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70 posts from December 2006

December 30, 2006

Gift ban lawsuit thrown out by federal judge

In a decision that was widely anticipated, a federal judge has thrown out a challenge to Florida's "zero tolerance" gift ban law that bars legislators as well as other state elected officials from accepting any gifts or meals from lobbyists and their clients.

Judge Stephen Mickle on Thursday rejected all the arguments against the law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2006, that were raised by lobbyists Ron Book, Guy Spearman and the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists. The group contended that the law violated free speech and privacy rights and unfairly treated lobbyists differently from private citizens.

The ruling by Mickle is not a surprise because back in May the judge refused to grant a request to block the law _ which was passed during a special session in December 2005  _ and its requirement that lobbyists file quarterly reports disclosing how much they earn from their clients. In his latest ruling Mickle also rejected some of the technical arguments raised by lobbyists, including that the Legislature did not properly pass the law because it was not read three times before passage.

The decision doesn't end the litigation over the gift ban. Sensing that the federal lawsuit would be tossed out, a different lawsuit against the gift ban was filed in a Leon County court back in September. This second lawsuit, however, was crafted in a way to deal strictly with state constitutional issues so it could be not shifted back to federal court.

Crist revs up fundraising machine

Governor-elect Charlie Crist may have capped donations for his inauguration at $10,000, but his fundraising machine really cranked up in the final days before Crist assumes office. A week ago the inaugural committee had raised just over $610,000. Now the amount is nearly twice that. New totals posted Friday night show that the committee has now raised just under $1.2 million.

Florida's gambling industry continues to help out with Crist's inauguration. The latest report shows that parimutuel facilities, as well as the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, and the New York developer who helped the Seminole Tribe expand its gambling empire all donated money bringing the total from the gambling industry to $61,000. Other familiar names on the latest report: $10,000 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, $10,000 from Jacksonville trial lawyer firm Pacjic & Pacjic, as well as $10,000 from Mark Guzzeta, who was the finance chairman for Crist's rival in the GOP primary, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

The Fort Lauderdale law firm of former Senate President Jim Scott kicked in $5,000, while Florida Crystals Corp. donated $10,000 and Hooters Restaurant gave $2,500. And a day after Crist tapped Rep. Holly Benson, a Pensacola Republican, to become secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, his inaugural committee received 18 donations from Pensacola addresses, including money from several Pensacola builders and developers.

December 29, 2006

Rubio changes leadership spots

House Speaker Marco Rubio reacted quickly to the news that Rep. Holly Benson is leaving to take a job with the administration of Governor-elect Charlie Crist. Rubio announced Friday that Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican who had been tapped as chairman of the important Insurance Committee, will leave that post and take Benson's spot as a chairman of the Safety and Security Council. in Ross's place will be Rep. Ron Reagan, a Bradenton Republican who had been a chairman under former Speaker Allan Bense but did not get a leadership spot under Rubio.

Ross will also pick up spots on two other important councils, the Policy and Budget Council and the Rules and Calendar council, while giving up a spot on the Jobs and Entrepreneurship Council and the Committee on Conservation and State Lands. Reagan is giving up a spot on the Committee on Business Regulation.

Rubio also announced several other committee changes at the member level that you can read Download rubio_changes.pdf   The lone change for South Florida legislators is that Rep. Ron Saunders, the Key West Democrat, will replace Rep. Jack Seiler, a Wilton Manors Democrat on the Legislative Budget Commission, a panel that can make changes to the budget when lawmakers aren't in session.

Jennings losing ground in her bid for Congress

Democrat Christine Jennings, who lost to Vern Buchanan by less than 400 votes in the race for Florida's 13th Congressional district, got a double dip of bad news Friday. A Leon County judge rejected a motion by her lawyers to get access to the secret software, or "source code," used to run the electronic voting machines in Sarasota County. The decision means that Jennings will have a tough time proving that more than 18,000 registered voters bypassed the Southwest Florida congressional race because of machine malfunction. More here.

Likewise, a spokesman for incoming U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats do not plan to block Buchanan from taking a seat in the new Congress when it reconvenes next week Instead a fellow Democrat plans to make a motion asking that Congress move ahead with a "formal inquiry" and leave open the possibility of future action pending the outcome of Jennings court battle in Florida and an investigation by the House Administration Committee, which is responsible for looking into the election contest filed last week by Jennings.

In a statement Jennings said that residents of the 13th district deserved to have someone representing them while the electoral battle moves forward: 

"I believe that when this process is finished, I will have the privilege of representing District 13 in Congress,'' said Jennings in a statement. "But while this process continues, our district deserves to have representation in Washington. I believe the right thing to do at this point is seat Vern Buchanan temporarily, while we continue gathering evidence and finding the truth about what happened.''

December 28, 2006

Crist loses one agency head, hires four others

Governor-elect Charlie Crist on Thursday announced that his choice for the Department of Management Services, Kevin Hyde, has asked that his nomination for that post be withdrawn. In Hyde's place, Crist chose Linda South, who is currently serving under outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush as director of the Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Crist also announced that Leroy Collins Jr., the son of one of Florida's most famous governors and who himself ran for the U.S. Senate, would be executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs, while State Rep. Holly Benson, a Pensacola Republican, would give up her House seat to become secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Crist also named Leo DiBenigno, deputy secretary of the Florida Lottery to take over that agency. DiBenigno is married to Arlene DiBenigno, who worked for the Crist campaign as policy director and has been named as Crist's deputy chief of staff.

Benson's decision to step down will create a need for a special House election in the Pensacola area, although Benson was unsure when she would file her letter of resignation. As for Hyde's departure, Crist said that family and business consideration prompted Hyde to change his mind. Crist said it had nothing to do with the fact that Hyde's law firm is representing Convergys Corp., the company that the Bush administration put in charge of human resources and personnel operations. Convergys has come under fire for its handling of that work, including the fact that a subcontractor sent personnel information overseas.

December 27, 2006

Crist Tops $600k for inauguration

Governor-elect Charlie Crist scrapped his inauguration ball and capped donations to his inauguration committee, but his team has still collected $610,380 so far to pay the bills. Donations are now capped at $10,000, but that doesn't mean that some people haven't found ways to be generous to the incoming governor.

For example, U.S. Sugar gave $10,000 and two of its citrus companies also each kicked in $10,000, while there are two $10,000 donations from Jacksonville real estate developer Hutson Land Co. Members of the Sembler family of St. Petersburg kicked in $25,000, while the gambling industry has put in $36,000, thanks to donations from the Palm Beach Kennel Club, Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders political committee and Wilbur Brewton, a lobbyist for Calder Race Course.

Other donations of note: A $10,000 check from the FEA Solidarity Fund, an account run by Florida's teacher union, $10,000 from Progress Energy, $10,000 from the Florida Police Benevolent Association and $20,000 from different accounts controlled by the Florida Association of Realtors.

Crist and Bush mourn death of Ford

Gov.-elect Charlie Crist and Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledged the death of former President Gerald Ford this morning with the following statements:

             Crist: "Today we mourn the loss of a great statesman who brought our country together at a time when America was challenged with the struggles of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Florida holds President Ford and his family in our prayers as we join in offering the thanks of a grateful nation."

           Bush: “This morning, Columba and I join Floridians and Americans across the nation in mourning the passing of former President Gerald Ford.

        “President Ford was an honest man with courage and conviction. He provided reassurance during times of uncertainty, and his thoughtful leadership was a guidepost for a nation at war. President Ford will be remembered as an honest steward of the public trust and a beloved family man.
        “Columba and I will keep Mrs. Ford and the entire Ford family in our thoughts and prayers.”

December 22, 2006

Jeb: Thanks for the memories -- and toiletries

After his official portrait was unveiled yesterday, outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush spoke with reporters and said he’ll not just miss those loyal to him or the chance to make a difference as Florida’s chief executive, he’ll leave behind fond memories of the governor’s mansion.

Especially the perks of the Executive Restrooms.

"What am I going to miss about the mansion? It’s beauty, it’s tradition, the food (chuckles), the hot water. The hot water and the water pressure is unbelievable. I told Charlie, be careful… in Miami, you know, water doesn’t come on that fast and it doesn’t come on immediately hot….

"Fresh towels all you want. I don’t know how it is in your life, but most of the time, you know, most people you take showers, you use towels six or seven times before you put  the next one on. Here, although I’ve been trained to do otherwise, it’s just any time I want I can have many towels."

December 21, 2006

DCA and DEP appointments

A belated posting from press release:

Governor-Elect Charlie Crist appointed Tom Pelham as Secretary of the Department of Community Affairs and Michael Sole as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The picks of Sole, a longtime DEP staffer, and Pelham, a longtime lawyer and planner, were hailed by environmentalists.

Merry X-Mas, Charlie, pick a judge

Gov. Jeb Bush said today that he won't try to shoehorn in one last appointment to the First District Court of Appeal on the day he leaves office. Bush had petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to see if he could do just that (he basically can) because Judge Richard Ervin, III, is more than 70 years old and is constitionally required to step down Jan. 1 -- a day before Jeb's successor Charlie Crist takes the helm.

"I talked to the governor about it, gave him that. That's my Christmas present," Bush said.

A good bet of the six finalists for the post: Clay Roberts, deputy attorney general who serves under Crist. More here on the court.