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October 07, 2015

Miami-Dade mayor names new elections supervisor


Miami-Dade County has a new elections supervisor: Christina White.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez's office said Wednesday the mayor has appointed White to replace Penelope Townsley, who is retiring. White was Townsley's chief deputy and, as a longtime elections employee, a frequent department spokeswoman.

Miami-Dade is the only one of Florida's 67 counties that does not have an elected supervisor. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who oversees the state's elections, had asked Gimenez for a clear succession plan ahead of Townsley's May 1, 2016, mandatory retirement. White won't take over until that date but will still be in charge of the department's day-to-day operations, according to Gimenez's office.

Townsley was thrown into the spotlight during the 2012 presidential election, which was plagued with voter lines so long that a few people cast ballots after President Obama had already started delivering his victory speech. The department has since invested in new elections equipment and reorganized its precincts, and Gimenez has become something of a poster child for the Obama administration of a Republican willing to undertake voter reforms.

Quinnipiac poll: Donald Trump leads in Florida, Jeb Bush drops to 4th place


Donald Trump remains in first place among Florida Republican voters -- despite being disliked and not trusted -- with twice as much support as Miami favorites Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

Trump garnered 28 percent support in the Quinnipiac University poll, followed by Ben Carson (16 percent), Rubio (14 percent) and Bush (12 percent). (Carson is a part-time West Palm Beach resident, and Trump also owns property there.)

"The generally more energized Republican party members, who backed former Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio when they ran for office in the Sunshine State, are deserting the establishment candidates for outsiders -- specifically Trump and Carson," Peter A. Brown, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement.

Still, asked if they have a positive view of Trump, 57 percent of poll respondents said they don't. Fifty-four percent said he's not honest and trustworthy.

Bush's slide has been dramatic: A February Q poll pegged his support at 32 percent. It was 17 percent in the firm's last survey in August. In the latest poll, Bush didn't crack the top five candidates in the two other swing states Quinnipiac surveyed: Ohio and Pennsylvania. (Rubio didn't either in Ohio but was third in Pennsylvania.)

Early polls, Bush and his team have been saying for a while, don't matter. Rubio has said the same thing.

Despite Trump's lead, he wouldn't defeat Democrats in potential general election match-ups, according to the poll, which has an error margin of 2.9 percentage points.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead with 43 percent support, followed by 19 percent each for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who is not a candidate.

October 06, 2015

Alan Grayson plans to file complaint about Kevin McCarthy and Benghazi panel

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, will file an ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy after he suggested that the Benghazi select committee was launched in an effort to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.

Grayson told the Miami Herald Tuesday about his plans to file the complaint Wednesday with the Office of Congressional Ethics. His complaint also names U.S. Rep. Harold “Trey” Gowdy of South Carolina, the chair of the Benghazi panel.

McCarthy of California has been under fire by Democrats since he said on Fox News Sept 29:

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

McCarthy could become the next house speaker when U.S. Rep. John Boehner of Ohio leaves at the end of October.

Grayson said in his complaint that said McCarthy and Gowdy “violated federal law and House rules by using official funds appropriated to the Select Committee on Benghazi to pay political or campaign-related expenses.”

The Select Committee on Benghazi was launched in May 2014 to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in the Libyan city that left four Americans dead while Clinton was Secretary of State. It has cost about $4.5 million so .

Meanwhile, other government committees have already investigated Benghazi including the House Intelligence Committee which concluded in November that there was no intelligence failure before the attack. Clinton is expected to testify before the select committee later this month and this week launched a TV ad using McCarthy’s initial comments.

Last week Grayson held a conference call with reporters to blast his U.S. Senate primary opponent U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, for voting to launch the Benghazi investigation. He accused Murphy of contributing to a "political witch hunt that could dramatically affect the presidential election."

Murphy campaign spokesman Joshua Karp told the Miami Herald last week that when Murphy voted for the committee he was confident it would vindicate Clinton and now wants it shut down.


PPP poll: Donald Trump still leads GOP field, Marco Rubio has 'momentum'


Donald Trump's lead in the 2016 Republican presidential race has not grown but remained steady since late August, according to a new public-opinion survey by the Democratic-leaning PPP polling firm.

Trump drew 27 percent support in the poll, compared to 29 percent in August. Ben Carson came in second place with 17 percent (similar to 15 percent in the last PPP poll). Then came Marco Rubio with 13 percent and Jeb Bush with 10 percent. Trump's lead holds "with every subgroup of the GOP electorate," the survey notes.

