January 15, 2019

Audrey Edmonson unveils new committee slate for Miami-Dade commission


Audrey Edmonson picked a mix of liberals and conservatives for her leadership team as the new chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Commission. Three of her fellow Democrats didn't make the cut for committee chairmanships, or for seats on the powerful policy council that Edmonson will run as a clearinghouse for legislation on the environment, transit, affordable housing and other areas she identified as priorities during his two years as chairwoman. 

Committee chairs are considered plum assignments, since they can give commissioners that hold them elevated roles in the legislative process and advantages in fundraising from lobbyists and contractors with business before the panels. 

The 13-seat county board is a non-partisan body, so party affiliations have no official role in the chambers. But both parties got involved in commission elections last year, particularly in the District 5 race that tipped the majority to Democrats with the win by Eileen Higgins.

On Tuesday, Edmonson's office released a memo laying out the new committee structure and leadership.

Continue reading "Audrey Edmonson unveils new committee slate for Miami-Dade commission" »

Hallandale official faces backlash for saying Muslim lawmaker may ‘blow up’ Congress


@blaskey_s @alextdaugherty

A rookie commissioner from a South Florida beach city is facing calls for her resignation after she called newly elected Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib a “danger” and said the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress may decide to become a “martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

From Washington to South Florida, the post has been called “indefensible” and “racist.”

“That’s terrible,” Tlaib said when informed of the Facebook post by the Miami Herald. She said the comments were part of a national campaign to penalize supporters of Palestinian rights.

Five days after Tlaib made national headlines for a vow to help fellow Democrats “impeach the mother------,” a reference to President Donald Trump, Hallandale Beach commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub signed an online petition to remove Tlaib from office. She then shared it on Facebook along with racially charged comments first reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Proudly signed,” the first-term South Florida commissioner wrote when she shared a “We the People” petition on Facebook. “A Hamas-loving anti-Semite has NO place in government! She is a danger and [I] would not put it past her to become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald her support for removing Tlaib from office had little to do with the possible offense Tlaib caused Trump and his supporters. She also ignored critics who called for an immediate apology for the offensive post, and instead justified her actions by pointing to Tlaib’s stance on Israel.

“My issue with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is her affiliation with the BDS movement, Hamas, Hezbollah and CAIR,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald. (BDS refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.) CAIR-Florida called for Lima-Taub’s immediate resignation after learning of the post.

“To say someone might be a terrorist because they are Muslim is wrong,” said Hallandale Beach Commissioner Mike Butler. He said members of all faiths are welcome in the South Florida City.

Read more here

U.S. Sugar, mystery DC group among top donors to inaugural pot

Desantis dance

Via @MahoneysTheName

TALLAHASSEE — When Gov. Ron DeSantis took his oath on the steps of the Old Capitol in front of more than 2,000 people, then danced with the first lady to a live jazz band at the Inaugural Ball, one question lingered: Who paid for this?

Because DeSantis' inauguration fundraised through the state Republican Party, it’s impossible to separate donations used for the inaugural festivities and other party needs. But new finance reports begin to provide answers the inaugural programs, which listed sponsors but no amounts, didn’t.

U.S. Sugar donated $350,000 to the Republican Party of Florida between the midterm election and the end of 2018 – making it the No. 1 donor for that time period.

During the campaign and since his election, DeSantis has made repeated comments calling out the sugar industry as being inhibitors of toxic algae cleanup in a way that was unprecedented for a Republican candidate for governor. In one of the primary debates, DeSantis even labeled his primary opponent, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, as the sugar industry’s “errand boy.”

When asked if U.S. Sugar’s donation went toward the governor’s inauguration, RPOF spokeswoman Yohana de la Torre responded in a statement saying donations in this time period were not “earmarked,” meaning that all the donations were deposited into the party’s account and then spent on inaugural events as needed.

Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, also emphasized the list of expenses other than the governor’s inauguration that would have benefited from U.S. Sugar’s donation.

“The donation to which you refer was to the Republican Party of Florida general revenue fund and may be used at the discretion of the chairman and the executive committee,” she said.

Because the inauguration was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, the same account used for the inauguration was also used to recoup legal fees from the midterm recounts and was available for any inaugural events for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody. Patronis held a modest event at a local Tallahassee pizza parlor. Moody never released a schedule of inaugural events.

Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, which made a surprise endorsement of DeSantis in the general election, said she is certain the donation from the sugar industry will have no effect on DeSantis’ policy.

In his first week in office, DeSantis announced a sweeping executive order aimed at cleaning up the toxic algae and also asked all the members of the South Florida Water Management District, who approved a last-minute extension to the sugar industry’s lease, to resign.

“It’s not a concern. I know Ron DeSantis and … this is not a man who can be bought,” Mitchell said. “What you’re highlighting is something that is troubling and has been for long time which is the influence and the sheer dollar amount that is doled out to politicians is obscene. They are desperately trying to do anything they can to change the tide — and they can’t.”

U.S. Sugar did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Another top donor to the Republican Party of Florida is a health care management company, Centene, which is a parent company for others that contract with the state to provide Medicaid or health services in 61 Florida correctional facilities. Centene donated $100,000.

Yet another $100,000 donor is a mysterious Washington group called the Center for Advancement of Integrity and Justice, which listed a Washington, D.C., address on Pennsylvania Avenue and its purpose as “advocacy” in contribution reports. However, the group has no website and just registered in October 2018 as a corporation in Delaware – a state known for lax business registry requirements.

No contact information was available for the group. A receptionist for the center’s registered agent in Delaware, called the Corporation Trust Company, said they weren’t legally allowed to provide any information on their clients.

Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful lobbying group, donated just over $290,000 in their name and also through their affiliated political committees.

Others in the $100,000 category: Florida Power and Light, the Florida Association of Realtors, private prison operator The Geo Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consulate Health Care and the Republican Governors’ Association.

Tampa’s Third Lake Capital, LLC, part of the Ashley Furniture family of companies, also donated $100,000. ZWB Holdings, an Orlando real estate investment company, donated the same amount.

Disney donated $75,000, while Ashbritt, the massive debris pickup company that has fallen under state scrutiny — and employed DeSantis' new emergency management chief former Rep. Jared Moskowitz — donated $50,000. Utility giant Duke Energy, Florida’s largest payday loan company Amscott and Surterra, the medical marijuana company, also donated $50,000 each.

Times/Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh and Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

January 14, 2019

Alex Diaz de la Portilla files to run for Miami commission



Former state senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla will make a third run at returning to public office.

On Monday, the political consultant filed to run for the Miami City Commission. Diaz de la Portilla filed paperwork with the city of Miami to open a campaign account, confirming a rumored run for the District 1 commission seat, which is being vacated by Wilfredo "Willy" Gort. Gort is term-limited this year.

Diaz de la Portilla's most recent foray into Miami City Hall politics was 2017, when he worked on Commissioner Joe Carollo's campaign. A state representative in the 1990s and state senator during the 2000s, Diaz de la Portilla has worked as political consultant in recent years and has unsuccessfully run for office twice since 2017. That year he lost a bid to return to the state Senate, where he once served among the senior leadership of the Republican majority. When former county commissioner Bruno Barreiro resigned his seat to run for Congress in 2018, Diaz de la Portilla ran for his seat in a special election. He placed third behind Zoraida Barreiro, Bruno's wife, and Eileen Higgins, who was elected in a run-off.

Diaz de la Portilla joins four other candidates who have already opened campaign accounts for the District 1 race: Horacio S. Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission; Michael Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser who ran in the Democratic primary for Florida's 27th Congressional District; Miguel Angel Gabela, a businessman who has twice lost to Gort in past elections and has already contributed $100,000 to his campaign; and Yanny Hidalgo, an attorney.

The District 1 race will be one to watch in Miami, particularly in the context of one high-profile City Commission vote on the horizon. David Beckham and his partners are expected to negotiate a lease of public land to build a soccer stadium and retail complex on Miami's only city-owned golf course -- a lease that would require four of five commission votes. Commissioner Manolo Reyes has said he's a firm no, and Gort has opposed the idea in the past. The stadium deal could be a major issue in the election.


Florida U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings announces he has pancreatic cancer


@davidjneal @alextdaugherty

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Broward County Democrat and the longest-serving member of Congress from Florida, announced Monday afternoon that he has pancreatic cancer and is undergoing treatment in Washington at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Hastings, 82, said he feels optimistic about his prognosis.

