September 09, 2014

University of Miami's retiring Donna Shalala calls community 'maddening'


Tucked in University of Miami President Donna Shalala's retirement announcement Monday was a hard-edged appraisal of South Florida.

"This great community is maddening, delightful, and limitless in its vitality and promise," Shalala wrote.

It's unclear what, exactly, the typically unvarnished Shalala considered "maddening" (fair-weather football fans, perhaps?). But it appeared to refer to the community outside UM -- though not everything has been rosy inside the university during her 14-year tenure, either.

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has waged public battles of his own, chuckled at the description in an interview with the Miami Herald.

"That pretty much describes it," he said. "It's delightful -- but maddening at times."

Fact-checking Joe Garcia's attack that Carlos Curbelo "supported ending the Medicare guarantee"

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, portrays his Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo as out of touch with middle-class residents in his South Florida district when it comes to issues such as Medicare benefits.

Web ad repeatedly shows Curbelo in a TV interview saying "if anybody has a complaint, file it," while the ad lists a litany of attacks on Curbelo. (That quote is unrelated to Medicare and relates to a situation involving Curbelo’s work as a lobbyist.)

Narrator: "When Curbelo supported ending the Medicare guarantee?

Curbelo: "If anyone has a complaint, file it."

Here we will fact-check whether Curbelo "supported ending the Medicare guarantee" -- an attack that could draw the attention of senior voters in the district that spans Miami to Key West. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to read how we rated Garcia's claim.

Will Broward courts grant same-sex marriage licenses? Stay tuned on Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, Broward Judge Dale Cohen is expected to make final a divorce for a Lake Worth lesbian seeking to end her 2002 Vermont civil union.

Expect Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman, one of Broward's longest serving Democrats, to announce his decision about whether to grant same-sex marriage licenses later Wednesday or Thursday.

Forman has said that he and his legal staff have been researching their options and he hasn’t publicly revealed if he is leaning either way. Advocates in favor of same-sex marriage have been lobbying Forman to grant marriage licenses, but that may not happen this week. 

“My personal view is I never had a problem with people marrying the people they love but I still need the law in front of me to make that change,” Forman said. “Whatever I am going to do I am going to follow the law.”

If Forman decides to grant same-sex marriage licenses, he is certain to face a legal challenge that will force his office to spend time and money defending his decision. The Christian Family Coalition, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, was scheduled to hold a presser at the Broward courthouse earlier today.

With various same-sex marriage cases winding their way through Florida courts, Forman could take a cautious path and decide to wait for additional court rulings.

Forman won’t face political repercussions for his decision because he has already announced he plans to retire in 2016. A Democrat, Forman never lost a race since he joined the Hallandale City Commission in 1973 -- he later served as a county commissioner and state senator before winning the Clerk’s job in 2000.


Seven former Supreme Court Justices say they oppose medical marijuana amendment

An anti-drug group fighting Amendment 2 has elicited the backing of seven former state Supreme Court justices to oppose the effort to legalize medical marijuana. But a spokesman for a pro-amendment group countered that's "what's relevant is the majority opinion" of the current court.

A divided Florida Supreme Court ruled in January that ballot language for the proposed constitutional amendment meets all legal requirements.

“It strikes us as disrespectful to the sitting justices on the bench that these former members of the highest court in our state would publicly question the decisions of the court in such a manner,” Ben Pollara, spokesman for United for Care, the prime group fighting for Amendment 2, wrote in an email.

In a press statement billed as a  “paid political advertisement paid for by Drug Free Florida Committee,” former Justice Kenneth B. Bell said that “Once an Amendment is in the constitution, it is extremely difficult to change.  A subject such as this should be addressed by general law … The Legislature has already legalized a strain of low-THC marijuana for medical use that is not smoked. Any expansion of marijuana use should reflect further development in medical knowledge and have a carefully limited scope, which Amendment 2 does not do.”    


Continue reading "Seven former Supreme Court Justices say they oppose medical marijuana amendment" »

UPDATED Big-spending conservative groups target Miami Rep. Joe Garcia with TV, online ads


Two conservative political groups announced separately Tuesday that they plan to spend big bucks to oppose the reelection of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat who represents the 26th congressional district, one of Florida's most competitive.

The American Action Network plans to spend $1 million in television and online advertising to run in October that will highlight the conviction of his former chief of staff and Garcia's support of Obamacare.

