June 25, 2014

Scott hits Crist over taxes; Crist releases returns

Gov. Rick Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, launched a new TV spot Wednesday that criticizes Democrat Charlie Crist for not releasing his federal income tax returns. But in the ensuing back-and-forth between the two campaigns, the tone took a decidedly more nasty turn.

"What's he hiding?" Scott's spot asks. Three hours after the Times/Herald posted an item about the commercial, Crist's campaign released his tax returns for 2011, 2012 and 2013. 

The Republican Party of Florida would not disclose the size of the ad buy or say which TV markets are showing it. Scott and his wife Ann released their joint tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012 when he filed his candidate qualifying papers last week, and Crist has said he'll release more years of tax returns. (Scott has not released his latest tax return, for 2013, because he and his wife requested an extension from the IRS).

"He's going to out-transparent me?" Crist said. Crist was adamant that he wouldn't release his wife Carole's taxes: "She's not running for office," Crist said. The campaign accused Scott of a "shameful new low" in Florida politics by trying to make a candidate's wife a campaign issue (Crist and his wife file separately).

Crist spokesman Kevin Cate posted on Twitter: "In one week, we've had Rick Scott's backers and campaign race-bait on radio and attack Charlie's spouse. And it's June."

Scott's TV ad shows a fleeting glimpse of Carole Crist, and the ad also notes that in 2010, Democrat Alex Sink released her tax returns along with those of her husband, the late Bill McBride.

In past years, Crist has routinely released his tax returns, as he did in March 2010 in his last campaign, an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, when he released his first and challenged his Republican rival, Marco Rubio, to do the same.

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June 24, 2014

Another break-through ruling: Divided Supreme Court takes Bainter redistricting appeal

The unprecedented rulings keep on coming. A divided Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear the question of whether 537 pages of documents of political consultant Pat Bainter should have been introduced in a lawsuit by a coalition of voters groups challenging the state's congressional redistricting maps.

In a 5-2 decision, the court said it would decide the case at the urging of the appeals court last week. It ordered that briefs be filed on a schedule, concluding on July 31. The majority offered no reason for its decision but Chief Justice Ricky Polston, who was joined in the dissent by Justice Charles Canady, scolded the other justices for accepting the case.

"We take jurisdiction of this case to do what?" Polston wrote. " ... The procedural posture of this case is unprecedented and bizarre." Download SCOFLA certifies Bainter redistricting

The challenge to the state's congressional districts was brought by a coalition of voting groups led by the League of Women Voters. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is expected to rule on the case any day. The parties submitted their final arguments to Lewis nearly two weeks ago, but the fate of 537 pages of documents produced by Bainter and his Gainesville-based consulting firm, Data Targeting, Inc., remains in dispute.

Continue reading "Another break-through ruling: Divided Supreme Court takes Bainter redistricting appeal" »

New 'progressive' mailer links Scott and Crist

The latest mail piece from a mysterious group that calls itself Progressive Choice Florida is a two-fer that attacks both Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic opponent Charlie Crist as "one in the same."

The allegations in the mailer are that both men oppose health care reform and women's health care and support the expansion of school vouchers and have appointed conservative judges.

Progressive Choice is thought by some to be a conservative front organization trying to help Democrat Nan Rich gain ground in her primary fight against Crist.

The latest mailer doesn't mention Rich but says "Florida deserves a real progressive leader!" Progressive Choice is run by a Baltimore political consultant, Jamie Fontaine-Gansell, who has told TalkingPointsMemo that the group is a "real deal progressive organization." Its donors remain a mystery. The group is not required by Florida law to reveal donor information until a month before the election.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Progressive Choice is paying for a racially-tinged radio ad in central Florida that cites Crist's strong support for the NRA's political agenda and his support for stricter sentencing laws when he was a Republican governor and state senator.

“It’s time Charlie Crist answer to Floridians for his record, for a lost generation of African-Americans and for trampling on the ideal that the punishment fit the crime,” the spot says.

Two road-safety bills become law

Gov. Rick Scott signed two road-safety bills into law Tuesday.

One of the new laws (SB 102) increases the penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a crash in which a person is killed. The minimum mandatory sentence will now be four years, the same as for DUI manslaughter.

The legislation is called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, in memory of a Miami cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2012. 

The driver, Michele Traverso, served less than two years in jail for leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Had he stayed behind and been found guilty of DUI manslaughter -- evidence suggested he had been drinking before the crash -- his sentence would have been longer.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, said he sponsored the bill because there was an obvious incentive for drunk drivers to take off.