“I was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and in the midst of this traumatizing news, I found myself wondering not only if I would survive this disease, but also if it would impact my ability to perform my duties,” Hastings said in a statement. “Now that I have begun treatment, I feel hopeful about survival and about my ability to continue serving my constituents of Florida’s 20th Congressional district and the nation.”

The recent diagnosis hasn’t affected his attendance in Congress. Hastings has showed up for every recorded vote since the new Congress began on January 3rd.

In an interview with the Miami Herald on Friday, Hastings, known for his colorful criticism of President Donald Trump, blasted the president’s handling of the ongoing government shutdown. He also talked with Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney about bringing climate change experts to testify in Washington before Florida’s congressional delegation.

“Do the visual of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands losing their hospitals, do the visual of a whole town obliterated in fire and now he’s going to come and say because a handful of people are trying to come to this country that’s a national emergency?” Hastings said when asked about Trump reportedly considering disaster relief funds to build a border wall. “Come on.”

Hastings was elected to Congress in 1993, the first elected African-American congressman from Florida since reconstruction. He represents a left-leaning majority-minority district that includes Miramar, Fort Lauderdale and parts of West Palm Beach. Hastings was a federal judge from 1979 through 1989, losing his seat after being impeached for bribery and perjury by the House of Representatives and convicted by the U.S. Senate. He easily won reelection in 2018 after defeating a little-known primary challenger and a write-in candidate.

More here.

Snubs and snipes: Can DeSantis, Rubio and Scott mesh in era of Republican dominance?

Scott DeSantis

w/ @AlexTDaugherty

For the first time since the 1870s, the Republican Party controls the three most powerful positions in Florida’s political hierarchy — presenting what you might call a good problem for conservatives.

While new Gov. Ron DeSantis and new U.S. Sen. Rick Scott line up ideologically with Sen. Marco Rubio in a way that could push a swing state farther to the right, Florida’s big fish may be headed for confrontation. All three have high aspirations and big agendas, and even in the country’s third-largest state there’s only so much influence and media attention to go around.

Signs of friction emerged immediately as Scott and DeSantis were sworn into office last week, as did speculation that all three could be on a collision course for the 2024 presidential nomination. Scott, who ascended from the governor’s office to the U.S. Senate, where he replaced moderate Democrat Bill Nelson, has been at the center of the drama.

But Republicans also have reason to believe that the party’s new power trio will capitalize on conservatives’ tightening grasp on a state that acts as a presidential bellwether. And they hope that disputes over appointments and apparent snubs are just overblown growing pains.

“It’s like having three All Stars,” said Republican Party of Florida Vice Chairman Christian Ziegler, comparing the situation to the star-studded Miami Heat teams that won two NBA championships in the beginning of the decade. “It’s like the Miami Heat’s Big 3 with LeBron James.”

But even those powerhouse Miami Heat teams with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stumbled in their first year, tripping over internal drama and struggling to gel on the basketball court before winning two titles in four years (coincidentally the amount of time left on DeSantis’ and Rubio’s terms).

Read the rest here.

Nikki Fried taps Miami Democrat Barzee Flores for Deputy Commissioner

Mary barzee flores

Miami attorney and one-time congressional candidate Mary Barzee Flores was tapped by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried Monday to serve as the Department’s Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Affairs.

Barzee Flores, a gun control advocate and critic of the National Rifle Association, will oversee the consumer services aspects of the Department, including the concealed weapons permitting and licensing program.

“I’m honored to join an administration focused on protecting consumer rights and the interests, safety, and security of all Floridians,” Barzee Flores said in a statement Monday.

Grea Bevis, the current Director of the Division of Licensing, resigned effective January 11. A 2013 lawsuit from a former supervisor in former Commissioner Adam Putnam's department alleged Bevis and another supervisor told her she "worked for the NRA" and pointed to "gross misconduct.

The lawsuit came about after a Tampa Bay Times report found that Putnam's office revoked 291 concealed weapons permits from people who should have been disqualified after an employee failed to review the results of a national background check for more than a year.

“Mary’s extensive experience with consumer protection issues, as both an attorney and a judge, make her a perfect fit as we strengthen our Department’s consumer services and protect Florida taxpayers,” Fried said Monday.

