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11 posts from August 14, 2014

August 14, 2014

Mitt Romney to campaign with Miami congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo next week


Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans to campaign Monday in Miami with congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo.

Romney lost the vote in Florida's 26th congressional district to President Barack Obama by 7 percentage points in 2012. The district extends from Westchester to Key West.

Yet Romney's still a big name in GOP circles, and he's the latest Republican establishment member to endorse Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member who's in a five-way primary to challenge Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia. The others running are Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former County Commissioner Joe Martinez, attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck and former Congressman David Rivera.

Curbelo and Romney are scheduled to visit a West Kendall bakery Monday afternoon.

The Rick Scott-Jeb Bush Tour heads to Homestead


Gov. Rick Scott heads to Homestead Friday with a not-so-secret newsmaking weapon: former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Remember back when Democrat Charlie Crist was a Republican running for governor in 2006? He called himself a "Jeb Bush Republican" at the time. There's a reason for it. Bush helped build the GOP, first in Miami-Dade and then in Florida where he was the first Republican governor in the modern era to serve with a Republican-held House and Senate.

Also, unlike Crist and Scott, Bush is an off-the-cuff quote-machine who likes to joust with reporters about policy and politics. The other two guys (Scott more so) are and/or were nothing like Bush as governor.

Expect a good dose of Crist-bashing from Bush (he never was a huge Crist fan because the newly minted Democrat was always left-leaning as a Republican).

Expect Bush to be asked about running for president. He'll say he'll make a decision after the election.

Here's today's Herald-Tribune story about the two stumping in Punta Gorda to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Charley, the first of eight hurricanes to damage Florida in 2004 and 2005. Unlike his presidential brother after Hurricane Katrina, Jeb Bush's poll numbers improved, and never really fell, amid his handling of disaster preparedness and response during those two mean seasons.

Friday's even is scheduled for 10 a.m. at B&K Installations in Homestead.

The one about Jeb Bush, Terry Schiavo, the ACLU and medical marijuana

Jeb BushFormer Gov. Jeb Bush came out in opposition to Amendment 2 today and his suggestion that people should vote against the amendment to legalize marijuana provoked some harsh criticism from the ACLU of Florida.  

Bush joined the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business groups to denounce the proposed amendment on the November ballot that will allow patients with a list of debilitating conditions to get a doctor's permission to treat the condition with marijuana. 

“Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” Bush said in a statement. 

“Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts.  I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue, and I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November.”

But Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, noted how Bush intervened to prevent the family of Terri Schiavo, who was severely brain damaged, from removing her feeding tube that had kept her alive for 15 years. The ACLU represented Schiavo’s husband, Michael.

“Once again, Jeb Bush is trying to impose his views on medical treatment on Florida patients,’’ Simon said in a statement. "Amendment 2 is about allowing people suffering from debilitating conditions to access treatment plans that include using marijuana as a medicine, with the supervision of a doctor, to alleviate their pain and suffering...”

“Jeb Bush was wrong about limiting patients’ rights then and he is wrong now,’’ Simon said. “You would think that after his shameful performance in the Terri Schiavo tragedy Jeb Bush would be too embarrassed to offer any advice on the rights and well-being of patients. These are medical decisions to be made by doctors about what is best for their patients; it is not a role for politicians.”

Secretary says he's on track to meet noon deadline for congressional elections plan

Florida’s top elections official said Thursday he is prepared to meet the noon deadline Friday to present a proposed special election schedule for the new congressional districts passed by the Florida Legislature this week. 

Secretary of State Ken Detzner told supervisors of elections on a conference call Thursday that he was preparing “to give the court our definition of what it would take to run an election with regard the new maps.”

Legislators hope the judge rejects the options, and they expect Detzner to show how costly it will be to hold special elections in seven counties for seven slightly-modified congressional districts.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis invalidated the first map and ordered Detzner to propose a new elections schedule. He concluded that two districts, District 5, represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and District 10, represented by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, were improperly drawn with the intent to benefit Republicans.

The legislature concluded its three-day special session on Monday, revising seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts in response after its original map was declared an improper partisan gerrymander. Gov. Rick Scott signed the plan into law on Wednesday.

Although legislators remain confident that the new map will be approved by Lewis, two voting-rights groups that brought the lawsuit challenging the original districts said they will fight to have the new map rejected.

"We are disappointed to see that the remedial map approved this week by the Florida Legislature looks suspiciously like the map that Judge Lewis ruled unconstitutional and the fact that it was drawn behind closed doors only adds to the suspicion," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida in a statement.

"The Legislature has a duty to abide by the Constitution, which they swore to uphold and enforce," said Peter Butzin, chairman of Common Cause Florida. "We believe they have once again fallen fall short of their sworn duty, and we will continue to urge Judge Lewis to adopt a constitutionally compliant map for the 2014 elections." 

-- Staff Writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report

Suspended Miami Lakes mayor acquitted of federal corruption charges


Suspended Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi is not guilty of accepting payoffs during an undercover FBI sting, a jury ruled Thursday.

The verdict was handed down after more than a month of trial in which federal prosecutors portrayed Pizzi as a greedy politican who took accepted thousands in illegal cash in a smoky pool hall, a Starbucks and the closet of his city office.

Federal authorities arrested Pizzi in August 2013 after a two-year investigation that also netted the arrest of lobbyists Richard Candia and Jorge Forte, and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Maroño.

Undercover FBI agents, working with lobbyist-turned-informant Michael Kesti, posed as crooked Chicago businessmen looking to pay off elected officials for supporting supposedly lucractive federal grants. Candia agreed to help them, suggesting Pizzi could help them in the scheme that would line the pockets of the supposed businessmen.

The same sting produced overwhelming evidence against allies Forte and Maroño, who pleaded guilty are now in prison.

But the evidence was far from clear cut in Pizzi’s case. The two-term mayor vowed to fight the charges, insisting he was trying to help the citizens of Miami Lakes and Medley, where he also served as town attorny.

During trial, his defense attorneys blasted the tactics of federal agents and the credibility of Candia, who ultimately testified against Pizzi.

This is a developing story that will be updated here.

Fender bender holds up Crist bus tour

The yellow school bus carrying Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist was about to leave Orlando on Thursday -- and then it got clipped by a gray Dodge.

Nobody was injured.

The driver of the Dodge had to leave, but gave the bus driver her business card. 

The campaign team, meanwhile, stuck around and waited for the Florida Highway Patrol to arrive.

When the driver of the Dodge came back about 90 minutes later, Crist and his running mate, former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairwoman Annette Taddeo, went outside to meet her. Crist gave her a hug.

"I didn't know [Crist] was on the bus," said Tina Pun, a business development manager from Orlando, adding that she was mortified. "When I saw him, my face turned bright red."

Pun said she planned to vote for Crist before the accident -- and still would.

The damage to the bus was minimal. The Dodge lost a side-view mirror and will likely need a trip to the auto body shop.

The Crist bus took off for Tampa around 3:30 p.m.

State officials stick with plan to hold lottery for pot dispensaries in new rule

MarijuanaThe Florida Department of Health has rejected requests to find an alternative to a lottery system for selecting the companies that will grow and dispense low-THC marijuana for medical purposes in its proposed final rule released today. The agency also announced a public hearing to hear more feedback on Sept. 5.

Patients, growers, investors and marijuana entrepreneurs all appealed to the department during two public hearings this summer asking the agency to reconsider choosing the five dispensaries by lottery. The rule is being developed to implement a law passed by the Legislature this spring, authorizing one nursery in five regions of the state to be licensed to cultivate and distribute the low-THC marijuana intended to help people with severe epilepsy, muscle spasms and cancer. 

The new rules offer detailed requirements for maintaining patient records, security, staffing, dispensary hours and transportation. It allows one dispensary in each region to be responsible for trucking a 90-day supply of the low-THC cannabis to the homes of qualified registered patients, a system that also drew sharp criticism from the industry hopefuls. 

Absent from the rule, however, are any detailed standards that impose requirements on the quality of the cultivation, the experience of the growers or the technological skill of the company to obtain a low-THC abstract. The absence of those requirements has many critics worried that the state is relinquishing its ability to manage the quality control and will reduce the number of applicants willing to make the financial commitment.

