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162 posts from December 2016

December 30, 2016

Florida Democratic Party chair forum set in Broward



The drama of the race to lead the Florida Democratic Party will travel to left-leaning Broward when the candidates convene at a forum in Pompano Beach Jan. 11.

Wealthy donor/developer Stephen Bittel, activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola Democratic chair Leah Carius have all confirmed they will attend, said Tim Canova, one of the organizers. The forum gives Democratic activists in Broward -- the county with the highest number of registered Democrats -- a chance to hear how the candidates hope to reinvigorate the party after its crushing defeat in November with an eye toward 2018 races for Senate and governor.

But ultimately, the opinion of only two Democrats in Broward matter -- state committeeman Ken Evans and committeewoman Grace Carrington -- who get a powerful vote in the chair election in Orlando Jan. 14th.

Evans said he hasn't decided who he will vote for but said he will base his decision on who Broward Democrats coalesce around. Carrington said in a text to the Miami Herald "I'm not making my decision until 10 minutes before the vote."

Votes are weighted based on the number of registered Democrats in each county which means that Broward and Miami-Dade get a major say in the chair election to replace Allison Tant.

Chair candidates have been racing around the state meeting with Democratic leaders who get a vote and other activists who will try to sway the vote.

One of the key organizers of the Pompano forum is Progress for All, a group headed by former Congressional candidate Canova who lost the Democratic primary to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Canova said he hasn't backed any candidate so far. 

The race for Florida Democratic Party chair has been full of drama. Weeks ago, it appeared that Bittel, a wealthy donor and Coconut Grove developer, was the frontrunner when other key candidates failed to become eligible in their own counties. In Miami-Dade, Bret Berlin won a state committeeman seat and then quickly resigned to make way for Bittel to run for the post, a prerequisite to running statewide. Bittel beat Bullard 250-161.

It appeared that Bullard had given up -- he didn't show up for his own election because he was on a family cruise. But then he revived his bid by moving to Gadsden County, a small rural county in northern Florida, where he won a state committeeman spot Tuesday. 

Bullard was the second candidate to move to keep his candidacy alive: after Clendenin lost in Hillsborough County, he moved into a rented trailer in Bradford County and won a similar post there.  








Justice Perry on lingering racism in Florida and the justice system: lynching and the death penalty

James-E-C-Perry-APJustice James E.C. Perry nestled a box of mementos under his arm, pulled his black robe off the hook in his Tallahassee office overlooking a grove of live oak trees, and left his corner office in Florida’s Supreme Court for the last time two weeks ago.

Perry’s nearly eight-year career on the state’s highest court ends Friday. He is forced to retire because, at 72, he has reached Florida’s mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices.

The trail-blazing child of Jim Crow segregation, describes his time on the bench simply: “I kept it real,” he says with a characteristic belly laugh.

He leaves with no regrets and plenty to say. One of his last acts on the court was to author a blistering dissent in a seminal death penalty ruling last week in the case of Mark James Asay. As the court majority upheld the death penalty in dozens of cases prior to 2002, Perry declared that it was an uneven and “discriminatory” application of capital punishment and left the state’s constitutional protections to “little more than a roll of the dice.”

I no longer believe that there is a method of which the State can avail itself to impose the death penalty in a constitutional manner,” Perry wrote in a 10-page dissent.

In many ways, the proclamation was not only a parting shot at one of the most vexing issues before the court, but the culmination of a career by someone shaped in an era he calls “apartheid America” who continues to be pelted by the arrows of racism today.

“There’s a reason the people who led the nation in lynching of black people also lead in electrocutions,” Perry said in an interview with the Herald/Times. “There’s a nexus there.” Story here. 

Top photo: Associated Press; bottom: Perry on his last day in his office in the Florida Supreme Court building. He retires today. By Mary Ellen Klas

December 29, 2016

PolitiFact Florida: Top 10 viewed fact-checks in 2016



Donald Trump’s wealth and Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State were some of the contentious topics in 2016 that fueled our most clicked-on fact-checks at PolitiFact Florida.

Also fueling our Truth-O-Meter were statements by two of Florida’s Republican presidential primary opponents -- former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio-- as well as former Democratic National Committee chair U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But it was a story about race and murder statistics that we wrote in 2015 hat drew the most clicks in 2016. Our story explained that FBI data shows that whites usually kill whites, and blacks usually kill blacks. In recent years, these statistics have repeatedly drawn interest in the aftermath of high-profile shooting deaths in which race was a factor.

Here’s a look at the most-clicked on fact-checks and articles we published in 2016 from PolitiFact Florida.

Will a President Trump change NASA’s Mars goals? Sen. Bill Nelson says no


NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a sloping hillside within the "Murray Buttes" region on Mars. (IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS)


Turmoil with Russia and uncertainty with how Donald Trump will “refocus” the U.S. space program is having no effect on NASA’s goal of getting humans to Mars, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is telling anyone who will listen.