Barzee Flores grew up in Little Havana, attended Miami-Dade schools and graduated from Coral Gables High School. She went on to study music at the University of Miami, where a mentor convinced her to pursue a law degree. She attended law school at UM, and then went on to work as an attorney in private practice. Shortly after, she joined the federal Office of the Public Defender in Miami, where she served for 12 years.

In 2002, Barzee Flores ran for an open seat for circuit court judge and won after her opponent dropped out to run for the House. In 2011 she left the bench for private practice with Miami law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff and Sitterson. In 2016, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to be a district court judge in the Southern District of Florida, but Sen. Marco Rubio blocked the nomination, accusing her of not disclosing support from the ACLU and Emily’s List, an abortion rights group.

This past election cycle, Flores ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Rubio ally U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in congressional district 25, which includes most of northwestern Miami-Dade and extends across the Everglades.

In her campaign, Barzee Flores said among other things that she was “100 percent committed to taking on the NRA.” She supports universal background checks and the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban. Her stance on gun control drew donations and volunteers from groups like Moms Demand Action, a gun-control advocacy group formed in 2012 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Former Miami-Dade commissioner running for mayor in 2020


Juan Zapata, a former Miami-Dade commissioner who abruptly dropped his reelection bid in 2016, says he plans to run for county mayor in 2020. 

The former state lawmaker said he's planning to run a campaign based on the need to make county government more innovative and efficient. During his four years on the commission representing part of Miami-Dade's western suburbs, he was a top critic of the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is barred by term-limit rules from running again in 2020.

"Honestly, I'm running for mayor because I believe people who live here deserve better from their county government," Zapata said Monday. 

Zapata, a Republican, became the first Colombian-American elected to the commission when he won the District 11 seat vacated by Joe Martinez to run for mayor in 2012.  Martinez lost to Gimenez in 2012. When Martinez opted to challenge Zapata in 2016 for this old seat, Zapata eventually withdrew from the race so late that his name still appeared on the ballot. Martinez won the election, becoming Zapata's successor and predecessor for the Kendall-area seat. Zapata blamed his withdrawal on frustration with county government. 

While commissioner, Zapata cast himself as a reformer, urging Miami-Dade to pursue private-sector deals, modernize technology and expand scrutiny on finances and procurement. He pushed rebranding the West Kendall area into the "West End," renaming county buildings and commissioning a marketing strategy that sought to characterize the area a bucolic neighborhood far removed from the congestion of the Miami area.

Some residents resisted the idea, and Martinez reversed the initiative after taking office. Martinez also scrapped Zapata's effort to create a new city in West Kendall. In 2015, Zapata also returned about $30,000 in tuition money that Miami-Dade was going to cover as he pursued a masters in public administration at Harvard University. The county's ethics commission later concluded Zapata broke no rules in using district funds to pay for the tuition. 



Miami city commissioner running for county commission


The list of established politicians taking advantage of looming term-limit exits on the Miami-Dade County Commission keeps growing.

Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon has confirmed he plans to run for the Miami-area seat being vacated in 2020 by Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson. 

"I intend to" run,  Hardemon said during a brief interview after Edmonson's swearing-in ceremony Friday at County Hall. Hardemon faces his own term-limit exit from the City Commission in 2021, and would need to give up that post to run for the County Commission. 

In 2012, Miami-Dade voters approved restricting county commissioners to a pair of consecutive four-year terms before they could run for the 13-seat commission again. The referendum didn't apply to past time on the commission, so incumbents reelected in 2012 (including Edmonson) wouldn't be affected until 2020. Miami-Dade holds regular commission elections every two years, alternating between the odd-numbered and even-numbered districts. Edmonson holds the District 3 seat. 

Also running in 2020: Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, to replace outgoing District 1 commissioner Barbara Jordan; former school board member Raquel Regalado, to replace outgoing District 7 commissioner Xavier Suarez, and former state senator Rene Garcia, to replace outgoing District 13 commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo.  

Governor names second Miami appellate judge, Robert Luck, to Florida Supreme Court

Robert Luck

Via @DavidOvalle305

Robert Luck, a well-respected appellate judge, was named to the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, the second judge from Miami’s appeals court to be named to the high court under new Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The governor appointed the 39-year-old Luck, who has served less than two years on the Third District Court of Appeal. Last week, in his first official act as governor, DeSantis elevated Third DCA Judge Barbara Lagoa, the first Cuban-American woman to serve on the high court.

DeSantis’ appointments for Supreme Court are part of what observers say will be a conservative makeover of the high court. The Republican governor, who was sworn in last week, will select one more candidate after Luck. DeSantis is replacing three retiring Supreme Court justices: Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who often sided on liberal issues and against the Republican-controlled Legislature.

DeSantis made the announcement Monday morning at the Scheck Hillel Community School in Northeast Miami-Dade, a prominent Jewish school. Luck is the first Jewish justice appointed in over 20 years.

“I am humbled, truly humbled to be standing where I went to kindergarten accepting an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court,” Luck said during a packed press conference at the school.

Luck is a former federal prosecutor who was appointed to Miami’s state circuit court in September 2013, and later won reelection, serving five years in total. Gov. Rick Scott appointed the fast-rising Luck to the Third DCA in March 2017, where he has authored over 70 opinions in less than two years.

“Everybody loves this guy,” DeSantis said, adding: “He will be a formidable force on the Florida Supreme Court.”

Read the rest here.

Concourse at Miami International Airport to reopen Monday despite government shutdown


Via @MoniqueOMadan

Miami International Airport will reopen Concourse G Monday despite the government shutdown, airport officials said.

The terminal closure was prompted by a shortage of Transportation Security Administration workers Saturday. TSA concluded it didn’t have enough screeners to keep the security checkpoint operating there amid a spike in unpaid workers not showing up for shifts. Workers who did show up were sent to busier terminals.

Concourse G, home to United and smaller airlines, is scheduled to reopen at 6 a.m. Monday, in time for its first outbound flight, said airport spokesman Greg Chin.

The Concourse had been closed for half days since Saturday.

“The four dining locations and one gift shop in Concourse G will reopen as well,” Chin said Sunday afternoon.

Airport administrators said they expect enough TSA workers to reopen Monday, by that they still can’t predict what the next days or weeks will bring if the shutdown continues over President Donald Trump’s demand that government spending bills for 2019 include about $5 billion for an expanded wall on the country’s southern border.

Should more TSA workers call in sick, the county-owned airport is ready for more checkpoint closures.

Read the rest here.

January 13, 2019

These school districts tried to arm coaches. It’s harder than it sounds.


Via Tampa Bay Times

After the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, Brevard County Schools Assistant Superintendent Matt Reed faced a challenge unlike any in his career.

His team had to find, hire and train more than two dozen new employees to carry firearms on school campuses and protect students in the event of a school shooter. They had less than six months.

The district missed the deadline.

“Even though school started in August, it really was another month and a half after school started that we were ready,” Reed said.

Brevard isn’t the only school system to have trouble complying with a new state law that allows certain employees to be armed, according to an examination of how the program is being implemented across the state by the Tampa Bay Times and University of Florida student journalists.

Some small districts struggled to recruit enough so-called school guardians to keep their schools safe. Levy County launched a program, only to have nobody apply for weeks.

Others had trouble with the guardians they hired. In Duval County, a school safety assistant was arrested for pawning a service weapon issued to him by the school district. In Hillsborough, a school security deputy resigned after exposing students to pepper spray.

The problems have piled up, largely unnoticed, even as the concept of vastly expanding the controversial program has gathered momentum.

Last month, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission recommended the Legislature allow teachers to participate, saying the current law is too restrictive to keep kids safe.

Click here to read more.

Concourse G closes at Miami International Airport as federal government shutdown drags on


Via @TayDolven

Miami International Airport’s Concourse G closed at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday — 15 minutes earlier than planned — as the federal government remained shut down for a 22nd day, making it the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The airport was forced to shutter the concourse for the afternoon due to a shortage of Transportation Safety Administration officers, who have been working without pay for three weeks and are missing more shifts as the shutdown drags on.

The closure allowed the airport to send TSA workers to busier checkpoints.

Concourse G — used by United, Bahamasair, Aruba Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Sun Country — is the least busiest of the terminals; around 12 planes usually fly out of G after 1 p.m., making up just 3 percent of the roughly 450 flights from MIA on a typical day.

As 1 p.m. approached on Saturday, TSA agents turned passengers away from Concourse G’s checkpoint and told them to head to F or H. At 12:45 p.m., TSA agents spread large, red “NO ENTRY” signs across the metal detectors, and filed out of the concourse. The inside of the concourse looked deserted. Security lines at F and H checkpoints remained normal despite the extra foot traffic.

