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332 posts from March 2015

March 31, 2015

Amendment 1 advocates turn up the heat on Sen. Charlie Dean

Supporters of Amendment 1 are busy phone-banking a key state lawmaker in support of setting aside millions for the Florida Forever land acquisition program. Their calls have been targeting Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, chairman of the Senate Environmental Preservation and conservation Committee, the sponsor of the Amendment 1 implementing bill (SB 584) that is on the floor calendar for Wednesday's Senate session.

"I'm asking him to please support Amendment 1 money for the Florida Forever program," said Kathleen Betsko of Sugarmill Woods, a community in Citrus County in Dean's sprawling district. "I thought Senator Dean was going to be in favor of this and it sounds like that's not what they're doing."

Betsko identified herself as a Democrat who has voted for Dean in the past. She is among the 75 percent of Florida voters who approved Amendment 1, the so-called water and land amendment, in the November 2014 election. Conservation groups across Florida are emphasizing the same message in phone calls and on social media.

Marco Rubio: The MJ of politics? (or so says his pollster)


Whit Ayres
GOP pollster Whit Ayres (Photo: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor)

A Marco Rubio pollster said there are a number of candidates in the crowded Republican presidential field who could put together the right mix to win the GOP nomination in 2016 – although his candidate is the most “transformational” of the bunch, and that’s what Republicans need right now.

In a Tuesday breakfast with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, Whit Ayres said that the Republican Party needs somebody who can reach out in a meaningful way to Hispanic voters, allowing them to get the kind of support George W. Bush had in 2004.

“Republicans can do very well among Hispanics,” said Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Research and author of the recently released book “2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America.” “They don’t have to win a majority, but they sure gotta do in the 40s rather than in the 20s like Mitt Romney.”

He added: “We need to nominate a candidate that sends a message that we want Hispanic-Americans in the center-right coalition – that we want you as part of our team, because the Republican values of equal opportunity for all and greater economic growth and limited government work for all people regardless of race, creed or color.”

A good choice, he noted, would be Rubio, the West Miami Republican expected to announce his candidacy within two weeks.

Although the first-term senator is in the top tier among the Beltway political class, he’s still in the single digits in polls of likely Republican primary voters. That means very little so early in the race. Then again, there are several Republicans with strong resumes who also are credible candidates.

Rubio, Ayres said, has the ability to be the one to break out of the pack.

“He’s substantive, he’s talented, and I am very confident that once the voters get the chance to see the kind of candidate he is – and the kind of vision he paints for the country – that they will place him in the top tier as well,” Ayres said.

Rubio has gifts in the political world that Ayres – who received a graduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – once saw in a Tar Heel legend.

“I loved watching Michael Jordan play basketball because he could just do things with a basketball that were not teachable – and were just instinctively amazing,” Ayres said. “Marco Rubio is the Michael Jordan of American politics. And anyone underestimates his ability at their peril.”

Medicaid expansion supporters strike back

One day after a conservative advocacy group sent out mailers attacking the senators who support Medicaid expansion, a coalition of business leaders released a video thanking the Senate for its "bold leadership and courage."

The group, a Healthy Florida Works, was instrumental in drafting the Senate's plan to expand healthcare coverage to nearly one million poor Floridians.

"As highlighted in the coalition’s new video, the Senate's comprehensive health care package will save the state billions, create good paying jobs and provide health care coverage to more than 800,000 Floridians," the group said in Tuesday press release.

The video will be blasted out on social media and will run in certain TV markets.


Cabinet hires RPOF's lawyer for Sunshine Law suit

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted Tuesday morning to hire Daniel Nordby and law firm Shutts & Bowen to represent them in a case alleging Sunshine Law violations — the same legal representation as the Republican Party of Florida.

Nordby has a history of representing Florida Republicans. From 2012-14, he was general counsel to the House of Representatives, a GOP-controlled body, and he represented the chamber during lawsuits over proposed redistricting plans.

Five law firms applied for the job to represent the governor and Cabinet — which includes Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — and they made a hiring decision just 10 minutes after starting the call. (Watch the full video on the Florida Channel here.)

Bondi recommended hiring Shutts and Bowen, citing the firm’s experience with state government.

“Dan (Nordby) and Jason Gonzalez have vast experience with state government,” she said. “I’m confident they will do a superb job on our behalf.”

Shutts & Bowen proposed a $275 per hour rate, which will be paid by taxpayers. In total, the Cabinet has budgeted $50,000 to spend on outside legal counsel to represent the group, not including any outside lawyers hired by the individual Cabinet officers.

Bondi said this rate was the lowest bid, one of two at that price. 

A survey of the proposals shows that’s mostly true. Two other firms — Foley & Lardner and Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson — offered a range of rates for various members of their teams, which spans $210-$305 and $110-$290, respectively.

The Cabinet has been sued by St. Petersburg lawyer Matt Weidner and most of the state’s news organizations — including the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald — in a case alleging that they violated the Sunshine Law in the forced resignation last December of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Hialeah mayor pleads 5th more than 30 times in ethics deposition, calling it a 'circus'

via @jayhweaver

Accused of lying to the public about his high-interest loans, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez told Miami-Dade County ethics officials in a recent deposition that their case against him was a “political witch hunt.”

Hernandez pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination more than 30 times as he was peppered with questions by a lawyer for the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. “I don’t want to be part of this circus,” the mayor responded repeatedly in his March 16 deposition.

The commission’s lawyer, Michael Murawski, grew so frustrated with the mayor that he urged a Miami-Dade circuit judge on Monday to hold Hernandez in “contempt” because he refused to answer questions about his series of exorbitant loans totaling $180,000 to a convicted Ponzi schemer.

