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166 posts from June 2014

June 30, 2014

Charlie NASCAR Crist


Given how frugal Charlie Crist has tended to be with his campaign money, this surprised us, even knowing that adviser Steve Schale is a racing buff: His campaign is sponsoring a Ford in the Coke Zero 400. These sponsorships can cost as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The campaign spent no money on this and the cost of wrapping the car was an in kind donation from a supporter who is a big NASCAR fan," said campaign spokesman Brendan Gilfillian.

The car is owned by Mike Curb, Republican former California lieutenant governor and record company executive who surely knows Crist's long time political pal, Mitch Bainwol, the former head of the Recording Industry Associatioin of America. The driver is Josh Wise.

Labarga becomes first Cuban-American chief justice

In a standing-room-only Supreme Court chamber Monday, Jorge Labarga took the oath of office as Florida's first Cuban-American chief justice.

Labarga, 61, succeeds Ricky Polston. For the next two years, Labarga will be the chief administrative officer of Florida's courts, first among equals on the state's seven-member high court and will take the lead in all oral arguments.

One of his first objectives is to hold a statewide summit on access to the courts to include representatives from the governor's office, state Legislature and the business community.

"It is a societal problem that must be resolved by society," Labarga said in his first speech as chief justice.

Labarga was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1963 when he was 11 years old, and was raised in sugar cane country, Pahokee, where he learned to speak English. He received both his bachelor's and law degrees at the University of Florida and is a proud "double Gator."

Gov. Rick Scott did not attend the 75-minute afternoon ceremony. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, also a Cuban-American, spoke of the pride all Cubans feel about Labarga's achievement. Labarga was appointed to the Supreme Court by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009.

Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also spoke at the ceremony, and Justice Barbara Pariente spoke of Labarga's love of telling stories, sometimes more than once, like the time Labarga said he was mistaken for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"It has been a long, long journey from the sugar cane fields of Pahokee to the halls of the Supreme Court," Pariente said.

Former justice Raoul Cantero, a friend of Labarga's, presented the new chief justice with a Cuban coffee machine and two bags of Cuban coffee. "This machine works wonders for productivity," Cantero said.

"Can I keep that?" Labarga said. (Yes, he can, but under the ethics laws he must report it as a gift).

Mayo Jacksonville lobbied for share of Florida cancer research dollars


Gov. Rick Scott's plan to spend tax dollars to boost the national prominence of Florida's top cancer centers came as a pleasant surprise to the Mayo Clinic.

One of the country's most prestigious names in research, the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is in three states — the mother ship in Minnesota, plus Florida and Arizona. Mayo Jacksonville officials figured they — and the 14,000 cancer patients seen at the Florida site — would benefit from Scott's plan.

After all, the glass doors of its research building bear the federal seal of approval Scott wants more Florida centers to have: "A comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute."

But Mayo, nestled in a forest of pine trees in suburban Jacksonville, has learned that being "Florida's best kept secret," as its leaders like to say, has political consequences. As this year's legislative session wore on, it became clear that Mayo would be snubbed in favor of centers that enjoy more support in Tallahassee.

"It was eye-opening to us," said Layne Smith, Mayo's director of state government relations.

Consumers who wait eagerly for the latest news on the war against cancer might imagine that medical research is a purely scientific pursuit. But especially now, as federal research dollars grow scarcer and competition for whatever other funds can be found intensifies, it's a political challenge as well.

Just ask Mayo Jacksonville.

Read more here.

June 27, 2014

Crist files legal brief in support of marriage equality

Rounding out a busy week on Friday, Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist filed a legal brief in support of marriage equality.

The brief comes as six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses prepare for their day in court. They are suing Miami-Dade Clerk Harvey Ruvin.

A hearing is scheduled for July 2 in Miami-Dade circuit court.

Crist was governor when Florida passed a constitutional amendment banning the recognition of same-sex marriages in 2008. 

In his brief, however, Crist called the ban "discriminatory" and said the courts should strike it down. 