Read the rest here.

One of Trump’s closest allies in Florida takes control of the state Republican party


One of Donald Trump’s closest allies in Florida has been named chairman of the state party, strengthening the president’s already strong grip on the nation’s largest swing state ahead of his reelection bid in 2020.

Florida Sen. Joe Gruters, the co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Florida, was picked Saturday by activists to lead the Republican Party of Florida. As expected, he overwhelmingly defeated Charlotte County’s Bob Starr to snare a two-year term and succeed state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, who chose not to run for reelection. Christian Ziegler, a 2016 Trump media surrogate also from Sarasota, was elected vice chairman.

Underscoring his loyalty to the president, Gruters, the 41-year-old longtime leader of Sarasota County Republicans, handed out red “Keep Florida Great” hats ahead of the vote at the state party’s annual meeting in Orlando. In an interview this week, he made clear that supporting Trump will be the party’s top priority.

“We have a singular focus over the next two years,” Gruters said. “And that’s getting our president reelected.”

Click here to read the rest.

Parkland families stand with DeSantis as he suspends Broward sheriff


w/ @jkbjournalist and @MartinDVassolo

There’s a new sheriff in town.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday appointed Gregory Tony, a former Coral Springs police sergeant, as Broward’s top cop, replacing Scott Israel, the embattled sheriff who has been widely blamed for the chaotic response to the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

After weeks of speculation, DeSantis — surrounded by many of the parents of students who were slain — announced at a news conference at Broward’s public safety building in Fort Lauderdale that he was suspending Israel, a two-term sheriff and 30-year law enforcement veteran. He cited overwhelming failures of leadership that led to egregious breakdowns that may have contributed to the deaths of the 14 students and three staff members.

The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, now 20, was a former student who had made several threats of violence before the killings. At least two of the threats were reported to BSO, but were not adequately investigated, DeSantis said in his suspension order.

Under Florida’s constitution, the governor can suspend a sheriff for neglect of duty or incompetence, which is what DeSantis cited in his official order.

“I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel’s political grave,” DeSantis said, “but suffice it to say the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”

Israel, at a subsequent news conference, vowed to fight being stripped of his elected office. His lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, said that while mistakes were made in responding to the massacre, they were not serious enough to warrant his suspension or removal from office.

Israel, clad in a blue suit and red tie, called his suspension a “massive power grab by the governor to subvert the will of Broward County voters,’’ and he accused critics of singling him out for his vocal support of gun control.

“I understand it’s easier to say ‘Suspend Sheriff Israel’ than it is to address the real problem — the problem around this nation of gun violence,’’ Israel said at his own news conference at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale.

But the parents of the students who were killed applauded the governor’s action.

Read the rest here.

January 11, 2019

Does Gov. DeSantis believe in climate change?


At a press conference Friday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis took questions from reporters on topics ranging from his latest appointments to the South Florida Water Management District to Thursday's robust environmental policy addressed in an executive order.

The newly minted governor addressed each question fully but when it came to climate change, he danced around his words. DeSantis angered environmentalists on the campaign trail after he repeatedly dismissed climate change as a real threat.

"We put in the executive over that as climate changes, as our environment changes, as water rises in places like South Florida and there’s increased flooding, we want to make sure that we’re taking the steps that we can to combat that," he said.

DeSantis then referred to the part of the executive order that establishes a resiliency office to address climate impacts.

"To me, I’m not as concerned about what is the sole cause. If you have water in the streets, you have to find a way to combat that," he said. "We’re going to work to do that and I think this office will be able to coordinate a thoughtful response."

At the end of the press conference, a reporter asked if the governor believes the scientists who say humans cause climate change.

DeSantis' response?

“Next question.”

'We have people counting on that.' Gov. DeSantis weighs in on using hurricane funds for border wall

Desantis hurricane tour
Al Cathey, Mayor of Mexico Beach, left, shows Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center, some of the destruction from Hurricane Michael along Canal Parkway, Wednesday, January 9, 2018. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Ron DeSantis hasn't even finished his first week as Florida governor and he already appears to be on a collision course with the man who helped him get the job: President Donald Trump.

