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191 posts from May 2014

May 30, 2014

Hialeah state rep makes it official: He's running for Miami-Dade property appraiser


State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Hialeah Republican and head of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, made it official last week that he will run for county property appraiser.

Gonzalez, who is term-limited, opened a campaign account May 20. Late Thursday, he publicly announced his campaign.

"Whether as a volunteer for the Kiwanis Club or as an elected official, throughout my life I've always wanted to serve my community," Gonzalez said in a statement. "I am ready to bring my people-first philosophy to ensure that fairness, professionalism, and excellent customer service are provided to all Miami-Dade residents as their Property Appraiser."

In putting customer service front and center, Gonzalez is echoing the campaign of his elected predecessor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who left the nonpartisan county office after a year in January when he was named Florida Gov. Rick Scott's lieutenant governor. Lazaro Solis, Lopez-Cantera's deputy, has been running the office on an interim basis until countywide elections are held in August.

With a strong voter base in Hialeah, where he was previously city councilman, Gonzalez will be a big name in the crowded property appraiser race. Six other candidates have filed to run, included Pedro Garcia, Lopez-Cantera's predecessor. Other somewhat familiar names include former Miami city commission candidates Jacqui Colyer and Alex Dominguez, with newcomers Sonia Alfaro, Albert Armada, and Carlos D. Gobel rounding out the field.

How Miami-Dade used hotel taxes to boost the general fund


Florida's tourism industry routinely plays watchdog against efforts by local governments to use hotel taxes to ease pressure on property taxes. Even spending "tourist taxes" on lifeguards can spark a fight

But Miami-Dade County found a way to shift about $25 million in hotel-tax reserves, and then used the spare dollars to free up property taxes to be spent throughout the county's budget. With the hotel-tax reserves drained, Mayor Carlos Gimenez is facing a budget reckoning for the upcoming fiscal year and questions over just how strict those hotel-tax rules really are. 

To try this at home, you'll first need a zoo funded with property taxes.

For details, read the story here


May 29, 2014

John Thrasher makes it official, applies for FSU presidency


We've known since March this day would likely come. But today state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, formally applied to become FSU's next president.

There had been rumors ever since President Eric Barron stepped down that Thrasher wanted the job. Former FSU President Sandy D'Alemberte nominated Thrasher last week and a search advisory committee voted to interview him on June 11 ahead of all other candidates.

This came upon the recommendation of the search consultant, who said Thrasher's nomination was "casting a long shadow" that had scared off other potentially strong candidates from applying for the job.

In a four-page cover letter, Thrasher highlights his love for FSU, his alma mater, and his background in politics and fundraising acumen. He also submitted a resume; he told the Times/Herald earlier he hadn't needed to update it in years.

Continue reading "John Thrasher makes it official, applies for FSU presidency" »

It's been a hot month for claims about climate change

n May, the White House released the National Climate Assessment, which concluded that South Florida is "exceptionally vulnerable" to risks from man-made climate change including rising seas, more extreme heat and dropping water supplies.

The report, written by a committee of 60 scientists, named Miami as one of the most vulnerable cities. Coincidentally, two of the GOP presidential contenders live in cities neighboring Miami: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Separately, two science papers released in May reported that the global sea level will rise at least 10 feet, accelerating to a dangerous pace after the next century.

The reports sparked some much-publicized comments by politicians and pundits, making climate change a hot issue in elections this fall in some states.  

Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmental activist from California, plans to spend tens of millions this year through his PAC NextGenClimate to attack candidates that are skeptical about climate change, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to face former Gov. Charlie Crist in November.

From PolitiFact Florida, here’s a summary of some of our recent fact-checks on climate change. We also fact-checked many claims before the recent flurry of media coverage sparked by the reports.

Medical pot users rarely have cancer or AIDS, Don't Let Florida Go to Pot says

One of the biggest question marks over Florida’s proposed medical marijuana amendment is over who will use it. According to an opposition group, it’s not who you may think.

Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot, a campaign run by a coalition of more than 40 organizations opposing Amendment 2, says on its website that most patients don’t suffer from the life-threatening diseases often associated with medical marijuana use.

"Less than 5 percent of registered users in states allowing medical marijuana have cancer or AIDS," it says. The site ramped up earlier in May, and is run by St. Petersburg lobbyist group Save Our Society From Drugs. They use information from the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Cancer and AIDS are often cited by proponents of medical marijuana as the diseases that marijuana can help. We were curious to know if it’s true that only 5 percent of patients who use the drug have those two diseases. Let’s check the registries and find out. Read the full report from PolitiFact Florida.

-- Joshua Gillin

Who is Alex Posada? Mystery mapmaker allegedly denies drawing maps

Minutes before the judge closed the courtroom in the redistricting trial, the plaintiffs dropped a bombshell.

In a deposition taken Thursday morning, the mystery mapmaker, Alex Posada, a former FSU student and private citizen who had allegedly submitted the map touted by legislators as the foundation for its congressional map, said he had nothing to do with it.

