July 17, 2014

Crews fires warden at Dade Correctional saying it should 'send a message'

In a scathing rebuke to the leadership at the Dade Correctional Institution, Florida's prisons chief on Thursday fired the warden at the embattled prison and announced he wanted to "send a message" through the system.

Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews announced that he had terminated Warden Cummings, whom he had suspended last week, and replaced him with Warden Les Odom, Assistant Warden Jose Lugo and Colonel Victor Barber.

The prison had been under fire for weeks since the Miami Herald first reported on the suspicious scalding death of inmate Darren Rainey which prision officials were still investigating after two years. 

“I have not been satisfied with the information flow from Dade C.I. and we need leaders there who will act with urgency to protect the safety of the inmates and staff, and hold individuals accountable when needed,'' Crews said in a statement. "This change will send a message throughout the Department that service is a privilege and leaders must meet the fullest extent of their duty to Florida."

He also slapped the Miami Dade Police for its lengthy delay in the Rainey investigation. 

“Today I am also asking Miami-Dade to complete their investigation immediately,'' Crews said. "This investigation has taken too long and it is time to get the facts so we can take any additional action that may be necessary.”  

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Climate scientist to Scott: meeting staff is fine, we'd like to meet with you

Gov. Rick Scott deflected calls to meet with climate scientists Wednesday and told reporters that his staff "would be happy to meet" with the state's top climate experts about the impact human-induced global warming is having on Florida.

But Jeff Chanton, the FSU oceanography professor who delivered the letter to the governor on Tuesday, told the Miami Herald that he is still hoping to meet with the guy in charge, Scott.

"I will meet with everyone and I'd be happy to meet with his staff,'' said Chanton, who noted that he is a Republican. He even offered a bit of political advice on the issue Scottt has been reluctant to address. "He could undercut Crist on the issue," Chanton said, referring to Scott's Democratic rival who had embarked a series of aggressive policies aimed at reducing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

The GOP-controlled legislature has since dismantaled nearly all of those programs with the agreement of Scott, who in 2010 signaled he was in the climate change deniers camp.

Ten of the state's top scientists in oceanography, climate and atmospheric sciences delivered a letter to Scott on Tuesday, asking for an opportunity to explain to him the impact human-induced global warming will have on Florida.

“We note you have been asked several times about how, as Governor, you will handle the issue of climate change,” the professors wrote in a two-page letter to Scott. “You responded that you are ‘not a scientist.’ We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state.”

In a statement about the letter on Wednesday, Scott said he was "focused on solutions we can implement to protect our land, water and families."

"We have made environmental restoration a top priority - investing record amounts in the Everglades and Springs projects all across Florida, even many that were not prioritized by the previous administration," he said.

How important climate change will be this election cycle remains to be seen. Scott and his environmental officials face new deadlines under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan which requires states reduce greenhouse gas emissions from future and existing power plants by specific levels by 2030.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has teamed up with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to conduct a "What's your plan, Gov?" campaign seeking promoting clean energy alternatives and transparency as the state works to meet the federal carbon pollution standards.

The conservative Americans for Prosperity has announced it has more than $3 million to spend on campaigns in Florida and it could use the money to encourage climate change naysayers to vote against Crist. 

And the a federal super PAC called NextGenClimate has targeted Scott and has identified Florida as one of the seven states it will be pouring money into this election year. The group had announced plans in May to spend at least $100 million in seven competitive Senate and gubernatorial races but recent reports show the money is not coming in.

Its founder, retired hedge fund manager and longtime Democratic donor Tom Steyer, put up $50 million of his own money, and the group said it would raise the rest from likeminded donors but the group has brought in less than $5 million from outside donors and only $1.2 million for its super PAC.

 

Keys judge rules FL's gay-marriage law unconstitutional

@SteveRothaus

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional gay-marriage ban on Thursday, and ordered that two Key West bartenders be allowed to wed but not before Tuesday.

Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license. Their case mirrors a similar suit in Miami-Dade County, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

In both cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that Garcia and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of 62 percent of voters.

“It remains for this court simply to respect the policy decision made by voters,” Tanenbaum told Garcia at a hearing for summary judgment on July 7 in Plantation Key.

