January 20, 2019

Ron DeSantis goes shock-and-awe in his first 10 days as Florida governor


Historically, newly elected politicians are given 100 days to settle into office and get to work before their actions and policies are pored over and dissected.

But it took Florida’s new governor less than two weeks to set his agenda and offer a clear view of how he intends to govern.

During his first 10 days in office, Ron DeSantis led a shock-and-awe campaign across the state. He appointed two conservative state Supreme Court justices, visited a hurricane disaster zone (twice) and unveiled a sweeping environmental agenda in his first 48 hours alone.

On Friday, one day after announcing plans to overhaul the state’s medical marijuana regulations,he ordered the removal of Palm Beach County Elections chief Susan Bucher — the third politician he’s suspended since being sworn into office on Jan. 8. And then he explained a decision to rescind nearly four dozen of his predecessor’s nominations to state boards.

Though he’s barely had time to get settled, DeSantis is already carving out a reputation as a constitutionalist intent on fulfilling promises and crushing politicians who cross him. He has impressed even his critics and rallied the Republican party around him — all while departing notably from predecessor Rick Scott.

“If you look at the campaign promises that we made, the expectation from every Floridian, regardless of whether they voted for us or not, was we were going to lead and we were going to act,” Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, who has so far played an unusually active role in what is traditionally a largely ceremonial post, said in an interview. “He’s serious about getting things done. It’s not just about campaign promises and rhetoric.”

Read the rest here.

January 18, 2019

DeSantis retracts 46 of Scott’s last-minute appointments in rebuke of his predecessor

Rick Scott, right, attends the inauguration of his successor, Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, before he left early. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Ending what had become a public feud over former Gov. Rick Scott’s last-minute appointments, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday retracted 46 of Scott’s picks.
DeSantis retracted all the appointments that required approval by the state Senate — in other words, all the late appointments that DeSantis had power over once he took office. Scott made 84 appointments to various boards, committees and courts on Jan. 4 and 7, against the wishes of the DeSantis team. DeSantis was sworn in Jan. 8.
DeSantis chose to retract the entire batch of appointments rather than a select few, following the advice of some of his advisers. So the action affects even those picks who are popular in conservative circles, such as Parkland parent Andrew Pollack, who was appointed to the State Board of Education and already had his first meeting as a board member this week.
Pollack said Friday he was unconcerned by the news and is looking forward to continuing his mission to advance school safety. He has been a strong backer of both Scott and DeSantis, so it’s likely he will remain on the board.
“I’m more concerned with where I’m going to eat tonight than if the governor is going to reappoint me,” he said. “I’m behind both of these guys ... so I’m going to let them do their thing.”
It also includes more controversial picks like developer Carlos Beruff, who was appointed to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission despite facing a pending ethics complaint from when he chaired a water management district board, one of his developments being accused of illegally moving an eagle’s nest and heading up a company accused of ripping up a taxpayer-owned conservation area.
Also rescinded is the re-appointment of Thomas Grady to the State Board of Education, who is a friend and key ally of Scott’s, and four members of the Board of Governors in charge of state universities.
In a statement, DeSantis said all the appointees will have the opportunity to be re-appointed, if he chooses.
"I agree many of these individuals are outstanding citizens who are experts in their respected fields,”he said. “I thank these individuals for their willingness to serve our state. They will be afforded every consideration as my office re-opens the application process to fill these critical appointment vacancies.”
DeSantis sent a curt letter to Senate President Bill Galvano announcing his decision and listing all the affected appointees. That letter can be viewed here.

Nikki Fried adds LGBTQ protections to department workplace policy


After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-discrimination order for state employees that excluded protections for the LGBTQ community, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a revised discrimination policy for state employees in her department.

The revisions add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of workplace protections for the Department's 4,000 employees. Florida civil rights laws don't explicitly protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

In a statement Friday, Fried said the revision to her Department's policy is "long overdue" and that her fellow Cabinet members should follow suit.  

