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May 02, 2016

Uber touts support of city mayors in final lobbying push for Miami-Dade County bill


Uber letter

As it faces a showdown vote before the Miami-Dade County Commission, Uber is touting its backing by city officials.

Uber is sending a letter signed by 14 city officials, including the mayors of Miami Beach, Doral and Coral Gables, urging county commissioners to vote yes on a pro-Uber bill on Tuesday. 

"As elected leaders from cities across Miami-Dade, we believe that ridesharing services like Uber are a win-win for our community. Ridesharing expands access to safe, reliable rides and better connects individuals to the public transit system; provides a valuable transportation option to tourists from around the country and world who have come to expect it; and creates economic opportunity for thousands of our residents," read the start of the letter sent to county commissioners.

The letter included the names of some high-profile municipal officials, including Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria. Notably absent: Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who has already offered an on-camera endorsement of Uber in a television spot the company is airing in support of Tuesday's vote. 

Tampa lawyer announces Senate run against Dana Young


Tampa lawyer Bob Buesing, a Democrat, filed Monday to run for the Florida Senate from a northern and western Hillsborough County seat.

In doing so, he’ll be running against Dana Young, the Republican leader of the Florida House, who announced a Senate bid after lawmakers re-drew the district lines, creating that seat.

Buesing, 62, who sits on the boards of child advocacy groups like Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and the YMCA, has never before run for public office. But, he said, from experience lobbying for those groups in Tallahassee, he believes state lawmakers are focusing on the wrong things.

“I’ve reached the conclusion that we have the wrong people in the seats,” Buesing said. “They are in sort of an alternative reality that’s not the reality of most of the people in Hillsborough County.”

Specifically, he said the state should emphasize early childhood education and health care as a way to keep prison populations and Medicaid payments low in future decades.

“We’re doing it the expensive way,” he said. “We’re allowing these problems to fester and grow and down the road we’ve got an expensive mess on our hands.”

The district Buesing and Young are running in — District 18 — is nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. It could be among the most expensive in the state this election cycle.

With all 40 Senate seats up for in this election and new district maps, Republicans’ strong majority in the chamber could be at stake.

May 01, 2016

Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead


After talking with his primary opponent and Democratic Party officials in recent weeks, Democrat Daniel Horton said Sunday he is dropping his bid for a competitive Senate seat in South Florida and is turning his ambitions to a state House seat.

Horton announced his bid for state Senate less than a month ago.

The 30-year-old FIU law school graduate aimed to challenge Democrat Andrew Korge in the August primary for the District 39 Senate seat, which represents parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. The winner of that contest would have faced state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who's seeking re-election.

Flores and Korge had already been embroiled in a bitter race when Horton jumped in the fray.

But in a press release Sunday afternoon, Korge said Horton was bowing out of that contest and planning to, instead, challenge incumbent state Rep. Holly Raschein for the District 120 House seat.

In an interview with the Herald/Times, Horton confirmed his decision to switch legislative races.

"At the end of the day, I figure this is the best decision for the people that live in District 39, I think it's the best decision for the Democratic Party, and I think it's the best decision for myself," Horton said.

Continue reading "Daniel Horton says it's 'best decision' to drop Senate bid, seek House seat in Keys instead" »

Florida politicians spotted at White House Correspondents Dinner


WASHINGTON -- Florida was in the house Saturday night at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, where President Obama and comedian Larry Wilmore roasted politicians and the press.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott worked the room before and during the speech, dropping by the Washington Post's pre-dinner reception and eventually taking a seat at the Washington Hilton ballroom for the meal. He was invited by the Washington Examiner, Scott told the Miami Herald.

Also making the rounds were U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, who also attended a Friday night bash ahead of the dinner, according to Page Six.

And near the center aisle of the dinner sat Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat who was listed in the program as a representative of SiriusXM, the satellite radio network that earlier this year hired him to host a show. He was mulling whether to return to Miami early enough Sunday to catch the Miami Heat's afternoon playoff game. 