"Creating the appropriate penalties for hit-and-run drivers is the right thing to do for our state," he said Tuesday.

Patty Cohen said she hoped her husband's death would help make the roads safer.

"While nothing will bring Aaron back, it gives us comfort to know that the change we have made may prevent other families from suffering as ours did," she said.

Scott also signed HB 225, which strengthens state law on child safety seats. 

Florida law already requires federally approved safety seats or restraining devices for children who are 3 years old or younger. The requirements will now apply to 4- and 5-year-old children, too.

Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the new law would save lives.

"I am grateful to have played a part in passing legislation that will promote the well being of Florida's youngest and protect them on the roads," she said.

Scott has just one bill remaining on his desk.

The bill, HB 561 by state Rep. Erik Fresen, requires the court to appoint attorneys for children with special-needs if a legal guardian is not available. The proposal passed by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate. 

June 23, 2014

The latest David Rivera mystery: What has he been doing for a living?

@PatriciaMazzei

For the first time, David Rivera is running for Congress without holding a political office.

So what has the former U.S. House of Representatives member been doing for the past two years to pay the bills?

"Business development," the Miami Republican said Monday night.

What that means, exactly, will for now have to remain a mystery. Rivera repeatedly refused to elaborate on his profession, saying only that he will eventually file his required financial disclosures with the House. He would not name any clients or businesses that have paid him.

"That'll all come out in the financial disclosures," Rivera told a Miami Herald reporter. "They will speak for themselves." [See the transcript of the interview below.]

Earlier this month, a Florida administrative law found that, as a state representative, Rivera violated three ethics laws, included one every year between 2005 and 2009, when he failed to properly report his income. Rivera claimed in those financial disclosures that he worked as a contractor for the U.S. Agency of International Development.

USAID had no record of ever hiring him. After the Herald asked about the discrepancy in 2010, Rivera amended the financial disclosures to delete any USAID references.

Continue reading "The latest David Rivera mystery: What has he been doing for a living?" »

UPDATED GOP debate prompts Democrats to highlight 'scandals' in FL-26 race

@PatriciaMazzei

The first debate among most of the Republican candidates running in Florida's 26th Congressional District will be held Monday night, with the likely absence of ex-Congressman David Rivera.

Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck are expected to attend the forum, hosted by the Women's Republican Club of Miami, Federated.

National Democrats are using the event as a way to attack Curbelo and Rivera. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said Monday that it's adding the two men to its "House of Scandal" website criticizing GOP members of Congress.

Rivera's scandals are well-known. He's under federal investigation in a campaign-finance investigation stemming from a ringer candidate in the 2012 Democratic congressional primary. Most recently, a Florida administrative judge ruled Rivera broke ethics laws while in the state Legislature.

By comparison, the accusations the DCCC levels against Curbelo -- chief among them that he voted for school district contracts that benefited political donors -- appear less scandalous.

But expect scandal to be a buzzword in this campaign -- including against the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Joe Garcia. Garcia's former chief of staff, Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, served time in jail for orchestrating a 2012 scheme to unlawfully submit online absentee ballot requests.

UPDATE: Republicans have countered by noting Congressman Garcia's own negative headlines.

"Apparently, [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi's attack dogs at the DCCC have yet to meet Joe Garcia or they would know that not only is Garcia under two FBI investigations, but his former chief of staff just got done doing jail time over his absentee ballot fraud scandal," Katie Prill, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. "If Garcia wasn't so corrupt we would actually feel sorry for him seeing these are the political 'geniuses' tasked with getting him re-elected and keeping him out of jail."

Curbelo also sent a response of his own, via text message, with the hyperbole that can be expected in these attack-counterattack situations: "I appreciate the DCCC making this election about ethics, considering that Joe Garcia is one of the most corrupt politicians serving in Congress."

Read the DCCC's press release below.

Continue reading "UPDATED GOP debate prompts Democrats to highlight 'scandals' in FL-26 race" »

Whistleblower on Florida economic agency fraud wins lawsuit, attorney says

A former employee of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity who uncovered "systemic" fraud within the agency has won a whistleblower lawsuit against the state, her attorney said Monday.

The whistleblower, 30-year state employee Dianne Parcell, discovered 97 instances in which the agency had inappropriately reported Floridians to collection agencies for alleged unemployment overpayments. Parcell reported the findings to her supervisors and the governor's office, but was told to drop her investigation, she said.

