October 10, 2014

5 things to watch in the Telemundo debate


In 25 days, Florida elects a governor.

We’ve reached that phase of Florida’s neck-and-neck governor’s race where the voting is underway, the millions of dollars in nasty TV ads make less and less difference and barring an October surprise, there is probably one real opportunity to shift the overall narrative of the campaign: debates.

It starts Friday when Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist make their first joint appearance in the Telemundo TV studios in South Florida.

The 7 p.m. pre-taped debate could be critical for the campaigns’ efforts to win over Hispanics, who make up 14 percent of registered voters. The questions will be in Spanish, and the answers from Crist and Scott will be dubbed over by a Spanish interpreter for the TV audience.

Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist make their first joint appearance in the Telemundo TV studios in South Florida for the first debate of the gubernatorial campaign. | Meredyth Hope Hall/Courtesy Governor’s Office

But it is also a dress rehearsal for two live debates aimed at the broader electorate, next Wednesday from Broward College and Oct. 21 on CNN from Jacksonville. More here.

As debate season gets underway, here are five things to keep in mind:

Continue reading "5 things to watch in the Telemundo debate" »

Florida House candidate: I'll run in 2016 on just $99

The 2014 general election is still weeks away, but Florida House candidate Ross Hancock is already looking toward the future.

Hancock, an independent who is currently running against state Rep. Erik Fresen in House District 114, has launched his bid for the 2016 election, state records show.

What's unusual about his 2016 candidacy: He's committing to a total budget of $99.

"I will accept no contributions, and our campaign account will start with $99 and that's it until Election Day 2016," the former community newspaper publisher wrote in an email to the Herald/Times. "You shouldn't have to be rich to run. A campaign shouldn't be funded by lobbyists and unions. And ordinary working people shouldn’t be pressured for small contributions. No one should pay to play."

Hancock said he will use "shoe leather, social media, and people power" to win office.

House District 114 includes parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Cutler Bay, Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest. 

Hancock ran for the seat against Fresen in 2012 and lost by just two points.

This year, Hancock's campaign finance forms indicate that he has loaned himself about $24,000. Fresen, meanwhile, has raised about $366,000.

The Democrat in the 2014 race, Daisy Baez, has raised about $188,000.

In other House District 114 news, Baez has launched a new TV commercial that highlights her military service and commitment to public schools. The ad then goes negative, painting Fresen as a lobbyist who has "earmarked hundreds of thousands in taxpayers dollars to his sister's [charter school management] company." 

The commercial is strikingly similar to a Florida Democratic Party ad for state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, who is running for re-election in House District 112. That district includes Key Biscayne, Brickell, the Roads, Coconut Grove and parts of Coral Gables.

Watch Baez's video below.




Miami police union rips body camera pilot program


If the Miami Police Department is going to equip its officers with body cameras, it won’t be without a fight from its union.

Fraternal Order of Police president Sgt. Javier Ortiz, in an open letter Thursday to Miami’s city manager, ripped a “reckless” pilot program that has several dozen officers wearing cameras that record their interactions with the public. Department brass recently purchased 50 Taser cameras to deploy among the roughly 1,150-member department as part of a University of South Florida study of body cams among large police forces. Asst. Chief Rodolpho Llanes said the department gave motorcycle traffic cops and police on the department’s problem-solving team the cameras, and will have a conversation about whether to expand their use after the study is completed in about a year.

But Ortiz wrote in his letter that the department -- which recently suspended a cop over issues related to the use of his own, personal dash cam -- is rushing the initiative without an established set of rules and guidelines or proper training. He also argued the potential millions needed for record-keeping and related personnel under an expanded program would be better spent on improving pay and benefits.

“The poor excuse that this is a pilot program means there are no rules and it’s just a free for all,” Ortiz wrote. He added that if police brass is serious about transparency, COMPSTAT meetings, during which crime statistics are discussed, should be videotaped.

Llanes said he understsands Ortiz’s arguments, which are similar to those from police unions in Miami-Dade and Miami Beach, where officials are considering or implementing body cameras. But Llanes said Miami is just testing the waters.

“Rolling out a 600-camera system is different than rolling out a 50-camera system to see the effects,” he said.

