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255 posts from April 2012

April 30, 2012

Frederica's challenger draws endorsement of Haiti's president

Haiti’s president has inserted himself in a contentious Miami Congressional race by endorsing the Haitian-American opponent of Rep. Frederica Wilson, setting off diplomatic shockwaves and potentially reigniting tensions between local ethnic communities.

In an interview with a local Creole-language radio station last week, Haitian President Michel Martelly called on Haitians to unite and support Rudy Moise, a physician who lost to Wilson in 2010 in a crowded field of candidates in what was the 17th Congressional District at the time.

Moise was among four Haitian-Americans vying for the seat, and the split in the Haitian vote helped propel Wilson, an African-American, to victory. Story by Jackie Charles here.

Jesse Jackson’s false sermon on Trayvon Martin

Civil rights icon Jesse Jackson took to the pulpit and the classroom in Miami to sermonize and implore African Americans to vote and to turn the death of Trayvon Martin into action.

“There are lessons in this tragic matter of Trayvon Martin’s death,” Jackson said at 93rd Street Community Baptist Church on Sunday. “It defines white and black in this season -- that racism is alive and doing much too well.”

So are half-truths and distortions – if Jackson’s speech is any measure.

After mentioning the deaths and martyrdom of black activists and youths, Jackson brought up Trayvon’s death Feb. 26 at the hands of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who claimed he was acting in self defense when he shot the unarmed teen in a Sanford gated community.

Jackson pointed out that Trayvon was from Miami Gardens. And he wondered why the teen was all the way in Central Florida staying with his father.

“How did he leave Miami?” Jackson asked, “cause he was suspended from school on some trivial notion that there was some marijuana dust in a bag. If that’s the case -- a child’s about to step in the wrong direction -- you call his mother. You say, ‘mother we need to have a meeting. Your son’s about to make a wrong step.’ And you convene him and his mama in the principal’s office. You don’t throw him away…..Ten day suspension for marijuana dust?”

The following day, at Miami Central, Jackson repeated the line – although he noted “that’s a mistake to have marijuana in a bag.”

If Jackson’s story of the suspension were the whole truth, it might be an outrage (assuming you don’t believe in zero-tolerance for drugs at a public school). But it’s not the whole truth anyway.

As the Miami Herald first reported, Trayvon Martin wasn’t just suspended in February for having marijuana residue. A police report showed he also had a “marijuana pipe.”

And it wasn’t just his first disciplinary incident. It was his third and final. He had been suspended before that for repeated tardiness. And Trayvon also was busted in October when he was spotted marking up a door with “WTF.” A subsequent search of his bag showed he had 12 pieces of jewelry, a watch and a large flathead screwdriver

Continue reading "Jesse Jackson’s false sermon on Trayvon Martin" »

Rubio interviewed for Fox News series on possible VPs

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was the first contender interviewed for a Fox News feature on possible vice presidential running mates for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Bondi seeking public advice for how to spend $300 million in housing aid

Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking the public to give her office suggestions on how to spend about $300 million in settlement money from a $8.4 billion settlement with several large banks.

Part of a $25 billlion national settlement over robo-signing abuses, Florida's $8.4 billion settlement includes money for principle reductions, mortgage modifications and cash payments to people who were foreclosed upon.

Then there's a $300 million chunk of change that goes to the state, that has not yet been allocated. Bondi has not yet said what the money will be used for, but she's beginning to seek public input. 

The money is supposed to be used for "consumer relief" and could go to help hire housing counselors, fund foreclosure assistance programs, or pay for neighborhood revitalization. Some states have indicated they'd use their unallocated funds to plug their budget holes, but Bondi indicated that she is not considering that.

Members of the public have until May 14 to make comments at MyFloridaLegal.com.

Continue reading "Bondi seeking public advice for how to spend $300 million in housing aid" »

Movers and Shakers: Scott appoints state surgeon general, The Florida Current hires newly retired Cotterell

Scott appoints state surgeon general

Gov. Rick Scott names John. H. Armstrong as the state’s new surgeon general and secretary of the Department of Health. He replaces former Surgeon General Frank Farmer, who resigned in March to be with his ailing wife.

