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December 07, 2016

State Rep. Dan Raulerson to undergo back surgery


Plant City Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson is undergoing spinal surgery Friday for an autoimmune deficiency, taking him out of the Legislature temporarily for four to six weeks while he recovers.

But, the third-term state representative told the Times/Herald, "I have no intention of resigning."

Raulerson is working with the House speaker's office to have other lawmakers present and manage his proposed bills when committee meetings start in January, he said.

Yet his absence during a critical week for House members in Tallahassee caused rumors to swirl that he might step down.

Lawmakers this week underwent mandatory training sessions, including ethics instruction required by law. And they are at work lobbying Speaker Richard Corcoran and committee chairmen for plum assignments on powerful House panels.

Raulerson said that there's uncertainty "anytime you have back surgery" but that he fully plans on returning to Tallahassee before session begins on March 7.

"I've been limping around Tallahassee for two years," Raulerson said.

That's when doctors diagnosed him with the autoimmune condition, which he did not want to disclose, citing his medical privacy.

"We plan on working in the Legislature moving forward," he said.

Trump picks former head of Southcom to as Homeland Security secretary

via @learyreports

President-elect Donald Trump has picked former U.S. Southern Command leader, Gen. John Kelly, as his choice for secretary of homeland security, a further blow to President Obama’s hopes of closing down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Kelly oversaw Southcom, which operates out of Doral and oversees Central and South America and the Caribbean. He defends the use of Gitmo, which Obama pledged to close down during his first run for president and has been transferring prisoners from.

“We're the good guys — they're not,” Kelly said earlier this year. "We can quibble over what they were doing on the battlefield when we took them, but every one of them is a bad guy."

Currently about 59 detainees remain there and Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, want to prevent more transfers and a shuttering of the facility.

“Obama's plan to close Gitmo is a continuation of prioritizing his own legacy over the safety of the American people,” Rubio said in February, when Obama announced a proposal to close the facility.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami mayor: I'd sign Rahm Emanuel's DACA letter to Trump


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a surprising visit Wednesday to Trump Tower, where the Democrat and former White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama hand-delivered to President-elect Donald Trump a letter signed by a total of 18 big-city mayors around the country.

The subject: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program Obama created by executive action protecting immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, often called Dreamers.

"DACA makes our communities and country safer -- both in terms of national security and public safety," says the letter, signed by Emanuel and mayors such as Bill de Blasio of New York, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Marty Walsh of Boston and Sylvester Turner of Houston.

Notably absent: any mayor from South Florida, one of the most immigrant-rich regions in the country.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said that's because he wasn't asked to sign.

Regalado, a Republican, did not back Trump.

Emanuel told reporters at Trump Tower that young people protected by DACA shouldn't be targeted after having notified the federal government in good faith of their identity and whereabouts -- one of the top concerns among DACA recipients.

"They're trying to achieve the American Dream. It's no fault of their own their parents came here," Emanuel said. "We should embrace them, rather than do a bait-and-switch."

Emanuel said he also defended sanctuary cities to Trump, who has pledged to do away with federal funding for municipalities that fail to cooperate with federal immigration detentions. Miami-Dade acts as a de facto sanctuary county, though Mayor Carlos Gimenez has tried to argue that the county is not formally a sanctuary because it's only trying to save money, not make a political statement.

A full story on the letter and Regalado and Gimenez has been posted here.

Report: After Senate loss, Murphy 'not going to rule anything out' for his political future

2016 Election Senate Murphy


Since losing his bid for U.S. Senate last month, Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has kept a low-profile -- but he's now signaling that this might not be the end of his time in the political spotlight.

In the 2016 election, Murphy had planned on riding a Hillary Clinton wave and nabbing Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat, extending his political career in Washington. Instead, Murphy got shot down not only by Rubio's own victorious campaign but by an unrealized level of support for Donald Trump that prevented Clinton from winning Florida and the White House.

In what appears to be Murphy's first media interview since Election Day, the 33-year-old Jupiter resident told his hometown newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, that he's not ruling out future jobs in public service when he leaves Congress in January.

He told The Post he plans to, for now, "focus on the private sector" but "I've made it clear to all my friends and supporters that I do have a desire to serve."