"Rubio is really the only candidate who can claim any sort of momentum," according to the poll. "He's gone from 5th place at 7% to 3rd place at 13% over the last five weeks. And he has a 57/24 favorability rating that puts him only behind Carson when it comes to the most broadly liked of the Republican hopefuls. No one other than Rubio has seen more than a 2 point gain since our last poll."

Of Bush, the poll notes 10 percent is up a point from the previous survey, "but he's becoming more and more unpopular with Republican voters overall.

"Just 34% have a favorable opinion of him to 49% with a negative one. His struggles continue to be fueled by strong distrust from voters who identify themselves as 'very conservative' - his favorability with them is 26/56 and only 2% support him for the nomination." 

The usual caveat applies: It's early in the presidential race, and national polls don't show how candidates are doing in states that hold the first primaries and caucuses.

Gov. Scott authorizes first execution since January

Gov. Rick Scott has authorized the execution of Jerry Correll, a man convicted in the stabbing deaths of four people in 1985, and the first death warrant the governor has signed in nine months.

The execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 29.

Originally, Correll's execution was scheduled for Feb. 26 until the Florida Supreme Court postponed it, pending a federal case over one of the lethal injection drugs used in Florida and other states.

"Without a stay of execution in this case, Florida risks the unconstitutional execution of Correll, for which there is no remedy," Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in a February order postponing the execution. "In contrast, a stay pending determination of the issue in the United States Supreme Court will not prejudice the State and, more importantly, will ensure that Florida does not risk an unconstitutional execution."

Last week, the Supreme Court lifted the stay of execution, writing that Correll had exhausted his appeals and that the case in the U.S. Supreme Court had not deemed the drug midazolam to be "cruel and unusual punishment."

Download execution letter from Gov. Scott here.

Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho appointed to national test board


Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho hasn’t been shy about sharing his opinions regarding Florida’s school accountability and standardized testing.

The Florida Department of Education hasn’t been inclined to listen. But now, the chief of Florida’s largest school system will have a national audience.


Carvalho on Tuesday was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The board sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, tests that school-aged children take across the country. Also known as NAEP, the tests are often called “The Nation’s Report Card.”

Carvalho was one of seven new members appointed to the 26-member board. He will serve a 4-year term.

"The collective wisdom, experience and skills of the appointees play a crucial role in ensuring that The Nation's Report Card remains an effective barometer for what our students know and can do in core subjects," Duncan said in a statement.

Carvalho has been among the most vocal school leaders calling for Florida to hold off on issuing school-level letter grades this year, after the rocky implementation of new standardized exams. Education organizations across the state have also asked for a pause in school grades this year, but the Florida Department of Education has indicated it still plans to issue them.

John Kasich, Rick Santorum added to Sunshine Summit lineup


Make that 10 Republican presidential candidates who have said they will attend the Florida GOP's Sunshine Summit in Orlando next month.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are the latest RSVPs confirmed by the Republican Party of Florida, which has been announcing attendees bit by bit over a couple of weeks to raise interest in the two-day conference.

News Service of Florida: After 'national embarrassment,' judge is stripped of duties

From The News Service of Florida:

In a rare move, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday immediately suspended a Brevard County judge who interrupted court proceedings last year to scuffle with an assistant public defender after threatening to "beat your ass" in a video that went viral. The court also gave Judge John Murphy until Oct. 26 to show why he should not be permanently removed from the bench.

A panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judges, recommended in May that Murphy be given a four-month suspension without pay and a $50,000 fine, but the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of punishments against judges and lawyers.

Tuesday's order is the latest example of an increasingly stern Supreme Court that is more frequently seeking stiffer penalties against errant judges. It is the first time in recent history that the justices have removed a sitting judge from the bench while an inquiry was still pending.

Murphy, elected in 2006, gave public defender Andrew Weinstock a tongue-lashing during proceedings captured on a Viera courtroom camera last June. "You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I'll take care of this. I don't need your help. Sit down," Murphy admonished Weinstock.

When Weinstock persisted, Murphy issued a challenge in front of a crowded courtroom. "If you want to fight, let's go out back and I'll just beat your ass,'' Murphy told Weinstock.

After a scuffle in the hallway, a disheveled and panting Murphy returned to the bench and continued to handle cases of several of Weinstock's clients, who appeared before the judge without legal representation after the altercation.