"With the arc of history now, in fact, bending toward justice, this issue of marriage equality will almost certainly not even be an issue for the children and grandchildren of this state," Crist wrote. "But it is still the duty of those in the present to recognize that the legitimacy of government depends upon its willingness to fairly, transparently, and equitably administer the law. That goal is frustrated by denying an entire class of citizens equality in the institution of marriage simply because of who they are and whom they love."

Gay-rights advocates said they welcomed Crist's support.

"As former governor and as someone who previously supported this measure, Charlie Crist's words matter a great deal," said Nadine Smith, of Equality Florida, which filed the lawsuit with the couples. "He has taken the same journey the majority of Floridians have taken in realizing this ban serves no purpose but to disparage and discriminate against gay couples and our children."

The mayors of Miami Beach and Orlando have also filed legal briefs.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Pam Bondi's office announced that it will defend the state's gay marriage ban in the case.

Download Crist Filing Pareto v Ruvin

An updated swingers club with a political angle...

A new Miami-Dade business run by a local elected official brands itself as “upscale” and “discreet,” features co-ed showers and advertises young women in seductive poses wearing very little. The strategy behind Flirts: updating what co-owner Geraldo Rodriguez calls a dated image of “swingers clubs.”

“It’s an open-minded, lifestyle nightclub,’’ said Rodriguez, who won elected seats on both Miami-Dade’s Republican Executive Committee and the county’s zoning board in Westchester. “We don’t want to say it's a swingers club. That's not what we are. That's back in the ’80s.”

Men wanting to join Flirts pay about $150 for a 60-day membership. For women, it’s about $20, Rodriguez said. It costs between $45 and $85 at the door, as well, though the 15 private rooms (equipped with a queen-sized bed, nightstand, wastebasket and hand sanitizer) are free.

For the rest of the story, click here


Cava's salary at charity becomes attack-ad fodder


A committee backing Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell's reelection effort wants voters to be wary of challenger Daniella Levine Cava's salary from her recent job as director of Catalyst Miami, a non-profit she founded 

"Her partially tax-funded foundation paid her over $500,000 in salary,''  warned the ad by Good Government Now, which has raised about $130,000 of Bell's $585,000 fundraising total. "Money that was supposed to go to her charity went into her pocket."


Fine print on the screen shows the $500,000 figure came from 10 years of federal tax returns. The reference is to Catalyst Miami, a social-services organization that Cava left before running for Bell's District 8 seat.  The two most recent tax returns for  Catalyst (officially called the Human Services Coalition of Dade County) record Cava earning $38,900 in 2012 and $55,593 in 2011. This year, Catalyst is slated to receive a $110,000 grant from Miami-Dade. 

In a statement issued Friday, Cava's campaign accused Bell  of "distorting" Cava's record with an ad funded by "deep-pocketed special interest groups." Bell "has resorted to attacking Daniella Levine Cava’s nearly two decades of service at Catalyst Miami to thousands of Miami-Dade families,'' the statement read. 

 If Catalyst paid Cava $500,000 over 10 years (the ad says "over $500,000") that would be an average of $50,000 a year. As commissioner, Miami-Dade paid Bell $50,549.92 in 2013, according to county payroll records. 

Bell, her campaign manager and representatives of Good Government Now were not available for comment Friday afternoon. 

The full statemtent from Cava's campaign:

 “Lynda Bell is clearly afraid to showcase her extreme record and pay-to-play politics as a county commissioner. So she has resorted to attacking Daniella Levine Cava’s nearly two decades of service at Catalyst Miami to thousands of Miami-Dade families. These ads are financed by deep-pocketed special interest groups that want to protect their number one ally on the county commission by distorting the facts about Daniella’s exemplary record. Miami-Dade residents are ready to shake up the status quo at county hall and the voters of District 8 will choose a proven leader like Daniella Levine Cava, who has been a true champion for South Dade.”

Did Crist sign nation's harshest marijuana laws?

radio ad attacking former Gov. Charlie Crist accuses him of signing the nation’s "harshest marijuana laws." And it’s aimed at a voting bloc that overwhelmingly sides with Democrats: African-Americans.

