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August 16, 2017

Latvala launches campaign in Hialeah, fielding questions on Charlottesville

Latvala
@PatriciaMazzei

Jack Latvala, Florida’s newest Republican candidate for governor, struggled Wednesday to fully blame the deadly violence that took place during a Charlottesville rally over the weekend on white supremacists.

Latvala formally launched his 2018 bid in Hialeah with a moment of silence for the 32-year-old woman and two state troopers who died in Virginia. But he later declined to lay all responsibility for their deaths on the racist neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups that staged two days of demonstrations.

“I wasn’t there,” Latvala, a state senator from Clearwater, told reporters. “I condemn all violence of people that are protesting. If people are peacefully exercising their rights — whether they be, you know, white supremacists, or whether they be Black Lives Matter folks — you know, they have a right to demonstrate without having a mob attack them.”

The three dead were “innocent,” he said. Pressed on whether he was equating neo-Nazis with the Black Lives Matter activists, Latvala added: “No, I’m not supporting Nazis.”

Latvala also said he did not see President Donald Trump’s extraordinary news conference Tuesday in which the president appeared to put white supremacists and those who protested them on the same moral plane. 

“I’ve been focused on what Jack Latvala’s doing. I don’t know what you’re even talking about,” he said. “I denounced [white supremacists] and all of us — Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, all of us that look at these things responsibly — denounced it. So, specifically what he said yesterday, I can’t comment unless I saw it.”

Latvala’s Charlottesville exchange with reporters came moments after a campaign-launch speech in which he portrayed himself as the straight-talk candidate.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

UF rejects white nationalist's request to speak on campus

President Fuchs  2016@harrisalexc

The University of Florida denied so-called “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer’s request to speak on campus in September, citing “serious concerns for safety.”

The university decided against allowing Spencer, who led the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that erupted in violence and ended with the death of a young woman, to speak on campus after the unrest in Virginia, as well as posts on internet forums like reddit and 4chan that claimed Florida was “the next battlefield.”

“I find the racist rhetoric of Richard Spencer and white nationalism repugnant and counter to everything the university and this nation stands for,” UF President Kent Fuchs posted in a letter to students, adding that the university is still “unwaveringly dedicated to free speech.”

“However, the First Amendment does not require a public institution to risk imminent violence to students and others,” Fuchs continued. “The likelihood of violence and potential injury — not the words or ideas — has caused us to take this action.”

More here.

-- ALEX HARRIS, MIAMI HERALD

Rick Scott contacts National Guard as Richard Spencer's UF speech nears

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via @ByTierraSmith

Gov. Rick Scott said in Tampa today that he has reached out to the heads of the National Guard and the Florida Department of Highway Safety in anticipation of next month's speech at the University of Florida by Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who organized this weekend's rallies at Charlottesville, Va.

"I want to make sure everyone is safe," Scott told reporters.

Scott said he also spoke with UF President Kent Fuchs this weekend.

"Whether it's the KKK, neo-Nazis or white supremacists, it is evil," Scott said. "It doesn't belong in our society."

Asked if there were any laws or regulations that would allow Spencer to speak, Scott spoke about a delicate balance.

"We have the First Amendment," Scott said. "But we don't condone violence. My job as governor is to make sure we stay safe."

-- TIERRA SMITH, TAMPA BAY TIMES

Photo credit: Chris Urso | Tampa Bay Times

NRCC goes after Wasserman Schultz on fired IT staffer

@PatriciaMazzei

National Republicans have one of their favorite foes -- Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston -- in their sights again.

The National Republican Congressional Committee debuted a web video Wednesday, backed by a five-figure ad buy, criticizing Wasserman Schultz for not firing former House IT staffer Imran Awan until after he was arrested at Dulles International Airport month and charged with bank fraud.

The spot starts with an illustration of a police-car chase.

"Scandals, lies and corruption," the narrator intones. "That's Debbie Wasserman Schultz."

Other congressional Democrats had cut Awan loose in February, accusing him of stealing computers and data systems. But Wasserman Schultz kept him on, saying recently she was concerned his due-process rights might have been infringed if he'd been let go over a technicality. She has since drawn a challenger to her solidly Democratic Broward County district.