Parcell submitted a whistleblower letter in August 2012, she said. She was placed on administrative leave the following day and later fired.

A subsequent investigation revealed that as many as 19,000 Floridians had been wrongly reported to collections agencies, attorney Keisha Rice said.

"These improper referrals can severely and adversely affect someone's credit rating, making it more difficult to buy a house or a car," Rice said.

Rice said one woman who had been improperly reported had already demanded $100,000 from the state. She estimated that the overall liability to the state could be as much as $1.9 billion.

Parcel won her case in Leon County Circuit Court on April 3. A jury awarded her more than $50,000 in damages.

Parcell said she was bringing the case to the media not to affect the upcoming governor's race, but because the 19,000 cases had not yet been resolved.

"I don't have a vendetta against Rick Scott," she said. "I'm a Republican."

In a statement, Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Jennifer Diaz called Parcell's claims "meritless" and said Parcell's Monday morning press conference was "coordinated by a political campaign."

The news conference was organized by Kevin Cate, who consults for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist

But Cate said the event was not related to the Crist campaign. 

"I work for a number of law firms and [Rice's law firm] is one of them," he said.

Crist won't go to Cuba -- for now, at least

Charlie Crist will not visit Cuba this summer as planned, his campaign said in a statement Monday.

"Despite his stark disagreements with the government in Cuba, the governor continues to believe the embargo hasn't worked for the Cuban people and is bad for Florida's economy," said Brendan Gilfillan, Crist campaign spokesperson. "If at some point after the election there is an opportunity to travel there to learn from the people of Cuba and help find opportunities for Florida businesses the governor will go."

In May, the former Florida governor and current Democratic candidate for governor, announced plans to visit Cuba in July to learn more as he calls for normalizing relations with the island 90 miles south of Key West.

But Crist spokesman Kevin Cate said the Cuba trip had never been finalized and Crist was only "exploring the opportunity."

"He has decided it would be best after the election," Cate said Monday. "He needs to focus on defeating Rick Scott."

Underdog Nan Rich runs determined grassroots gubernatorial campaign

RICH

PENSACOLA -- Nan Rich is a long way from home.

In this ultraconservative city on the western edge of the Florida Panhandle, the Democratic candidate for governor is more than 650 miles from her base of support in left-leaning Broward County.

Any farther and she would be in Alabama.

Rich is keenly aware of the distance as she settles in for a meet and greet at a trendy restaurant that serves both sushi and Southern comfort food. Winning votes here is a long shot. But so is winning the governor’s mansion.

Rich, a former state senator from Weston, is the decided underdog in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary. Her opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, is better known and better financed, and widely expected to face sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the general election.

Still, Rich has spent more than two years crisscrossing the state, hammering on her talking points: More money for public schools. An increase in the minimum wage. Healthcare for all.

Her campaign workers say she has traveled more than 160,000 miles and attended more than 325 campaign events.

"Look at what happened with Eric Cantor," Rich said last week, recalling the U.S. House majority leader from Virginia who shockingly lost this month’s primary election to a little-known economics professor. "That's the power of grassroots organizing."

Despite her best efforts, the spotlight has remained on Crist, a one-term Republican governor who ran a failed bid for U.S. Senate in 2010 and became a Democrat in 2012.

Read more here.

Miami-Dade looks to other cities in struggle to deal with Lyft, Uber

@PatriciaMazzei

In the showdown between the taxicab industry and upstart car services, there are no Davids — just Goliaths.

Burgeoning ride-for-hire companies led by Uber, whose worth has been estimated at $17 billion, have the deeper pockets. But established taxicab owners, with their decades-long foothold in the community, have a stronger grip on local politics.

And not just in Miami-Dade County.

Government regulators across the country and in Europe are struggling with how to control the digital-dispatch services that have upended the transportation business. Massive cab protests in Paris, Madrid and Berlin two weeks ago paralyzedtraffic.

But some places have found a way for the competing giants to coexist. And therein may lie lessons for Miami-Dade.

The county has issued at least 36 fines and impounded at least seven cars belonging to drivers of Lyft and UberX, the rivals that began offering rides last month in violation of local regulations.

The companies, which don’t hire chauffeurs or own vehicles, allow users to summon rides from freelance drivers using smartphone applications. They say that exempts them from taxicab and limousine rules.

More here.