During a recent stop in Tallahassee, the lone statewide elected Democrat in Florida, chided reporters for not asking more about the space program and the nation’s efforts to explore Mars.

“It is my interest to see that NASA doesn’t miss a beat,” under the Trump administration, Nelson told reporters. He re-affirmed plans to get humans to Mars by 2033 and another to have a new American rocket to take U.S. astronauts to space within the next two years.

“We’re well on our way,” said Nelson, who is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee with jurisdiction over NASA.

His comments come as National Geographic Channel’s docudrama Mars sets rating records for the typically low profile cable network channel. The $20 million mini-series co-produced by director Ron Howard pulled in more than 1 million views nationally and 15.5 globally during just its first week on air.

It is not a shocker that Nelson, who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, would be an ardent backer of NASA’s mission. But Nelson’s comments come during a time of increasing distrust with Russia of their interference in the U.S. presidential election and Trumps victory in November.

But Nelson said America and Russia are still working on the international space center together well despite the tension. And he said he is hopeful the Trump administration will also be committed to heading to Mars.

During the campaign, Trump said NASA needed reforms but said he supported space exploration, like a mission to Mars.

“Under a Trump Administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars,” he told a rally in central Florida in October.

December 28, 2016

PolitiFact Florida: No permit needed for driverless cars, Tampa Bay senator says

Driverless car 0401


Uber hit the road with self-driving cars in San Francisco in December, but California regulators quickly hit the brakes.

In Florida, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, saw an opening for the Sunshine state.

"Hey @Uber, unlike California we in Florida welcome driverless cars - no permit required. #OpenForBusiness #FlaPol," Brandes tweeted Dec. 22.

Brandes, who has been advocating for laws to allow driverless cars, is correct that Florida does not require a permit to operate or test a driverless car. But that doesn’t mean people should expect to hitch an automated ride any time soon.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

(Photo: Anthony Ruvalo checks out the driverless car, Plan B, being demonstrated and on display at the Miami-Dade Government Center lobby on March 31, 2016. Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

Responding to critics, state GOP chairman says he has 'great' relationship with Florida Senate


Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia says endorsements from 10 state senators for his re-election as party leader is evidence that the GOP is far more unified than his critics contend.

Ingoglia on Wednesday morning released a list of new endorsements that includes Senate-president-in-waiting Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

“The fact is that I, as well as the RPOF, have a great working relationship with our Florida Senators and their leadership,” Ingoglia said.

But Ingoglia’s rival for the RPOF’s top spot says those endorsements do little to change what has happened over the last two years. Sarasota Republican Christian Ziegler said when Ingoglia, who is also a state representative from Hernando County, won the chairmanship, the Florida Senate pulled out $800,000 out of the RPOF’s accounts. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, responded similarly, pulling $600,000 out of the RPOF.

“They pulled their money out and have worked independently of the RPOF,” Ziegler said Wednesday.

Zeigler has made the need to re-unify the party a big part of his campaign to unseat Ingoglia. The two face a Jan. 14 vote among RPOF activists to decide who will lead the party over the next two years.

On a weekly basis Ingoglia has rolled out endorsements from RPOF activists, U.S.  Sen. Marco Rubio, 11 members of Congress from Florida, Florida’s elected CFO Jeff Atwater and now the 10 state senators.

“I am committed to working collaboratively with the Florida Senate, the Florida House, our Congressional delegation, the Governor and the cabinet to advance our shared goals of making Florida the best state in the nation!” Ingoglia wrote in a letter sent to voting members of the Republican Executive Committee.

Ziegler said the endorsements mean little to him because the vote is ultimately a secret ballot and just because people are publicly supporting Ingoglia doesn’t mean they will actually vote for him. He said Senators might largely be supporting Ingoglia to offer and olive branch to the Florida House as they prepare for the 2017 legislative session, given Ingoglia is an ally of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Ziegler said if the Senate Republicans really supporter Ingoglia they will park their money back with the RPOF, something they have not done.

The Senators who backed Ingoglia on Wednesday included: Sens. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland; Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; Frank Artiles, R-Miami; Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala; Travis Hutson, R-Jacksonville; Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach; Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples; Greg Steube, R-Sarasota; Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Galvano.

PolitiFact: The Top 10 fact-checks in 2016



President-elect Donald Trump’s business record and Hillary Clinton’s email practices were some of the most contentious issues of the 2016 election — and some of PolitiFact’s most popular reports of the year.

In addition to our fact-checks, readers clicked on special reports and roundups. The perennial reader-favorite examining whether Ted Cruz being born in Canada had any bearing on his presidential eligibility fetched nearly a million views. Our guide to viral graphics contrasting Clinton and Bernie Sanders was a hit during the Democratic primary. And we drew tons of eyeballs for our live fact-checking and round-ups of the presidential debates.