Report: The untold jobs story -- as state workforce shrank, so did services

Workforce reportFrom the Center for Investigative Reporting:

Over the last decade, Florida has shed thousands of state jobs, the consequence of a poor economy and a political philosophy at work. The result has affected how well agencies that protect everything from children to the environment can do their jobs.

According to a workforce report compiled by the state, while the nationwide average number of state workers per 10,000 in population was 211 in 2012, Florida had just 111 that year. That’s almost half the national average.

The state’s population has grown by 4 million since 1998. Its budget has increased by $25 billion since 2000. Yet Florida has almost 10,000 fewer established positions in the State’s Personnel System, State University System, State Legislature, Courts System and Justice Administration combined, than it did 15 years ago.

This means Florida’s government has been operating at its lowest staffing levels in almost two decades.

Even as the economy rebounds, state government isn’t growing with it.

This has largely been the result of a predominately Republican Legislature, and three Republican governors since the late 1990s – all of whom campaigned on promises to shrink government.

As a result, public agencies tasked with protecting vulnerable children, monitoring waterways and providing benefits to Floridians who have fallen on hard times, are struggling to fulfill their mandates. More here. 

October 09, 2014

Miami-Dade accuses 2 campaign workers of ballot tampering in Homestead election last year


Two men suspected of visiting a Homestead residence last year and filling out four people’s absentee ballots against their wishes were arrested Thursday.

Both men, who worked for then-candidate Mark Bell, were charged with four counts of unlawfully marking or designating a choice on a ballot, a third-degree felony, and one count of possessing more than two ballots at a time, a misdemeanor.

James Brady, 31, and Samuel Jean, 42, turned themselves into Miami-Dade County authorities Thursday afternoon. Brady resigned from his position as corresponding secretary with the Miami-Dade Republican Party earlier in the day.

“Criminal activities which aim to undermine our voting process should offend every citizen of Dade County,” state attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in a statement announcing the arrests. “The actions of my prosecutors and the Miami-Dade Police Department to effectively charge those who try to steal any citizen’s vote show our deep commitment to clean and honest elections.”

Neither her statement nor an arrest warrant addressed what role, if any, might have been played by Bell, a Republican who lost the nonpartisan mayoral election. He has denied any involvement and reiterated that position Thursday.

“Nobody’s contacted me,” Bell said.

More here.

Rick Scott campaign: we're crushing Democrats in mail-in votes. And they are by 18%


Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager, data guru Tim Saler, is out with a new numbers-laden memo that's partly news, partly media j'accuse and partly narrative course-correction.

The memo comes as Democrat Charlie Crist is shifting slightly ahead in polls this week. And Saler rightly points out that what really matters is votes. And Republicans, as they're want to do, are dominating. Actually, they're crushing Democrats in absentee ballots being cast.

"At this time in the 2010 campaign, just over 140,000 voters had their ballots counted," Saler writes. "Fast-forward to 2012, and a little over 145,000 voters had made their choice. Today, more than 260,000 voters have already cast their ballots in the race for Florida’s next governor. And who cast their votes will surprise you even more."

So far, by my count, a whopping 265,651 absentee ballots have been mailed back to election supervisors. Of them, 50 percent are from Republicans and 33 percent from Democrats. The margin: 18 percentage points for Republicans. About this point in 2012, Democrats were only down 2.4 percentage points.

Pinellas Republicans, by the way, are leading the way -- with 18,555. That's Charlie Crist's home county, so there's a good chance a higher-than-usual number of these are for Crist.

Still, what's up in Charlie Crist World? 

Continue reading "Rick Scott campaign: we're crushing Democrats in mail-in votes. And they are by 18%" »

Did Panuccio keep his promise about CONNECT?

Jesse-panuccio-02Jesse Panuccio sure did a bang-up job of keeping his job.

In March, the 33-year-old executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity needed to convince state senators to confirm him so he could keep the $144,000 job that Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to.

Unfortunately for Panuccio, his confirmation hearings came at the same time that one of the projects he oversaw, the online unemployement filing system CONNECT, was in disarray. Claimants couldn't get their money and they flooded the offices of senators with complaints.