Armstrong is an associate professor and chief medical officer at the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. He previously served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army Medical Corps for 17 years.

The Florida Medical Association endorsed Armstrong for the job, citing his “distinguished military career and many years of medical practice as a surgeon with unique training and leadership positions in trauma care and emergency management.”

Cotterell lands at LobbyTools

After many farewell and a very short retirement, Florida Capitol journalist Bill Cotterell will land at LobbyTools and The Florida Current on May 1. Cotterell recently retired from the Tallahassee Democrat after 42 years as a statehouse reporter.

Continue reading "Movers and Shakers: Scott appoints state surgeon general, The Florida Current hires newly retired Cotterell" »

One-two punch: Trial court rejects Dems' request to put stop to Congressional map

In what has become a one-two punch today for the Florida Democrats' attempt to put a stop to the redistricting maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature, a trial court judge on Monday refused their request for an injunction on the Congressional map pending a court review.

Democrats have filed a suit claiming that the Congressional map not only violates the contitutional ban against protecting incumbents and political parties but also unfairly packs black and Hispanic voters into districts to give Republicans an electoral advantage. They asked the court to stop the maps from taking effect this election cycle.

Second Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis wrote in a 20-page opinion released today that while he understands their concern "that if elections go forward under what is later determined to be an unconstitutional redistricting plan, Florida citizens will have been denied their righto to have meaningful participation in the election of their representatives. I do not find, however, that they have established a right to an injunctions."

He said that absent a determination that the map is unconstitutional "I do not have the authority to replace it with another map while the case is pending." Absent that, he said the result would be that the 2002 map would remain in effect -- a map, he said "was admittedly drawn to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that the maps as submitted do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act and may take effect for the 2010 elections.

Redistricting maps pass review by Department of Justice

Florida's redistricting maps are ready to be implemented, officials announced Monday.

The U.S. Department of Justice granted Florida's request for administrative preclearance of the maps under the Voting Rights Act, according to a Monday letter from Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

"However, we note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the enforcement of the changes," Perez cautioned.

The review of redistricting plans wrapped sooner than earlier cycles, Senate spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley said. The preclearance letter is attached. Download Preclearance Letter

"One of our foremost goals during this redistricting cycle was to conduct the process in a manner that would give both the voters and candidates time to become familiar with the new districts," Senate President Mike Haridopolos said in a statement. "With the completion of the review process for these redistricting plans today, I am proud to say that we accomplished that goal."

NRCC rallying around David Rivera

As he puts scandal behind him and draws not-so-threatening challengers, Rep. David Rivera appears to be  getting back in the good graces of the National Republican Congressional Committee now that the chair, Pete Sessions, and Texas Rep. Jack Fields plan to headline a June 5 fundraiser for Rivera in Washington. Download RiveraInvite

It's a turnaround from last July when the NRCC left Rivera's name off a high-profile fundraiser in Miami. Meantime, his longtime buddy and national Republican rock star, Sen. Marco Rubio, is helping him out.

Rivera last week was cleared in a state investigation tied to a payment he received from a dog track. He faces an IRS-FBI inquiry still. Meanwhile, Rivera faces the prospect of battling political unknowns and already-beatens this campaign season.

On the Republican side, Florida Keys businessman Doug Walker says he's ready to make a serious run. Though he has virtually no name ID, Walker is independently wealthy and said he could cut a $1 million to $2 million check to make his campaign viable.

On the Democratic side, Justin Lamar Sternad and Gloria Romero Roses are announced candidates. Both are political newcomers. Two-time candidate Joe Garcia looks as if he's ready to make a third run. Rivera beat Garcia in 2010.

Since then, Rivera has been essentially drawn into a more Democratic-leaning district. He has also been saddled with the probes into his finances and questions about how he has lived off his campaign money at times (story is here)

Bottom line: this race is no gimme. But Rivera's in pretty good shape, considering all the hits he has survived.