"I don't know how I'll feel in six months, maybe I'll feel different, I don’t know. But for sure I know I’m going to miss certain aspects of the job," said Murphy, who has represented northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast in Congress for the past four years.

When The Post asked Murphy specifically about the upcoming 2018 governor's race, Murphy said: "I'm certainly not going to rule anything out. I want to keep all options on the table and I want to just see how I'm feeling, see how the political environment is, see the issues people are talking about."

Read The Post's full story here, in which Murphy also reflects on Trump's victory driven by passionate support that Murphy described as "an undercurrent that I didn't see."

On Tuesday in a farewell speech on the floor of the U.S. House, Murphy said it's "been the honor of a lifetime" to represent Florida's 18th Congressional District, and he reflected on his accomplishments since he first took office in 2013.

Photo credit: Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy gives his concession speech following his loss to Sen. Marco Rubio at the Palm Beach Gardens Marriott in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel via AP

'America is stronger' because of Dreamers, Nelson says

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson has stepped into the growing debate over the fate of immigrant "Dreamers," using a floor speech to honor a Jacksonville-area veteran who faced legal trouble in 2011.

“Always he thought he was an American citizen,” Nelson said Tuesday of Elisha Dawkins, who was brought to the U.S. when he was six months old by his Bahamian mother.

A paperwork issue arose and Dawkins, who served in the Army and Navy Reserves, was sent to a detention center, facing possible deportation. Nelson stepped in.

Today, Dreamers face uncertainty with President-elect Donald Trump vowing to strip away the legal protections afforded under an Obama administration program. A bipartisan group of Senators is working on legislation to help and Nelson signaled his support.

(Sen. Marco Rubio, who once tried to come up with his own bill, is not part of the effort and won’t comment.)

“I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. The DREAMers are our neighbors, they're our friends,” Nelson said. “They are our high school valedictorians, and they are our veterans. They were brought to this country before they ever even knew of the significance of their trip, and they have benefited our communities greatly.

“And so it's clear that America is stronger for a person like Elisha Dawkins. And as this Congress comes to a close, I want to remind all of us and urge us to remember next year ,when there's an attempt to turn around that White House executive order, I want us to remember the faces of people like Elisha Dawkins, and I want us to come together and to acknowledge their many contributions to this great country.”


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times


Losing candidate does not show up for court hearing challenging Rep. Raulerson


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An attempt to throw out state Rep. Dan Raulerson's reelection stalled for a second time Wednesday after the losing candidate who filed the lawsuit failed to show up to a court hearing in Tallahassee.

Jose Vazquez Figueroa, a Democrat who lost to Raulerson in the November election, filed a lawsuit in September alleging that paperwork errors made Raulerson, R-Plant City, inelligible to seek re-election. He pointed to what appeared to be Wite-Out or some other correction fluid on Raulerson's financial disclosure filed with the state, which Figueroa says violated notary laws and made the document invalid.

After Figueroa did not appear for the hearing, which he requested, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson on Wednesday denied a request by Figueroa to rule on the matter in an expedited hearing.

Figueroa is representing himself in the case.

Before the Nov. 8 election, the case ran into a procedural snafu after Figueroa scheduled a hearing without notifying Dodson and the defendants' lawyers of what he planned for the judge to consider that day.

Raulerson won the election with 58.5 percent of the vote. He was sworn into office for a third term on Nov. 22.

Photo: Skip O'Rourke, Tampa Bay Times

Charlie Reed, outspoken higher-ed leader in Florida, California, is dead at 75

CReedCharlie Reed, an outspoken leader of Florida's higher education system who left for a similar post in California in 1998 and returned to Tallahassee, has died. He was 75 and was one of the nation's most widely respected educational leaders.

When Reed retired in California four years ago, the Los Angeles Times offered an assessment of what it called a mixed legacy of an educator who acknowledged he could be blunt, bullheaded and a workaholic. After enduring massive higher education spending cuts during the Great Recession of 2008-09, Reed said: "What I've seen is a lack of political will and a lack of political leadership in California."

Reed had similar sentiments about the Florida Legislature under both Democratic and Republican leadership. He delivered a memorable speech five years ago to the Council of 100 in which he criticized Florida's system as "splintered," and he excoriated political leaders for creating Florida Poiytechnic University in Lakeland.

In 2007, Reed addressed the LeRoy Collins Institute in Tallahassee and offered a critique of what he said was a grossly underfunded university system. "Florida has a motto: We're cheap and we're proud of it," Reed said. 

A Pennsylvania native, Reed served as chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Bob Graham in 1984-85 before he took command of the Florida university system.

The Orange County Register has more on Reed's record as chancellor in California, which was marked by a major expansion of the system, tuition increases and a series of budget problems that preceded the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis.

December 06, 2016

Miami-Dade Democrats pick leaders amid political drama over Florida party

IMG_IMG_bullard_2_1_2Q9NPIEJ_L269366158@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

The most momentous election in recent memory for Miami-Dade County Democratic Party ended late Tuesday after more than three hours of political wrangling that could determine the future of the Florida Democratic Party.

At stake at the reorganization meeting were not only the reins of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Executive Committee — but also the chances that a deep-pocketed donor might find a way to run for the far more powerful position of chairman of the state party, which has been reeling since its drubbing in the Nov. 8 election.

Juan Cuba, until recently the local party’s executive director, won the Miami-Dade chairman’s post. Dotie Joseph, a former North Miami Beach assistant city attorney, became vice-chairwoman. Business consultant Bret Berlin was reelected state committeeman without opposition. Francesca Menes, policy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, became the new state committeewoman.

Outgoing chairman and state Sen. Dwight Bullard, who chose not to seek reelection to his party post after losing his state seat last month, wanted the vice-chair position. But party rules require the vice-chair to be a woman if the chair is a man (and vice versa), so Bullard’s bid was made moot by Cuba’s win. Bullard was nominated for the committeeman post, too, but lost to Berlin.

The biggest intrigue, however, was over a man who wasn’t even listed on the ballot: Stephen Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer and major Democratic fundraiser.

Bittel wants to head the Florida Democratic Party. The wrinkle: Only party members elected to county posts are eligible to run for state chairman. And Bittel wasn’t eligible for a county post because party rules make those seats available only to precinct chairmen — and Bittel wasn’t one of them.

So what’s a well-heeled donor quietly backed by big-name Democrats to do? Hope he can cut a deal.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, AP

Florida Supreme Court denies Rivera ethics appeal

From the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up an appeal by former state lawmaker David Rivera in a long-running ethics case.

As is common, justices did not give reasons for turning down Rivera's appeal of a July ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry agreed to reject the case, while Justice R. Fred Lewis wanted to hear oral arguments. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston did not take part, according to an order posted online.

An attorney for Rivera in September urged the Supreme Court to take up the constitutionality of a law that allows the House speaker to impose fines against Rivera in the ethics case, which includes allegations that Rivera was improperly reimbursed by the state for travel expenses that had been covered by campaign accounts.

The state Commission on Ethics and an administrative law judge ruled against Rivera, who has disputed the characterization of his actions but could face nearly $58,000 in fines.

The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled in July that it was too early for Rivera to challenge the constitutionality of the law allowing him to be fined by the House speaker.

While the ethics commission recommended a penalty, the House speaker is charged by the law with the final decision. Rivera’s attorney asked the Supreme Court to consider the “ripeness” issue, but Attorney General Pam Bondi's office asked justices to turn down the appeal.

Rivera, a Miami Republican who served as House budget chairman, left the Legislature in 2010 and served a single term in Congress. He lost a bid to return to the state House last month.

Miami lawmaker targets sports stadiums on public land


State Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, is going after Florida sports teams for using public land to build their stadiums.

A bill (HB 77) filed in the Florida House on Tuesday would outlaw teams from leasing state and local government-owned land to build stadiums or renovating stadiums already on public land. It would also require that land sold by local governments or the state to build a stadium be at fair market value.

Right now, one major sports team in the state is in the market for a new home: the Tampa Bay Rays. If passed, the Rays could face limited options for a new stadium.

As well, the Tampa Bay Rowdies plan to make a "very important announcement...regarding the club's future" later tonight. If the announcement includes a stadium expansion or renovations, they would be barred by such a bill.

Avila could not be reached for comment.

However, the bill may not pass, even though House leadership, including Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, opposes using public money on stadiums.

No one in the state Senate has filed the bill -- a requirement to pass the Legislature and land on Gov. Rick Scott's desk for approval. And a similar effort pushed by Avila in 2016 never passed its first committee.

Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report.