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234 posts from February 2009

February 26, 2009

Democrats look to 2010 under 70-degree FL skies

Lots of political soul-searching going on this weekend. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is holding a retreat in at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Naples, while Republicans will ponder their future at the
Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Democrats, who are excited about the race for an open Senate seat in a state won by Barack Obama last year, will also raise money while in Florida. (Republican Mel Martinez is stepping down in 2010.) Hosts for a Miami event on Sunday benefiting the DSCC include real estate investors Stephen Bittel and Michael Adler, lobbyist Al Maloof and Jorge Mas Santos of the Cuban American National Foundation. Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Barbara Boxer of California, Mark Begich of Alaska and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan are scheduled to attend.

The CPAC gathering is expected to draw potential 2012 presidential contenders as well as possible 2010 Senate candidates like U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers. He's participating in a panel on gun rights on Friday. Expect a lot of handwringing among these fiscal hawks over the massive spending plan approved by Congress -- widely condemned by Republicans but embraced by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Mario Diaz-Balart: Not a big fan of Obama's budget proposal

The Miami Republican has slammed President Barack Obama's new spending proposal as a "fiscally irresponsible budget, loaded with massive tax hikes and runaway spending. 

“At a time of economic anxiety and high unemployment, hard-working families and small businesses are counting pennies and the last thing Washington should do is continue to raise their taxes," Diaz-Balart said. "The budget does nothing more than increase the national debt, bring back to life the death tax, and raise taxes particularly on small businesses, which are the real job creators. It is in no way mindful of the current economic crisis or the financial hardships that American families are facing.

"This reckless budget revives the era of big and bloated government and encourages a spending spree. It is clear that we are back in a Jimmy Carter tax and spend era and should not be surprised when the results are similar, if not worse,” said Diaz-Balart.

Manny Diaz rebukes Bobby Jindal

Led by Miami's Manny Diaz, the nation's mayors are rebuking Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- the anti stim package Republican who questioned giving $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts.

"America's mayors are extremely disappointed by your recent statements questioning the economic impact of the arts to our national, state and local economies," a letter to Jindal from the mayors reads. The money, the letter says, "represents .00635% of the total funding provided in the act" and has "become a convenient political scapegoat."

Jindal's response to President Barack Obama's speech to Congress had already infuriated pols in Alaska, offended by Jindal's mocking of volcano research.

Continue reading "Manny Diaz rebukes Bobby Jindal" »

Crist not returning money tied to Sargeant or his partner

Gov. Charle Crist, in Jupiter today for the opening of the Scripps Florida Research Institute, was asked whether he or the state party would return any contributions tied to Palm Beach County donor Harry Sargeant or his Jordanian business partner indicted on charges of illegal fundraising.

"Well, we looked at that early on, and uh, I don't have an account anymore,'' he said.

Crist shook his head when asked whether he had been contacted by investigators.

The Republican Party of Florida replaced Sargeant as finance chairman last month.

Hope for the Everglades?

After years of tepid support, Washington appears primed to jump-start stalled Everglades restoration.

The House on Wednesday approved a giant budget bill with $183 million for Everglades projects, including $60 million for bridging the Tamiami Trail. Also tucked into the measure is a tiny provision crafted to circumvent a Miccosukee lawsuit blocking the Trail improvements.

In addition, the Obama administration has named Terrence ''Rock'' Salt, who has spent 18 years overseeing federal Everglades restoration efforts, to a key White House post directing civil works projects.

Still to be determined, what President Barack Obama's budget proposal may mean for the project, though the 'Glades does get a nod in the budget summary. Funding highlights for the US Army Corps of Engineers, the summary says, include advancing "aquatic ecosystem restoration efforts, including restoration of Florida's Everglades and Louisiana's coastal wetlands."

Businessman indicted for illegal contributions to Crist, McCain

From the New York Times: Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles on Wednesday indicted a Jordanian businessman with connections to the Florida Republican Party on charges of funneling illegal contributions to three former presidential candidates and Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida.

The indictment of the businessman, Alaa al-Ali, 37, shines a spotlight on the role of a business associate who the complaint asserts helped collect the donations. The associate, Harry Sargeant III, is a major Republican fund-raiser who owns an oil company with government contracts in Iraq and who recently resigned as finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

Mr. Sargeant raised more than $500,000 for the 2008 Republican presidential campaign of Senator John McCain. News organizations raised questions last summer about suspect donations to Mr. McCain from Arab-Americans that the campaign initially linked to Mr. Sargeants fund-raising before attributing them instead to another one of his Arab associates.

Is God taking sides in a Fort Lauderdale race?

Forget about endorsements from unions and elected officials -- a much higher power has weighed in on a Fort Lauderdale City Commission race.

