her position on medical marijuana if a major Florida donor recanted his withering criticism of her, according to emails obtained by POLITICO.

The proposal to Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan was straightforward: retract critical statements he made to a reporter in return for Wasserman Schultz publicly backing his cannabis initiative that she had trashed just months earlier. Morgan declined the offer with a sharp email reply sent to a go-between, who described the congresswoman as being in a “tizzy.”

“No,” Morgan responded. “She is a bully. I beat bullies up for a living.”

Earlier, Politico had reported that Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, was considering running for Senate if Marco Rubio mounts a presidential bid and doesn't seek reelection. That chatter prompted backers of a medical-marijuana initiative that received majority support at the polls last year but failed to meet the 60-percent threshold required in Florida to say they would make sure to remind voters about Wasserman Schultz's opposition.

Now Wasserman Schultz's office has been exposed -- in writing, and by a major Democratic donor, no less. She did not comment to Politico, perhaps hoping the issue would go away. But it got louder instead.

UPDATE: Wasserman Schultz told the Sun-Sentinel on Friday that the allegation is "outrageous."

""I wouldn't change my position in exchange for support under any circumstances -- ever. I stand on principle. I'm always very proud to stand in front of my constituents and explain when I have a difference of opinion with them," she said.

Climate change activists denied anti-Marco Rubio billboard in Miami


An environmental activist group recently tried to put up a billboard in Miami criticizing potential Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio's position on climate change.

"NO CLIMATE DENIERS IN THE WHITE HOUSE," the proposed ad from Forecast the Facts Action read, steering viewers to 

But the ad never went up -– because the billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor, considered it a political "attack," Forecast the Facts said.

"Clear Channel is applying a partisan filter to the ads that it allows Miami residents to see, and tilting the scale in favor of its own partisan agenda," Brant Olson, Forecast's campaign director, said in an email. "Clear Channel is playing dirty politics."

Untrue, countered Clear Channel, which says it offered Forecast the Facts a different location the environmentalists turned down.

Though Forecast the Facts had already signed a contract for the original billboard location, on Northwest 58th Street, Clear Channel had yet to ratify it when the group sent in the ad design. That's when Clear Channel rejected the location -- something the company says it sometimes does, even after a site has been made available to advertisers.

"All our contracts clearly state we reserve the right to final ad approval," spokesman Jason King said in an email. "And sometimes the original ad presented in discussions may only be a draft." 

The billboard was Forecast the Fact's first attempt to shame a potential presidential contender over climate change. Senator Rubio said last year human activity is not "causing these dramatic changes to our climate," a claim PolitiFact rated False. The Florida Republican later explained he doesn't deny climate change but remains skeptical about whether it is man-made, despite agreement among an overwhelming majority of scientists that humans have contributed directly by burning fossil fuels.

The substitute location Clear Channel proposed on Northwest 36th Street was a (cheaper) electronic LED billboard. Forecast the Facts said no because its Rubio ad would have had less exposure, on rotation with other ads -- and because it could have been pulled at a moment's notice, Olson said. He noted that Clear Channel and its chairman have contributed $4,000 to Rubio since 2011.

To suggest the billboard didn't go up because of those donations is off base, King said: "It would absolutely not play a role in a decision regarding a billboard." 

Meantime, Forecast the Facts is using the incident as a opportunity to rally its supporters, emailing them an image of what the billboard would have looked like and asking them to share it on social media. One email -- titled "Rejected!" -- was timed to coincide with Rubio's trip to Iowa last week to promote his new policy book, American Dreams. A Miami stop is scheduled for Friday night.

Here's what the billboard would have looked like:

Rubio billboard