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293 posts from April 2016

April 30, 2016

Responding to congressional HIV questions, state points to website


Interim state Surgeon General Celeste Philip on Friday responded to a letter from 11 members of Congress demanding an explanation of how Florida changed its count of new HIV cases.

The members of Congress, which include Republicans and Democrats from across the state, wrote to Gov. Rick Scott earlier this week asking about why the Florida Department of Health revised the number of new infections reported in 2014 from 6,147 to 4,613.

That 25-percent change was much larger than adjustments made in recent years, a Tampa Bay Times analysis found. It was made as the state faced criticism for a spike in HIV cases, particularly in South Florida, which led the nation for new infections.

Philip directed the members of Congress to the HIV Data Center, a website launched Thursday that explains the basics of a process known as "de-duplication." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she wrote, comb through data reported from every state and try to identify possible duplicate cases, but the states are ultimately responsible for ensuring their case numbers are accurate.

She also said she is "happy to sit down and more closely explore the data with you at any time."

However, Philip did not provide details requested by the members of Congress about how the Department of Health's process for removing duplicate cases has changed, or specifics about how each infection was reclassified or removed.

The Times has been asking for this information since March and has not received an answer either.

A spike in reported HIV cases was among the reasons Surgeon General John Armstrong was not confirmed by the Florida Senate earlier this year. In the aftermath of Times reporting on the state's revised data, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, called for a federal investigation.

April 29, 2016

Here are the most vulnerable seats in Florida's congressional delegation

via the Tampa Bay Times' @loujacobson

For the fourth straight election cycle, the Buzz is publishing periodic rankings of the most vulnerable seats in Florida's U.S. House delegation, which includes 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats. This is our first attempt to compile rankings since June 2015 -- and a lot has happened since then.

Thanks to newly redrawn district lines, an open U.S. Senate seat that attracted U.S. House members from both parties, a smattering of retirements, and some primary challenges to incumbents, nearly half of Florida's seats in the U.S. House - 13 out of 27 - are in some type of flux this year.

Despite the delegation's current volatility, though, only a few seats are actually at risk for a party switch in November -- the criteria we use for inclusion this list. Here are the seats we're keeping an eye on, in descending order by how vulnerable the incumbent party is to losing the seat on Election Day.

Continue reading "Here are the most vulnerable seats in Florida's congressional delegation" »

Florida's insurance commissioner: the most important person in state government most people don't know

McCarty by Cohn BandIt is the most powerful job in state government most people can’t name.

Florida’s insurance commissioner has the unfettered ability to affect the cost of living in the state. From the property insurance policy of every homeowner, to the workers’ compensation plans of every employer, to millions of automobile, life insurance, medical malpractice and health care claims, the insurance commissioner has the final say on how much those rates will rise, and how much they fall — if at all.

The 262-person Office of Insurance Regulation touches nearly every aspect of life in Florida, from birth to death. It acts as the state’s financial sleuth, deciding if every one of those companies is financially sound enough to take on new customers, and when they are troubled enough to be shut down.

And with the stroke of a pen — and within the confines of the policies written by the Florida Legislature — the commissioner has the final say on which losses customers will pay — and which ones insurance companies must reimburse.

For the last 13 years, the job has been held by Kevin McCarty, a 27-year state bureaucrat, lawyer and graduate of the University of Florida, who steered Florida’s complex insurance market past so many obstacles he has become one of the most recognized experts in managing catastrophe in the country.

On Tuesday, McCarty, 57, will officially retire from the agency, to be replaced by David Altmaier, 34, McCarty’s deputy commissioner for Property Casualty Insurance. But for the last four months, the two Cabinet officials who by law must agree on McCarty’s successor — Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — were locked in an unprecedented feud over whose candidate will replace him.

The standoff underscored the political potency of the job, which not only impacts people’s pocketbooks but is a crucial cog in the state’s economic engine. More here.

