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September 01, 2015

At Miami-Dade commission meetings, mics are a bit less open for public

@doug_hanks

This summer, the Miami-Dade County Commission began a meeting in June and didn't adjourn it until July. That 16-hour marathon session, which started the morning of June 30 and ended in the wee hours of July 1, helped prompt Chairman Jean Monestime to announce new restrictions on citizens addressing the powerful board. 

Under the prior practice, citizens were given two minutes at the start of each commission meeting to address commissioners on any agenda item that wasn't already scheduled for a public hearing later that day. 

On Tuesday, Monestime announced changes were coming. Robert Cuevas, the outgoing county attorney,  outlined the new procedures. People will still get their two minutes, but only for items that haven't already come up for public comment before the commission at prior meetings.

That means residents will have their chance before the full commission on "first readings" -- preliminary votes that rarely spark significant debate. Or they'll have to go before commission committees, which typically hold public hearings on items before they head back to the full commission for a second and final vote. 

The commission's written procedures outline similar restrictions, but they weren't followed under prior chairwoman, Rebeca Sosa. "I always opened the meeting and allowed everyone to speak," Sosa said Tuesday. (She added that she thought it was too early to critique Monestime's change.) 

Continue reading "At Miami-Dade commission meetings, mics are a bit less open for public" »

Latvala's retort: he's with GOP, not all-white men's club; hints Negron was a D

Jack Latvalavia @AdamSmithTimes

State Sen. Joe Negron may have declared victory in his campaign for Florida Senate president, but that message failed to reach more than 400 people turned out to a luncheon fundraiser in St. Petersburg for state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is still campaigning for the job. And with Negron supporters spreading the word that Latvala could even caucus with Democrats to win the post, the Pinellas Republican made noted that he has been working to elect Republicans for 46 years.

"I love my Republican party," he told the crowd at the Hilton Carillon Hilton. "I have never been anything but a Republican."

That was a clear reference to Negron, who used to be Martin County Democratic Chairman and once ran unsuccessfully for the Florida House as a Democrat. Latvala, who joined the College Republicans in 1969 and has been working in Republican politics ever since, noted that unlike many of his colleagues in the legislature, he remembers what it was like to be in the minority party.

"That's why I work so hard to keep from ever going back to a minority. That's why I fight the arrogance I see in many of the people in our party in Tallahassee --- with regard to being exclusive, rather than inclusive, with regard to looking after certain interests but forgetting the interests of the people at large and consumers and so forth," Latvala said. "That's why I'm a little different."

"I don't think we can push away Hispanics and blacks and gays and union members, and still have a majority made up mostly of white men," he continued. "That's what I stand for, and that's why a lot of people target me, because I'm a little different. Now that doesn't mean I ever forgot the fundamentals for why I became a Republican...The government should stay out of our lives and out of our businesses."

He said he candidacy is based on his conviction that senate leaders should not dictate how senators vote, and that his goal is to empower senators to be independent-minded and "the best they can be."

Among the host of Tampa Bay business and political elites in attendance were top Rick Scott donor Bill Edwards, former St. Petersburg Mayor and potential congressional candidate Rick Baker, lobbyist  David Rancourt, former state Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, Dennis Jones, and Jim Sebesta, as well as current state Sens. David Simmons, Nancy Detert, Denise Grimsley, Rene Garcia, Alan Hays, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and John Legg.

Latvala has refused to categorically rule out cooperating with Democrats to win the presidency. "There will be a Republican president of the senate in 2016 - 2018. I guarantee that," he said. "But we just need to have general respect for each other in this process."

Key Cabinet member urges 'time out' on driver license revamp

Two influential members of the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday sided with critics of a proposed revamping of the state system of issuing driver licenses from a county-by-county over-the-counter system to a centralized issuance system by mail that's used in most states.

Under the current system, drivers get their licenses immediately. Under a revamped system, they could wait up to two weeks to get them in the mail.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, reacting to a Times/Herald report on the proposal, said the county tax collectors who currently issue licenses and license tags are doing a good job, and both voiced skepticism about change.

"These local players have been the delivery channel," Atwater said. "All of us want to go put it to bed immediately. My wife says, 'My license expired. I want it solved today.' So the local players, the tax collectors, did the right thing by saying, 'Time out.'"

"It's an idea worth exploring, but only in coordination with our tax collectors," Putnam said. The agriculture commissioner works closely with tax collectors, who also can issue concealed weapons licenses in Florida.