"The dispute in Judge Murphy's courtroom and the hallway was more than inappropriate. It was aggressive and appalling," the hearing panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission found in May. Murphy's comments to Weinstock "were reprehensible," the panel wrote.

"The altercation between Weinstock and Judge Murphy created a remarkable national embarrassment for not only the judiciary of the state of Florida, but for its citizens as well," the six-member panel --- comprised of two judges, two lawyers and two lay persons --- found.

The panel recommended a 120-suspension without pay and a $50,000 fine and wanted Murphy to continue with mental health treatment "until successfully discharged."

The Judicial Qualifications Commission's counsel recommended against stripping Murphy from his post on the bench. Murphy, who took a month-long leave of absence and issued a public apology, asked the Supreme Court to uphold the commission's recommendations in a response filed in July.

The judge continued to dispute accusations about whether he actually hit Weinstock, who no longer works for the public defender's office. "…The question of whether Judge Murphy threw any punches on June 2, 2014, was and remains relevant," Murphy's lawyers wrote on July 10.

"The public narrative for almost a year had Judge Murphy initiating a fight with a punch. He understands that this behavior, regardless of punches, was egregious, but he believes that this (Supreme) Court and the public would view proof of a punch in a courtroom as unredeemable."

An investigation this year by The News Service of Florida found that the number of judges facing sanctions jumped in 2014 and that the high court is more often seeking harsher penalties than those originally proposed by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Hillary Clinton says she'd be 'less harsh and aggressive' on deportations


Democrat Hillary Clinton said while in Miami last Friday that the Obama administration deported people in the country illegally "very aggressively" -- and she wouldn't do the same as president;

Clinton told Telemundo in an interview that aired late Monday that President Obama, her former boss, stressed deportations as part of a "strategy" to get Republican support in Congress for immigration legislation.

"I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer," she said.

The Obama administration has said it prioritizes criminal deportations over law-abiding families.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the U.S. has deported fewer people over the past year than any time in the previous decade.

Here's Clinton's answer in full, from a Telemundo transcript.

The deportation laws were interpreted and enforced, you know, very aggressively during the last six and a half years, which I think his administration did in part to try to get Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform.

It was part of a strategy. I think that strategy is no longer workable. So therefore I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer. We need to, of course, take care of felons and violent people. I mean, that goes without saying.

But I have met too many people in our country who were upright, productive people who maybe had some, you know, minor offense.  Like, you know, maybe they were arrested for speeding or they had some kind of, you know, one incident of drunk driving, something like that 25 years ago.

And they were hauled in and deported. And I've met their wives and their children. And I just don't believe in that. I think everybody is entitled to a second chance. And I don't wanna see families disrupted, families deported. I wanna see comprehensive immigration reform. And I'm gonna do everything I can as soon as I get into office to push on that.

But in the meantime, I'm not gonna be breaking up families. And I think that is one of the differences.  But I totally understand why the Obama administration felt as though they did what they did under the circumstances. But I think we've learned that the Republicans, at least the current crop, are just not acting in good faith.

Miami Beach candidates attack each other over Rebecca Towers senior housing facility



Miami Beach candidates are feuding over a supposed development deal that some say would displace hundreds of seniors living in the waterfront affordable-housing complex Rebecca Towers.

No such deal has materialized, but posts by political blogger Elaine de Valle were followed by campaign email blasts sent from commission candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and a press release from incumbent Mayor Philip Levine’s challenger David Wieder that accuse Levine’s political handler — also a well-known Beach lobbyist — of trying to push the South Beach redevelopment project.

More here.

Citing South Florida fraud 'crisis,' jobs agency wants police unit

Gov. Rick Scott's jobs guru, Jesse Panuccio, wants more money from the Legislature to create a law enforcement unit in his Department of Economic Opportunity to fight what he calls a "crisis" in unemployment assistance fraud in Florida. DEO's budget proposal includes $3.5 million for fraud prevention and detection including a "fraud criminal investigation unit" with three sworn officers and three investigators to start.

Testifying before a legislative panel Tuesday, Panuccio described "organized criminal enterprises" committing identity theft to steal jobless benefits intended for others, and that the problem is most severe in South Florida. Panuccio used a federal grant to create an anti-fraud initiative that he said found about 130,000 fraudulent claims in nearly a two-year period, but "the fraud keeps coming."

Republicans on the House budget subcommittee for economic development immediately voiced skepticism about the idea.