Posada, a former member of the FSU College Republicans, who appeared at a June 2011 public hearing in Tallhassee to commend the legislature's open process, allegedly testified under oath that he never drew the map, never submitted it, and a gmail account in his name that was used to submit the maps never existed.

That new information came in the eighth day of the redistricting trial in Leon County Circuit Court as a lawyer for the coalition of voters groups grilled Republican political consultant Rich Heffley about what he knew. 

The plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and seven Democratic-leaning individuals, accuse legislators of allowing political operatives such as Heffley and Bainter to conduct a “shadow” redistricting process that used go-betweens to create public maps intended to benefit Republican incumbents and candidates in violation of the Fair District amendments to the Florida Constitution.

David King, plaintiff's attorney told Heffley about the deposition and asked: "Assume [Posada] denies ever seeing any congressional map, explain to me how it was, if those facts are true, that this map was filed?" 

Heffley, who has denied knowing anything about the maps drawn by political consultants being submitted as public maps answered: "I won't tell you what my mom told me about assuming things but I will tell you that I don't know Mr. Posada, I haver had anything to do with submitting maps and I don't know how they got in the public domain.' 

King then asked: "Were you creating email addresses for people in their names without their authorization or knowledge?"

Heffley: "I did not and I had no knowledge that anybody did that." 

King said the email showed that maps were bouncing back on Nov. 1 was it because you were filing maps yourself? 

King then suggested that he would need to use documents from Pat Bainter and Data Targeting and Judge Terry Lewis then ordered the courtroom closed to anyone who was not a party to case. 

Members of the media then expressed their objection to the closing of the courtroom and the room was closed. 

Posada worked for one year at the Tampa-based lobbying firm Strategos after college, said the firm spokesman Bill Colletti. He is now working in Orlando in the construction industry, Coletti said, and was hired at the advice of a parish priest known to one of the firm's founders, Trey Traviesa. The firm was co-founded by House Speaker Will Weatherford’s brother Drew. 

Court closes redistricting trial to the public to shield GOP operative's documents

BainterThe public and the press were ushered out of Leon County courtroom Thursday in the redistricting trial over the state’s congressional districts during the testimony of Republican political consultant Rich Heffley.

The rare closing of the courtroom during an ongoing trial was authorized by the Florida Supreme Court after an emergency appeal by a coalition of voter groups who are seeking to get 538 pages of documents from GOP political consultant Pat Bainter of Data Targeting entered into evidence during the trial.

Photo: Pat Bainter, right, talks with his lawyers Kent Safriet and Thomas Philpot before testifying in the closed courtroom Thursday.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on Tuesday that Bainter’s documents, which he considers “trade secrets,” could be entered at trial but only if the courtroom is closed to the public and the media. The high court could decide at a later date whether the documents should be opened, but ordered the courtroom closed to avoid further delay in the trial which is scheduled to end next Wednesday.

Bainter’s lawyers, who initially sought the closed courtroom as an option, have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the ruling by Florida’s high court. Justice Clarence Thomas is the judge authorized the handle the motion.

The plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and seven Democratic-leaning individuals, accuse legislators of allowing political operatives to conduct a “shadow” redistricting process that used go-betweens to create public maps intended to benefit Republican incumbents and candidates in violation of the Fair District amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Heffley testified Thursday during the open portion of the trial that he never drew any maps but frequently shared those created by Bainter, Republican Party of Florida official Frank Terraferma and GOP political consultant Marc Reichelderfer with others whom he did not name.

He said, however, that he was not aware that any of the maps the consultants produced were submitted by the public and said he did not know Alex Posada, the former Florida State University student who submitted a congressional map that included at least seven districts that were identical to those drawn by Terraferma.

“Yes I shared maps with other people and if they wanted to make modifications they could submit it,’’ he said. But he also denied knowing whether Bainter provided maps drawn by the consultants to Posada and other members of the public.

“He [Bainter] was sharing maps with other people and they were encourage his clients and other people to submit maps,’’ Heffley told the court.

Heffley, who testified that he was paid $20,000 a month for nearly two years to handle state Senate campaigns and offer redistricting advice. He called it a “global contract for all things Senate” and that his interest in the congressional map was only to assess what impact congressional races would have on state Senate campaigns.

“I didn’t care about Congress,’’ he said. “I wasn’t going to be involved in any congressional races. That wasn’t my mandate. That wasn’t what I was paid to do.”

Heffley said that his contract did not specify any job requirements and he produced no reports but was in frequent contract with Joel Springer, the head of Senate campaigns for RPOF. “They seemed happy. They signed the checks,” he said. 

The mystery man in the case so far is Alex Posada, a former FSU student and member of the university’s college Republicans. He submitted the map that became the foundation for the final congressional map drawn by legislators and it has become the most viewed public submission on the House’s MyDistrictBuilder web site.

