June 18, 2014

Donald Trump sings the praises of incoming House Speaker Crisafulli


Trump_crisafulliAn interesting tweet came across our timeline today: Donald Trump with nothing but nice things to say about soon-to-be House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Trump -- the controversial business man, reality show host and Tea Party darling-of-late -- has a massive Twitter presence: 2.6 million followers. His tweet about Crisafulli was retweeted 50 times and favorited 56 times in the first three hours.

By comparison, Merritt Island Republican Crisafulli's account has just under 8,000 followers and his tweets are generally favorited or republished about a dozen.

We asked Crisafulli's spokesman Brian Hughes for more information about where and why the meeting with "The Donald" took place. Hughes would only say that Crisafulli is make rounds in Florida and beyond as he reaches out to Republican donors ahead of the 2014 election.

Former legislators, staff apply for 2 openings on Public Service Commission


By Tuesday's deadline, 33 people had applied for two vacancies on the Public Service Commission. They include former state legislators and PSC staff hoping to join the well-paying, but controversial state board.

Former State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, who is stepping down because of term limits, is among them. Patronis decided last year not to run for a seat on the Florida Senate, avoiding a nasty Republican primary against Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is now considered a shoo-in for the district now represented by his dad.

When Patronis announced last summer he would not run for the Senate, he said he looked forward to returning to his hometown of Panama City after eight years in public office to spent time with his family. Patronis said today he "can't shake public service" and felt a PSC position would allow him to remain in both worlds.

"I felt like it was a fit that I could serve my interests at home and still be able to take what I’ve learned and apply it to the citizens of the state of Florida," he said.

Members of the five-person PSC make $131,036 annually.

Incumbent Julie Imanuel Brown's term is up in January, but she has applied to be reappointed. She has to follow the same application process as the other 32 people interested in her job. The other open seat is occupied by Eduardo Balbis, who decided to step down when his term ends in January.

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About last night in Fort Lauderdale: Lone GOP commissioner part of 3-2 vote for gay marriage

One of the votes on the Fort Lauderdale City Commission that tipped the balance narrowly in favor of a same-sex marriage resolution was cast by the lone Republican.

Commissioner Bruce Roberts, the city’s former police chief, was one of three votes in favor of the resolution along with commissioners Dean Trantalis, who is the city’s first openly gay member, and Bobby DuBose. Mayor Jack Seiler and Commissioner Romney Rogers voted against the resolution.

The resolution that will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature calls for “equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples.” The resolution is symbolic -- a city can’t dictate marriage laws.

The day after the vote we asked Roberts, a Roman Catholic married to a woman for about 35 years, why he voted in favor of the resolution.

“Actually it has been a metamorphosis for me to tell you the truth,” over the past three years, Roberts said.

Roberts said he views marriage as a civil rights issue.

“I thought it would be achieved through civil unions but that’s not going to happen...,” he said. “The way the country is set up with laws it has to be set up with what is called marriage.”

However Roberts said “it doesn’t change anybody’s ability to have a faith in their particular religion.”

During the meeting as Roberts explained why he would vote in favor, he said: “As my family has said to me I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history either as time moves along.”

(To listen to Roberts’ comments at the meeting, watch the city video starting at hour 2 minute 28. Seiler reiterated his support for civil unions.)

Technically commissioners are elected non-partisan in Fort Lauderdale though party activists play a role in campaigns.

We asked Roberts if he thought Broward Republicans would be  more successful at getting elected if they supported same-sex marriage and he didn’t want to give advice to others in his party.

“From my perspective I try to remain somewhat independent,” he said. “I also do believe generally speaking in less government in our affairs -- especially rules and regulations-- and that’s why I am affiliated with the Republican Party.”

Roberts, who represents the northeast part of the city, isn’t known for being particularly active in partisan politics. He first won election in 2009 and faces re-election next year.


Democrat Rankin qualifies to challenge Jeff Atwater for CFO


Democrat William Rankin of Deerfield Beach has qualified to run against Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, the Republican incumbent. Rankin qualified today by paying the required fees.

His campaign is limping along. As of the end of May, Rankin reported having spent $13,356, more than the $13,056 he raised for the race. Rankin also loaned the campaign $10,600 of his own money.

By comparison, Atwater has raised $1.9 million and spent $96,499 as of May 31.

Rankin's fundraising has picked up in recent months, however. After raising only $474 from January through March, he collected $2,431 in April and $4,950 in May.

Rankin has been mostly invisible on the campaign trail, though his expenditures report shows dozens of charges for food and gas.

Early in his candidacy, he was dogged by questions about his background and qualifications.

According to financial records he submitted to the state, Rankin had a net worth of $371,650 at the end of 2013. Atwater's net worth is $1.9 million.

Rankin reported as income $144,057 from a bankruptcy settlement, $6,828 in veteran disability pay and $2,534 in retired military pay. The biggest asset he reported is by estimating a value of $300,000 on a media company he founded called "Millionaire Lifestyle."

Gov. Scott signs cancer center funding legislation


Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation today, as expected, that provides $300 million over the next five years to help three Florida cancer centers improve their national standing.

House Bill 5203 represents one of Scott's legislative priorities in this re-election year; cancer center funding is one of those issues that voters would find scant reason to bemoan.

"This legislation will better equip our cancer centers with the tools they need to expand cancer research and care for patients and their loved ones," Scott said in a statement announcing the bill signing. "We remain committed to making Florida the best in the nation for research and to providing all families with access to world class treatment."

Scott office has announced no plans for a public event to commemorate the bill signing, though we had heard the possibility of an appearance at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa in the coming days to talk up the issue.

