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293 posts from April 2016

April 29, 2016

Scott, Atwater hire Altmaier as state insurance chief

Breaking an awkward political deadlock, Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater agreed Friday to promote deputy insurance commissioner David Altmaier to succeed his boss, Kevin McCarty as the state's powerful insurance regulator at the helm of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The choice was a surprise on a number of fronts. Altmaier, 34, has a degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky, was the last candidate interviewed in public, and is a former Republican who became a Democrat in 2014 and switched to no party affiliation on March 29, shortly after he sought a promotion from a Republican governor and all-Republican Cabinet.

With the start of the 2016 hurricane season a month away, the leadership of the insurance department in the nation's third-largest state will soon move into the hands of Altmaier, who has worked for OIR for five years and has two years experience as an insurance agent.

"This guy is impressive," Atwater told reporters after the vote. "He is going to perform very well."

Altmaier was Atwater's third choice. Atwater made the motion to hire Altmaier at $165,000 a year with McCarty staying on for a 60-day transition period. McCarty, the only person to hold the post since its creation in 2003, offered to delay his departure to ensure that his successor has a steady transition. Scott rejected McCarty's offer but the governor relented Friday and agreed to the unusual arrangement under which Florida will have two insurance commissioners for a time. 

At a special meeting called by Scott, the governor and Cabinet members interviewed three new finalists for the job. All three candidates work for McCarty: chief actuary Eric Johnson and deputy commissioners Rich Robleto and Altmaier.

Atwater offered the post to Rep. Bill Hager, but no one seconded it. Atwater offered the post to McCarty's chief of staff, Belinda Miller, but Scott did not go along. Atwater moved to appoint Altmaier, which was quickly approved.

Only Atwater was physically present in the Capitol to make eye-to-eye contact and judge the candidates in person. The other three officials participated by phone.

By law, Scott and Atwater must agree on the choice of an insurance commissioner, who is hired with the support of at least one other Cabinet member. The other Cabinet members who supported Altmaier are Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.


Broward GOP chair apologizes for Monica Lewinsky remark

Broward GOP chair Bob Sutton sent a statement this morning apologizing for his comment about Monica Lewinsky

Sutton told the Washington Post that Democrat Hillary Clinton would be easy to defeat in a debate.

How easy?

“I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky,” he said in an article about campaign gender wars.

"In an effort to show my enthusiasm for defeating Hillary Clinton this November I made a statement that was both unnecessary and inappropriate. I sincerely apologize for anyone that I may have offended. I look forward to returning to talking about the issues facing our nation."

Several members of the Broward Republican Executive Committee said Sutton's comments were offensive. Read our full story about that here.

April 28, 2016

The back story on Marco Rubio's deal to extend Venezuela sanctions and name a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico



It happened with little fanfare Thursday: The U.S. Senate agreed to three more years of sanctions against key officials of the Venezuelan government, a law pushed by South Florida legislators to punish President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The extension passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. The back story of how it happened, however, is far more interesting than the easy vote suggests.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor Wednesday to ask his colleagues to extend the 2014 sanctions, co-sponsored with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and set to expire at the end of this year. The law lets the U.S. freeze assets and deny visas for Venezuelan officials deemed responsible for violence and political arrests that roiled the South American country in 2014. It prompted Maduro and his government to brand Menendez, Rubio and other South Florida lawmakers “terrorists” and ban them from Venezuela.

“Because the Maduro regime continues to violate human rights and expand its political oppression, the U.S. must continue doing our part to address this growing crisis in Venezuela,” Rubio said in a statement late Thursday. “The Maduro regime’s abuses of power and violations of human rights are hurting innocent people in our hemisphere and threaten the national security interests of the United States, and we have a responsibility to stand with the Venezuelan people by extending these sanctions.”

The extended sanctions became part of a four-part deal that resulted in the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Here’s what took place, according to a Senate aide who briefed the Miami Herald:

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench


President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University





Broward GOP chair Bob Sutton in hot water over Monica Lewinsky comment

In a presidential election in which the Republican frontrunner commented on the size of his — well, you know — Broward’s GOP chairman has taken the level of discourse to a new low.

Bob Sutton, chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee, told the Washington Postthat Democrat Hillary Clinton would be easy to defeat in a debate.

How easy?

“I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky,” he said in an article about campaign gender wars.

Sutton’s quote set off a flurry of phone calls and emails between Broward Republican activists who felt his comments were in poor taste.

“I’m getting a lot of phone calls right now. A lot of women are very offended,” said Dolly T. Rump, an activist and Trump supporter who lives in Coral Springs. “It’s very distasteful to a lot of women.”

Sutton’s comment showed poor judgment, said Lauren Cooley, a 23-year-old Fort Lauderdale Republican who lost the chair race to Sutton last year.

Keep reading here.

Donald Trump says Castro's snub of Obama at airport was 'without precendent'

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said President Barack Obama had been disrespected during his recent trip to Cuba -- the first visit by a sitting president since 1928, as well as a landmark step in the evolving relationship between bitter Cold War enemies.