"South Florida families deserve better than another scandal-plagued politician like Joe Garcia who won't take responsibility for the criminal actions of his own chief of staff," group spokeswoman Emily Davis said in a news release. "It's time Joe Garcia answers for the crimes under his watch and his record of boosting Obamacare at the expense of South Florida families."

The ad buy is part of an $8 million effort across the country targeting nine swing districts. The same group funded an online ad in July urging Garcia to oppose cuts to Medicare Advantage proposed by the White House -- which Garcia had already done.

Also Tuesday, Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, said it would re-launch an online ad criticizing Garcia's Obamacare support. The ad has been on the web since February. 


"Congressman Garcia is still supporting ObamaCare, even though he's seent he disruption, confusion and hardship it's causing Florida families," Chris Hudson, the group's Florida director, said in a news release. "Congressman Garcia may claim he is working on behalf of Floridians to get them relief from the law, but the truth is he's done nothing to get rid of ObamaCare, even a year after the disastrous rollout."

Last year, the same group ran a TV ad against Garcia and fellow Florida Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, also over Obamacare.

The outside ads, known in political parlance as independent expenditures, come the same day Garcia unveiled his first TV ads, which feature some jabs at Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo. Garcia's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is no surprise that out of state millionaires and special interests are trying to buy elections for lobbyists like Carlos Curbelo. Curbeo has already proven his allegiance to special interests by refusing to disclose his lobbying clients and by funneling tax dollars on the school board to his political donors. Now these special interests want him in Congress to push their shared agenda of ending the Medicare guarantee and putting big money special interests first in Washington. Our campaign is about continuing to work for South Florida families -- always putting the people of South Florida over politics,” Said Miguel Salazar, spokesperson for the campaign.

"It is no surprise that out-of-state millionaires and special interests are trying to buy elections for lobbysists like Carlos Curbelo," Garcia spokesman Miguel Salazar said in a statement. "Curbelo has already proven his allegiance to special interests by refusing to disclose his lobbying clients and by funneling tax dollars on the school board to his political donors. Now these special interests want him in Congress to push their shared agenda of ending the Medicare guarantee and putting big money special interests first in Washington."

(PolitiFact Florida rated an earlier Garcia statement over Curbelo's position on the so-called Medicare guarantee "false.")

Garcia has used conservatives' spending to urge liberals to donate to his campaign. At least two other conservative groups, America Rising PAC and LIBRE Initiative, have also targeted him. The National Republican Congressional Committee said in June it planned to spend $1.4 million in ads against Garcia.

Its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had reserved about $970,000 in ad time as of June.

This post has been updated with comment from the Garcia campaign and the PolitiFact Florida mention.

Crist blasts Scott in new ad over abortion, women's issues


We told you last week about Planned Parenthood providing as much as $3 million in help for Democrat Charlie Crist. Here's the first tangible sign of the alliance: Crist is running an ad that seeks to label Republican Gov. Rick Scott "extreme" over abortion and women's issues.

Fact check to follow. 

The Money Race: Big education weighs in big-time for Crist

Cash APDemocrat Charlie Crist left the primary gate boosted by a $1.5 million cash haul in late August as the National Education Association and the Democratic Governor’s Association each gave his “Charlie Crist for Florida” committee hefty checks for $500,000.

By contrast, Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s political campaign, Let’s Get to Work, scored only $127,410 for the week ending Aug. 29 as the conservative billionaire Koch brothers wrote the committee the largest check of the period -- $25,000, according to reports filed at the Florida Division of Elections.

But Scott’s contributions to his political campaign during that period outpaced Crist’s as the governor  raised $709,178 to Crist’s $272,682.

That brings the totals for both candidates – both political committees and campaigns – to $43.3 million for Scott and $28.6 million for Crist. Scott has spent proportionately more than Crist, however -- $28.3 million to Crist’s $11.6 million – as the Republican has loaded the airwaves with a barrage of heavy-hitting attack ads, forcing Crist to attack back.

The cash-on-hand numbers at this point, however, is where they are more evenly matched. Scott has $15 million in the bank and Crist has $11.6 million.

While the Democratic Governor's Association money brings the total from that organization to $2 million this cycle, the union money flowing to Crist is the real story this week, however.  Scott has spent considerable capital, time and television buys in a calculated effort to walk back many of his early policy decisions on education and to soft-pedal his position on Common Core. 

Continue reading "The Money Race: Big education weighs in big-time for Crist " »

Miami-Dade mayor plans to vote 'Yes' on courthouse, FIU ballot questions - but doesn't think they'll pass


The good news for supporters of two Miami-Dade County questions on the Nov. 4 ballot: Mayor Carlos Gimenez says he will "probably" vote for both of them.

