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April 18, 2016

Rep. Lake Ray interested in Ander Crenshaw's congressional seat


An outgoing state House member from Jacksonville says he's exploring a bid to replace Ander Crenshaw in the U.S. Congress.

Republican State Rep. Lake Ray announced his plans on Twitter this morning to campaign for Florida's Fourth Congressional District seat.

"We need to make sure NE Florida is well-represented," Ray wrote. "This congressional race will be about experience. We can't afford to have someone learn on the job."

Every hour for 10 hours today, Ray plans to tweet accomplishments "that will demonstrate why I am exploring this run."

Ray was first elected to the Florida House in 2008; he faces term limits and can't run for re-election. Before his time in the Legislature, he was on the Jacksonville City Council from 1999-2007.

Crenshaw, 71, announced last week that he wouldn't seek re-election to Congress after serving eight terms in office.

Several Jacksonville-area legislators have been named as possible candidates in the race to replace him.

As of Monday morning, only one person had filed with the Federal Election Commission for the open seat: St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure, a Republican who runs a health care technology company in St. Augustine.

April 16, 2016

Miami-Dade Republicans pick convention delegates



A strip of Northwest 60th Avenue in Miami Lakes on Saturday marked the Republican Party’s dividing line over Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

On the west side, set off by yellow police tape a few feet from a parked police patrol car, stood several dozen dedicated Trump volunteers, clad in colorful T-shirts, waving American flags at supportive cars that honked as they went by. “God-followers for Trump!” one woman yelled.

On the east side, inside the cramped anteroom of a cigar factory belonging to the future speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, nattily dressed GOP loyalists waited their turn to make a case for whey they should be delegates to the party’s presidential nominating convention.

There was little overlap. By the end of the day, when party leaders chose 15 delegates from Miami-Dade County's congressional districts, few seemed overt fans of Trump, the candidate who won the Florida Republican primary in a rout.

His backers did apply for some of the coveted positions, three for each of the five congressional districts. But they feared they’d mostly be shut out of the selection. So they staged a preemptive protest, a reminder to the GOP establishment that the front-runner wouldn’t be so easy to brush off.

“The establishment is there, subverting the will of the people so they can maintain their power and control,” said the woman who organized the demonstration, the fatefully named Dolly T. Rump. (Yes, that is her real name, she said before even being asked, whipping out her driver’s license and joking that no one choosing a fake name would go with “Rump.”)

Continue reading "Miami-Dade Republicans pick convention delegates" »

Annette Taddeo brings in $220K for Miami congressional bid


Annette Taddeo raised about $220,000 last quarter in her bid for Florida's southernmost congressional seat, putting her behind Democratic rival Joe Garcia in the first fundraising period pitting the two candidates against each other.

The two Miami Democrats are vying to challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who outraised them both with what a $362,000 haul. Garcia collected $325,000 since declaring his candidacy in February. The quarter lasted from Jan. 1-March 31.

Taddeo has been running for a year and has more cash in the bank than Garcia: about $496,000, compared to Garcia's about $316,000. 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz has $840k cash on hand in her first re-election battle

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who is facing her first re-election primary challenge, had about $840,000 cash on hand at the end of the first quarter.

The Democratic National Committee chair remains ahead of Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor from Hollywood. But Canova had an impressive haul as a first-time candidate during his first quarter and had $461,000 cash on hand.

Wasserman Schultz raised about $1.1 million in 2015 and about $621,000 during the first quarter of 2016, according to the report she filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission. The bulk of her expenses were on consulting, fundraising, digital mail and media and travel. She paid her finance chair Courtney Whitney about $22,000, fundraising consultant Jason O'Malley $15,000 and BTS Strategies about $15,000. 

Canova raised about $559,000 during the quarter. Canova's largest expense included about $23,000 paid to Revolution Messaging (same firm being used by Bernie Sanders) for digital media and about $11,000 to Deborah Dion who is his spokeswoman. Many of his other expenses were for staff, credit card processing and office supplies. He appears to be trying to spend carefully: food for volunteers was purchased at Publix, Subway and BJs.

Wasserman Schultz and Canova are competing in Congressional District 23 which runs from western Broward to Miami Beach.


For South Florida, statewide open enrollment likely to expand on existing district policies


Thanks to flexible transfer policies that already exist within Miami-Dade and Broward counties, superintendents in South Florida say they don’t anticipate drastic shifts in enrollment under a new law Gov. Rick Scott approved Thursday.

As part of a wide-ranging “school choice” measure, any child in Florida — starting in 2017-18 — will be able to attend any public school in the state that has space available.

The new policy breaks down barriers that previously prohibited students from crossing county lines to attend school, except where local agreements existed.

Superintendents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties said they expect the new freedom will most likely be taken advantage of by high school athletes or by parents who commute in South Florida and would find it easier to enroll their students in schools closer to work.

“I don’t foresee this being a very problematic experience because of the choice programs we have and the transfer policies we already have,” Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

Carnival cruise to Cuba leads to rare, unintended bipartisan agreement against company's plans


@PatriciaMazzei @Chabelih

Carnival Corp.’s scheduled sail to Cuba — even if Cuban-born Americans can’t buy tickets — has accomplished a rare and unintended political feat: bipartisan agreement against the cruise company’s plans.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress and candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives told the Miami Herald on Friday that Carnival shouldn’t transport passengers to the island while Cuba maintains its policy barring native Cubans from traveling by sea to their country of birth.

Asked about the mounting political pressure, a Carnival spokesman said Friday afternoon the company hopes Cuba will lift its decree before the ship’s departure.

“We continue to believe that Cuba will modify its regulation before we sail on May 1 based on our ongoing discussions with Cuban officials, so we will be able to cruise there on our inaugural cruise under the same regulations as aircraft do today,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in a statement.

“We appreciate and understand the concerns being voiced, and we have confidence this issue will be resolved before we ever sail.”

Opposing the trip were three Senate candidates (Republicans Carlos Beruff of Sarasota and Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, and Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando), Miami’s three Republicans in Congress (Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), and Curbelo’s two Democratic rivals (former Rep. Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo).

More here.

Photo courtesy Carnival Corp.

April 15, 2016

Florida Senate panels to meet over FPL's Turkey Point canal controversy

From The News Service of Florida:

Two Senate committees have scheduled a joint meeting April 29 to discuss issues related to a cooling-canal system at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point nuclear complex in Miami-Dade County.

The meeting comes after the March 7 release of a study that indicated tritium --- a radioactive isotope of hydrogen --- has leaked from Turkey Point's cooling canals into groundwater and toward Biscayne National Park and the Biscayne aquifer.

The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee and the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee are scheduled to hold a joint meeting at 4 p.m. April 29 at the Homestead campus of Miami-Dade College, according to a meeting notice.

A Senate spokeswoman said the meeting is in response to a request from Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

The notice said the committees are expected to hear from representatives of FPL, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Miami-Dade County's Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources and the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Gov. Rick Scott boots Allan Bense from FSU Board of Trustees


Former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense, who voted for a tuition increase at the school 3 years ago against Gov. Rick Scott's wishes, is out as a member of Florida State University’s Board of Trustees.

Scott, a Republican, announced in a press release late Friday that Bense, a Panama City Republican, will be replaced on the board by Maximo Alvarez, of Doral, who is  president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors Inc. Alvarez, a longtime political ally and support of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, owns nearly 400 gas stations in South Florida.

Bense re-applied for the position he held since 2011 with two other board members, Emily “June” Duda of Oviedo and Joe Gruters of Sarasota. Duda and Gruters both were reappointed but Bense was passed over.

 “I don’t know why,” Bense said after learning he was not reappointed.

 Scott did not say why Bense was rejected, but his office issued a statement praising his service.

“Governor Scott appreciates Speaker Bense for his five years of service to Florida State University and his commitment to Florida students throughout his career,” John Tupps, Deputy Communications Director for Scott. “Governor Scott is confident that Maximo Alvarez will continue to build on Florida State University’s Board of Trustees’ focus of providing students with an affordable education that allows them to find a job when they graduate.”

Bense, who holds a pair of degrees from FSU, may have been done in by a 2013 tuition increase vote. In June 2013, Bense voted for a 1.7 percent increase in tuition that was called a “cost of living increase.” Bense advocated for the increase while both board members Duda and Gruters voted against that proposal.

Tuition increases have been a big issue for Scott during his tenure as governor. Scott has consistently opposed tuition increases at Florida universities and colleges, and vetoed a 3 percent tuition hike state lawmakers had approved early in 2013 before the FSU trustees voted for the 1.7 percent increase.

Alvarez, Duda and Gruters all will have terms on FSU’s board that runs through Jan. 6, 2021.

FSU has a 13-member board of trustees. Scott gets to appoint six members. The state board of governors appoints five. The faculty senate and student body president fill out the remaining two seats.

Scott signs bill ending Dade Medical College loophole


Gov. Rick Scott has signed a law ending a legal loophole that benefited Dade Medical College. The now-shuttered for-profit college used the loophole to offer expensive degrees with few job prospects.

The degrees were in the field of physical therapy assistant, and Dade Medical’s $40,050 PTA associate’s degree program was unaccredited. That meant that graduates of the school, under federal regulations, couldn’t work with Medicare patients. Several large hospitals made it clear they would never hire these students.

Tad Fisher, CEO of the Florida Physical Therapy Association, said students were “taken advantage of” by the unaccredited PTA programs, and he credited the Miami Herald with exposing the damage caused by the loophole. Fisher’s association had repeatedly asked lawmakers to close the loophole, and this year the Legislature finally did so, adding the provision to a wide-ranging Department of Health bill that passed the House and Senate easily.

It was a lawmaker with close ties to Dade Medical — Miami state Rep. Carlos Trujillo — who engineered the loophole in 2013.

Read more here

Super PAC forms to support Carlos Beruff in U.S. Senate race


When Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate in late February, he labeled himself an outsider that was determined to shake up Washington.

But it took just 25 hours and 6 minutes after that announcement for Beruff’s campaign to benefit from one of the most insider moves in federal politics these days. Federal Election Commission records show that on March 1, allies of Beruff created Lets Clean Up Washington, a so-called super PAC that will support Beruff’s bid for the U.S. Senate.

Like most super PACs, the committee cannot coordinate with Beruff’s campaign, but can raise unlimited donations from corporations and individuals and spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for him or against his opponents. Nationally, more than 2,200 super PACs have been created to support presidential campaigns and races for Congress.

Though Lets Clean Up Washington has been up and running since March 1, campaign finance reports filed this week shows no money was raised or spent by the PAC.

Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Beruff, said he could not comment on the PAC saying it is not directly affiliated with the campaign. 

Four of the five leading Republican candidates in the Senate race now have super PACs supporting them. Fighting for Florida Fund is aiding U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach. FloridAmerican Conservatives is backing U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores. And Reform Washington is support Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. There is no super PAC supporting Tampa businessman Todd Wilcox so far.

Beruff, 58, has never held elective office before but has been on several government appointed boards and commissions since 2009. Since then he’s was appointed by then Gov. Charlie Crist to the to Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority, the Southwest Florida Water Management board and the State College of Florida board of trustees. Gov. Rick Scott re-appointed Beruff to all three and picked him to lead a hospital commission last year that was charged with looking into pricing and other issues related to hospital care.