Panuccio embarked on a furious lobbying campaign with senators, and promised that the problems with CONNECT had vanished. 

"The bottom line is that we have resolved the delays caused by CONNECT's launch," Panuccio told senators on March 25. "Service is now better than it was prior to CONNECT."

Message received. Senators voted 37-0 to confirm him in April.

But wait. Now that we are at the one-year-anniversary of the CONNECT launch, now might be a good time to see if Panuccio is correct.

Is "service" better now than it was prior to CONNECT?

Read here to find out.

Courts says Legislature won't have to pay victor's attorney's fees in redistricting case

Terry LewisFlorida taxpayers will not have to pay for what could amount to millions in attorneys fees for the coalition of voters groups who successfully challenged the Legislature's drawing of congressional districts, a Leon County court judge ruled Thursday.

But Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis gave them a consolution prize: the Legislature, via taxpayers, would pay most of their costs. That's on top of the more than $7 million already spent on the Legislature's lawyers.

Lewis also gave the plaintiffs the comfort of knowing they were the victors.

"I find you to be the prevailing party,'' he told the plaintiffs at the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing in Tallahassee Thursday.

The statement was necessary because, as with everything in this bitterly-fought, two-year case, even the question of who won was in dispute. Employing every ounce of brass-plated legalese, the attorneys pounced on the question of who really won the lawsuit.

The Legislature's lawyers argued that because the court threw out only two of the 10 disputed districts that they had succeeded in defeating the voters groups and the plaintiffs should have to pay the Legislature's fees for going to court to battle over fees.

Arguing the Legislature acted in bad faith "when all we did was aggressively defend the case...is in itself in bad faith,'' said Raoul Cantero, lawyer for the Florida Senate. 

Continue reading "Courts says Legislature won't have to pay victor's attorney's fees in redistricting case" »

Latino Decisions/LaRaza poll: Crist leads Scott 53-29 among Hispanic FL voters


Democrat Charlie Crist holds a sizable 53-29 percent lead over Gov. Rick Scott among Hispanic voters, according to a new poll that indicates this fastest growing segment of the electorate doesn’t like Republican positions on immigration, Medicaid and the minimum wage.

And despite concerns that Hispanic voters might stay home this election, the survey conducted by the premier Latino Decisions polling firm indicates they could be a force at the polls for Crist just as they were for President Obama in 2012 when he barely won Florida.

"There has been a lot of rumbling from pundits that Latino voters will stay home this year because they are demoralized by the lack of progress on immigration reform,” said Loren McArthur, deputy director of civic engagement for National Council of La Raza, a liberal-leaning Hispanic-advocacy group that paid for the survey of 600 registered Hispanic voters.
“When asked whether inaction on immigration means Latinos should turn out or sit home in November,” he said, pointing to the poll, “nearly eight times as many Latino voters say turnout is more important than ever this year.”

The poll, released as the two major candidates square off Friday in a debate hosted by Spanish-language network Telemundo, is the latest spot of good survey news for Crist.

More here

Mayor of Miami-Dade city says benefits for domestic partners would promote adultery, fornication

via @MoniqueOMadan

Domestic-partner benefits appeared to have stopped being contentious long ago in Miami-Dade County, where a slew of local governments have extended the perks to couples who live together but are not married.

Then came Doral.

City council members delayed a scheduled vote on the issue Wednesday night -- after a three-hour discussion that involved Mayor Luigi Boria siding with conservative religious leaders who argued against the law.

But some religious leaders fired back, citing the Bible and begging the council not to pass an ordinance that would open the door non-traditional partnerships getting the same perks as married people.

Mayor Luigi Boria said that this would promote illegal acts such as adultery, fornication, and lewd and lascivious acts.

Emotions swirled, with Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz crying in her chair. She shared with residents that her late father-in-law, who was a pastor, inspired her to love everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

The chambers went silent.

Steve Alessi, pastor of Metro Life Church in Doral, told the council that giving domestic partnerships the same benefits as marriage would give homosexual couples an “open door in Doral.”

“I support moral values, Godly values,” Alessi said.

Ruiz snatched a tissue. Vice Mayor Christi Fraga followed.

More from Miami Herald reporter Monique O. Madan here.