Zabel has yet to rule on whether to allow the Miami-Dade plaintiffs to wed or go to trial in their suit against Ruvin. The six couples are Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz of Miami.

 

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Wasserman Schultz lays forth on party's chances (better than you think) and Jeb Bush (thin skinned)

@CAdamsMcClatchy

Wasserman Schultz
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, talks about upcoming midterms with pundit Bill Schneider. (Photo by Chris Adams, McClatchy)

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston who doubles as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said pundits and politicians are misreading the dynamics of the upcoming midterm election and that her party is in a much stronger position than many realize.

Republicans have a commanding position in the U.S. House. Democrats, meanwhile, hold but a shaky lead in the Senate and are burdened by a Democratic president with weak approval ratings and the historic fact that the president’s party usually does poorly in midterm elections.

And the polls so far don’t suggest things will be any different this time around.

But Wasserman Schultz said the polls are being looked at too narrowly. Ticking off a series of competitive Senate races, she said that Democrats are in a strong position, despite what generic Republican vs. Democrat polls might show.

“The polls that we’re ahead in are the ones the matter the most: the head-to-head polls of our candidate versus their candidate,” she said in a Thursday morning roundtable with Washington reporters. “And in virtually every head-to-head Senate poll recently in the competitive races, our candidates are ahead of their candidates… There’s not a generic candidate on the ballot in November, there’s a real person against a real person.”

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It's Annette for Charlie

@MarcACaputo

Charlie Crist on Thursday tapped the head of Miami-Dade’s Democrats to become his running mate for governor, adding a needed South Florida Hispanic face to the former Republican’s ticket.

“As a working mom, a small business owner and a Floridian, I am proud to serve this state that has given me so many opportunities,” Annette Taddeo Goldstein said Thursday morning at a Miami press conference at the Lab Miami.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “too many people across Florida are feeling left out and behind.”

Crist called her “a remarkable woman and a classic American success story.”

Taddeo-Goldstein, who runs a translation company, checks a lot of boxes for Crist: Hispanic, South Florida-based (needed to turn out the Democrat base), a good fundraiser, well-liked by rank-and-file Democrats, experienced she has run before for office (unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and then for county commission), and she's female (another crucial slice of the Democratic base).

Taddeo-Goldstein’s selection all but ensures that the state’s next lieutenant governor will be a Miami-Dade Hispanic.

Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Rick Scott chose former Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera to fill the post.

The first major Democrat to call for Taddeo-Goldstein on the ticket: Henry Crespo Sr., the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida. He said Goldstein would be a good choice as would Val Demings, Orlando's police chief.

“If we look at it not only in terms of optics, but of shoring up the base, I would pick either an African-American woman or a Hispanic woman,” Crespo said in a Miami Herald story that ran earlier this week. “Women tend to vote more than men.”

Asked about Taddeo-Goldstein’s ethnicity, and his struggles in attracting Hispanic votes in Miami-Dade, Crist said her selection “certainly won’t hurt. It’s nice that she’s fluent [in Spanish].”

But, Crist said, “it’s not for some particular demographic, it’s for all the people of Florida.”

Crist’s selection of Taddeo comes at an unorthodox time.

Gubernatorial candidates typically pick running mates after contested party primaries, and Crist still faces longtime Democrat Nan Rich, who has assailed the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist for not being a consistent party member.

Crist’s standing over Scott has been slipping as the incumbent has dropped about $15 million of unanswered TV ads. Only recently has Crist started advertising.

By picking Taddeo, Crist ensured he’d dominate the news cycle without having to advertise.

Annette Taddeo-Goldstein for Crist's running mate?

@MarcACaputo

Still waiting for Charlie Crist's "major announcement" press conference, which true to form for the Democrat is running late.

The event, at The Lab Miami in the funky Wynwood District, has the trappings of a ho-hum policy announcement. But everyone's buzzing about a possible running mate announcement, and many say it's Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, the Miami-Dade Democrats' chairwoman.

She checks a lot of boxes: Hispanic, South Florida-based (needed to turn out the Democrat base), a good fundraiser, well-liked by rank-and-file Democrats, experienced (she has run before for office (against U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), and she's female (another crucial slice of the Democratic base).

We ticked off a few possibilities earlier in the week in this story.