On Friday, DeSantis said that it would not be acceptable for Trump to take funds from hurricane relief to be used toward the border wall.

"We have people counting on that," he told reporters. "If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine but I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us."

DeSantis' comments came after news broke Thursday night that Trump, his political benefactor, was considering using disaster funding intended for storm-damaged Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and for wildfire recovery in California to pay for the wall at the border. Trump has mentioned several times that he's considering declaring a national emergency so he can bypass the standoff with Congressional Democrats over the $5.7 billion in wall funding.

Such a Plan B for Trump would almost certainly put him at odds with DeSantis.

A former Navy lawyer, DeSantis said he's unsure of the legality of Trump's national emergency Hail Mary.

"In all my years in Congress we never dealt with this idea of an emergency so I just need to look at the law," he said. "My sense, just as somebody who studied the Constitution, the president wouldn’t be able to just appropriate his own money under any circumstances. You may be able to repurpose some money. I'm not sure how that works."

DeSantis added that he's not spoken to Trump about this matter, and did not say if he has plans to do so. One of the hallmarks of his campaign last year was that Florida would have a close relationship with the White House because of his political relationship with Trump, whose endorsement helped DeSantis beat a more established candidate in Adam Putnam in the GOP primary.

DeSantis' comments Friday struck a different tone than when he was asked about the shutdown on Thursday — before news broke that Florida's hurricane funding could be in sacrificed for the border wall. DeSantis said then that he has his "hands full down here," indicating he didn't want to get involved in all the "political posturing" in Washington.

DeSantis toured some of the worst of Hurricane Michael's damage in Mexico Beach on Wednesday, a trip he said was "really, really powerful." On Thursday, he announced a sweeping executive order to address toxic algae blooms aimed at cleaning up Florida's water.

But progress on both the issues of hurricane recovery and environmental cleanup have been stunted by the partial federal government shutdown, which began at midnight on December 22.

The shutdown has meant federal scientists researching Red Tide are at home instead of in their labs tracking the toxic algae as it has subsequently popped back up near the beaches of Sarasota and Manatee counties.

And as the New York Times reported, it's intensified the hardships in the Panhandle where government employees who were already struggling post-hurricane are now making due without paychecks. Meanwhile, the website for the Federal Emergency Management Agency is not being "actively managed" during the shutdown, per a disclaimer on the site, which adds: "We will not be able to respond to inquiries until after appropriations are enacted."

Bradenton Herald staff writer Mark Young contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comments delivered Friday morning by DeSantis.

Will the Groveland Four be pardoned today? Probably not, but their families are hopeful

It's been 70 years since four young black men entered one of the worst chapters in Florida's history, wrongly accused of raping a white woman and tortured, killed or wrongly imprisoned at the hands of racist mobs and a racist sheriff.

But there's a chance their names are cleared today.

Florida's new governor and Cabinet will meet this morning to discuss their case, although families of the Groveland Four and their supporters aren't expecting a pardon today.

And they're mostly okay with that.

"I appreciate the governor even just discussing it," said Wade Greenlee, the younger brother of Charles Greenlee, who was just 16 when he was arrested in 1949, beaten in a jail cell and sentenced to life in prison. "I would love to meet him if I could, just to say, 'Thank you.'"

Today's meeting of the Clemency Board is listed as just a "discussion" about the Groveland Four.

(The Clemency Board and the Cabinet are the same, consisting of the governor, the attorney general, the chief financial officer and the agriculture commissioner.)

There is no public comment scheduled, even though Clemency Board meetings usually allow applicants to plead their case.

That's left supporters believing that a second clemency meeting will finally clear their names.

"I think people should be optimistic, not upset," said Gary Corsair, the author of the 2002 book The Groveland Four: The Sad Saga of a Legal Lynching. "It’s been 60 years. What’s another three or four months?"

Their hopes for a pardon were high nearly two years ago, when the Florida Legislature unanimously passed a bill asking former Gov. Rick Scott to pardon the four men.

But Scott refused. His successor, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took office on Tuesday, vowed last month to make it a "priority," saying that "justice was miscarried."

Other members of the new Cabinet have also expressed interest in pardons.

But behind the scenes, the family of their accusers are saying they shouldn't be pardoned.