God helped Romney Rogers secure a first-place finish in the primary, according to a memo sent by Barbara Moody, his prayer team coordinator.

"God lifted His mighty hand and allowed Romney to receive the majority of the vote however we are still not finished,'' Moody wrote in an email sent last week. The full memo is posted on a blog by former City Commissioner Tim Smith at blog.timsmith.com.

But Moody's memo suggests not leaving the election soley in God's hands -- it's a call to action for mortals to talk up the candidate among their neighbors and distribute campaign literature.

Moody is a family friend who sends regular emails to campaign supporters, Rogers said.

"She wanted to pray for me,'' he said. "Of course it's great. Anybody who wants to pray for me I'm glad they are.''

Moody's email prompted graphic artist Cal Deal at http://www.fortlauderdaleobserver.com/ to post a drawing poking fun at Rogers. It's a takeoff on Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and is a picture of a svelte reclining naked man with Rogers' head attached and his brochures covering up his nether regions as God, who has brochures for opponent Coleman Prewitt, looks on and says "Sorry, Romney it's just too much of a stretch.''

Rogers chuckled at the parody.

"I wish my body looked like that,'' he said.

Social issues, including religion, are playing a role behind the scenes in the race to represent the southern, left leaning part of the city. Both candidates are Democrats, but they hail from different camps: Prewitt, who is openly gay, is a member of gay political groups and a newcomer who has only lived in the district for a year. Rogers has lived in the district for nearly his entire life and has been active in groups like the Rotary Club since the 1980s.

For the record, both go to church: Rogers goes to First Baptist Church while Prewitt prefers Metropolitan Community Church which reaches out to the gay community.

"Religion is not a part of my campaign because it is divisive,'' Prewitt said.

Rogers denies that religion is playing a role in the campaign. He says the campaign is about the experience of both candidates.

"We are talking about the difference between a guy who was born here, raised here, worked in the community 30 years and a guy born in Atlanta, grew up in Bell Glade and just moved to the district to run and has a law office in Boca,'' Rogers said.

Jews beware! Muslim Day draws nigh!

Bismillah! Florida Muslim Capitol Day is scheduled for March 10. And House Republican leader Adam Hasner sees something nefarious afoot. He doesn't quite say what that is in an email he sent to Jewish lobbyists. But the day seems suspect nonetheless to him.

So Hasner suggests that Jewish leaders mount an "information campaign" against the day's organizers, speculating the group, United Voices for America, will ''push back'' against a resolution he proposed calling for solidarity with Israel. Hasner stopped just short of calling organizer Ahmed Bedier a terrorist, but went a little farther in an email to the Herald/Times (below) where he noted that Bedier worked for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Citing blogs and a Fox news report, Hasner subjected Bedier to the six-degrees of Kevin Hamas three-degrees of Hamas treatment saying Hamas is linked to CAIR and Bedier worked at CAIR so......

"Ridiculous nonsense," said Bedier. He just wants to advocate for better schools and healthcare. Other Jewish lawmakers, most of them Democrats, say they take Bedier at his word.

Continue reading "Jews beware! Muslim Day draws nigh!" »

February 25, 2009

Miami looks to export mortgage fraud

Or at least a task force to investigate it. On the agenda for Miami-Dade County's annual fly-in to DC: pressing for the creation of a nationwide mortgage fraud task force modeled after the county's effort.

Championed by Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, and Commissioner Sally Heyman, the bill would establish a nationwide task force at the U.S. Department of Justice. The bill would help oversee regional task forces in states hardest-hit by mortgage fraud -- like Florida.

"This has hit Florida so hard, we're to the point where we need all hands on deck,'' Meek said.

Miami-Dade's task force has made more than 100 arrests, said Glenn Theobald, chief legal counsel for the county police department. But he said the local task force would benefit from a national coordinator who could work with task forces across the country -- identifying scammers who cross state lines.

Under Meek's bill, which cleared the House last year but was blocked in the Senate, the task force would aid in enforcing state mortgage fraud laws, and provide training to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Bill Nelson has the legislation in the Senate.

Florida ed head hopeful on waiver; states to get guidance next week

Florida's education commissioner, Eric Smith, says he got no promises that Florida will get a waiver to spend the $2.7 billion in stimulus package cash it's hoping for -- but he's optimistic it will happen.

"I'm very encouraged," said Smith, in Washington to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and school officials from across the nation. "All the conversations we've had here have been very productive."

Florida has applied for a waiver of a stimulus provision that requires states to maintain school funding at 2006 levels and Duncan said he's hoping to give some guidance to states seeking waivers next week -- as well as details on when federal dollars will be available to states.

"We want to move very, very quickly," he said.