Both Cabinet members strongly support state highway safety chief Terry Rhodes, whose agency is considering the proposal. Rhodes appeared briefly before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet at a meeting in St. Augustine Tuesday but she was not asked about it.

Rhodes has emphasized she would not push the so-called central issuance concept without tax collectors' support. She dispatched her top driver license expert, Carl Ford, to a tax collectors' conference in Orlando Tuesday.

Brevard Tax Collector Lisa Cullen, president of a statewide tax collectors' group, has urged a go-slow approach by the state, and has warned that it could be a "disaster" if everyday Floridians aren't sold on the idea.

Tired of Donald Trump's 'blah blah blah' attacks, Jeb Bush goes on the offensive

IMG_5391

@PatriciaMazzei

He said he would campaign for president “joyfully.” But Jeb Bush has apparently realized that happy talk won’t get him anywhere in the era of Donald Trump.

Bush took his gloves off Tuesday in Miami after his campaign released a new web video attacking Trump as a phony Republican. The video came on the heels of a Trump video Monday slamming Bush over immigration.

Speaking mostly in Spanish – which will do little to get him press coverage in early-primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire – Bush told reporters he decided to go after Trump “because he attacks me every day with barbarities.”

“The man is not conservative,” Bush said. “Besides, he tries to personalize everything. If you’re not totally in agreement with him you’re an idiot or stupid or don’t have energy or blah blah blah.

“That’s what he does, and it’s not good, because there are millions of people who today think their future isn’t as it should be," added Bush, whom Trump has repeatedly poked as "low energy."

The former Florida governor insisted he is playing the long game and will outlast the summer of Trump. The real-estate magnate has risen to the top of key public-opinion polls, followed by other non-politicians, as Bush has seen his numbers slip to single digits.

“We have to elevate the debate a bit, without a doubt,” Bush said, still speaking in Spanish and resorting to various sports metaphors. “This is a very long process. We have to remember that tomorrow’s not Election Day. We’re in the first inning, no? This is a marathon. So I have patience that in the long run we’re going to raise the debate to important topics for the great majority of voters.”

Continue reading "Tired of Donald Trump's 'blah blah blah' attacks, Jeb Bush goes on the offensive" »

Floridians for Solar Choice makes case in court for ballot question

Arguing in the Supreme Court Tuesday over whether a solar power constitutional amendment is valid, supporters of Floridians for Solar Choice and opponents backed by utility companies didn’t pull punches.

“What has really chilled the regulatory environment currently is a solar energy device that a person would have, they’re not allowed to sell that to someone else without falling into the regulatory scheme of the Public Service Commission,” said Bob Nabors, lawyer for Floridians for Solar Choice.

But Barry Richard, a lawyer representing four utility companies, including Duke and Florida Power and Light, called the proposed language misleading. So did a laywer for electricity cooperatives in rural parts of the state and Solicitor General Allen Winsor.

“You can’t make voters believe that there’s a problem when you have no basis for saying that,” Richard told the justices.

The proposed constitutional amendment would stop the state and local governments from treating “local solar electricity suppliers” as utilities, effectively removing them from regulation. These companies install solar panels on a home or business and then sell the power they generate to consumers.

Supporters argue that it will drive down the cost of electricity and open up the market to competition for the monopoly utility companies. But utilities and their supporters say it merely eliminates regulation meant to keep people safe and will put consumers at risk with limited protections.

But the court isn’t supposed to weigh in on the merits of each argument, as Justice Barbara Pariente repeatedly reminded both sides during a public hearing in the Court’s Tallahassee chambers. Rather, the justices have a few specific questions to answer.

Does the ballot language, which Floridians for Solar Choice wants in the November 2016 election, fairly represent what the amendment would do? Is it limited to just one subject?

Should the court decide in the amendment’s favor, the group will have until February to get another 562,000 signatures on a petition for it to be on the ballot. They’ll also face a mounting campaign against them, driven by the utility companies.

Will Senator Eleanor Sobel run for Hollywood mayor?

Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober recently announced that he won’t seek re-election next year, fueling speculation that potential candidates include Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Sobel.

Sobel says she will delay a decision about whether to run until March.

(Hat tip to browardbeat.com for posting Bober’s letter and the gossip about Sobel.)

Sobel would be a strong candidate for mayor because of her long ties to the city where she lives and once served as a city commissioner. Sobel is well-known among voters because she also served in the state House, Broward school board and now the senate.

But Sobel is no shoe-in for the Nov. 8, 2016 election.