Wasserman Schultz resigned as Democratic National Committee chairwoman a year ago after Wikileaks published thousands of emails showing the party appeared to favor Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

"As usual, instead of taking responsibility, she made an abundance of excuses and doubled down," NRCC Communications Director Matt Gorman said in a statement. "As long as Florida has Debbie Wasserman Schultz, they'll have to deal with the scandals that follow her around."

Adam Putnam: Fight the hatred, but those statues should stay

MONTICELLO -- Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam told party activists Tuesday night that the violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville last weekend "is just awful. And it's hate and it's violent and it's dark, and it's got no place in our society and all of us ought to stand up together and say we're just not going to do that. That's not welcome in our society, that type of white supremacy and hatred and just going after each other."

The agriculture commissioner spoke at a Reagan Day barbecue to members of Leon and Jefferson county Republican parties. While he condemned the acts of those in Virginia, he stopped well short of calling for the removal of Confederate monuments in Florida and in other southern states.

"We need to be learning from that process, not just eradicating it from memory," Putnam told the crowd. "We ought to be focused more on eradicating hate today than eradicating yesteryear's history ... Are we going to have to rename Jefferson County? Are we going to have to rename Washington County? Rename Jackson County? Where does it end?"

"No," Putnam said, answering his own question. "That's not the lessons for our kids. The lesson for our kids is you better know your history or you're doomed to repeat it." He said future children should watch video of helpless victims jumping out of the World Trade Center to escape flames during the 9/11 attacks.

In the aftermath of Saturday's shocking events in Virginia, when a man rammed through a crowd of counter-demonstrators in his car, killing a woman, Putnam's initial tweet said: "Hate is not welcome in this country and it will not be tolerated."

About 150 people endured stifling humidity at the barbecue, where another prospective candidate for governor, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, took part in the state GOP giving $7,000 to the Jefferson County Republican Party. Speaking with reporters, Corcoran said it was wrong to criticize President Donald J. Trump's choice of words in his initial reaction to the events, when he criticized violence "on many sides."

Said Corcoran: "I think the scrutiny on that is wholly unnecessary ... Focusing on the missing one word in an initial statement when I think it's patently clear from the administration that this was an atrocity, it was evil, and it was evil because of those by name -- neo-Nazis, white supremacists, that they named -- it's all addressed." 

Corcoran has said he may run for governor, but he won't make a final decision until next March, when the 2018 legislative session is scheduled to end.

August 15, 2017

Poor communication led to chaos during Fort Lauderdale airport shooting, report says

FLLrun

@amysherman1 @chabelih

Officers responding to a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January failed to coordinate and communicate effectively in the aftermath of the incident, causing havoc at the airport, according to a new report.

On Tuesday, Broward County released a report by a consultant who examined the response by law enforcement, airport and county workers to the Jan. 6 mass shooting that left five people dead and stranded about 12,000 people at the airport for several hours.

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, county officials including airport director Mark Gale defended their response to the shooting while also agreeing with recommendations for security improvements outlined in the report.

“Some will take weeks, some will take months, some will take longer but we intend to stay vigilant until all of these recommendations have been addressed,” he said.

More here.

Republicans again denounce Trump after he again accuses 'both sides' of violence in Charlottesville

@PatriciaMazzei

Check out Miami Republicans' tweets from Saturday and now, again, from Tuesday, in response to President Donald Trump's insistence that "both sides" -- and not just white supremacists and neo-Nazis -- were to blame for violence over the weekend Charlottesville. The three lawmakers are Hispanic.

Continue reading "Republicans again denounce Trump after he again accuses 'both sides' of violence in Charlottesville" »

Curbelo: After Charlottesville, Trump should marginalize Bannon, Miller

@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump should stop listening to two top White House aides who want to "accommodate" white nationalist groups, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said after the weekend's deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Curbelo did not go as far as to call for Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist and senior counselor, and Stephen Miller, Trump's senior adviser for policy, to be fired. But he told CNN the two men should be "marginalized," and the president should give more weight to other advisers, such as new Chief of Staff John Kelly.

"'Alt-right' is about white nationalism. It's about racism. It is about dividing this country," Curbelo said on CNN's "Out Front" with Erin Burnett on Monday. "And regrettably, there are members of the president's staff who at least believe that this movement should be accommodated."

Curbelo named Bannon and Miller and blamed them for Trump's initial "lack of clarity" in his response to the Charlottesville clashes.

"I'm not saying these people are racists," Curbelo said. "I'm not saying they want to advance a racist agenda. But it is pretty clear they think these people should be accommodated." 

Curbelo was one of many Republicans to slam Trump for failing to forcefully denounce white supremacists Saturday. Trump only did so, with apparent reluctance, on Monday.

"Better late than never," Curbelo told CNN. "I'm glad the president came out and called evil by name." But he said he remained "concerned with that glaring omission from Saturday."

"He needs to take steps to make sure things like this never happen again," Curbelo said.

On Wednesday, Trump went back to blaming the violence on "both sides:" neo-Nazis and white supremacists and racists but also their counter-protesters.

He left Bannon's future in question.

"He is not a racist, I can tell you that," Trump told reporters. "We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he's a good person" who gets treated "unfairly" by the press, he said.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen began calling for Bannon's ouster in April.

Wasserman Schultz: Florida lawmakers should hold special session, replace Confederate statue

@ByKristenMClark Confederate Statue Florida

As monuments celebrating the Confederacy face renewed scrutiny nationwide in the wake of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants Florida lawmakers to meet in special session this fall to replace the statue of a Confederate general that still represents the Sunshine State in the U.S. Capitol.

State lawmakers already voted 18 months ago to remove the statue of Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall after lengthy and contentious debates in Tallahassee. But Smith’s statue remains in the U.S. Capitol because state lawmakers failed during the 2017 session to agree on whom to replace him with when one committee chairman blocked a proposal.

“It’s time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday. “No family visiting our nation’s Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred and oppression.”

“Governor [Rick] Scott and the Florida Legislature must take immediate action by calling a one-day special session,” she said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: AP

Curbelo heads to Reagan Ranch in California to make tax-reform pitch

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is headed to a storied site for Republicans -- former President Ronald Reagan's California ranch -- to help the House GOP make its tax-reform pitch.

Curbelo will join Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas and other lawmakers at Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara on Wednesday. Brady chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax policy. Curbelo is the only South Florida legislator on the panel -- which makes him the most prominent local voice on the issue.

It's not the sexiest of political topics, Curbelo readily acknowledges: "It's easy for this issue to become a technical issue."

Republicans intend to return from their August congressional recess and push tax reform, moving on from their failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A super PAC tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan is already running ads in Curbelo's district urging a tax-code rewrite. His votes will be closely watched by Democrats, who consider Curbelo's Westchester-to-Key West 26th district a top 2018 target.

The most contentious tax question for Republicans so far has been whether to support a 20 percent tax on imports into the country -- the so-called Border Adjustment Tax. Ads have asked Curbelo to oppose it.

Curbelo said tax reform already taken up most of his time in Washington this year, in part because he's had to master the complexities of tax policy.

"Most of what I knew about taxes was how to file them," he said.

Since then, he's tried to simplify the issue by filming YouTube videos in English and Spanish outside a Miami coffee window -- a ventanita. His line? "Tax reform is about people."

Wednesday's event is intended to recall tax reform passed under Reagan, the last major overhaul of the code. Curbelo's piece will be proposing more targeted child tax credits and a larger standard deduction, two changes the GOP says will save families money. Curbelo has also filed legislation to permanently extend IRS tax-prep services for low-income filers, and and to allow marijuana businesses to benefit from tax deductions and credits.

Ahead of Wednesday's talk, Curbelo tried to frame the discussion as a big-picture economic question.

"I actually look at a lot of the pessimism and anger and even some of the violence in our country, and I attribute at least part of it to the fact that we've been growing at a very slow rate for the last decade-plus," he said. "People are hopeless. A lot of people feel like they don't have the opportunities, or have a prosperous future in this country, so they are resentful and they look for scapegoats."

"My big goal in tax reform is to make people happy in this country," he said. "I think we achieve that by getting to 3 percent growth through tax reform and tax simplification and tax reduction."

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald