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213 posts from August 2013

August 31, 2013

Florida lawmakers sound off on Obama's Syria plans

Here's a partial list of Florida congressional reactions to President Obama's announcement that he'd seek congressional approval before striking Syria:

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August 30, 2013

FDLE voter fraud investigations come up empty again

The looming potential for fraud in the 2012 Presidential Election was how Republicans justified strict measures in Florida that made it tougher to register voters.

So nine months after the ballots have been counted, where exactly are the culprits of voter registration fraud?

Keep looking because the the Florida Department of Law Enforcement hasn’t found them yet.

On Friday, the agency released the results of two more cases involving allegations of voter registration fraud.

In a probe of the Florida New Majority Education Fund, which aims to increase voter registration among under-represented groups, the FDLE concluded it could make no arrests.

Read report here.

In a second probe, involving Strategic Allied Consulting, a vendor for the Republican Party of Florida, an arrest was made of a man who stole the identity of a former girlfriend’s ex-husband. He admitted to fraudulently filling out two voter registration forms. And that was it.

Read report here.

The rather meager findings of both investigations were in keeping with others that have concluded this year. None have found fraud on a significant scale.  


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Rep. Steve Southerland: Tea party, Deep South, GOP and open to citizenship path


Conservative tea party Congressman Steve Southerland has become the latest Republican to voice support for the concept of a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants.

“We have to address it. It’s a moral issue,” Southerland, who represents a conservative Deep South district encompassing Panama City and Tallahassee, told The Miami Herald during a Friday meeting in Miami.

Southerland’s support isn’t full-throated or guaranteed. He said he needs to see the details of actual legislation. He wants strict, real and fast border security.

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Marco Rubio heckled about immigration amid struggling image-repair effort


ORLANDO — Sen. Marco Rubio knew it was coming, and it did — shouts and jeers from conservative activists over his role in immigration reform.

"Build the fence!" a man yelled as Rubio took the stage Friday at the Americans for Prosperity conference in Orlando. "No amnesty!" several people shouted throughout his address.

But the reception from the crowd of 1,500 was mostly enthusiastic for Rubio, who used his speech to denounce big government and Obamacare, the mention of which brought people to their feet.
Rubio also got loud applause when he criticized the Common Core education standards, which have come under assault form tea party activists who see the standards as a federal takeover. By extension, Rubio was jabbing at his mentor, former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is a major backer of Common Core and has worked to defend against the critics.

Rubio never mentioned immigration, but it was on the mind of many. He was one of eight senators who crafted a wide-ranging bill that would spend tens of billions on border security while also providing a pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million undocumented residents, provided they pay fines and meet other standards.

"He lied about his position on amnesty," said Jon Moseley, an activist from Lake Placid, Fla., referring to Rubio's hard-line stance on immigration during his 2010 Senate campaign. "Now he's the main face of amnesty."

Bill Garner, 62, drove down from Georgia to attend the two-day conference. He said he once considered Rubio his No. 1 leader of the GOP. "I was strong on him for a long time, but I'm concerned right now because of immigration. It hurt hard."

LeAnne King, a tea party member from Jacksonville, was likewise disappointed, but she attributed it to Rubio's youth. "I haven't given up on him," she said. "Ask me in a week, ask me in a month."

Lawmakers register to vote correctly, but Latvala says residency issues remain

A review of Florida’s 160 lawmakers by the state’s Secretary of State has determined that all of them are registered to vote in the district for which they were elected to represent.

While that may not be news, doubts about where lawmakers live have been raised this summer, prompting Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford to order a review of their voter registrations.

On Friday, Maria Matthews, director of the Division of Elections, sent a letter to Gaetz and Weatherford stating that, as of Aug. 29, 2013, not one lawmaker is registered in the wrong district.

See Report

Gaetz and Weatherford have also asked the general counsels of each chamber to recommend standards that will be used to determine if lawmakers are breaking the law.

Continue reading "Lawmakers register to vote correctly, but Latvala says residency issues remain" »

Scott tea-party speech redux: $500m in tax cuts, a little Crist-Obama man-hug bashing


There is something paradoxical yet common-sensical about Florida Gov. Rick Scott's speech today at the Americans for "Prosperity's Defending the American Dream Summit" in Orlando where he plans to announce $500 million in tax cuts.

First off, it's puzzling Scott would be there at all.

Elected (if not dragged across the finish line) by the tea-party wave of 2010, Scott's appearance at a tea party confab is clearly an exercise in choir-preaching. And from a raw-appearance point of view, it's unclear why a governor who needs to reach across the aisle appears to be heading rightward instead of leftward -- i.e., toward the center.

But Scott has a little make-up (not a Marco Rubio amount) with some hard-core conservatives over his relatively tepid call to accept Obamacare money to temporarily expand Medicaid. Scott does have GOP challengers as well. But they're no-names. Scott, though, takes no-names seriously. After all, he used to be one.

And there's another facto you're starting to hear in GOP circles for candidates in general: "getting Romneyed." No one wants to be the candidate who fails to fire up the base. Because without the base, you're lost.

Now on to the common-sense answer as to why speak to AFP here and now: Why not?

Judging by Scott's past and a few snippets of the speech that have leaked out, it's really just another forum for the governor to continue his four-year-old campaign of talking about three things: "jobs, jobs, jobs."