City Commissioner Patty Asseff, a realtor, told Naked Politics that she will run for the open seat. Technically the race is non-partisan but it will end up with some partisan undertones if Asseff runs against Sobel. Asseff's chancs can't be dismissed in this left-leaning city because she has support in her district after winning it twice in a row and has been outspoken about preparing her city for climate change which could draw her some Democratic voters.  

In a press release today, Sobel was vague about her future political intentions:

“I have been receiving a number of inquiries about this seat.  Given my love for Hollywood, my years of service to this community and the fact that I am term-limited from the State Senate, I certainly understand the inquiries. However, given my work as a Chair of a vital Senate committee and the critical nature of the upcoming special session, I am forestalling any decision until after the legislative session is completed in March.”

Sobel has reason to be careful about her statements about her intentions because criticism she faced in the past about going back on her word.

In 2007, Sobel ran for Broward School Board and promised during her campaign that she would serve out the four-year term if she won -- despite the fact that she never closed her Senate campaign account during her campaign.

''I'm going to commit four years to the School Board,'' she vowed during her campaign.

But the next year she announced her Senate bid and won.

Bober, a lawyer, has been mayor since 2008 when he ousted Mayor Mara Giulianti.

“Working at Hollywood City Hall has been the greatest and most fulfilling job I have ever had,” Bober wrote in his Aug. 25th letter.

If Sobel leaves the Senate, that creates another open seat in which both Democrats and Republicans can try to influence in the quest for the Senate presidency fight.

This post was updated with information from Asseff.

 

Jeb Bush fires back with video calling Donald Trump 'liberal'

@PatriciaMazzei

A day after Donald Trump's campaign put out a web video slamming Jeb Bush over immigration, the Bush camp has produced a video of its own calling Trump liberal.

 

Team Bush hopes portraying Trump as anything but a conservative will chip away at Trump's popularity among Republican presidential voters. But Trump isn't necessarily doing well in the polls because of his ideology, so attacking him over it -- as rivals would do in a typical political contest -- might not be all that effective.

Republicans like that Trump "tells it like it is," according to a poll by Bloomberg Politics and The Des Moines Register. They also don't seem to think of him as a conservative firebrand: The poll shows 41 percent of Trump's GOP Iowa supporters consider him "moderate." Thirty-five percent consider him "conservative," 10 percent "liberal" and 4 percent "very conservative."

The Trump campaign declined to comment.

Developers, contractor plead guilty in $36M Miami affordable-housing scam

via @jayhweaver

The federal prosecution of an elaborate affordable-housing racket that cost taxpayers $36 million has reached a critical turning point this week: Four prominent Miami developers and a major Fort Lauderdale contractor are pleading guilty to theft of government funds.

On Monday, Michael Cox and Gonzalo DeRamon, co-founders of the Biscayne Housing Group, consummated plea deals in Miami federal court. They now stand convicted of conspiring with the top two principals of the Carlisle Development Group — once the state’s biggest affordable housing developer — as well as two South Florida contractors who already pleaded guilty.

Cox, 47, who cooperated with authorities, pleaded to a single conspiracy offense before U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro. He faces up to five years at his sentencing in November — though he is expected to receive less punishment because of his assistance — and must pay back $4.4 million to the federal government.

“This is an important step because he wants to make right what went wrong,” his defense attorney, Brett Tolman, said after Monday’s plea hearing. “He wants to account for every dollar that needs to be paid back.”

His former partner, DeRamon, 51, pleaded to two conspiracy charges, which carry up to 10 years. He must also pay back $4.4 million as part of his punishment at his sentencing in November.

Combined, Cox and DeRamon pocketed between $7 million and $9.5 million in illegal kickbacks from contractors in their Miami-Dade affordable-housing developments, according to their plea agreements.

More here.

Latest batch of Hillary Clinton emails shows her keeping tabs on South Florida

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via @learyreports

The State Department kept tabs on U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek when he made a trip to Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake, according to Hillary Clinton emails released late Monday.

“Planning on going out with S. Florida search and response teams,” a State Department official wrote to colleagues on Jan. 17, 2010. The message made its way to Huma Abedin, Clinton’s top aide, who shared it with her boss with a simple “Fyi.”

Meek’s trip came during his 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate. and was cast by reporters at the time as an image-boosting trip. Meek’s Miami district was home to many Haitians.

Take a spin through other Florida-related emails in the Clinton archive.

There’s one in which Clinton is extremely happy that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, praised her on Haiti. “That’s very nice—high praise indeed, and in the Cong Record for prosperity!” Clinton wrote, meaning posterity.

