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272 posts from December 2015

December 30, 2015

Corrine Brown files new challenge to congressional district changes

From the News Service of Florida:

Arguing that an east-west configuration for her district "combines far-flung communities worlds apart culturally and geographically," lawyers for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown asked a federal judge Tuesday to void Florida's latest congressional redistricting plan.

The complaint marks the next phase of a legal battle over the state's political boundaries that has raged for nearly four years. The first two drafts of a congressional plan --- approved by the Legislature in 2012 and tweaked in 2014 --- were thrown out by state courts for violating a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.

But the reorientation of Brown's congressional district, which has long ambled from Jacksonville to Orlando but now would run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west, prompted the Democratic congresswoman to file suit this year against the change. After the Florida Supreme Court officially approved the new district early this month, Brown was allowed to update her case Tuesday.

The challenge goes to great lengths to portray the areas encompassed by the Jacksonville-to-Orlando version of the district as a distinct region that includes African-American voters with similar interests and problems. It traces a history that includes the Ku Klux Klan, baseball player Jackie Robinson's spring training and the book "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Dozens of voters from the area joined Brown's lawsuit.

"Black voters have reaped substantial benefits by being in a district in which they can elect a candidate of their choice, including having a representative who understands the needs of the community she represents, brings infrastructure money to the district, helps black residents obtain government contracts, brings job fairs to the district, and is very accessible to her constituents," the complaint says.

Brown's Jacksonville-to-Orlando seat has long been at the center of conflicts in Florida over gerrymandered districts. Critics see it as an attempt to aid Republican campaigns, especially those in Central Florida, by concentrating African-American Democratic voters in a single district. But supporters say it ensures those voters the chance to elect a candidate of their choice.

Continue reading "Corrine Brown files new challenge to congressional district changes" »

After two months, Alan Grayson's U.S. Senate campaign fixes botched disclosure



U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has fixed his most recent campaign finance disclosure with the Federal Elections Commission almost two months after his Senate campaign incorrectly reported 2,300 donations from a Chicago retiree who hadn't actually contributed a dime to his bid for higher office.

Grayson's campaign in October told the Herald/Times a software glitch was the reason Jacqueline Kirley's name was associated with more than $37,000 in contributions to the Orlando Democrat and that the campaign had already started working to fix its report for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

But the error took two months to resolve. Campaign staff wanted to be doubly sure there were no further problems that would need correcting, Grayson spokesman David Damron said this week.

"We had to have the software company fix the initial glitch, and they corrected the errors, and then we checked the report over a few times to assure accurate final numbers," Damron said.

FEC records show the amended report was sent by overnight delivery on Dec. 17, a day after a Herald/Times reporter inquired with the campaign about the status of the corrected disclosure.

Grayson is running against fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith in the contentious Democratic primary for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat. Four Republicans are running in the GOP primary.

Continue reading "After two months, Alan Grayson's U.S. Senate campaign fixes botched disclosure" »

In Miami-Dade County, could it be Jean Monestime for mayor?


Updated: 2:46 p.m.

Florida Democrats are helping plan a campaign announcement next week for Jean Monestime, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, to kick-off his run for county mayor in 2016, according to multiple sources. 

It's not known whether Monestime, a Democrat, has actually decided to challenge incumbent Mayor Carlos Gimenez. But the possibility is serious enough that preparations are being made for an announcement event that would mark a successful effort by state Democrats to recruit a party standard-bearer to run against Miami-Dade's senior county-level Republican. 

The announcement planning was confirmed by three Democratic sources, including one who spoke to Monestime this week. No date has been picked, but the idea is to hold it Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. The source who spoke to Monestime said he plans to run. The two-term commissioner did not respond to an interview request Wednesday. 

Planning for a kick-off next week would still give Monestime the holiday weekend to make a final decision on whether to enter the most high-profile race in local politics. 

The original post, with more background, is below:

Jean Monestime, Miami-Dade's commission chairman, is being heavily courted by state Democrats to challenge Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2016, according to several sources close to the talks. 

