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September 22, 2016

College faculty, students vow to get higher education issues into political campaigns

Alarmed by the lack of discussion about higher education in state and national elections, college faculty and graduate students on Florida campuses are promising a big push to get the topic more on the radar of political candidates.

This week, an alliance of college professors, adjunct faculty and graduate assistance announced they are starting a aggressive statewide voter education effort that they hope will boost turnout in November and get candidates talking about conditions on college campuses.

“There is not really a conversation about higher education right now,” said Cheryl DeFlavis, an adjunct professor at Hillsborough Community College who is part of the effort called Faculty Forward.

Beyond calls for affordable tuition and helping reduce college debt, DeFlavis said there needs to be an effort to improve working conditions and pay for adjunct professors and graduate students.

It’s not just Florida either. The Faculty Forward project is on 45 campuses in 16 states with the help of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, which is helping unionize adjunct professors and fight for higher wages.

Throughout the fall, the group said it will go door-to-door, run phone banks, and meet with students in faculty to get them to the polls and to push candidates to address their issues.

Hillary hits a hot button on Florida's contaminated water : 'polluters should pay' to clean their messes


Hillary Clinton Miami Heraldvia Chris O'Donnell of Tampa Bay Times

The spill of 215 million gallons of contaminated water into a sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry is hardly typical fare for a nationwide presidential campaign.

But with Florida a key battleground state, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has added her voice to those criticizing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic for failing to notify the public about the recent spill.

In an interview with WFTS during her Wednesday campaign stop in Orlando, Clinton said Mosaic must be held accountable for the spill and be required to clean up the contamination.

“I think what happened as I understand it about Mosaic was terribly risky and posed serious threats to the aquifer and clean water,” Clinton said. “It went on for weeks without there being any kind of announcement.”

Mosaic workers discovered the spill Aug. 27 and informed the DEP and U.S. Environmental Protection agency one day later.

But it was only after the spill was reported in the media three weeks later that neighbors of the plant, many of whom use well water, learned of the spill. The water that drained into the hole is acidic and includes sulphur and sodium.

State law does not require the DEP to inform the public about a spill into the aquifer if it has not spread offsite. Mosaic officials say that is the case with the sinkhole spill. 

The DEP has since announced it is coordinating with Mosaic for water quality tests on wells on neighboring properties. Mosaic has publicly apologized for the delay in informing the public.

Clinton’s comments come one day after U.S Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, blasted the DEP for keeping the spill quiet.

Here’s the full transcript of Clinton’s comments on the sinkhole:

"I think what happened as I understand it about Mosaic was terribly risky and posed serious threats to the aquifer and clean water. And people didn't know about it. It went on for weeks without there being any kind of announcement. They should be held accountable. They should be required to do everything that they should have to do to clean this up, to clean the water to make sure that it is safe.

For goodness sake, people are entitled to clean water. People are entitled to know what is in their water and companies that profit off of common resources need to be held liable when something goes wrong. So I have a very clear view about this: polluters should pay to clean up the messes that they have created."

Mosaic has indicated that it will clean up the spill and is pumping contaminated wastewater out of the aquifer. The cost to remediate the site could be as much as $20 million.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has directed the DEP to expedite their investigation and asked the Florida Department of Health to partner with the DEP to ensure drinking water remains safe.


Bush is fundraising at the Biltmore. No, not Jeb.


A politician from the Bush family will be asking donors for money next week at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. But it's a different Bush than the one most South Floridians know. 

George P. Bush, the Texas land commissioner, will hold a "fundraising roundtable" in his dad's hometown. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is listed on an invitation as the event's "special guest." (The elder Bush's office is at the Biltmore.)

The younger Bush is requesting $500 per person. The fundraiser will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 27, according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald.

Bush is up for reelection in 2018.

Suffolk poll: Rubio leads Murphy, 43% to 34%

Rubio_herald jose iglesias


A new poll out Thursday by Suffolk University shows Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio leading his Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy by 9 percentage points in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

Out of 500 likely Florida voters surveyed Sept. 19-21, the Suffolk poll found 43 percent supported Rubio, compared to 34 percent backing Murphy.

About 17 percent were undecided, and the rest either didn't answer or preferred another candidate. The results had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Compared to the last Suffolk poll in Florida done a month before the Aug. 30 primary, Rubio's lead over Murphy has narrowed slightly. In that survey, Rubio led Murphy by 13 percentage points.