And there’s a humorous exchange about a "hold" Sen. George LeMieux placed on President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Brazil. “What took them so long? Did you promise your first born?” Clinton writes to an aide.

His reply: "Yes, I sold my soul to George Lemieux today. I am not proud of it."

Clinton: “Does this mean you have to go to Cuba and arrest Castro or just shovel more $ into Little Havana?”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Julie Jones asked top prison deputies to reapply for their jobs by today

In a move that has the potential to either shake up the Department of Corrections or validate the status quo, prisons chief Julie Jones has asked for the 12 top officials in charge of prisons and probation to reapply for their jobs by Tuesday as part of a major realignment designed to centralize power at the agency.

The officials, each of them high-ranking officers who have spent most of their career rising through the ranks of the department, may seek their old job or apply for any of the openings in one of the three existing regions or seek the open posts at a newly added fourth region.

The move opens to competition the top jobs in the state’s prison system. Having to apply to stay employed are three directors and three assistant directors of the three current regions and two regional directors and four assistant directors of the two community corrections regions. Applicants — including current regional chiefs Sam Culpepper, Eric Lane and Randy Tifft — will be judged based on a new set of accountability measures imposed by an executive order of the governor in May, said DOC spokesman McKinley Lewis.

“We want to put the right people in the right seats,” he said.

The result will have the effect of either allowing Jones to reject any of the high-ranking officials at the embattled agency without having to fire them, or keep the veteran officers in place and consolidate her power. Jones was appointed secretary of the agency by Scott in January and is the seventh head of the troubled agency in nearly as many years.

For the last two years, the Miami Herald has chronicled a pattern of deadly abuse in Florida’s prisons, staff cover-ups and intimidation tactics used to quiet complaints by inmates and prison officials.

The May 8 executive order, and initiated by Jones, attempted to address many of those problems by increasing accountability at the agency. It focused on tightening regulations relating to the use of force, protecting employees from retaliation when they report wrongdoing, and improving the tracking of chemical agents used to subdue disruptive inmates.

More here.

Beer, guns, rock 'n' roll: Scott and Cabinet head to St. Augustine

America's oldest city welcomes the Gang of Four Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members gather in St. Augustine in conjunction with the city's 450th anniversary that begins Friday and runs through Labor Day weekend. The top state officials will adopt measures to evaluate the job performances of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen and Terry Rhodes, executive director of the highway safety agency, and a five-year plan for land acquisition under the Florida Forever program.

Cabinet members arrived early. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam did a news event Monday with St. Johns County Tax Collector Dennis Hollingsworth on expanding services for people seeking concealed weapons licenses.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater toured a city distillery in St. Augustine. Attorney General Pam Bondi went to a concert featuring '80s rocker Rick Springfield ("Jessie's Girl," No. 1 in '81), and posted a picture from the event on her personal Twitter account. Scott plans a Tuesday afternoon jobs announcement at Anheuser-Busch in Jacksonville.

It's the first time in six months that the Cabinet has ventured out of Tallahassee, and it's likely to be a lot tamer than the last time. The previous road show was in Tampa last March to help kick off the annual state fair, but the tension-filled session attracted a media horde and focused on Cabinet self-criticism and the need for change in the wake of Gerald Bailey's orchestrated dismissal at FDLE.

August 31, 2015

Jeb Bush's misleading claim about the release of his emails

As the other presidential candidate with a private email server, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is trying to contrast himself with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"My email address, write it down, and send me your thoughts, jeb@jeb.org," he’s shown telling a crowd in an Aug. 27, 2015, campaign video (the clip is from the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Aug. 14). "By the way, I just gave out my email address. It’s exactly what I did when I was governor of the state of Florida. I released all my emails; I’m writing an e-book about my emails."

Bush and Clinton have drawn criticism from campaign rivals because they both used private email accounts and servers for their government jobs.

But can Bush claim he’s released all of his emails as a way of drawing a distinction between himself and Clinton? No, in reality, he's done exactly what Clinton has done. Bush says he has turned over and made public all the emails he was required to. That's the same argument Clinton is making.

And like Clinton, that means we may never know with 100 percent certainty if Bush left out any work-related emails.

Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

Marijuana amendment qualifies for court review

A constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida has reached a key milestone in its petition drive, triggering required reviews by Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Supreme Court.

The proposal has gotten 73,713 signatures, according to Florida Division of Elections data. Bondi has 30 days to review the ballot language and send it to the Supreme Court, which will determine if it's constitutional.