Photo: Kevin McCarty, Florida Insurance Commissioner at a Miami Herald editorial board meeting, July 9, 2009. MARICE COHN BAND Miami Herald file photo

Marco Rubio warming up to Donald Trump

via @learyreports

Note: We've revised the "let's not divide the party" section of this blog to provide more context and to correct an implication that Rubio was directly making that point.

Marco Rubio appears to be warming up to Donald Trump, saying Friday his “performance has improved significantly." Rubio has also continued to withold an endorsement of Ted Cruz, even though he previously praised him as the conservative in the race.

Last Sunday on Univision, Rubio said it appeared Trump will lock down the nomination.

"If he keeps winning delegates like he did the other night in New York, I think he's going to reach that number," Rubio said on Al Punto Florida. "But let's see. There are still other states to go."

Rubio, who continues to hold onto more than 100 delegates, has said he disagreed with Trump about the delegate system being "rigged." But Rubio did echo the argument that if Trump is close to 1,237 delegates, he should get the nod.

“I do think it's valid to argue to delegates: 'Look, let’s not divide the party. You have someone here who has all these votes, very close to get 1,237, let’s not ignore the will of the people or they’re going to be angry.' And delegates may decide that on that reason they decide to vote for Donald Trump. But if they don’t, it’s not illegitimate in any way,” he told Miami radio host Jimmy Cefalo on April 20. "That's why we elect delegates. That's the meaning of being a delegate, is choosing a nominee that can win."

“I’ve always said I’m going to support the Republican nominee, and that’s especially true now that it’s apparent that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic candidate,” Rubio said. "My differences with Donald Trump are well documented ... ."

On the Saturday before Florida's March 15 primary Rubio was less certain about supporting Trump. "I don't know," he told the Miami Herald, his voice breaking. "Getting harder every day."

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to speak at FAMU graduation


U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the commencement addresses at Florida A&M University on Saturday.

King will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, while Putnam is scheduled to speak at the 2 p.m. ceremony. More than 1,200 students are graduating from FAMU this spring.

The ceremonies will be held at the Al Lawson Jr. Multi-Purpose Center on FAMU's campus in Tallahassee and be broadcast live online.

King was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to be the nation's top education official.

Putnam, a Republican and former U.S. congressman, was first elected in 2010 as state agriculture commissioner. He is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2018.

Ron DeSantis super PAC's big donors: backers of Koch brothers, Karl Rove


A super PAC supporting Republican Ron DeSantis for the U.S. Senate is stockpiling cash -- and much of it is coming from the major donors to national conservative groups.

Of the $1.2 million raised by Fighting for Florida Fund since last August, more than $1 million has come from just three donors:

* $350,000 from John Childs, chairman of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates.

* $200,000 from Robert Mercer, a financial consultant.

* $500,000 from Spring Bay Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm in Ponte Vedra Beach, DeSantis' hometown.

Childs is a prolific donor to major conservative super PACs. Since 2010, he has given more than $8 million to groups like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners Action Fund and Club for Growth, a conservative group that has endorsed DeSantis.

Mercer, who lives in New York, is a major contributor to Club for Growth, American Crossroads and to Keep the Promise, which supports Ted Cruz for president. In total, he's given more than $29 million to conservative super PACs.

Spring Bay has contributed only to Fighting for Florida Fund.

Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited funds to support or oppose candidates, but they cannot coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

No other super PAC in the crowded race to replace Sen. Marco Rubio has had that degree of large-donor support.

Outside of Fighting for Florida Fund, the largest contribution to a super PAC in Florida's Senate race is $300,000 given by Coastal Construction to Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, which backs Democrat Patrick Murphy. The Miami-based company is run by Murphy's father.

Among Republicans, Reform Washington, which supports Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has received $200,000 from Rubio backer Norman Braman. FloridAmerican Conservatives, the David Jolly super PAC, brought in $100,000 from Miguel Fernandez, who heavily funded Jeb Bush's failed presidential run. Carlos Beruff's super PAC hasn't received donations yet.

Two candidates, Republican defense contractor Todd Wilcox and Murphy's main Democratic opponent, Alan Grayson, do not have super PACs.

Meet Hillary Clinton's new Florida campaign director

via @adamsmithtimes

Simone Ward, former national political director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, will be the Hillary Clinton campaign's new Florida State Director, overseeing efforts to deliver the state's 27 electoral votes to the former first lady.

She is a well-regarded veteran of Democratic campaigns, having worked worked previously as campaign manager for Natalie Tennant's Senate campaign in West Virginia and everal positions at the Democratic National Committee, including Director of African American Outreach and then National Constituency Director. She was campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Mikulski in Maryland in 2010, and before that worked for Planned Parenthood and EMILY's List.

Her selection is something of a departure from Barack Obama's Florida campaign hires in that Ward has little experience in Florida that we know of. Obama in 2008 hired Steve Schale as his Florida campaign director and in 2012 hired Ashley Walker.

The Clinton campaign has held off an announcing general election campaign hires while focusing on the primary, but the primary is no longer in doubt after Clinton's recent wins.

Marco Rubio to speak at Hialeah business charter school's inaugural commencement


Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is scheduled to give the commencement address next month at the inaugural graduation ceremony for a Hialeah charter school run by the Latin Builders Association.

The Latin Builders Association Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School -- also known as LBA Academy -- touts itself as the first business charter high school in the U.S.

Rubio is a former director of the LBA. He previously praised the school during a national summit two years ago as an example of the opportunities charter schools and other "school choice" programs can provide. The school, which opened in 2012, educates its students in the construction trades and teaches them how to become future business leaders.

The former GOP presidential candidate will deliver his remarks at 9:30 a.m. May 23 at the academy's graduation ceremony, to be held on FIU's Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

Other elected officials and Miami-Dade County Public School officials also are expected in attendance.

Bill Clinton touts Hillary at closed Tallahassee fundraiser


It looks like Bill Clinton brought in a good chunk of cash for his wife's presidential campaign Friday morning in North Florida.

About 200 people showed up for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser at the Tallahassee home of Florida Democratic Party chair Allison Tant and trial lawyer Barry Richard, where the former president spoke. At $500 a person -- or $2,700, the legal maximum, for a photo -- that adds up quickly.

The campaign did not allow reporters in to the event, and attendees were instructed not to record it.

But in a 30-minute outdoor speech, the former president reportedly touted the would-be president's experience, know-how and vision for the future, pivoting toward a general election where Clinton is likely to faceDonald Trump, the Republican frontrunner.

Among those in attendance were Tant (of course) and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who spoke before Clinton. State Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, whose district is to the south of Tant's home was there, as was Loranne Ausley, who's running for the House in another Tallahassee district.

Florida has become a favorite spot for the Clinton campaign to send the former president, who was himself a Southern governor in Arkansas. Last month, he held a campaign rally -- this one open to the public -- at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, and he's spending the rest of the day Friday at similar closed fundraising events

This afternoon, Bill Clinton will be at the home of Nancy and Chuck Parish in Sarasota, and he ends the day at superlawyer/big Democratic fundraiser John Morgan's home in Heathrow.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro to speak at Miami Dade College graduation

Julián Castro, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will speak at Miami Dade College graduation Saturday at the Wolfson and Hialeah Campuses.

Castro is a former mayor of San Antonio and among the speculated names for Hillary Clinton's vice presidential pick. Castro keynoted the 2012 Democratic convention.

Other speakers include Manny Medina, e-Merge founder, entrepreneur, and MDC alumnus at the InterAmerican and Homestead Campuses ceremony; Dr. Mark Everett, newly-appointed MDC’s Medical Campus President who will be speaking to graduates at the Medical Campus ceremony; Mr. Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Kendall Campus ceremony; and the Honorable Mr. Jean Monestime, chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission, at the closing ceremony for North and West Campuses graduates.