"Our rivals no longer respect us," Trump said during a major foreign policy speech on April 27, 2016. "In fact, they're just as confused as our allies, but in an even bigger problem is they don't take us seriously anymore. The truth is they don't respect us. When President Obama landed in Cuba on Air Force One, no leader was there, nobody, to greet him -- perhaps an incident without precedent in the long and prestigious history of Air Force One."

He sent this tweet the same day Obama landed in Cuba:

Is Trump right that this is an unprecedented snub? After checking with diplomatic and presidential historians, we found that Trump has a point, but his claim is far from airtight.

See what Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact found and check out Trump's Truth-O-Meter record.

John Boehner lets it rip on Ted Cruz: 'Lucifer in the flesh'


In retirement, John Boehner feels free to speak his mind. 

The former House speaker told a Stanford University audience Wednesday that presidential Republican candidate Ted Cruz is "Lucifer in the flesh."

"I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life," Boehner said, according to The Stanford Daily.

The Ohio Republican's contempt toward Cruz is well known, stemming from a 2013 government shutdown backed by the Texas senator. In a fundraiser, Boehner once referred to Cruz as a "jackass."

Meanwhile, Boehner described his relationship with front-runner and fellow golfer Donald Trump as one between "texting buddies."

Asked about Boehner's remarks, Cruz told reporters while campaigning in Indiana that the former speaker let his "inner Trump come out."

"John Boehner in his remarks described Donald Trump as his texting and golfing buddy," Cruz said. "So if you want someone that's a texting and golfing buddy, if you're happy with John Boehner as speaker of the House and you want a president like John Boehner, Donald Trump is your man."

This post has been updated.

Clash between Scott, Atwater on insurance job builds to climax

A clash of wills between Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater over choosing Florida’s next insurance commissioner threatens to come to a head Friday.

Nearly four months after Kevin McCarty announced his resignation as the state’s chief insurance regulator, Scott and Atwater cannot agree on a successor, as state law requires. The two Republican leaders also can’t even agree on whether McCarty’s job will be vacant next Monday, his initial resignation date.

“We are going to have a new insurance commissioner May 2,” Scott told reporters in Tampa Thursday -- but Atwater rejects Scott’s timetable.

Scott and the Cabinet will interview three more candidates Friday at special meeting called by the governor for 9 a.m. at the Capitol. Neither he nor at least two of the three Cabinet members will physically be present. With Scott determined to hire McCarty’s replacement by Friday, the four officials will convene by phone from four different locations, and candidates will be interviewed by speakerphone with no face-to-face contact.

Scott interviewed two of the candidates in person in Tampa Thursday. Both are deputy commissioners who report to McCarty.

Rich Robleto, 65, rejoined the agency in 2014 after seven years as executive director of Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which provides health insurance to children. Robleto said his minimum acceptable salary is $200,000, the maximum available.

David Altmaier, 34, joined the agency in 2008, has held a variety of posts and currently directs financial oversight of property and casualty insurance companies. He said his minimum acceptable salary is $180,000.

Atwater suggested a third new candidate: Eric Johnson, 33, who joined the insurance office five years ago and has been the chief actuary for the past 13 months, reporting to Robleto. Johnson, who has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Florida State, said he would accept a minimum salary of $185,000.

Rick Scott on CNBC: 'I don't think the minimum wage is going away'


Gov. Rick Scott doesn't like a higher minimum wage. He made that clear this week when he announced radio ads in California ahead of his trade mission to that state, which will raise its wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2022.

But does he think there should be a minimum wage?

Asked twice in a CNBC interview Thursday, he wouldn't say.

"I don't think the minimum wage is going away," Scott offered.

In Florida, the minimum wage is $8.05, and state law pegs it to inflation, so it theoretically increases each year. It did not change from 2015 to 2016.

In addition to chatting about paychecks, Scott answered a few other questions.

On the fact that few elected officials have endorsed Donald Trump, Scott's own choice for president: "He's got the fewest endorsements, but he's got the votes."

On Carly Fiorina, who was on Wednesday announced as Sen. Ted Cruz's pick for vice president, he said he's met the former Hewlett Packard executive once. "She seemed like a very nice person. This election is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. … We've got to stop trying to stop Trump. All that's going to do is help Hillary."

And on the differences between running a business and running a government: "You do have more media ... You’ve got Congress. In my case, I have a legislature."

Former Miami-Dade mayor appears in court after battery charge

AMA29 Alvarez news rk

via @DavidOvalle305

In a sight that would have been unthinkable five years ago, former Miami-Dade mayor and top cop Carlos Alvarez appeared in court Thursday shackled and dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, charged with violently grabbing his ex-girlfriend and spitting at her.

Alvarez, 63, made his first appearance in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. He will be released from jail later Thursday after posting a $1,500 bond for the misdemeanor battery charge. He must also stay away from firearms.

“I don’t own any guns,” the former Miami-Dade police director told the judge.

He was also ordered to stay away Evelyn Fernandez, his longtime companion with whom he has had a tumultuous relationship in recent years. His arrest Wednesday was a startling development for a former politician who has kept a largely low profile since he was booted from office in a stunning recall vote in 2011.

His defense lawyer, Douglas Hartman, told reporters that Alvarez will fight the allegations and — suggested that Fernandez is the true aggressor, showing up at his home repeatedly.

“He denies everything,” Hartman said.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald