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September 01, 2015

AP: In Nevada, Marco Rubio says U.S. education department is unnecessary

From the Associated Press:

CARSON CITY -- Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio says the U.S. doesn't need a federal Education Department, arguing that its recommendations to state and local governments often turn into mandates tied to money.

The Florida senator made the comments Tuesday during a town hall meeting in Carson City. About 200 people attended the gathering in a community center, part of a tour of northern Nevada.

"What starts out as a suggestion ends up being, 'If you want money from us, you must to do it this way,' and you will end up with a version of a national school board," Rubio said. "We don't need a national school board."

Democrats pointed out that Rubio's expensive college costs were footed in part by Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, which are administered by the Education Department.

Rubio said the department administers certain programs that have merit but those could be transferred to other agencies. "I honestly think we don't need a Department of Education," he said.

The candidate drew claps and cheers when he told his audience he opposed Common Core education standards. "I do support curriculum reform," he said, but that should be done at the state and local level.

Rubio spoke in Reno on Monday and is campaigning in the rural Nevada communities of Yerington and Fallon on his trip through the state.

Miami Herald sues Florida corrections department over public records

via @jknipebrown

The Miami Herald has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections, alleging that the agency has violated the state’s open record laws by withholding information about suspicious deaths and possible sexual and physical assaults of inmates at the hands of corrections officers in the state prison system.

For more than a year, the Herald has been examining cases of physical, mental and sexual abuse of inmates, as well as a series of inmate deaths that have happened in state prisons that have had a history of violence. In some cases, the prison system failed to contact outside law enforcement agencies, allowing its own staff to conduct the investigations. In some cases, both inmates and DOC investigators have alleged the agency systemically covers up corruption and wrongdoing.

The Herald has requested copies of the agency’s investigations into some of those cases, only to find that reports were so heavily redacted that it is impossible to know what led to the inmate’s death. In addition, other reports involving what appears to be sexual harassment and abuse are also redacted so heavily that the nature of what happened is obscured.

The agency contends that the details they have blacked out pertain to protected medical information about the inmate, or would reveal information that could endanger officers or the security of the institution. DOC officials, however, have refused to cite the specific exemption they believe gives them the right to withhold the information.

More here.

Read the complaint here.

Now for the Republicans who may run for Florida attorney general in 2018

via @stevebousquet

Yesterday we noted some the the Democrats seen as contenders to succeed Pam Bondi as attorney general in 2018. What about the Republicans, you ask?

Well, the Florida GOP has a deeper bench than the Democratic party, and quite a few credible Republicans are in the mix for a potentially crowded primary. Among them: State Rep. Richard Corcoran of Wesley Chapel; state Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart; state Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park; state Rep. Dana Young of Tampa; U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee.

We've also heard buzz about state Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, but he tells us he's focucused on state senate in 2016 -- and also that he's long viewed the attorney general job as the best public office in Florida.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Special session fizzles, but fundraising continues


August ended in failure for the Florida Legislature when it could not produce a redistricting plan before the end of its court-mandated special session.

But financially, it was anything but a failure for some of the top future leaders in the Florida Senate when it came to raising money from lobbyists and interest groups.

Legislators were prohibited from raising money during the 12-day special session under legislative rules, but more than made up for it during the rest of the month.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who announced last week he has the votes to become Senate president for 2017, raised just over $26,000 for a political action committee he is affiliated with called Treasure Coast Alliance. That included $10,000 checks from AT&T and the Florida Shopping Center PAC. His top rival for the senate presidency, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala raised even more, topping $63,000 in August for his political action committee called Florida Leadership Committee. That included $10,000 checks from Duke Energy and Florida Blue.

Those monthly totals add to what has already been a big fundraising year for both committees. Negron's Treasure Coast Alliance raised now raised almost $1.1 million this year, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Latvala's Florida Leadership Committee had raised almost $900,000.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, raised $65,000 in August for a PAC he called Innovate Florida. Of that, $50,000 came in the final 10 days of the month after the Legislative special session on redistricting fizzled out. Donations to Galvano, who is already in line to be Senate president for the 2019 Legislative session, included $30,000 from a political action committee called Floridians United for Our Children’s Future, a conservative group with ties to the Associated Industries of Florida. He's now raised over $520,000 for his PAC in 2015.

And Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Pasco County Republican in line to be Senate president after Galvano, out did them all. Simpson’s Jobs For Florida PAC raised $147,000 in August, including $10,000 checks from Florida Blue and Agro-Industrial Management of West Palm Beach. He's now over $400,000 in his fund.

Political action committees are unlike typical campaign committees, which have strict limits on campaign donations. Political action committees can take substantially larger donation checks. The funds are typically used to help support allies and other campaigns that can grow a legislative leaders influence.

At Miami-Dade commission meetings, mics are a bit less open for public


This summer, the Miami-Dade County Commission began a meeting in June and didn't adjourn it until July. That 16-hour marathon session, which started the morning of June 30 and ended in the wee hours of July 1, helped prompt Chairman Jean Monestime to announce new restrictions on citizens addressing the powerful board. 

Under the prior practice, citizens were given two minutes at the start of each commission meeting to address commissioners on any agenda item that wasn't already scheduled for a public hearing later that day. 

On Tuesday, Monestime announced changes were coming. Robert Cuevas, the outgoing county attorney,  outlined the new procedures. People will still get their two minutes, but only for items that haven't already come up for public comment before the commission at prior meetings.

That means residents will have their chance before the full commission on "first readings" -- preliminary votes that rarely spark significant debate. Or they'll have to go before commission committees, which typically hold public hearings on items before they head back to the full commission for a second and final vote. 

The commission's written procedures outline similar restrictions, but they weren't followed under prior chairwoman, Rebeca Sosa. "I always opened the meeting and allowed everyone to speak," Sosa said Tuesday. (She added that she thought it was too early to critique Monestime's change.) 

Continue reading "At Miami-Dade commission meetings, mics are a bit less open for public" »

Latvala's retort: he's with GOP, not all-white men's club; hints Negron was a Democrat

Jack Latvalavia @AdamSmithTimes

State Sen. Joe Negron may have declared victory in his campaign for Florida Senate president, but that message failed to reach more than 400 people turned out to a luncheon fundraiser in St. Petersburg for state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is still campaigning for the job. And with Negron supporters spreading the word that Latvala could even caucus with Democrats to win the post, the Pinellas Republican made noted that he has been working to elect Republicans for 46 years.

"I love my Republican party," he told the crowd at the Hilton Carillon Hilton. "I have never been anything but a Republican."

That was a clear reference to Negron, who used to be Martin County Democratic Chairman and once ran unsuccessfully for the Florida House as a Democrat. Latvala, who joined the College Republicans in 1969 and has been working in Republican politics ever since, noted that unlike many of his colleagues in the legislature, he remembers what it was like to be in the minority party.

"That's why I work so hard to keep from ever going back to a minority. That's why I fight the arrogance I see in many of the people in our party in Tallahassee --- with regard to being exclusive, rather than inclusive, with regard to looking after certain interests but forgetting the interests of the people at large and consumers and so forth," Latvala said. "That's why I'm a little different."

"I don't think we can push away Hispanics and blacks and gays and union members, and still have a majority made up mostly of white men," he continued. "That's what I stand for, and that's why a lot of people target me, because I'm a little different. Now that doesn't mean I ever forgot the fundamentals for why I became a Republican...The government should stay out of our lives and out of our businesses."

He said he candidacy is based on his conviction that senate leaders should not dictate how senators vote, and that his goal is to empower senators to be independent-minded and "the best they can be."

Among the host of Tampa Bay business and political elites in attendance were top Rick Scott donor Bill Edwards, former St. Petersburg Mayor and potential congressional candidate Rick Baker, lobbyist  David Rancourt, former state Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, Dennis Jones, and Jim Sebesta, as well as current state Sens. David Simmons, Nancy Detert, Denise Grimsley, Rene Garcia, Alan Hays, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and John Legg.

Latvala has refused to categorically rule out cooperating with Democrats to win the presidency. "There will be a Republican president of the senate in 2016 - 2018. I guarantee that," he said. "But we just need to have general respect for each other in this process."

Key Cabinet member urges 'time out' on driver license revamp

Two influential members of the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday sided with critics of a proposed revamping of the state system of issuing driver licenses from a county-by-county over-the-counter system to a centralized issuance system by mail that's used in most states.

Under the current system, drivers get their licenses immediately. Under a revamped system, they could wait up to two weeks to get them in the mail.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, reacting to a Times/Herald report on the proposal, said the county tax collectors who currently issue licenses and license tags are doing a good job, and both voiced skepticism about change.

"These local players have been the delivery channel," Atwater said. "All of us want to go put it to bed immediately. My wife says, 'My license expired. I want it solved today.' So the local players, the tax collectors, did the right thing by saying, 'Time out.'"

"It's an idea worth exploring, but only in coordination with our tax collectors," Putnam said. The agriculture commissioner works closely with tax collectors, who also can issue concealed weapons licenses in Florida.

Both Cabinet members strongly support state highway safety chief Terry Rhodes, whose agency is considering the proposal. Rhodes appeared briefly before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet at a meeting in St. Augustine Tuesday but she was not asked about it.

Rhodes has emphasized she would not push the so-called central issuance concept without tax collectors' support. She dispatched her top driver license expert, Carl Ford, to a tax collectors' conference in Orlando Tuesday.

Brevard Tax Collector Lisa Cullen, president of a statewide tax collectors' group, has urged a go-slow approach by the state, and has warned that it could be a "disaster" if everyday Floridians aren't sold on the idea.

Tired of Donald Trump's 'blah blah blah' attacks, Jeb Bush goes on the offensive



Jeb Bush promised to campaign for president “joyfully.”

Alas, candidates don’t always get to run the races they expected. 

His early poll numbers slipping — and Donald Trump’s rising — Bush veered from the happy talk Tuesday. He took the Republican front-runner head on, in sharper terms than he has before, and tried to position himself as the un-Trump — the candidate who will outlast the feverish summer-of-Trump phenomenon.

El hombre no es conservador” — the man is not conservative, Bush told reporters in Spanish after a Miami campaign stop. “Besides, he tries to personalize everything. If you’re not totally in agreement with him, you’re an idiot, or stupid, or don’t have energy, or blah blah blah.”

This is the Bush some of his Florida supporters and donors have been waiting to see, a candidate with a little more edge and a little more fire who picks his shots at Trump.

Yet attacking the celebrity candidate is still a risky strategy. In seeking a two-man, Trump-vs.-Bush contest, Bush might burn Trump — or he might get burned himself, leaving an opening for another candidate to emerge as the GOP’s top choice. Some Miami Republicans hope that will be Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been biding his time in the middle of the pack.

More here.

This post has been updated.

Floridians for Solar Choice makes case in court for ballot question

Arguing in the Supreme Court Tuesday over whether a solar power constitutional amendment is valid, supporters of Floridians for Solar Choice and opponents backed by utility companies didn’t pull punches.

“What has really chilled the regulatory environment currently is a solar energy device that a person would have, they’re not allowed to sell that to someone else without falling into the regulatory scheme of the Public Service Commission,” said Bob Nabors, lawyer for Floridians for Solar Choice.

But Barry Richard, a lawyer representing four utility companies, including Duke and Florida Power and Light, called the proposed language misleading. So did a laywer for electricity cooperatives in rural parts of the state and Solicitor General Allen Winsor.

“You can’t make voters believe that there’s a problem when you have no basis for saying that,” Richard told the justices.

The proposed constitutional amendment would stop the state and local governments from treating “local solar electricity suppliers” as utilities, effectively removing them from regulation. These companies install solar panels on a home or business and then sell the power they generate to consumers.

Supporters argue that it will drive down the cost of electricity and open up the market to competition for the monopoly utility companies. But utilities and their supporters say it merely eliminates regulation meant to keep people safe and will put consumers at risk with limited protections.

But the court isn’t supposed to weigh in on the merits of each argument, as Justice Barbara Pariente repeatedly reminded both sides during a public hearing in the Court’s Tallahassee chambers. Rather, the justices have a few specific questions to answer.

Does the ballot language, which Floridians for Solar Choice wants in the November 2016 election, fairly represent what the amendment would do? Is it limited to just one subject?

Should the court decide in the amendment’s favor, the group will have until February to get another 562,000 signatures on a petition for it to be on the ballot. They’ll also face a mounting campaign against them, driven by the utility companies.

Will Senator Eleanor Sobel run for Hollywood mayor?

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober recently announced that he won’t seek re-election next year, fueling speculation that potential candidates include Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel.

Sobel says she will delay a decision about whether to run until March.

(Hat tip to for posting Bober’s letter and the gossip about Sobel.)

Sobel would be a strong candidate for mayor because of her long ties to the city where she lives and once served as a city commissioner. Sobel is well-known among voters because she also served in the state House, Broward school board and now the senate.

But Sobel is no shoe-in for the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

City Commissioner Patty Asseff, a realtor, told Naked Politics that she will run for the open seat. Technically the race is non-partisan but it will end up with some partisan undertones if Asseff runs against Sobel. Asseff's chancs can't be dismissed in this left-leaning city because she has support in her district after winning it twice in a row and has been outspoken about preparing her city for climate change which could draw her some Democratic voters.  

In a press release, Sobel was vague about her future political intentions:

“I have been receiving a number of inquiries about this seat.  Given my love for Hollywood, my years of service to this community and the fact that I am term-limited from the State Senate, I certainly understand the inquiries. However, given my work as a Chair of a vital Senate committee and the critical nature of the upcoming special session, I am forestalling any decision until after the legislative session is completed in March.”

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