Posada, who worked for one year at the Tampa-based lobbying firm Strategos Public Affairs after college, is now working in Orlando in the construction industry, said Bill Colletti, a spokesman for Strategos said. The firm was co-founded by House Speaker Will Weatherford’s brother Drew and former state Rep. Trey Traviesa. 

Heffley's testimony in the closed courtroom was followed by Bainter's testimony.

May 28, 2014

Miami trial-lawyer chief loses cool, smacks camera out of GOP tracker's hands before Crist event.


A warning to anyone who holds an event for a major candidate for Florida governor: There will be trackers, the video camera-wielding politico-paparazzi on the lookout for gaffes or drama.

And they're always recording.

The Miami-Dade Justice Association's president, attorney Andrew Moss, learned that the hard way Wednesday when he smacked the smartphone camera out of the hand of a Republican tracker stalking Democrat Charlie Crist, who was speaking to his fellow trial lawyers at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove.

The Republican Party of Florida posted the video hours later on YouTube.

Moss said the tracker, whom he identified as Francisco Chamorro, lied about being an attorney. Chamorro couldn't be reached. He arrived at the event's sign-in desk with a Rick Scott campaign-affiliated attorney, who is not a member of the group. Moss told both to leave before Crist spoke.

“So, why are you asking me to leave?” the tracker asks on the video.

Moss: "Because it’s a members-only group and you’re not a member."

Tracker: "Was there anybody who told you that…"

Moss: "Are you recording me?"

Tracker: "Yes."

At that point, Moss hit the camera-phone out of his hand and the video stops.


Moss, who said he was acting independently of Crist, acknowledged he shouldn’t have hit the tracker’s smartphone – even though, he says, the man was trying to secretly record him.

“I am offended that a paid employee of the Scott campaign lied to our organization about being a lawyer, and then tries to videotape me without my consent," Moss said by email. "There's a reason I acted the way I did. I was wrong, but their lies are infinitely worse."

The Scott campaign, which noted that the event was open to the news media and other guests, said in a statement that “if asked, trackers are always up front about who they are and who they work for.”

The Crist campaign said it was unaware of Moss's run-in with the tracker.

Trackers follow Scott, too. On Tuesday, during a Miami event, a citizen-activist who wouldn't give his name shouted questions to the governor about cli¬mate change. A Scott campaign staffer tried to keep him away from the governor, but never touched his equipment. American Bridge, a nationwide Democratic group that tracks GOP candidates, shot video of Scott's press gaggle as well.

Dean Cannon, mistrust, dumb ideas, political scientists and Day 7 of redistricting trial

Day Seven in Florida's precedent-setting redistricting trial may look like a sleeper for the few that are watching the soporific play-by-play on The Florida Channel but for the cognoscenti, the plot keeps getting thicker.

At stake is the 2012 congressional maps drawn by the Republican-led legislature and being challenged by a group of voters, led by the League of Women Voters and a group of Democrat-leaning plaintiffs. The court awaits the arrival of the secret documents from political operative Pat Bainter, unless the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in. Here are some developments from Wednesday: 

Plot line #1: What did the presiding officers know? 

Dean Cannon, the former House speaker during the 2012 redistricting session, testified under oath that he didn't know that his redistricting director was meeting with Washington redistricting attorney Ben Ginsberg, GOP political operatives Rich Heffley, Marc Reichelderfer and members of the House and Senate staff at Republican Party of Florida headquarters in December 2010 to discuss redistricting. But, had he been told, he said, he would have been "comfortable" with it.

“It was a good idea for anyone who had been involved or had been involved to get together with staff and legal counsel to figure out the rules of the road,’’ he said.

Reichelderfer testified last week that he attended the meeting to see if political consultants would "have a seat at the table" and current House Speaker Will Weatherford, who was then House redistricting chairman, testified they were told they wouldn't. 

Plaintiffs allege that Republican political consultants conspired with GOP staff to conduct a "shadow" redistricting process that used operatives to draw maps and have them submitted by members of the public. They claim that those maps then became the foundation of the legislature's final redistricting maps.

Continue reading "Dean Cannon, mistrust, dumb ideas, political scientists and Day 7 of redistricting trial" »

Crist makes a claim about veterans lack of access to Medicaid expansion and pins the blame on Scott

As Memorial Day approached, both Gov. Rick Scott and his anticipated Democratic rival Charlie Crist called on Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign amid news reports that VA staff falsified documentation about how long veterans were waiting to receive health care.

But then Crist pointed the finger at Scott in a series of tweets on May 22 and 23:

• "In addition -- if I were governor, I would take immediate action to make sure our veterans here in FL are getting the care they need."

• "I’d call a special session to expand health care to the more than 41,000 FL vets who are left w/o coverage due to Scott’s failure."

• "41.2k vets in FL don’t have health care because Scott didn't expand Medicaid. Unconscionable."

It was that last tweet that caught our eye. We decided to fact-check the number Crist cited and whether they lack health care because Scott failed to expand Medicaid. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for our full fact-check.