"While Crist was coddling the gun lobby, he was cracking down on us," says the ad from Progressive Choice Florida, a 501(c)4 group that’s been attacking Crist from the left. " Passing maximum sentencing laws. Signing the nation’s harshest marijuana laws. And enacting the country’s strictest penalties against non-violent offenders – many of whom just happen to be black."

We wanted to know if Crist had signed "the nation’s harshest marijuana laws." That claim caught our attention because one of Crist’s chief backers is attorney John Morgan, who’s been bankrolling a campaign urging a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana.

Our research showed that Florida is tough on those busted for pot, but that reputation began long before Crist was governor.

Read PolitiFact Florida for the full fact-check.

Bogdanoff's primary opponent withdraws from race

The race to represent Florida Senate District 34 is down to two candidates.

Republican Joseph Bensmihen dropped out of the contest Thursday, state records show.

That leaves just Maria Lorts Sachs, the Democratic incumbent; and Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican who served a previous term in the state Senate.

Bensmihen, a Palm Beach County businessman, had raised more than $12,000 for his campaign, records show. He loaned himself an additional $100,000. 

It was not immediately clear why Bensmihen withdrew. He did not return calls Friday.

Bogdanoff has said Bensmihen supported her in the past.

The Sachs-Bogdanoff race will be a rematch of the 2012 election. In that race, Sachs defeated Bogdanoff by five percentage points.

Senate District 34 includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

June 26, 2014

Crist releases 10 years of income tax returns, urges Scott to do the same

Responding to criticism from Gov. Rick Scott's campaign, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist on Thursday released 10 years of federal income tax returns. (You can view them here.)

During that time, Crist drew a six-figure salary as a state employee and had virtually no debt, the records show. By the end of the decade, his net worth was approaching $500,000.

"Charlie is giving Florida families an unprecedented look into his life because they deserve to know their governor is looking out for them," his campaign manager Omar Khan said in a statement.

Crist did not, however, release his wife Carole's returns, as some Republicans have called on him to do.

Scott and his wife Ann released their joint tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012 last week.

When Crist failed to do the same, Scott's political committee aired a TV spot that asked: "What's he hiding?" 

"I'm certainly disappointed that Charlie Crist doesn't believe in transparency," Scott said in a statement. "Ann and I released both of our tax returns and we asked him and his wife to follow our lead. He is refusing. Alex Sink released her tax returns and her husband's when she ran for governor. Jeb Bush and his wife released theirs. The question we are all asking now is, what is Charlie hiding? I don’t think the people of Florida will let him get away with it."

On Wednesday, Crist released his tax returns for 2011, 2012 and 2013. 

He released returns dating back to 2001 the following day.

The campaign plans to release another 10 years of the candidate's tax returns soon, Khan said.

"[Crist] is calling on Rick Scott to release his returns going back 20 years as well," Khan said. "Given that Rick Scott hides his assets and has dodged personal accountability his entire career, we suspect he will hide his taxes, just as he has hidden all of the depositions from his days as a corporate raider."

Crist has been adamant that he will not release his wife's returns. The two file separately.

Bob Butterworth to receive Bar Foundation top award

Bob Butterworth, Florida's longest-serving attorney general, will receive the prestigious Medal of Honor Award from the Florida Bar Foundation Thursday in conjunction with the Florida Bar's annual convention in Orlando.

A Democrat from Hollywood, Butterworth served four terms as attorney general from 1987 to 2002. Known for having one of the most diverse resumes in the history of Florida politics, he served as a state prosecutor, county judge, circuit judge, Broward sheriff, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and interim mayor of Sunrise.

During his time as A.G., Butterworth helped to lead Florida's legal assault against the tobacco industry. A Bar Foundation news release described his "game-changing leadership" as secretary of the Department of Children and Families in the term of former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, where he professionalized DCF's legal staff, improved transparency and gave a stronger voice to foster children.

Butterworth, 71, is of counsel to the firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney/Fowler White Boggs.

He repeatedly rebuffed entreaties that he run for governor, and he lost his final bid for public office in 2002 in a state Senate race to Republican Jeff Atwater, now Florida's CFO. Butterworth was prominently featured in an early 2014 campaign video endorsing Crist for governor.