She also has refused to return our calls for two weeks. Something's cooking.

The first major Democrat to call for Taddeo-Goldstein on the ticket: Henry Crespo Sr., the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida. He said Goldstein would be a good choice as would Val Demings, Orlando's police chief.

“If we look at it not only in terms of optics, but of shoring up the base, I would pick either an African-American woman or a Hispanic woman,” Crespo said in our previous story. “Women tend to vote more than men.”

All that said, you have to question the timing: A running mate announcement in July, before the Democratic primary against Nan Rich is over? It would be a bit presumptuous. But it's also headline-grabbing, a good way for Crist -- badly trailing in ad spending -- to earn free media in a time when it's tough to grab voters' attention.

Business partner of suspended North Miami mayor pleads guilty to mortgage fraud

@jayhweaver

A former business partner of Lucie Tondreau, the suspended North Miami mayor, has turned against her in a federal mortgage-fraud case that threatens to send her to jail and end her political career.

Karl Oreste pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to organizing an $11 million mortgage-fraud scheme that he now says he once ran with Tondreau.

Oreste admitted in Miami federal court that he went on Haitian-American radio programs with Tondreau to lure listeners into their alleged conspiracy against eight lenders, including major banks such as Wachovia.

According to his plea agreement, they recruited “straw” buyers to obtain fraudulent loans to purchase more than 20 homes during the real estate boom, then lined their own pockets with much of the proceeds.

Oreste, 56, of Miramar, who was charged in May along with Tondreau, 54, and two other defendants, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the hope of gaining a more lenient sentence.

“Mayor Tondreau is surprised by this development,” said her defense attorney, Ben Kuehne. “But she is confident that, as long as Mr. Oreste testifies to the truth, it will be evidence of her vindication.”

More here.

Report of Russian spy base reopening in Cuba puts FL on edge

A report that Russia will reopen a Havana base that eavesdropped on U.S. communications from Key West to Washington has triggered fresh warnings of Moscow’s expansionism and predictions of a continued freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations.

Until its closure in 2002, the Lourdes base was Moscow’s largest intelligence facility abroad, with up to 1,500 KGB and GRU military intelligence officers manning an array of antennas and computers in the super-secret 28 square-mile base.

“If the report is true, there’s no question Washington will put Cuba engagement on the back burner,” said Andy Gomez, a retired Cuba specialist at the University of Miami and now senior policy adviser for the Washington law firm Poblete Tamargo.

Alvaro Alba, a Miami expert on Russia, said reopening Lourdes would underscore President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and cast a pall on U.S.-Cuba relations as dark as Havana’s imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross since 2009.

Asked why Cuban ruler Raúl Castro would do that when he has repeatedly declared that he wants to improve relations with Washington, Alba added, “Cuba hasn’t cared about the United States in more than 50 years.”

More here

 

Judge sets hearing for next Thursday to hear why districts should be revised now

With time running out, the judge who invalidated Florida's congressional redistricting maps ordered a hearing for next Thursday to hear the last-chance argument by the voters groups that the maps should be redrawn before the November elections.

In a 20-minute scheduling hearing on Thursday, lawyers for the Legislature, Florida's secretary of state and the associations of supervisors of elections told Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that it is practically impossible to draw new districts in time to meet federal and state requirements for the election.

"At this point, absent some very novel, creative plan on your part, we just don't see how there is any possible way you could intervene...and have an election in newly-created districts,'' said Ron Labasky, attorney for the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association.

He said that some voters have already completed their absentee ballots and submitted them for the August primary election.

"I'm not too sure how we back up and let somebody vote again,'' he said.

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Charlie Crist's "mysterious" Nigerian $100k donor

From Gossip Extra:

A mysterious Nigerian businessman whose empire is under scrutiny for its ties to a jailed, corrupt African politician has emerged as one of Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist‘s biggest campaign donors, Gossip Extra has learned exclusively.

Onajite Okoloko, an oil executive turned fertilizer manufacturer with a sprawling property in Boca Raton, has donated $100,000 to Democrat Crist’s campaign so far this year, according to state campaign records.

Okoloko, 48, dropped $25,000 into the former governor’s coffers in January, then again in February, May and June, the records show.

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