The bad news? He's got a one-word answer when asked if he thinks they'll pass: "No."

Last week, county commissioners agreed to ask voters if Florida International University should be allowed to expand onto public fairgrounds on Tamiami Park. Separately, voters will also be asked to approve $393 million in new government debt -- which means a likely property-tax rate increase -- to pay for a new civil courthouse and to repair the existing one.

"I think FIU has a better chance of passing than the courthouse," Gimenez told the Miami Herald on Monday. Of the courthouse, he added: "Unless the judges and the legal community go out and explain why it's necessary, I don't think people will see that it's necessary. I, on the other hand, have seen it."

The mayor has acknowledged the need for a new courthouse -- and for FIU to expand -- but the groups campaigning for both referendums would probably prefer a stronger endorsement from him. Among the political consultants working on behalf of FIU's political action committee, Friends of Higher Education, is Freddy Balsera, who employs Gimenez's son Carlos J. Gimenez.

Mayor Gimenez, a student of public-opinion polls, has been reluctant to endorse potentially unpopular ballot questions in the past. Last year, he questioned an $830 million bond for Jackson Health System two days before the election. His son worked on that race, too.

Voters still approved the measure, and Gimenez said he ultimately voted Yes.

Marco Rubio endorses Carlos Curbelo in Miami congressional race


Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida gave his high-profile backing Tuesday to Miami congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo.

"I have dedicated this year to introducing policy proposals on a wide range of issues affecting South Florida and the Keys that includes reforming our anti-poverty programs, creating jobs and helping more people attain higher education," Rubio said in a written statement released by Curbelo's campaign. "In the next Congress, Carlos Curbelo can help me deliver on these kinds of ideas as we serve the people of Florida's 26th Congressional District."

Though hardly surprising that Rubio would back the Republican nominee in the race, his weighty name could help Curbelo draw more campaign funds as he tries to unseat incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia in the 26th congressional district, which stretches from Westchester to Key West. Garcia has a considerable fundraising margin so far, and Curbelo was forced to spend some money in a crowded GOP primary against four other candidates.

One candidate in that race accused Curbelo of betraying Rubio by backing former Gov. Charlie Crist -- and as a result criticizing Rubio -- in the 2010 U.S. Senate contest. After Crist left the GOP to run as an independent (he's now a Democrat running for governor), Curbelo shifted his support to Rubio.

Before the primary, Curbelo unveiled the endorsements of other well-known Republicans, including former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The district leans Democratic, but only slightly, so it is still considered a tossup -- especially given that the GOP has a better track record of turning out voters in midterm elections.

Read the endorsement press release after the jump.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio endorses Carlos Curbelo in Miami congressional race" »

With 2 new TV ads, Joe Garcia talks Medicare in Miami-Dade, flood insurance in Florida Keys


How to appeal to voters in a district that includes conservative Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County and independent whites in the Florida Keys?

If you're U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, by releasing a pair of television advertisements Tuesday with different messages tailored to each demographic.

Garcia, a Miami Democrat seeking reelection to the Westchester-to-Key West 26h congressional district, unveiled the two 30-second ads: one to air in Miami-Dade, the other in Monroe. The stepped-up campaigning has coincided with news last week that federal authorities have intensifed their investigation into Garcia's unsuccessful 2010 congressional campaign.

The Miami-Dade ad, titled "What's Right," echoes a Spanish-language radio spot that began airing last week. It stresses Garcia's Cuban-American heritage and support for Medicare and accuses Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo of "rubber-stamp[ing] Rick Scott's Tea Party agenda," saying Curbelo "backs Rick Scott's massive cuts to our schools."

Curbelo was part of Scott's education transition team in 2010. But he also said in a letter to the Miami Herald editor in 2012 that the governor's education budget the previous year represented a "colossal" reduction to education. "I believe in innovation and efficiency, but the current situation is becoming untenable," he wrote.

The Keys ad, titled "Moving Forward," makes no reference to Cuba; Keys voters are known to favor increased ties to the island, as opposed to Miami exiles. Instead, the ad focuses on flood-insurance rates, a crucial regional issue. "Curbelo would remove the limits on flood insurance rates, letting costs skyrocket," Garcia says.

It's unclear what Garcia is basing that on; the ad doesn't cite a source, and Curbelo said in a televised debate last month that, like Garcia, he would have supported congressional legislation that capped annual premium increases. But Curbelo also said he considered the measure temporary.

Watch the two ads below.