The first Haitian-American to hold the chairman's post, Monestime would bring the backing of the Democratic Party to an officially non-partisan race that's currently between two Hispanic Republicans: Gimenez and Raquel Regalado, a two-term school board member and the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

Monestime did not respond to an interview request Wednesday morning, but the sources close to the talks said the two-term county commissioner has been approached by Democratic leaders about the 2016 mayoral race in a broader effort to recruit local candidates for the party's Municipal Victory effort statewide.

Monestime is described as seriously considering the possibility. His potential candidacy comes after a tense year that saw him at odds with the Gimenez administration, particularly on the mayor's plan to legalize the Uber ride-hailing service. 

A mayoral bid would be a huge gamble for Monestime, since the state's "resign-to-run" would require him to surrender his commission seat at the end of 2016. But state Democrats are laying out a "path to victory" for Monestime, according to the sources, given the expected flood of Democratic votes in Miami-Dade from a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and his perceived ability to consolidate and energize the county's black vote. 

Continue reading "In Miami-Dade County, could it be Jean Monestime for mayor? " »

Facebook post accuses Ted Yoho of wanting to strip blacks of voting rights

A viral image on Facebook falsely accused U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., of saying black Americans should only have three-fifths of a vote.

A curious reader pointed us to the image, which reads: "This guy is Republican Florida Representative Ted Yoho who said this week that African Americans should only be given three-fifths of a vote. He is an elected member of Congress and he actually said that… OUT LOUD. You stay classy Florida."

We looked into it and found that there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Republican congressman said that. It appears that the meme’s creator was duped by a satirical website.

We learned the image was from a Facebook user in California named Mark Kusler, who based it on a story on Politicalo.com. The website posts some real news, but it also posts satirical stories with exaggerated content. The site includes a "Show Facts" button that allow readers to highlight which parts of their stories are true and which are not.

But the viral image — which has been shared more than 3,000 times — does not say any part of its message is untrue. So what’s the real story?

Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

December 29, 2015

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Donald Trump claims were in Top 10 for PolitiFact Florida

Jeb and Marco at CNBC

Florida was center stage in the national political scene this year as several state residents ran for president.

PolitiFact Florida’s most popular fact-checks of 2015 stemmed from statements made by -- or about -- presidential candidates, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former Gov. Jeb Bush, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. The central topics of the fact-checks were guns, immigration and a high-profile nuclear agreement with Iran.

Here were the top 10 items of the year counting down to the most popular.

Marco Rubio PAC produces video showing Jeb Bush praising Rubio

In Florida politics, 2015 will be remembered for the battle between U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

A Rubio PAC, Conservative Solutions, produced a video that highlights how Bush used to praise his mentee Rubio. From the video:

"Where did Jeb Bush lose support? Everywhere," states a quote in the Wall Street Journal. "Trailing in the polls Jeb Bush is attack Marco Rubio. Here is what Jeb Bush used to say about Marco Rubio..."

The video then pivots to clips of Bush gushing about Rubio with comments such as "I am his friend and he is mine. And I'm never going to disparage him" and "he's probably the most articulate conservative elected official on the scene today."

Agency head Gov. Scott aimed to replace announces resignation


The head of the Florida Department of Revenue, whom Gov. Rick Scott announced almost a year ago he was aiming to replace, has announced he’s leaving his position for a job in Washington D.C.

Marshall Stranburg, executive director at the Department or Revenue, said in a letter to Scott and the other three independently elected members of the Florida Cabinet that he is resigning effective April 1, 2016 after what will have been almost 4 years leading the agency. The head of the Department of Revenue reports to Scott and the rest of the cabinet, which also will be charged with selecting Stranburg’s replacement.

Stranburg is leaving to become deputy executive director of the Multistate Tax Commission in Washington, D.C., the News Service of Florida reported on Tuesday.

Stranburg was one of three agency heads that Scott said 11 months ago he wanted to replace after he led a controversial effort to remove Gerald Bailey, the long-time commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That resulted in a dustup with other members of the Cabinet who questioned how Scott handled Bailey’s removal and how it was conveyed to them.

Besides Stransburg, Scott said then he also wanted to replace two other Cabinet-level agencies leaders Drew Breakspear at the Office of Financial Regulation and Kevin McCarty, the head of Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation since 2003. Both Breakspear and McCarty still hold those positions.

Education board vice-chairman proposes alternative school grades formulas


State Board of Education Vice-Chairman John Padget says a new formula proposed by Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to calculate school grades doesn't meet the "high standard" lawmakers asked for, so he's proposing three alternatives of his own.

The board is scheduled to decide a new school grading formula, as well as cut scores for the new Florida Standards Assessments, during its meeting Jan. 6.

How school grades are calculated is important, in part, because the Department of Education uses those grades to dole out school recognition dollars. In 2014, $124.1 million went to high-performing schools across Florida.

Under Stewart's proposed rule, released earlier this month, schools would need to earn only 62 percent of possible points in order to receive an "A" grade. Schools would get a "C" if they received between 41 and 53 percent. A simulation the Department of Education produced showed that the distribution of school grades under her new formula would be largely unchanged from 2014 to 2015.

In a letter to Stewart and the rest of the state board on Monday, Padget said "it is disingenuous to expect the same results" when the Florida Standards Assessments -- student performance for which is one of the factors in determining school grades -- are supposed to be more rigorous.

Padget also criticized Stewart's proposed formula as "not user-friendly" because the difference in percentage points between grades varies and the bar isn't set high enough for schools to receive good grades.

"The bar to be a top-rated 'A' school should be challenging, meaningful and higher than the 62 percent in the proposed rule," he wrote. He also took issue that schools with a score of less than 50 percent could get a "C," which state law defines as "making satisfactory progress."

"A simple, transparent, and logical A-F scale is a precondition to ensuring that our Board of Education delivers the result that the Legislature intended," Padget wrote.

He provided his fellow board members with three alternative formulas to consider in advance of the January meeting. The one he said he personally favors -- "Option 1" -- would set the benchmark for an "A" grade at 70 or above, with 10 percentage points separating A's from B's, B's from C's, etc., and all "C" schools would score 50 percent or higher.

Padget is also resisting Stewart's recommended cut scores, because he says they aren't tough enough. On that issue, some board members appear ready to side with Stewart.

Here's Padget's letter to the board:  Download JRPletter28Dec15

And here are the options he's presenting in more detail:  Download GradingScaleOptions123

Marco Rubio-Rand Paul immigration brawl led to this question for PolitiFact: what is the citizenship status of terrorists?

Republican presidential candidates sparred over immigration during the 2015 primary debates, and in recent months, they linked that topic to terrorism. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul went back and forth over the issues in a Las Vegas debate on Dec. 15.

Paul accused Rubio of being soft on immigration, and hence soft on terrorism.

"The thing is, is that every terrorist attack we've had since 9/11 has been legal immigration. Marco wants to expand that," Paul said. "I want more rules, more scrutiny. And to defend the country, you have to defend the border."

Paul’s point, his staff said, was that the terrorist attacks caused by immigrants were carried out by people who came here legally.

Paul’s phrasing about the citizenship status of terrorists was confusing, so we decided not to rate it on our Truth-O-Meter. But we did want to look at the facts about the citizenship of terrorists who’ve attacked since Sept. 11, 2001.

We looked at three different databases to find information on the citizenship status of terrorists: the New America Foundation, Ohio State University and University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism database.

See what PolitiFact found.

Can 91 percent of suspected terrorists who try to buy guns succeed as Patrick Murphy says?

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy joined other Democrats in demanding the House take up a bill that would keep people on the FBI’s watch list from buying guns, saying far too many people on the list have been allowed to get firearms.

Murphy tweeted a graphic on Dec. 8, 2015, claiming that "91 percent of suspected terrorists who attempted to buy guns in America walked away with the weapon they wanted."

His tweet came after Republicans repeatedly blocked a bill that would keep people on the FBI list from buying guns. In an unusual procedural move, Murphy and other Democrats signed a petition to bring the bill to the House floor, but it currently doesn’t have the required 218 signatures for further action. The Senate earlier in December struck down a similar bill.

We were curious if Murphy was right to say that 91 percent of suspected terrorists looking to buy guns were able to get one. Our research showed that is accurate by the best available estimates, but there are some caveats about the watch list we should keep in mind.

Murphy, of Jupiter, is running in the Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando for the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated this statement.