"We are pledging today that our Department is committed to an inclusive culture of equality, in which every employee is hired, promoted, and respected on the basis of their merit," she said. "This is a common-sense, long-overdue measure that the majority of Fortune 500 companies have implemented, and the majority of Floridians agree with."

When asked about the exclusion of the LGBTQ community at a press conference Thursday, DeSantis said he was simply continuing the anti-discrimination policy that came before him under Gov. Rick Scott. 

"My workplace policy is really just one sentence: we hire based on merit." he said. 

January 17, 2019

Marco Rubio and Rick Scott follow Trump and McConnell’s lead on shutdown negotiations

Gov Rick Scott


Amid the longest-ever federal shutdown, Rick Scott called a solo press conference on Thursday to address “Washington dysfunction,” an unusual move in the U.S. Senate, where rank-and-file lawmakers typically pair up or gather in groups in front of the cameras.

The former governor, who campaigned on a slogan to “Make Washington Work,” is unable to force action as the most junior Republican in the Senate. As governor he passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act against the wishes of the National Rifle Association and liberal Democrats weeks after the Parkland school shooting. In Washington, Scott is following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lead.

Florida’s Republican leaders in Washington don’t have the power to end a government shutdown on their own, but Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio aren’t publicly offering any ideas to resolve the current impasse between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over border-wall funding.

Thousands of federal employees aren’t getting paid while negotiations between the president and House and Senate leaders are largely at a standstill.

During his 10-minute press conference, Scott’s only substantive contribution to alleviate part of the shutdown’s effects was signing onto a relatively uncontroversial bill backed by Democrats and Republicans that would make sure Florida’s 5,000 Coast Guard members get paid during the shutdown, a proposal also backed by Rubio. Scott’s other ideas, such as suspending congressional pay and demanding that lawmakers stay in Washington over Martin Luther King Day, do nothing to resolve differences.

“It’s frustrating to me to watch how our government’s shut down,” Scott said. “The Coast Guard’s not getting paid. Other people are not getting paid and we’re not going down the path to secure our border.”

More here.

Curbelo lands gig as MSNBC political contributor

Carlos Curbelo 3

As he mulls a campaign for Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Curbelo has landed new digs and a new gig.

Curbelo appeared on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" Thursday, during which co-host Mika Brzezinski announced that the former GOP congressman is now a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. The announcement followed a segment in which Curbelo said there's some "skepticism" among Republicans about Trump's border wall and called for a "grand bargain on immigration" as a way out of the historic government shutdown.

The news of Curbelo's new media job comes hours after Harvard reported that Curbelo will be among a class of Spring “resident fellows” who live on campus and hold an eight-week not-for-credit study group based around their life experiences. The group of six includes former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

Curbelo was also announced Wednesday as a new member of the board of advisers to the Alliance for Market Solutions, a conservative-based organization that supports clean energy and the reduction of carbon pollution.

Curbelo’s commentating gig should be good exposure following his loss in Florida's 26th congressional district to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. He told the Miami Herald shortly after the election that he's weighing whether to run for county mayor in 2020.

January 16, 2019

State Board of Education eyes changes to school safety law, bullying scholarship

Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education and former Florida House Speaker
The State Board of Education had its first and only meeting before the Legislative session begins in March and the board members indicated that they hope lawmakers revisit some of the most heated issues in education.
School safety was constantly mentioned as a top priority for this year, by all members but especially by Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack who was killed in last year’s shooting in Parkland. Wednesday marked Pollack’s first meeting as a member of the state board since he was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott as one of Scott’s final actions.
Since the shooting, Pollack has risen to prominence in his calls for greater accountability in Broward County, and he made clear that his tenure as a board member would have the same theme.
“A lot of these districts have bureaucrats and they don’t know what the word ‘urgency’ means," he said, before suggesting there should be strong penalties for schools that don’t comply with last year’s school safety law. “There’s no accountability for not putting our kids' safety first.”
Board member Michael Olenick said the Legislature should consider increasing funding for both armed school security and for increased mental health programs in schools. Both those elements were crucial pieces of last year’s SB 7026, the monumental law that was passed following the Parkland shooting which requires all public schools to have armed protection, either through law enforcement officers or trained school staff.
“We all have the same goal but it’s individual ways we achieve that goal that has to be looked at,” he said, adding that districts should be allowed greater “flexibility” with how they use the guardian program to arm school staff.
Olenick also said the Legislature must address Florida’s growing teacher shortage, as well as consider adjustments to requirements for school building construction, which he said are antiquated and make erecting new buildings too expensive.
Richard Corcoran, who attended the meeting in Pensacola for the first time as Commissioner of Education, said he’s certain that Gov. Ron DeSantis is also going to advocate for those same ideas.
“Whether its increasing mental health funding, finding a way to improve upon teacher recruitment and retention, school security and ways to work with the districts in creating easier pathways and on school construction ... they’re front and center on his agenda,” he said. “We’re going to move forward on all four of those in a very dramatic way.”
There was much anticipation in the education world surrounding Corcoran’s first meeting, as many looked to see whether his reputation as an aggressive House Speaker and political arm-wrestler would follow him into his new position. But he did not speak at great length at any point during the meeting, other than to follow agenda items where he made a presentation to the board on failing schools seeking approval for a second year of district-managed turnaround. During that portion, he successfully recommended that two schools to be denied, including North Side Elementary School in Broward County, which had slipped from a D to an F in its first year of its turnaround program.
“Obviously we’re dealing with people who even with the (state turnaround) criteria, can’t figure it out," he quipped.
He also harkened back to a major piece of legislation that he championed last year: the Hope Scholarships, which are offered to students who said they’ve been bullied so they can attend another public or private school. During the meeting, Step Up for Students Chief Financial Officer Joe Pfountz said that only 60 students have so far been approved for that scholarship, citing a lack of public awareness and troubles getting correct documentation about the reported bullying incidents.
Corcoran assured the board that there are changes in the works, and said that the remaining funds collected for that scholarship could be directed to students on the waiting list for other scholarships administered through Step Up. He said the bullying scholarships are anticipated to generate $46 million, which it won’t “come close” to spending. The money is raised by Floridians checking a box when they buy a car to redirect $105 of their state sales tax to Step Up for Students for this program.
“Every program, when it comes online, there’s always a slow ramp-up," Corcoran said. “It’s a laborious application process that needs to be fixed. I think the Legislature is going to go in and tweak the application process to streamline it.”

Florida governor warns Airbnb to reverse its West Bank policy or face state sanctions


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Tuesday that Airbnb faces sanctions over its decision not to list properties in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, arguing that the policy is discriminatory and may violate a state law that prohibits Florida from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

Florida’s State Board of Administration is preparing to present findings at the end of the month on whether the popular tourism service should be placed on a state list of scrutinized companies that boycott Israel, DeSantis said Tuesday. Administrators have not yet made a recommendation to the SBA’s board of trustees, which is composed of Florida’s governor, attorney general and chief financial officer.

DeSantis said he hopes Airbnb will make the controversy moot by reversing its position. But Florida’s new governor also made clear during a visit to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s Boca Raton headquarters Tuesday that he believes Airbnb’s policy regarding the West Bank — which he referred to as “the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria” — is anti-Semitic, and said the company is dangerously close to making it onto Florida’s “hit list.”

“We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy. It does target Jews specifically. I think that’s wrong,” said DeSantis, who declared Tuesday that state employees will no longer be reimbursed for stays at Airbnb properties while on government business. “Airbnb claims it’s a company of inclusion and yet this policy only affects Jews who have homes on the West Bank. It doesn’t appear to apply to anyone else on the face of the earth.”

In announcing in November that it would not list roughly 200 homes in Israeli settlements, the popular home-sharing platform explained that it was uncomfortable doing business in an occupied territory subject to a historical dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. Much of the world considers Israel’s West Bank settlements, built on land Israel claimed in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. The United Nations considers the West Bank an occupied territory.

Airbnb denied Tuesday that it is anti-Semitic, or that it has discriminated against Jews.

Read the rest here.

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.”

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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.

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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.