Rubio has been ahead of Murphy in most every poll since June, with an average advantage of about 6.1 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics.

Photo credit: Jose Iglesias / El Nuevo Herald

Suffolk poll: Trump up 1 in Florida

via @adamsmithtimes

Suffolk University, the pollster (we will never stop reminding you) who a month before Barack Obama won Florida and Virginia, stopped polling those states because concluded they were in the bag for Mitt Romney, has a new Florida poll showing Donald Trump with 45 percent support, Hillary Clinton with 44 percent, Gary Johnson at 3 percent and Jill Stein at 1 percent.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Breakthrough seen in Washington in Zika funding




Senate negotiators revealed a breakthrough in Zika funding Thursday under renewed pressure from Florida lawmakers and mayors to break a seven-month political impasse over the aid.

Just a few hours after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine met with South Florida members of Congress and visited the White House to push for the stalled Zika money, the Senate released a draft appropriations bill without "poison pill" Zika clauses to fund the federal government through the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican, hailed the breakthrough in a Senate speech, but he warned the $1.1 billion in Zika funds could still be stalled because they're part of a much larger appropriations measure.

"It took too long, but this is where we are now," Rubio said. "Better late than never."

Rubio, who is running for Senate re-election against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the Zika deal would hold.

But the failed presidential candidate warned that it could still come undone because of competing funding demands for urgent needs from lawmakers representing other states.

"There are all sorts of other issues that are still being debated," Rubio said. "Broader issues are at play that could derail Zika that have nothing to do with Zika."

Congressional aides said the revised measure and supporting documentation did not contain extraneous provisions targeting Planned Parenthood and the federal health insurance program.

Those provisions had stalled a $1.9 billion emergency plan to fund Zika research and prevention that President Barack Obama had sent Congress in February.

Gimenez and Levine huddled earlier in the day with key lawmakers on Capitol Hill and met with White House officials to help push Congress to approve long-delayed Zika prevention and research aid.

The mayors gathered with Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, along with Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in the office of Diaz-Balart before heading to the White House.

"South Florida is ground zero for Zika, and we need Congress to step in to help us keep our millions of residents and visitors safe," Gimenez said after the Capitol Hill meeting. "I appreciate the full support of our state delegation as we continue to urge Congress to provide the funding our community urgently needs."

The mayors arrived in Washington a week after Gov. Rick Scott came to the nation's capital to advocate for $1.1 billion in emergency Zika funds, which have been wrapped into a larger appropriations bill to keep the federal government operating beyond the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year.

"We all agree that funding needs to be passed as quickly as possible," Diaz-Balart said. "I strongly believe that we need to provide every penny needed to fight this disease, and not one dollar less. This virus poses a threat to every Floridian."

However, the $1.1 billion now earmarked to combat Zika is less than the $1.9 billion that President Barack Obama sought in February when he sent the emergency legislative package to Congress. Partisan political fights over extraneous policy provisions attached to the original measure have delayed funding for seven months.

The delay has forced the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to borrow money earlier appropriated to treat and research Ebola and other diseases. A federal clinical trial for a Zika vaccine is on hold until new money arrives.

"If this money doesn’t start flowing, if we don’t get something done here, research on the vaccine is going to stop or come to a grind," Rubio said on the Senate floor. "If you want to save money on Zika, develop a vaccine."

Microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with abnormally small brains and heads, is the worst of several birth defects Zika can cause.

"I am confident we will be able to secure funding to protect the lives of unborn babies and their families," Diaz-Balart said.

The disease is carried primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but it can also be transmitted via sexual intercourse with an infected partner.

There were 867 cases of Zika in Florida as of Wednesday, more than any other state except New York.

Puerto Rico has almost 19,500 infections. Florida and New York each have about 1 million Puerto Rican residents, and there is frequent contact between them and their relatives and friends on the island.

Most of the Florida infections were in South Florida. Eighty-nine involved pregnant women.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, El Nuevo Herald





In op-ed, Gov. Scott blasts federal government over Zika

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott uses a USA Today op/ed Thursday to lash out at the "incompetence" of the federal government to address Zika. He goes after Congress and the president, accusing Barack Obama of failing to show leadership. "It would be nice if he stopped taking vacations and focused all his energy on this," Scott says.