Two sons of Norma Padgett, who set the events in motion when she accused  the men of raping her, told the Orlando Sentinel this week that their mom was telling the truth about the incident.

"My mom don’t lie,"  Curtis Upshaw told the Sentinel. "She’s a good Christian lady."

Scott, now a U.S. Senator, said Thursday that he was never personally lobbied by Padgett's family against a pardon. He never chose to speed up the pardon process for the four men, even though that's what the Legislature asked him to do.

"The way I always looked at clemency is there is a process and I made people go through that process," he said. "I was very cautious and get all the facts. They were doing that in December. They weren't done by the time I left."

A mountain of evidence over the decades has revealed the rape accusations were rotten from the start.

Greenlee, for example, was 20 miles away when the alleged rape happened. Walter Irvin, a World War II veteran who had been discharged just days before the event, had his case overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, only to be sentenced a second time with manufactured evidence.

His sister, Henrietta Irvin, who now lives in Miami, said her brother "wasn't this type of person." Their father, she added, never got over it.

She's cautiously optimistic that her brother's name will be cleared — eventually.

"It looks good, but you never can tell until it happens," she said. "I’ve been waiting a long time for something to happen."

Either way, Wade Greenlee, who is traveling to Tallahassee from Jacksonville for the hearing, is excited.

"We’re this close," he said.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report.

January 10, 2019

Miami Gardens mayor says he's running for County Commission in 2020


With veteran members of the Miami-Dade County Commission set to leave once term limits force their first exits in 2020, their seats are attracting the interest from prominent local politicians. 

On Thursday, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert said he was running to replace Barbara Jordan as the District 1 commissioner when Jordan is forced to leave her seat in 2020 after 16 years in office. Miami-Dade voters approved a two-term limit in 2012 for the 13-member board, and the rules are set to trigger their first mandatory departures eight years later, with the 2020 elections for five seats.

Two incumbents, District 5's Eileen Higgins and District 11's Joe Martinez, won their seats after 2012 and are free to run for reelection next year. The commission rotates elections between odd- and even-numbered districts every two years, so the remaining incumbents who were in office during 2012 will be forced to leave by 2022. Oliver gilbert

As the mayor of the largest city in District 1 who is facing his own term-limit departure in 2020, Gilbert has always been seen as a likely favorite for Jordan's seat. The two are allies, and Gilbert is a regular presence in County Hall. He hasn't made a secret of his plans to run for County Commission in 2020, but Thursday was the closet he has come to a formal declaration. 

"The papers should have already been filed," he said. (Nothing was posted on the county's Elections site as of early Thursday afternoon.) He pitched his role as mayor as a good fit for the county board. "I'm someone who has been solving problems," he said. 

While county commission races rarely drew office holders to challenge incumbents, open seats have proven more tempting. Gilbert, 46, is the second sitting official to file for the 2020 commission races. While he was still a state senator last year, René García filed for the District 13 seat being vacated by outgoing Commission Chairman Esteban "Steve" Bovo in 2020. 


DeSantis announces sweeping fixes meant to clean up Florida water woes


Via @JenStaletovich

Two days after he took office, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled sweeping measures to clean up Florida’s troubled waters, including spending $2.5 billion and launching more aggressive policies to address algae choking Lake Okeechobee and polluting the state’s coasts.

The newly minted governor, who angered environmentalists on the campaign trail by dismissing climate change as a significant threat, also promised to establish a resiliency office to address looming dangers.

“The people of Florida wanted to see action and this was action that was requested regardless of your party,” DeSantis said in a morning briefing at a Florida Gulf Coast University field station in Bonita Springs, north of Naples. “This is something that can unite all Floridians.”

Included in an executive order: increase water monitoring around the state and establish a task force to address blue green algae, a growing threat worsened by pollution and a warming planet that now regularly fouls rivers flowing from a massive lake half the size of Rhode Island; clean up septic tanks; and focus on more green infrastructure.

DeSantis also promised to speed up construction of a 17,000-acre Everglades reservoir in farm fields south of the lake and try to end polluted discharges.

“I’d like to see no discharges,” he said. “We’re working with the White House and as difficult as it is, working with the Army Corps [of Engineers] to mitigate that.”

The new governor also promised to appoint a chief science officer so “we’re doing sound science making sure we’re getting ahead of the curve on these issues.”

Read the rest here.