April 30, 2016

Responding to congressional HIV questions, state points to website


Interim state Surgeon General Celeste Philip on Friday responded to a letter from 11 members of Congress demanding an explanation of how Florida changed its count of new HIV cases.

The members of Congress, which include Republicans and Democrats from across the state, wrote to Gov. Rick Scott earlier this week asking about why the Florida Department of Health revised the number of new infections reported in 2014 from 6,147 to 4,613.

That 25-percent change was much larger than adjustments made in recent years, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found. It was made as the state faced criticism for a spike in HIV cases, particularly in South Florida, which led the nation for new infections.

Philip directed the members of Congress to the HIV Data Center, a website launched Thursday that explains the basics of a process known as "de-duplication." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she wrote, comb through data reported from every state and try to identify possible duplicate cases, but the states are ultimately responsible for ensuring their case numbers are accurate.

She also said she is "happy to sit down and more closely explore the data with you at any time."

However, Philip did not provide details requested by the members of Congress about how the Department of Health's process for removing duplicate cases has changed, or specifics about how each infection was reclassified or removed.

The Times has been asking for this information since March and has not received an answer either.

A spike in reported HIV cases was among the reasons Surgeon General John Armstrong was not confirmed by the Florida Senate earlier this year. In the aftermath of Times reporting on the state's revised data, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, called for a federal investigation.

April 29, 2016

Here are the most vulnerable seats in Florida's congressional delegation

via the Tampa Bay Times' @loujacobson

For the fourth straight election cycle, the Buzz is publishing periodic rankings of the most vulnerable seats in Florida's U.S. House delegation, which includes 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats. This is our first attempt to compile rankings since June 2015 -- and a lot has happened since then.

Thanks to newly redrawn district lines, an open U.S. Senate seat that attracted U.S. House members from both parties, a smattering of retirements, and some primary challenges to incumbents, nearly half of Florida's seats in the U.S. House - 13 out of 27 - are in some type of flux this year.

Despite the delegation's current volatility, though, only a few seats are actually at risk for a party switch in November -- the criteria we use for inclusion this list. Here are the seats we're keeping an eye on, in descending order by how vulnerable the incumbent party is to losing the seat on Election Day.

Continue reading "Here are the most vulnerable seats in Florida's congressional delegation" »

Florida's insurance commissioner: the most important person in state government most people don't know

McCarty by Cohn BandIt is the most powerful job in state government most people can’t name.

Florida’s insurance commissioner has the unfettered ability to affect the cost of living in the state. From the property insurance policy of every homeowner, to the workers’ compensation plans of every employer, to millions of automobile, life insurance, medical malpractice and health care claims, the insurance commissioner has the final say on how much those rates will rise, and how much they fall — if at all.

The 262-person Office of Insurance Regulation touches nearly every aspect of life in Florida, from birth to death. It acts as the state’s financial sleuth, deciding if every one of those companies is financially sound enough to take on new customers, and when they are troubled enough to be shut down.

And with the stroke of a pen — and within the confines of the policies written by the Florida Legislature — the commissioner has the final say on which losses customers will pay — and which ones insurance companies must reimburse.

For the last 13 years, the job has been held by Kevin McCarty, a 27-year state bureaucrat, lawyer and graduate of the University of Florida, who steered Florida’s complex insurance market past so many obstacles he has become one of the most recognized experts in managing catastrophe in the country.

On Tuesday, McCarty, 57, will officially retire from the agency, to be replaced by David Altmaier, 34, McCarty’s deputy commissioner for Property Casualty Insurance. But for the last four months, the two Cabinet officials who by law must agree on McCarty’s successor — Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — were locked in an unprecedented feud over whose candidate will replace him.

The standoff underscored the political potency of the job, which not only impacts people’s pocketbooks but is a crucial cog in the state’s economic engine. More here.

Photo: Kevin McCarty, Florida Insurance Commissioner at a Miami Herald editorial board meeting, July 9, 2009. MARICE COHN BAND Miami Herald file photo

Marco Rubio warming up to Donald Trump

via @learyreports

Note: We've revised the "let's not divide the party" section of this blog to provide more context and to correct an implication that Rubio was directly making that point.

Marco Rubio appears to be warming up to Donald Trump, saying Friday his “performance has improved significantly." Rubio has also continued to withold an endorsement of Ted Cruz, even though he previously praised him as the conservative in the race.

Last Sunday on Univision, Rubio said it appeared Trump will lock down the nomination.

"If he keeps winning delegates like he did the other night in New York, I think he's going to reach that number," Rubio said on Al Punto Florida. "But let's see. There are still other states to go."

Rubio, who continues to hold onto more than 100 delegates, has said he disagreed with Trump about the delegate system being "rigged." But Rubio did echo the argument that if Trump is close to 1,237 delegates, he should get the nod.

“I do think it's valid to argue to delegates: 'Look, let’s not divide the party. You have someone here who has all these votes, very close to get 1,237, let’s not ignore the will of the people or they’re going to be angry.' And delegates may decide that on that reason they decide to vote for Donald Trump. But if they don’t, it’s not illegitimate in any way,” he told Miami radio host Jimmy Cefalo on April 20. "That's why we elect delegates. That's the meaning of being a delegate, is choosing a nominee that can win."

“I’ve always said I’m going to support the Republican nominee, and that’s especially true now that it’s apparent that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic candidate,” Rubio said. "My differences with Donald Trump are well documented ... ."

On the Saturday before Florida's March 15 primary Rubio was less certain about supporting Trump. "I don't know," he told the Miami Herald, his voice breaking. "Getting harder every day."

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to speak at FAMU graduation


U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the commencement addresses at Florida A&M University on Saturday.

King will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Putnam is scheduled to speak at the 2 p.m. ceremony. More than 1,200 students are graduating from FAMU this spring.

The ceremonies will be held at the Al Lawson Jr. Multi-Purpose Center on FAMU's campus in Tallahassee and be broadcast live online.

King was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to be the nation's top education official.

Putnam, a Republican and former U.S. congressman, was first elected in 2010 as state agriculture commissioner. He is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2018.

Ron DeSantis super PAC's big donors: backers of Koch brothers, Karl Rove


A super PAC supporting Republican Ron DeSantis for the U.S. Senate is stockpiling cash -- and much of it is coming from the major donors to national conservative groups.

Of the $1.2 million raised by Fighting for Florida Fund since last August, more than $1 million has come from just three donors:

* $350,000 from John Childs, chairman of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates.

* $200,000 from Robert Mercer, a financial consultant.

* $500,000 from Spring Bay Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, DeSantis' hometown.

Childs is a prolific donor to major conservative super PACs. Since 2010, he has given more than $8 million to groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund and Club for Growth, a conservative group that has endorsed DeSantis.

Mercer, who lives in New York, is a major contributor to Club for Growth, American Crossroads and to Keep the Promise, which supports Ted Cruz for president. In total, he's given more than $29 million to conservative super PACs.

Spring Bay has contributed only to Fighting for Florida Fund.

Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited funds to support or oppose candidates, but they cannot coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

No other super PAC in the crowded race to replace Sen. Marco Rubio has had that degree of large-donor support.

Outside of Fighting for Florida Fund, the largest contribution to a super PAC in Florida's Senate race is $300,000 given by Coastal Construction to Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, which backs Democrat Patrick Murphy. The Miami-based company is run by Murphy's father.

Among Republicans, Reform Washington, which supports Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has received $200,000 from Rubio backer Norman Braman. FloridAmerican Conservatives, the David Jolly super PAC, brought in $100,000 from Miguel Fernandez, who heavily funded Jeb Bush's failed presidential run. Carlos Beruff's super PAC hasn't received donations yet.

Two candidates, Republican defense contractor Todd Wilcox and Murphy's main Democratic opponent, Alan Grayson, do not have super PACs.