The chairman, Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, called Panuccio's idea "a pretty big deal" and "a little out of place" for DEO and asked why FDLE couldn't handle the work. Added the vice-chairman, Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale: "It's probably more appropriate for a law enforcement agency."

"It's certainly not the only model," Panuccio said after hearing the voices of skepticism. "We are open to any model so long as that model is dedicated to this issue."

State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida

Marijuana samplesState regulators said Tuesday they could not say when a limited strain of marijuana will be available in Florida for medical purposes, even though it is nearly a year past the deadline on which the drug was promised. 

“At this time we are unable to provide a date the licenses will be available,’’ said Nichole Geary, general counsel for the Florida Department of Health which is in charge of licensing the five dispensaries that will cultivate and distribute the low-THC strain of medical cannabis approved by lawmakers in 2014. 

That answer drew sharp criticism from Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who along with other lawmakers supported the legalization of marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, to help patients with cancer and seizures, such as severe epilepsy.

 “I’m sure you’re aware of the frustration that members of the legislature have had in this process,’’ Steube said at a meeting of the House's Health Quality Subcommittee. “This is something we voted on two years ago.”

He noted that the agency received the applications from 28 growers on July 8 and was required to have a three-person panel review the applications and select companies that will produce and dispense the marijuana within 90 days.

“It’s been three months since then and you’re still telling us today that you have no idea when there will be some timeline,’’ he said. “I just don’t understand how we don’t have some type of way ahead.” 

Geary responded that the applications are lengthy and the agency is trying to be careful.

Continue reading "State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida" »

'My ambitions are not for me,' Marco Rubio says

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio continued to grab the spotlight with an appearance on NBC's Today and one of the first questions he faced was his absence in Washington. The presidential contender is on track to miss two consecutive weeks of votes in Washington and has the worst attendance record of any current senator.

While Rubio not long ago railed on the Senate floor, "If you don't want to vote on things, don't run for the Senate," he has been telling reporters lately that voting is not the most important part of the job.

"My ambitions are not for me. My ambitions are for my country and for Florida," Rubio told Matt Lauer this morning.

The interview also touches on the race for House speaker (Rubio takes a pass) and the Oregon shooting (Rubio says new gun laws won't help).

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Study: Floridians don't want guns on campus, are split on Medicaid expansion


Floridians are pretty well split in agreement on a number of hot button issues — Medicaid expansion, Common Core and off-shore oil drilling. But as the Legislature prepares for a January legislative session and reelection campaigns not long after, they may want to think about areas of widespread agreement.

A massive statewide poll released Monday by University of South Florida researchers shows that more than seven in 10 adult Floridians want to allow police to wear body cameras, have stricter water quality regulations, continue banning concealed guns on college campuses.

It’s the first of four sets of data that will be released this month by USF and Nielsen in their annual Sunshine State Survey.

USF Professor Susan MacManus, who runs the survey, said Tuesday that elected officials and advocacy groups should pay attention to the data because it shows how Floridians’ opinions are changing over time.

“The diversity of people moving into this state is obviously moving opinions into a more liberal direction,” MacManus said. “You have to constantly be looking at changes in opinions.”

One of the biggest changes in opinions: Less and less, people consider the economy and jobs to be the most important issue in Florida. Just 22 percent of respondents said so this year, compared to 30 percent last year and 52 percent in 2011.

A number of issues in the portion of the survey released this week are likely to come up during the legislative session, which begins in January. Early committee hearings have already begun.

On that list of hot topics is allowing concealed handguns on college campuses, where they are currently banned. According to the survey, 73 percent of Floridians oppose allowing guns on campuses, compared to just 17 percent who are in favor. Another gun-rights issue (the Stand Your Ground Law) is more divisive, with 30 percent wanting to repeal the law and 41 percent wanting it on the books.

Nine in 10 Floridians support police body cameras. Last spring, legislation to require them was watered down and then did not pass the Legislature.

Sixty percent of Floridians want more school vouchers. Two-thirds want stricter environmental regulations. Seventy-two percent want stricter water quality regulations.

Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee


Gun owners in Florida with concealed-carry permits are one step closer to getting the right to openly carry those weapons in public, under legislation that cleared a House subcommittee today by a 8-4 vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who introduced HB 163, said it “restores and vindicates” Second Amendment rights and promotes public safety. But critics of the proposal said it should, at a minimum, include better training requirements and also better protect property owner’s rights if they don't want weapons in their homes or businesses.

Those who are in total opposition said an open-carry law in Florida would instill fear, rather than calm.