The amendment would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes and allow the state Department of Health to regulate marijuana growth and sale. In the 2014 election, it fell just short of the 60 percent required to amend the state constitution.

But backed by lawyer John Morgan, the amendment has already raked in over $1 million in contributions for the upcoming election cycle.

"This is the first major milestone to bringing medical marijuana back before the voters of Florida In November 2016," campaign manager Ben Pollara said. "In the next election, Floridians will succeed where their elected leaders have failed them, and pass a comprehensive, compassionate medical marijuana law to serve the hundreds of thousands of sick and suffering people who are so desperate for relief in our state."

Bondi is required to pass it on to the Supreme Court, but she can contest the language. In late 2013, she said in a letter to the court that, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations."

It takes 683,149 petition signatures to make it onto the ballot next November, and state law requires that those include a large portion of voters in 14 congressional districts. So far, most of the petition signatures are in districts 4 (Jacksonville), 11 (including Hernando County), 13 (Pinellas) and 14 (Pinellas and Hillsborough).

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this post.

Senator Nelson calls for independent redistricting commission

@JeremySWallace

The repeated failures of the Florida Legislature to redraw the state’s congressional districts is a sure sign that Florida needs to create an independent commission to do the work, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said during a stop in Tallahassee on Monday.

“Seems to me we need an independent commission for future reapportionment so that you stop this self-serving process of drawing districts for your own self interest,” said Nelson, a Democrat.

Nelson’s comments come 10 days after the Florida Legislature ended its 12-day special session without producing a redistricting map that both the House and Senate could agree to for the state’s 27 congressional districts.

Nelson said other states – like Arizona and California - have created commissions to draw congressional districts and Florida needs to explore the same idea to keep the map drawing out of the hands of the self-interested.

“Seems to me that common sense says put it in the hands of as independent of a commission as you can make it,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the Legislature’s failures have created chaos and an uncertainty where people interested in running for office cannot file because they don’t know what district they are in.

When Florida voters overwhelmingly passed the fair districts redistricting reforms there was hope that that would be enough. But he said court documents reported on recently by the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau shows the Legislature has been engaged in a “political partisan exercise.”  He said the choice Florida faces is whether it will follow “partisan political hacks” or the rule of law.

Nelson also used his time in Tallahassee to accuse the Florida Legislature of having “thwarted the rule of law” over how it responded to the more recent Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment passed in 2014 calling for dedicating $700 million for environmental land conservation and preservation. The Legislature dedicated just a fraction for that cause.

Which Florida Democrats might run for attorney general in 2018?

via @adamsmithtimes

You've no doubt heard some of the prospective Democatic candidates for governor in 2018 - Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine - are all in the mix to take on Republican prospects that include Adam Putnam, Jeff Atwater, Will Weatherford, Marco Rubio.

But there also are several significant Democratic names bubbling up for the attorney general's race in 2018: Former prosecutor and state Sen. Rod Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, in 2006, is seriously looking at it. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, an attorney and another of Democratic former stand out in the Florida House, also is interested in the job as he faces term limits in Fort Lauderdale. But Seiler, who also helped found and served as chairman of the Broward Bank of Commerce, is also seriously looking at running for Chief Financial Officer in 2018. A fresher face on the Democratic bench seen as a serious AG prospect is Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a graduate of Brown and Harvard Law. Former state Sen. Dan Gelber isn't looking at the position, but if Sen. Bill Nelson changed his mind about running again....

And the Republican AG candidates? Well, keep an eye on state Sen. Joe Negron.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Donald Trump jabs Jeb Bush over immigration 'act of love' comment, without noting Bush says he'd deport criminals

@PatriciaMazzei

Donald Trump posted an Instagram video Monday hitting Jeb Bush over his early 2014 remark calling illegal immigration an "act of love."

The video overlays Bush's words with mug shots of convicted murderers in the U.S. illegally. Intended to frighten and anger viewers, it quickly drew Twitter comparisons to George H.W. Bush's ads in the 1988 presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis over repeated criminal offender Willie Horton.

The ad fails to mention that Bush supports deporting people in the country illegally who commit serious crimes. It also indicates Trump, for all of his dismissing of Bush as a rival, still considers him a top competitor worth attacking.

 

Bush's campaign responded by reiterating its attack on Trump -- that he's not a real conservative -- and portraying him as soft on crime.
 
"Jeb Bush has a record of cracking down on violent criminals as Governor of Florida, while Donald Trump has up until it was convenient supported liberal, soft-on-crime politicians," Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said. "His immigration plan is not conservative, would violate the constitution and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, which he will likely attempt to pay for through with massive tax hikes."
 
Here are Bush's full "act of love" remarks: 
 
There are means by which we can control our border better than we have. And there should be penalties for breaking the law. But the way I look at this -- and I'm going to say this, and it'll be on tape and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families -- the dad who loved their children -- was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid.
 
This post has been updated.

Patrick Murphy comes out in support of 'flawed' Iran deal

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who is running for Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat announced his support for the Iran deal today.

This puts pressure on his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando to announce his opinion on the deal. Grayson has raised concerns about the deal but hasn't announced how he will vote. This is a hot topic in Florida this week because U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, has arranged a meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and Jewish leaders in South Florida Thursday on the topic of the Iran deal. She remains undecided about the deal.

From a Murphy press release:

"I have promised Floridians that they can have faith in me to listen to them, to listen to my conscience, and to deeply study every bill. With the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran on my desk, I have taken my promise more seriously than ever. This has been the toughest decision of my time in Congress.

"I have listened to the strong cases made by advocates on both sides of this debate, which at times has become unfortunately rancorous. I have carefully studied the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, its appendices, and the classified reports from the negotiations, and have sought answers from both supporters and opponents.

Continue reading "Patrick Murphy comes out in support of 'flawed' Iran deal" »

Tax collectors alarmed by state talk of revamped driver license system

You can't get completely away from politics in Florida. One of many things that make the state such a unique place is that the person who provides your license tags and renews your driver's license and provides your license tags is likely to be an elected official.

Yes, a politician. Your county tax collector. (The licenses and tags are produced using equipment owned by a vendor under contract to the state). State highway safety officials are quietly studying a possible change to a new system of issuing driver licenses. No decision has been made, and wouldn't be without the approval of Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. But just the idea of changing things has stirred up a lot of controversy.

More here. 

Scott Walker attacks Jeb Bush over Iran deal

@PatriciaMazzei

Scott Walker, who has been struggling in the polls even in Iowa, the state where he appeared strongest, has a new web video out juxtaposing his position on the Iran nuclear deal with Jeb Bush's.

Neither 2016 Republican presidential candidate backs the agreement, which President Obama is trying to sell to the GOP-controlled Congress. Walker's ad, though, doesn't note that.

Instead, it highlights that Bush has avoided saying that he'll rip up the deal on the first day of his presidency. Bush has suggested doing so is an empty campaign promise since no newly elected president will realistically be able to take such a dramatic step just after being sworn in (and some conservative pundits have said as much).

"I will not probably have a confirmed secretary of state; I will not have a confirmed national security team in place; I will not have consulted with our allies. I will not have had the intelligence briefings to have made a decision," Bush said in Nevada last month. "If you're running for president, I think it's important to be mature and thoughtful about this."

Here's what Walker pledges in the ad: "I will terminate it on Day One."

"Governor Bush has repeatedly said it's a terrible deal, that Congress should reject it, and that if elected he would begin the process immediately to responsibly undo the deal and the damage it has done to our national security," Bush spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said. 

"He believes we need a comprehensive strategy to confront Iran, including its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapons capability, its malign aggression in the region, its support for terrorism, its ballistic missile proliferation, its threats to Israel, and its atrocious human rights abuses.  

"Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton would be a good negotiator with Iran and with this disastrous deal we can see the damage that worldview has wrought and conservatives should unite in opposition to it."

Both Bush and Walker trail Republican frontrunner Trump. Walker, however, has been careful not to hit Trump. He's tried instead to position himself in some cases to the right of Trump, in an effort to appeal to the voters giving Trump high marks.

As Bush's lead has slipped in the polls, Walker's team seems ready to try to push Bush further down.

 

Iowa polls show Ben Carson moving closer to Donald Trump

via @learyreports

Donald Trump continues to lead in Iowa, but Ben Carson, who now lives in West Palm Beach, is moving up and is five percentage points from the boisterous New York celebrity developer, according to a new poll.

The Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll has Trump with 23 percent support and Carson with 18.

Ted Cruz - 8 percent
Scott Walker - 8 percent
Jeb Bush - 6 percent
Marco Rubio - 6 percent
Carly Fiorina - 5 percent

"Wow," said Kedron Bardwell, a political science professor at Simpson College, told the Register. "This poll will have Republican consultants shaking heads in bewilderment. Not since 1992 has anti-establishment sentiment been this strong."

ANOTHER POLL: A Monmouth University survey released this morning has Trump and Carson tied.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times