The rule requires that applicants provide documentation of "financial strength...in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards." It requires applicants to show ability to post a $5 million performance bond. And it requires that the owners and managers of the dispensing organization pass a background screening.

The applicants in each region will then be put in the government version of a hat and chosen by lottery for each region. The rule states: 

"If more than one applicant for a dispensing region is qualified and its application is timely received, the department will provide a computer program method for a double random lottery-type selection by public drawing to designate the approved applicant and the rank order of other applications within each dispensing region.'' 

The agency made some changes to its previous draft rule, such as allowing for the transport of a 90-day supply of the marijuana extract, rather than a 30-day supply, modifying the counties included in each region, and giving the nurseries more flexibility in determining where their headquarters may be located.

Here's the rule.  Download Compassionate use rules


Miami-Dade property appraiser drops state complaint


The Miami-Dade property appraiser has dropped a short-lived legal complaint against the state of Florida over an obscure rule the county argued slowed property-tax collections.

Acting Appraiser Lazaro Solis sent the Florida Department of Revenue a notice of voluntary dismissal Wednesday of his earlier complaint, filed 10 days earlier, challenging an administrative rule that allows people who have appealed their property assessments to continuously delay their appeals hearings.

Solis said Thursday he still believes the rule is unfair to his staffers who have to prepare for the same hearing sometimes several times and not reach a resolution for months -- delaying the certification of the tax roll that funds local governments.

But the county dropped the issue for now for strategic purposes after the Miami-Dade School Board was denied its request to participate in the complaint, Solis said. The county had been hoping for widespread support.

"I'm disappointed," Solis said. "We may consider filing again in the future."

Five candidates are running to be elected full-time property appraiser.

Mystery flier attacks Miami-Dade commission candidate over Marlins Park

@PatriciaMazzei Marlins flier front

The mysterious advertisement mailed to some Miami-Dade County voters this week is an attack against commission candidate Daniella Levine Cava -- disguised as a sarcastic compliment.

"THANKS FOR DELIVERING MARLINS STADIUM!" the flier says. "Clearly, the stadium's $634 million dollar price tag is a small price to pay for this jewel of our community."

The ballpark's unpopular public financing contributed to the ouster of a former county mayor and commissioner, and the issue has become the third rail of county politics. Incumbent Lynda Bell, a commissioner since 2010, has accused the nonprofit social-services agency Levine Cava founded, now known as Catalyst Miami, of supporting the stadium deal.

Bell has cited a 2008 commission meeting in which the nonprofit's policy director spoke about how to make the ballpark agreement better. (The flier says it was Levine Cava who "stood up and made sure the funding was approved.") The policy director called the financing deal "a feat of creativity and ingenuity."

Continue reading "Mystery flier attacks Miami-Dade commission candidate over Marlins Park" »

Crist talks education spending in Jacksonville

Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist and his team are in Lake Buena Vista this morning, preparing for the second day of their statewide bus tour.

The theme: education spending.

The (fitting) mode of transportation: a yellow school bus.

Crist has been hammering incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott for cutting $1.3 billion from the state education budget during his first year in office. Crist has also been pressing to make education the focus of the 2014 gubernatorial race.

The tour kicked off in Tallahassee on Wednesday, and after nearly stalling on the side of the road in torrential rains, made a second stop in Jacksonville.

About three dozen Crist supporters attended, including Duval County middle-school teacher Simia Richardson.

"What I want to do is support someone who will restore the cuts here in education," she said.

Ready to make the counterpart: state Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and chairman of Scott's re-election campaign.

"We ought to be restoring the truth because he's not leveling with the people of Florida," said Thrasher, who was joined by the Republican Party of Florida's Susan Hepworth. "Gov. Scott and the Republican legislature have put over $2 billion back into education."

The next stop: a Total Wine in Jacksonville, where a dozen supporters had set up a phone bank.

The volunteers were more than a little surprised to see Crist.

"You are the answer to my prayers," said Marie Fitzsimmons, a retired substitute teacher.

Fitzsimmons then took Crist's wife Carole by both hands. "You are the luckiest woman in the world," she said.

"I know," Carole Crist replied.

The bus departed for Orlando later in the evening. Events are scheduled Thursday in Orlando and Tampa.

You'll find some scenes from the road below.