Florida Bar seeks to publicize "merit retention" election for judges

When Florida voters go to the polls this November to pick a president, they’ll also be asked to decide on races that will get much less fanfare: whether to retain three Florida Supreme Court justices and 15 appellate court justices in various regions of the state.

Many voters will skip the judges elections – in which they are asked to vote "yes’’ or “no” to let them stay in the job another six years, election data shows. Many more will simply guess, willing to make an uninformed choice.

The Florida Bar, the statewide professional organization for lawyers, wants to change that.

Armed with data that shows that 9 out of 10 Florida voters are unaware of what it means to have a “merit retention” election for Florida judges, the Bar on Monday launched a statewide education campaign to spread the word about the process that allows the state’s appellate level judges to stay in office.

The program, called “The Vote’s in Your Court’’will work to educate Floridians so they can make a better informed decision about the merit retention races on the ballot.

“Democracy works best when there’s good information,’’ said Scott Hawkins, president of the Florida Bar and a West Palm Beach lawyer. “This effort is not about supporting any particular court or any particular judge…we are endorsing a system which has operated uniformly for nearly 40 years.”

 Since 1976, Florida’s Constitution has required that Supreme Court justices and district court of appeal judges appear on the first statewide ballot following their appointment and then again every six years. This year, Justices Barbara ParienteFred Lewis and Peggy Quince will be up for a merit retention vote along with appellate court judges around the state.

Two years ago, a last minute group formed to oust Justices Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry. The right-leaning organization, Restore Justice


, which is linked to the Tea Party movement, targeted the justices after they voted with the 5-2 majority in a ruling that rejected a legislatively-backed constitutional amendment to allow the state to opt-out of federal health care reform because it failed to meet the state’s ballot requirements.


This year, the organization has started up again and is prepared to campaign against the remaining three justices in the opinion, each of which has twice before won merit retention approval.

But the justices have their hands tied. The ethics laws governing judges in Florida prohibit them from discussing their policy views, unlike candidates running for elected office, but those who launch an opposition campaign to defeat a judge can say whatever they want.

 “They can’t explain how they have ruled in the past or how they may rule in the future,’’ Hawkins said. “The restrictions on what candidates for judicial office can say are severe and strict.”

But because of this system, the bar “believes the importance of impartial, balanced and accurate information is critical,’’ he said.

The goal of the merit retention election is to give voters an opportunity to assess the body of work done by the justices and determine if they continue to remain qualified for the job. It is not to police bad judges, Hawkins said. That job goes to the Judical Qualifications Commission, which reviews, removes and sanctions judges for bad behavior, of the impeachment process which allows the state Senate to remove a bad judge.

While no judges have ever been removed under merit retention in the 34 years the program has been in place, many judges have been moved from office, Hawkins said.

Former Gov. Reubin Askew, who as governor willingly gave up his power to select the judges and justices in exchange for the merit retention system, said “it’s the best system that’s been devised for fairness.”

Askew said that when he came to office, justices were elected in partisan elections, collected campaign contributions and “money kept coming in.”

“It was an absolute mess,’’ he said. He endorsed the ballot amendment to allow judges to be retained by voters “to help keep politics out of the courtroom and go a long way to developing fair and impartial court decisions.’’

Now, Askew acknowledges, “there’s no perfect system,’’ and supports the right for groups to organize in opposition. But the system is better than appointing judges for life or requiring appellate judges to campaign in partisan elections.

“The most important thing to remember,'' he said, "is if you don’t have merit retention -- which has worked well under seven governors and for both parties in Florida -- where do you go from there?”

- Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

- Mary Ellen Klas


Connie Mack Super Pac ad bashes Bill Nelson over Keystone, features Mack's dad

Freedom PAC, the pro-Connie Mack political committee, has announced it'll start running ads hitting Sen. Bill Nelson for backing President Obama over the administration's decision to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

One interesting bit from the ad: There's a shot of Congressman Mack's dad, Senator-turned-lobbyist Connie Mack III. Mack's Republican opponent, George LeMieux, has charged that Mack IV is running a "campaign of confusion" to trick people into thinking he's his dad. Obviously, Mack III has coat tails.