Out of over 1,100 fact-checks related to this presidential cycle, here are the most clicked-on fact-checks of the past 12 months.

Keep reading from PolitiFact.


December 27, 2016

Super PAC backing former Marco Rubio rival donates to him



Carlos Beruff ended his futile campaign for the U.S. Senate by jabbing at former GOP primary rival Marco Rubio and warning that he made a “life mistake” by returning to Washington.

But a Super PAC set up to support Beruff clearly has a different opinion. Newly released Federal Election Commission records show the last act of Lets Clean Up Washington was to donate $5,000 to a PAC supporting Rubio at the end of October. Lets Clean Up Washington is a PAC created to help Beruff’s campaign and was heavily funded by Beruff’s Bradenton-area political allies like developers Pat Neal and the Benderson Development Corporation.

Beruff spent $8.3 million of his own money in a bid to win the GOP nomination. When Beruff first got into the race, it was a field of mostly low profile Republicans like U.S. Reps David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and businessman Todd Wilcox. But then national Republicans, concerned none could win the seat, pushed Rubio - who had just finished losing his presidential bid - to get back into the race. Rubio did, forcing the other candidates out of the race. But Beruff refused retreat, promising to spend more than $15 million to win the seat if he had to.

FEC records show he never topped $8.3 million.

After Beruff lost the primary, he posted a letter on his website explaining why he ran and ripped Rubio and most of the other candidates who once had been in the race. He described Jolly and DeSantis as “scurrying for the exits” when Rubio got back into the race. He slammed Lopez-Cantera too, saying the Lt. Governor “went back to doing whatever it is that he does, which is basically nothing except collect a check from the Florida taxpayers.”

But he saved his toughest words for Rubio for re-entering the race after saying he wouldn’t.

“With regard to young Mr. Rubio, in my judgement he made a life mistake.  A man’s word is the most important thing he has.  Mr. Rubio must live with that decision,” Beruff wrote on his website.

Here’s Beruff’s full farewell letter:

Continue reading "Super PAC backing former Marco Rubio rival donates to him" »

Orlando Republican wants to be state's next agriculture commissioner



An Orlando real estate professional has his eyes on being Florida’s next elected state Agriculture Commissioner.

Republican Paul Paulson said he has filed papers with the Florida Division of Elections to run to replace current commissioner Adam Putnam, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits. The Florida Division of Elections had not posted Paulson as an official candidate for the 2018 race as of Tuesday afternoon.

“I look forward to the race,” Paulson said. “It will be a challenge.”

Paulson has never run for statewide office, but in 2015 ran for mayor of Orlando, losing badly (63 percent to 33 percent) to incumbent Buddy Dyer. He currently is a Republican state committeeman for the Orange County Republican Executive Committee.

Paulson said his father was a cattle farmer and he himself is a member of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association giving him insight into the agriculture world. But Paulson said being agriculture commissioner goes beyond farming, given that the agency also has jurisdiction over consumer services. In that role, the agency regulates things like motor vehicle repair shops, charitable organizations, pawnbrokers, health studios, travel agencies, moving companies, sweepstakes/game promotions and telemarketers.

“My goal is to help streamline regulations,” Paulson said in an interview.

Paulson said he’s been happy with Putnam’s tenure as commissioner, but says it is good to get a new set of eyes to look at various regulations in the state.

Paulson is the first Republican to openly declare for the 2018 contest.

Bittel makes run for Florida Democratic Party chairman official


DEM ELEX b epf

Coconut Grove developer and prominent progressive donor Stephen Bittel officially announced his run for Florida Democratic Party chairman Tuesday morning, confirming what just about everyone already knew to be so.

Bittel, the chairman of Terranova Corp., was widely known to be interested in the position, which became available after Allison Tant announced she wouldn't seek reelection in January. It's why Bittel's behind-the-scenes bid for Miami-Dade County state committeeman -- a position that made him eligible to run for state chairman -- garnered so much attention.

"Today, I announce my candidacy for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party. The Florida Democratic Party needs a new direction, a change in strategy, and a clear message. I am a different kind of candidate who brings a fresh outsiders view and a new approach," Bittel said in a press release issued by his camp.

“Democrats are the party of working families and we need to expand beyond Tallahassee and get on the road to engage working Floridians from Pensacola to Key West.  As Chair, I will work with leaders from every Florida county to build a bench of Democratic candidates with fresh voices and together we will assemble a permanent progressive infrastructure that Florida Democrats need in order to be successful in the upcoming elections."

Bittel will run against Hillsborough Bradford County activist Alan Clendenin, Osceola DEC Chairwoman Leah Carius and Duval County's Lisa King.

Continue reading "Bittel makes run for Florida Democratic Party chairman official" »