Scott is going to call for $500 million in tax cuts as well. He didn't specificy where they'd come from. Every year he has called for big tax cuts and gotten some of what he wants. But with an eleciton year coming up and a budget surplus, expect $500 million in tax cuts to pass.

He now has another talking point to add: Charlie Crist and the record number of jobs lost under him when he was governor. Since it's a tea-party crowd, a little mention of Crist's embrace of the stimulus is tough to pass up.

Don't expect Scott to give a complete picture of the stimulus, however. Sure, the stimulus didn't kickstart the economy. But it bailed out state and local government to a degree. It definitely helped keep Florida's budget afloat and helped preserve government jobs and spending.

Even Scott would admit this. After all, in his first year in office, he kept $370 million in stimulus spending in the budget. He could have vetoed it. But he didn't. (Background and video are here)

Overall, Scott has lots to brag about. Unemployment is down, employment is up. All he needs is a mic to say it. The economy is undoubtedly better now than it was when he took over the job as governor. Blame national and global forces all you want, but the fact of politics is that appearances matter. When times are good, you get credit and when times are bad, you get blame.

Sands agrees to settlement in Vegas money laundering deal

As the Florida Senate completes plans to embark on a statewide road show to discuss the future of gambling in Florida, one of the most active players in the quest to bring resort casinos to Florida -- Las Vegas Sands -- has withstood some rocky publicity this week. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, and other news sources, the casino giant has agreed to pay more than $47 million and will accept U.S. Department of Justice's assertion that the company failed to report suspcicious financial activity by a customer who dealt only in cash, and who was later identified as a drug kingpin. 

A Sands spokesman told the Wall Street Journal in its Wednesday papers that, "The company cooperated fully in the investigation, and that effort was recognized clearly by the government."

Under the agreement reviewed by the WSJ, Sands has agreed to refrain from using generic names on its customer accounts and must also conduct two years of reviews of its anti-money laundering policies and file periodic reports with the government. 

The federal settlement is part of a two-year probe into possible money-laundering at the Sands, the newspaper reported. Investigators at the U.S. Treasury and Justice Department have been concerned that the practices may have enabled some of the casino's most lucrative customers to gamble using proceeds from illegal activities, federal officials said. 

Sands officials also disclosed in its annual report in March that after an internal probe into its casino operations in Macau, the company probably violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

UPDATED: Scott, Bush had a "very productive" conversation about education

We asked Gov. Rick Scott's office for a report on last night's meeting with former Gov. Jeb Bush, state Sen. John Thrasher and state Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand.

Here's the 10-word response we got back from spokeswoman Jackie Schutz: "They had a very productive conversation about education in Florida."

The private meeting took place at an undisclosed location in Miami at 6 p.m.

No other details have been released.

Parent groups and Democrats were critical of the backroom huddle, particularly because Scott did not attend the three-day education summit he convened in Clearwater earlier in the week.

UPDATE: The meeting was held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where Bush keeps an office, according to an email from Schutz.

Florida Division of Elections has a new public face

The Florida Division of Elections has a fresh and much younger public face, as spokeswoman Brittany Lesser arrived from Washington this week.

Lesser, 24, is formally the communications director for the Department of State, but most of the agency's public attention is from hot-button voting issues, such as Gov. Rick Scott's plan to resume scrubbing the Florida voter registration database for suspected non-citizens.

Things are relatively quiet in the agency now, but they promise to get a lot busier in 2014, an election year.

Lesser is a Colorado native, journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and former intern at NBC News' Washington bureau, and said she was eager to start a new career in Florida. "It seemed like a good fit," she said.

She said she was encouraged to apply for the $66,000 a year post by Scott's communications director, Melissa Sellers. Lesser has an interesting resume: She has spent the past two years working for U.S. Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who attracted national notoriety over the past year for his highly controversial statements likening illegal immigrants to drug smugglers. King also backs a government shutdown as a way of defunding Obamacare. (Lesser said she left King's office on very good terms, with an autographed picture of him as a memento).

While working on the highly partisan hill in D.C., Lesser had an active Twitter account. Here's a memorable tweet about President Barack Obama that she sent at the height of the presidential election campaign last October:

Is it bad that I want to mute Obama every time he speaks? #PresidentialDebate

-- Steve Bousquet 

Florida has second-highest rate of uninsured in nation


Florida has the nation’s second-highest rate of uninsured residents younger than 65 — a total of about 3.8 million people, or about 25 percent of the state’s population, including more than 500,000 younger than 19, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday.

And out of all 67 counties in Florida, Miami-Dade has the second-highest rate of uninsured for the same age group at 34.4 percent, trailing only Hendry County, with an uninsured rate of 35 percent or about 11,500 residents. Miami-Dade also is home to the largest number of residents without health insurance in the state younger than 65 — an estimated 744,000 people.

Broward County’s uninsured rate is 26 percent, or about 392,000 people.

Steven Marcus, chief executive of the Health Foundation of South Florida, a public charity that funds healthcare initiatives in the region, attributed Miami-Dade’s high rate of uninsured residents to the county’s large number of small businesses, many of which do not offer health insurance to their employees — the most common method for Americans to receive coverage.

“We’re a very small-business, service economy,’’ Marcus said. “Our small businesses have never supported healthcare.’’

More here.