Moffitt will share the money with the University of Florida's Cancer Center and University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dade Medical College owner charged with improper lobbying


The Miami-Dade ethics commission on Tuesday charged Ernesto Perez, owner of Dade Medical College, with improper lobbying — creating another headache for an educational leader already facing criminal charges for allegedly lying about his criminal past on government forms.

At the crux of the eight new ethics allegations: Perez’s failure to register as a lobbyist when pushing for new or expanded campuses for his string of private, for-profit colleges. It is a civil, not criminal, matter. If found in violation, Perez could be fined or reprimanded by the ethics commission.

“We’ll address that matter before the ethics commission,” Michael Band, Perez’s criminal defense attorney, said when asked to comment. Perez did not return a message left with the college. Dade Medical co-CEO/General Counsel Jonathan Janeiro declined to comment.

Governments require lobbyists to register as a way of promoting transparency.

Investigators with the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust identified eight instances in which they say Perez should have registered as a lobbyist — seven involving city administrators in Homestead, where Perez once planned a massive expansion of his college. The Homestead incidents date to 2011 and 2013.

More here.

June 17, 2014

PortMiami tunnel hasn't opened due to leaky pipes, other mishaps


A month after its ballyhooed but entirely ceremonial opening, PortMiami’s billion-dollar tunnel has yet to carry a single vehicle under Biscayne Bay — and it may be several more weeks before the tunnel is ready for real traffic, officials say.

Leaky pipes and other matters of literal nuts and bolts have prevented the tunnel from getting the necessary permits to open. The tunnel contractor is scheduled to give its latest progress report to state and local transportation officials Wednesday, but even the most optimistic no longer expect it to open before July.

“The whole project team is disappointed,” conceded Gus Pego, the senior Florida Department of Transportation official in Miami-Dade County. “The contract called for it to be done May 19, and we were fully expecting to open it then.”

The failure to deliver the tunnel has already cost the contractor, the Paris-based Bouygues, more than $3 million in fines — a sum that grows $115,000 each day. The fines go to the private consortium MAT Concessionaire, which will operate the tunnel when it opens.

Meanwhile, the state of Florida hasn’t started writing checks for the $34 million annual fee it will pay for public access to the tunnel. And the 16,000 vehicles the tunnel was expected to take off Miami’s downtown streets continue to clog the traffic grid.

More here.

Ethics complaint filed against Scott over investment in oil drilling company

An investment in a French oil services company that drills in Florida poses a conflict of interest for Gov. Rick Scott, according to a complaint filed with the Commission on Ethics on Tuesday by a Broward County activist.

In the complaint, John Lundin alleges that Scott’s past $135,000 investment in Schlumberger LTD., once held in a blind trust, is grounds for a broader investigation into Scott’s portfolio. Lundin said he filed the complaint after reading about Scott’s investment in Schlumberger in the Times/Herald on Sunday.

“Gov. Scott’s blind trust does not exempt him from complying with State of Florida ethics laws for financial conflicts of interest,” said Lundin, 60, who now lives in Hollywood.

After becoming governor, Scott set up a blind trust for his extensive investments in 2011. It revealed his stake in Schlumberger LTD, the world’s largest oil services company that is currently involved in oil drilling in Collier County, near the Everglades. Scott and the Cabinet oversee the Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates oil drilling in Florida. Scott's release Monday of his tax returns showed he no longer owns interest in the company.

Lundin said that Scott should have instructed his brokerage firm, C.L. King & Associates, to divest his portfolio of any financial investments that he oversees through the DEP.

“Gov. Scott failed to do this, which is a financial conflict of interest,” Lundin states in the complaint.

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Miami congressman: David Beckham should put his MLS stadium in Homestead


With David Beckham and his investors taking some time to consider their options for a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami, everyone's chiming in with a proposed location.

The latest politician to weigh in: Congressman Joe Garcia.

The Miami Democrat sent a letter Tuesday suggesting Miami Beckham United look south to Homestead and Florida City, which are in his district.

Garcia cited support from local elected officials, lower land purchasing and development costs than in downtown Miami and ethnic diversity as selling points for a suburban stadium. 

"In addition to the residents of the City of Miami, these South Dade communities would help form a devoted fan base that would fuel attendance at games and contribute to a strong sense of solidarity with a with the team," Garcia wrote to Bill Talbert, president and chief executive of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Beckham's group, however, has made it clear that it wants to be near the county's urban core, preferably by public transportation. MLS has indicated that a potential site in Little Havana next to Marlins Park is too far from downtown to work, given the league's experience with expansion franchises elsewhere.

That message has done little to stop politicians from throwing around ideas, some wilder than others.

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman called the Miami Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, which seats more than 70,000, "perfect" for MLS -- even though MLS averages about 18,000 fans a match.

Scott won't say whether he'll debate GOP opponents

For months, Gov. Rick Scott's campaign and the Republican Party of Florida have flogged Charlie Crist for ducking Democratic rival Nan Rich. It's fair game, but Crist has said for months he won't debate Rich and give her the statewide exposure her low-budget campaign desperately needs.

The GOP launched a "Demand Charlie Crist do the right thing" online petition and a "Charlie's debate clock," counting the hours Crist avoided debating Rich.

Now, Scott has two opponents who have qualified for the Aug. 26 primary ballot. Unlike Rich, who was Senate Democratic leader, neither of Scott's rivals, Yinka Adeshina and Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, have held elective office.

Scott sidestepped the question of whether he would debate them. "I haven't even met them yet," he said.

Such a debate would be entertaining, at least. Adeshina sent a statement to The Buzz in which she said: "I was excited when Howard Dean became governor." 

Dean, a doctor, was Vermont governor before he ran for president and was Democratic national chairman. Adeshina's point was that she's a pharmacist and, like Dean, is in the health care field. But singing Dean's praises is probably not a sure-fire way to get votes in a Republican primary in Florida.