At the same time, Scott came home empty handed from a lobbying mission to Capitol Hill last week. He also took a partisan shot at Sen. Bill Nelson that drew rebukes from fellow Republicans.

"In all my meetings with both Republicans and Democrats, I couldn’t find anyone who opposes the federal government spending money to eradicate Zika," Scott writes. "But, what has happened? Nothing. It’s a perfect example of the complete dysfunction in Washington. Everyone is for funding to get rid of Zika — so of course nothing happens.

"This explains the problem with our entire federal government — incompetence.

"When you travel around and talk to voters all across the country today, they will tell you that Washington is broken. That’s not really true, it is much worse than broken. To call our federal government broken is far too complimentary. No, the truth is that Washington is completely incompetent. ...

"Meanwhile, the taxpayers of Florida have now spent over $26 million fighting Zika, and I just allocated another $10 million to ensure our counties and local mosquito boards continue to have all of the resources they need to combat Zika. We are doing our part in Florida, but we need the federal government to be a good partner, which includes both Congress and President Obama. Obama has not provided the leadership that is needed to get this done, and it would be nice if he stopped taking vacations and focused all his energy on this.

"Our broken federal government would never survive in the business world. If they were a company, they would fail. They would go under. They would be fired. Yet, members of Congress scratch their heads and wonder why the public is fed up with Washington."

Full piece here.

FAU online/robopoll: Clinton's lead among Hispanics smaller in Florida than in other battlegrounds


Hillary Clinton maintains a big advantage over Donald Trump among Florida Hispanics, according to a new poll.

Florida Atlantic University found Clinton ahead of Trump by 53-34 percent. That's a robust, 19-point margin that's nevertheless smaller than the once Clinton holds over Trump among Latinos in Colorado (51 points), Nevada (29 points), North Carolina (38 points) and Ohio (22 points). Florida Hispanics tend to lean less Democratic because older Cuban Americans are heavily Republican.

"Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. Republicans cannot continue to underperform with them and maintain a realistic ability to win some of these battleground states," Kevin Wagner, an FAU associate professor of political science, said in a statement. "The electoral map becomes increasingly difficult for Republicans if they cannot narrow these large margins."

FAU polled using a mix of online surveys and robocalls -- a methodology considered less reliable than live calls to voters on cellphones and land lines. The university's Business and Economics Polling Initiative polled 400 registered Hispanic voters from Sept. 15-19, and the poll has an error margin of 4.9 percentage points.

Americans for Prosperity doubles down on Patrick Murphy attack with new mailer



Through a new mail-piece arriving in Floridian voters' mailboxes this week, Americans for Prosperity continues its criticism of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy and his "questionable ties" to special interests.

AFP hones in on Murphy's congressional support for the EB-5 visa program -- which has been used, in some cases, to help finance high-profile South Florida projects that have involved Murphy's family construction company and other Murphy campaign donors. (More here.)

The direct-mail campaign echoes a recent TV ad AFP aired on the same topic. The mailer -- which is viewable here -- should reach more than 900,000 Florida households, according to AFP, a national conservative advocacy group, funded by the Koch Brothers.

"The only ‘record’ Murphy has to show for his time in Congress is one of repeatedly using his position for self-gain," AFP-Florida state director Chris Hudson said in a statement. "Floridians deserve a senator who will fight for them, not one who simply views the office as another line on his bloated resume. Americans for Prosperity-Florida is working around the clock to make sure this message is heard loud and clear."

AFP -- and other elements of the Koch brothers' network -- support Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio.

When AFP began this line of attack against Murphy earlier this month, the congressman's campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen responded by calling the criticism "ironic" because she said Rubio "votes with (the Koch brothers') priorities 98 percent of the time in the U.S. Senate."

Image credit: AFP-FL

Boca Rep. Ted Deutch: spelling master, vegan

via @learyreports

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch can spell well, just not "jambalaya."

The Florida Democrat was the top ranking lawmaker in the Politicians v. Press Spelling Bee yesterday at the National Press Club. Deutch made it to the 12th round before the slip-up, starting the word with a "g."

The winner was Art Swift of Gallup won for the journalists by correctly spelling “apothecary."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times