“When I am out at Starbucks and there’s a cop there with his gun, it’s intimidating and it’s scary,” said Shawn Bartelt, a retiree and mother of two teenagers from Orlando. “I do not want to walk around when I walk my dogs and know that somebody’s carrying a gun out there. … I don’t want my kids raised in a world where we’re being less civilized.”

Gaetz argued that fighting for gun-owners’ rights has the opposite effect, and he said federal crime statistics are on his side.

“While we will certainly hear from shrill voices on the left that open carry will lead to the wild, wild west, that is not borne out by any of the data we have,” Gaetz said. He said U.S. Department of Justice statistics from 2012 actually show less violent crime in states with open-carry laws.

Florida is one of only five states and the District of Columbia, which prohibit openly carrying firearms and other restricted weapons.

Continue reading "Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee" »

Ben Carson's false claim about Margaret Sanger and African-Americans

Despite being dead for 49 years, Margaret Sanger, founder of the organization that became Planned Parenthood, has a way of turning up in the news. Her latest appearance came during  remarks by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson at a retirement center in Exeter, N.H.

Answering a question at RiverWoods Retirement Community, Carson said that "Planned Parenthood, as you know, was founded by Margaret Sanger. . . . Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist. She believed that people like me should be eliminated, or kept under control."

At a press conference later, the West Palm Beach resident specified what he meant by "people like me."  He said he was "talking about the black race."

See what PolitiFact New Hampshire found about Carson's claim and here is his Truth-O-Meter record

Federal audit: Florida not helping homeowners enough with mortgages

via @NickNehamas

A long-criticized billion dollar program meant to keep homeowners from losing their homes is still being mismanaged in Florida, according to a federal audit that will be released Tuesday.

The Hardest Hit Fund was established by Congress in 2010 to provide mortgage relief and other assistance to struggling homeowners as part of a wider effort to bail out the nation’s economy. The program is jointly managed in Florida by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, a state agency.

Florida was one of the states hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. It has received more than $1 billion of the $7.6 billion disbursed nationwide. But Florida’s performance has lagged well behind other states because of a lack of federal oversight, according to an audit performed by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which serves as a watchdog for the bailout.

The audit found that Florida accepted only 20 percent of homeowners who applied for assistance, the lowest rate among the 18 states that received funding. (The District of Columbia is also part of the program). The national acceptance rate was 48 percent.

More here.

From Benghazi to attacks on Jeb Bush, PolitiFact checks in on Hillary Clinton's Truth-O-Meter record


Hillary Clinton took questions Monday in a town hall sponsored by the Today show, a continuing sign of Clinton’s shift toward more high-profile campaign appearances.

PolitiFact has been watching Clinton closely, however, since her first run for president in 2007. Overall, we’ve fact-checked 125 claims made by the former New York senator and secretary of state.

Here’s a look at some recent Clinton claims we’ve analyzed and here are our fact-checks of Clinton attacking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

October 05, 2015

Marco Rubio on Jeb Bush: 'The world has changed a lot in 15 years'


Marco Rubio suggested in an interview aired Monday that his one-time mentor turned presidential rival Jeb Bush has been out of office too long to be the best 2016 Republican contender.

"The world has changed a lot in 15 years," Rubio told Fox News' John Roberts. Bush was last elected 13 years ago, in 2002, and left office in eight years ago, in early 2007.

"The issues we confronted in Florida 15 years ago are nothing like the issues the country's confronting now," Rubio continued. "I'm very confident that over the last few years -- in the time that I've been involved in all of this -- no one has shown better judgment, or more leadership on the issues facing our country, than I have."

Rubio was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives 15 years ago, in 2000, when he was 29. Bush said last week that Rubio "followed" the former governor's leadership in Tallahassee.


CNN: Donald Trump pranks sweaty Marco Rubio with water

From CNN:

Donald Trump is escalating his attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio with a special delivery for his rival: "Trump Ice Natural Spring Water."

Trump has previously trained his fire on Rubio, claiming he has the worst voting attendance record in the U.S. Senate and that he sweats a lot. But CNN learned that the Trump campaign sent a "care package" to Rubio's Washington campaign office that contained a 24-bottle case of "Trump Ice Natural Spring Water," with Trump's face on it, two "Make America Great Again" towels and bumper stickers and a note reading, "Since you're always sweating, we thought you could use some water. Enjoy!"

A Trump campaign aide said they added the towels "for him sweating," and described the overall gesture as a lighthearted prank.

More here.