Circuit Judge Bertila Soto stopped short of issuing a “show-cause” order requiring Hernandez to explain why he should not be held in contempt for repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment during his deposition. Soto said she understood the mayor’s “fear” that he could be caught in a “perjury” trap if he answered the questions, but also said the ethics commission had a right to hear his responses before he faces a civil ethics trial later this year.

More here.

BuzzFeed: The political education of Ted Cruz's father, who was once a pro-Fidel Castro student activist

From BuzzFeed:

Long before his son would run for president, or he himself would become a popular political speaker, Rafael Cruz was something else for a brief period: a pro-Castro student activist.

The story of Cruz’s departure from Cuba is an arduous story that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz, the newly-announced presidential candidate, tells often — a story his son referenced, at the beginning of his presidential announcement speech, as a tale of the “promise of America.”

As Rafael Cruz tells it: He was a teenager from Matanzas, Cuba, picked up by the secret police of the American-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. He was jailed, then tortured for days. The regime released Cruz, but only after threatening him with execution, and ostensibly so that they could spy on him in the hopes of finding more young revolutionaries.

After a fellow revolutionary threw cold water on his plans to join Castro’s guerrillas in the mountains, he says he fled to the United States after quickly being accepted at the University of Texas as a foreign student. 

More here.

Quinnipiac poll: Hillary Clinton less popular than she used to be in Florida


Hillary Clinton remains a formidable presidential candidate in Florida, but the Democrat's popularity has dropped in the nation's largest swing state after a controversy over her email use as U.S. secretary of state, a new poll found.

The public-opinion survey, by Quinnipiac University, found former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush edges Clinton 45-42 in a potential match-up -- essentially a tie, given the poll's error margin of 3 percentage points. Clinton tops Florida Sen. Marco Rubio 46-44, also a tie. Both Bush and Rubio are Republicans.

A single poll's results matter little this early in the 2016 presidential race -- so early that Bush, Clinton and Rubio have not even declared their candidacies. But each politician's popularity trend is noteworthy, and that's where Clinton is struggling a bit. The last Quinnipiac poll, released Feb. 3, showed Clinton topping Bush 44-43 and Rubio 49-39.

Since then, more Florida voters have learned about Clinton's exclusive use of private email as secretary of state. She deleted the emails from her personal server after turning over to the State Department the ones she and her staff deemed pertinent.

When asked if Clinton is honest and trustworthy, 50 percent of poll respondents said no, compared to 41 percent who said yes. Fifty-one percent called Clinton's email troubles very or somewhat important to their presidential choice, with 38 percent saying it would affect their vote and 56 percent saying it would not.

"The good news for Hillary Clinton is that the e-mail controversy has not done huge violence to her presidential chances. But the matter is taking a toll on the former secretary of state's public image," Peter A. Brown, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement.

Clinton is viewed favorably by 49 percent of respondents and negatively by 46 percent. That rating has fallen from 53-39 percent in February. Bush's is 47-42 percent, compared to 46-38 percent last month. 

Quinnipiac also surveyed two other crucial swing states. Clinton tops Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul 46-41 percent in Ohio, and Paul edges Clinton 45-44 percent in Pennsylvania. Paul has not yet announced his candidacy, either.

This post has been updated.

March 30, 2015

Florida House moves to reduce youth arrests

A Florida House panel on Monday gave its overwhelming support to a proposal seeking to reduce youth arrests by expanding civil citation programs.

"It appears to me that all across this state, people are realizing we should not criminalize, we should not have knee-jerk reactions and make arrests when there are more appropriate consequences," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Civil citation programs, which exist in 59 of Florida’s 67 counties, provide police officers with an alternative to arresting young people.

Under current law, officers can issue a civil citation or prescribe community service to young people who are first-time misdemeanor offenders. The proposal under consideration (HB 99) would extend the program to young people who have already been in trouble. It would also give officers the option to call the young person’s parent or give a verbal warning instead.

More here.

Legislators want for-profit HMOs to compete with non-profits for mental health

The data on Florida’s mental health problem tells the story: People whose mental illness goes untreated are more likely to be addicted to drugs, have children in the state’s child welfare system, draw unemployment checks, and land in prison.

The total cost to taxpayers is unknown but, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Florida ranks 49th in terms of per capita spending on mental health.

After another year of tragic headlines, Florida legislators have proposed at least 22 bills that make the most dramatic changes to the state’s mental health delivery system in decades.

The proposals would change everything from the way the mentally ill are treated by law enforcement, doctors, child welfare workers and courts to the way the state matches federal mental health money. If successful, the state also would get $40 million more in federal Medicaid funds to cover mental health services for uninsured Floridians.

But there is a catch: The reform effort would also end the system’s dependence on not-for-profit managed care providers and would open the door to for-profit managed care companies to compete for the $506 million in state business.

“We need to allow competition in the system,’’ said Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, who is sponsoring the House bill, HB 7119.

More here.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio back contentious Indiana law

via @lesleyclark

Republican presidential hopefuls are lining up behind a controversial Indiana law that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers by invoking religious freedom.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence did “the right thing” -- despite calls from some businesses to boycott the state over the law.

"This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to be able to be people of conscience," Bush said, suggesting the critics don’t know enough about the law. "I think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all."

Bush noted that Florida has a similar law and that President Bill Clinton signed a federal measure, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law in 1993. Some legal analysts, however, have noted that the Indiana law is more broadly written than most state laws or the federal law.

Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio also backed the law during an appearance on Fox News.

"Nobody is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation,” Rubio said. “I think that's a consensus view in America.” But Rubio asked whether a photographer should be “punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?"

The White House last week decried Pence’s decision to sign the legislation, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying that it “doesn't seem like it's a step in the direction of equality and justice and liberty for all Americans.”