March 07, 2019

National Democrats begin defense of Mucarsel-Powell's seat

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@alextdaugherty

National Democrats spent millions to get Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell into office last year. 

Now, they're beginning their effort to keep her there. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Thursday that Mucarsel-Powell's district is one of a few dozen across the country where it's spending early money on grassroots organizers. Mucarsel-Powell is one of 44 House Democrats who are part of the organization's "Frontline" program to protect incumbents who may face competitive reelection bids. 

The DCCC said the investment is a "multi-million dollar effort to defend and expand the new Democratic Majority." It declined to disclose the exact amount of money being spent in Florida, though they are also spending money in a Tampa-area seat held by Republican Rep. Ross Spano

"As Democrats, we’ve always drawn our strength from the people we fight for each and every day – that’s why I’m so proud to announce that, in our first major investment of the 2020 cycle, we are launching March Forward to put boots on the ground in dozens of communities across America,” said DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos. "Our March Forward Field Managers will play a vital role in our work to not just defend, but expand our new Democratic majority. By organizing early and aggressively, we will March Forward to build a better future for all Americans by winning on the doors, online and on the ballot in 2020."

The DCCC plans to hire almost 60 organizers around the country who will work on communications, digital, research and field tactics before the 2020 campaign gears up. 

Mucarsel-Powell was also named on the National Republican Congressional Committee's target list for 2020 along with Miami Rep. Donna Shalala. Both flipped Republican-held seats in 2018, though Mucarsel-Powell's seat is generally regarded as the more competitive of the two. 

February 22, 2019

Puerto Rico’s governor praises Rick Scott’s work after backing Bill Nelson in 2018

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@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico’s governor was no friend of Rick Scott’s during the 2018 campaign, even as Scott visited the territory eight times and pitched himself as Puerto Rico’s de facto senator in ads around the state as he sought votes from Puerto Ricans in Florida.

But Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he’s impressed with Scott’s work on Puerto Rico during his first two months as a senator in Washington, even though Rosselló endorsed Democrat Bill Nelson after fighting with the White House over Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

“Rick Scott has been a great friend of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said in an interview in Washington on Friday. “There’s no doubt about it, he was a great friend prior when he was a governor and right now he’s used time on the floor, he’s submitted meaningful amendments and he has given a fight for some of these issues.”

Rosselló was referring to Scott’s first speech on the Senate floor, when he spoke in English and Spanish about his amendment to provide $600 million in nutritional assistance for Puerto Rico over the Office of Management and Budget’s objections.

“I rise today as a voice for the people of Puerto Rico. I intend to be their voice in the United States Senate,” Scott said in his maiden floor speech. “They are American as the people of Florida I was elected to represent. Their recovery is America’s recovery.”

Rosselló said he is in constant contact with Scott and his staff, and that his knowledge and dedication to Puerto Rico has continued after the 2018 election. Scott also has a close relationship with Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Congress who is a pro-statehood Republican who endorsed Scott over Nelson last year.

Read more here.

February 19, 2019

Andrew Gillum, United Teachers of Dade's pick for governor, featured on robocall endorsing union leadership

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Back when the Florida gubernatorial primaries were in full swing last fall, Miami's teacher's union went out on a limb for Andrew Gillum -- against its Tallahassee union leadership's pick of Gwen Graham.

Gillum appears to have returned the favor. The former Democratic nominee for governor sent a robocall to Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers on President's Day endorsing the incumbent leadership of UTD in Wednesday's union election.

"Hi, this Mayor Andrew Gillum calling on the behalf of UTD's Frontline Caucus," Gillum said in the message, praising the "incredible leadership" of president Karla Hernandez-Mats, vice president Tony White and secretary treasurer Mindy Grimes-Festge.

"When Karla and Tony and Mindy told me they had a bold plan to campaign for the largest teacher pay raise in Miami-Dade history, I said, 'Count me in,' because you all deserve it," he said. "And wow, the Frontline Caucus delivered."

Gillum went on to call the base 12.5 percent supplement that came out of a four-year, voter-approved referendum, which he endorsed on the campaign trial, a "pay increase." In annual pay raise negotiations, UTD and the school district agreed to a raise this year that yielded 0.8 percent to 1.1 percent more for teachers.

UTD's political action committee, Teachers for Public School Excellence, donated $40,000 to Gillum's committee Forward Florida just before the November election. UTD also hosted Gillum's election night watch party in Miami.

Only UTD members can vote in Wednesday's leadership election. Member teachers vote on ballots at their school site, which will be taken to Firefighter's Memorial Building, 8000 NW 21st St in Doral, for the tally around 3 p.m. Candidates run for three-year terms.

The Frontline caucus faces opposition from UTD's Progressive caucus, which has named Mari Corugedo, Harold Ford and David Moss to its executive board slate. Candidates Ricardo Ocampo and Joseph Howard are also running for president.

The Miami Herald has reached out to Hernandez-Mats for comment.

January 31, 2019

DeSantis takes aim at Common Core in executive order

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Gov. Ron DeSantis, appearing at Tampa Bay Technical High on Wednesday, announces plans to invest in Florida workforce programs. He said he wants to take Florida from 24th in the nation to first in workforce preparation. [TAILYR IRVINE | Times]
 
Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to create new state curriculum standards that would eliminate “the vestiges of Common Core,” he announced in Cape Coral on Thursday.
 
“We stuck with Common Core then we re-branded it … it’s all the same. It all needs to be looked at, it all needs to be scrutinized,” DeSantis said during the announcement at Ida S. Baker High School, flanked by commissioner of education Richard Corcoran and local school administrators.
 
DeSantis announced an executive order asking Corcoran to spend a year creating new state curriculum standards, which would then be presented to the Legislature for the 2020 session.
 
It’s true that Florida’s current standards are very similar to Common Core, even though they were tweaked and renamed in 2014. Despite criticisms of Common Core being a federal mandate, those curriculum standards were developed by private nonprofit groups and state education departments and then adopted by 45 states. Local districts then altered their lesson plans to meet those standards.
 
But DeSantis said Common Core inspired concerns by parents who felt they were “imposed federally.”
 
“Also, you would have situations where the parents did not like some of the curriculum, I mean they had trouble even doing basic math to help their kids,” he said. “With Common Core a lot of people just didn’t feel like anyone was listening to them and I think that’s a big, big problem.”
 
DeSantis also said the new standards, which Corcoran will work to craft as long as the state Board of Education is also in agreement, should make civics education even more of a “central part” of what students learn so they can “discharge the duties of citizenship." Civics education and learning the Constitution was one of DeSantis' common refrains on the campaign trail, even though students are already required to learn the Constitution.
 
This was DeSantis' second education policy announcement in two days, after he made a stop in Tampa on Wednesday to propose beefing up Florida’s vocational training programs.

January 30, 2019

DeSantis: Broward Superintendent Runcie’s job appears safe, no elections “circus” in 2020

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Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to reporters on AP Day in Tallahassee on Jan. 30, 2019. ELIZABETH KOH | Times/Herald
 
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that based on legal advice he’s received, he does not feel confident he can suspend Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has come under intense fire for the way his district handled the Parkland shooting and the confessed shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who was a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
 
“This came up during the campaign (and) I went back and actually looked at the statute and it seemed pretty clear to me that the statute applied to county-wide elected officials and that it didn’t apply, on its face, to appointed officials,” DeSantis told reporters at the Associated Press' annual AP Day news conference in Tallahassee. “The balance of the advice I’ve gotten since then has said that that’s probably the way to do it.”
 
DeSantis did say that he is looking at other “options” related to the School Board of Broward County and that he would come to a decision on that in the next two or three weeks.
 
“If you talk to those Parkland parents, I think they’re frustrated not just with the superintendent but also with the school board. It seems there’s something every day where someone is not being listened to or whatever,” DeSantis said. “There may be options where we can look at accountability there but it think it will be different than me saying, ‘The superintendent is out’ or whoever is out.”
 
Runcie did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
Andrew Pollack, the father of murdered Parkland student Meadow Pollack, said he’s hopeful that DeSantis can put pressure on Broward’s school board members to remove Runcie or face suspension from office. Pollack and several other Parkland families have repeatedly called for Runcie’s ouster, and he said the fact the board hasn’t removed Runcie yet is “despicable.”
 
The school board members “have to look themselves in the mirror, do the righteous thing and remove the superintendent,” Pollack said. “They should get ahead of it before they are removed ... We all know (DeSantis) will be quick to pull trigger on board members who don’t act.”
 
Shortly after he took office, DeSantis suspended and replaced Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel over his department’s failings during the Parkland shooting. Multiple deputies hesitated to go into the building where the shooting was taking place. Israel formally requested a hearing to contest his suspension with the Florida Senate.
 
At the Tallahassee event, DeSantis also said that he expects Florida to do much better in its 2020 elections than the debacles that happened with his own election in the 2018 midterms, after the triple machine recount saw blown deadlines, broken ballot machines and accusations of liberals trying to “steal” the election from former Gov. Rick Scott.
 
“We need to do 2020 where there’s not any type of circus after the votes are in,” DeSantis said. “They should be counted and let the victor go on to take the state of Florida.”
 
He said he’s evaluating potential changes to Florida election law, but thinks it’s more important that the supervisors of elections both in Broward and Palm Beach counties have been replaced because much of the state’s woes in 2018 were because of their individual problems rather than systematic failures.

January 29, 2019

DeSantis: aircraft malfunction “strange deal,” but FDLE has fixed faulty drug plane

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SCOTT KEELER | Times New Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives the crowd the thumbs up as he holds his son Mason. Florida's First Lady Casey De Santis applauds, left at the Old Capitol after DeSantis was sworn in, Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in Tallahassee.
 
Being the new governor of the nation’s third-largest state already has a steep learning curve. But it got much sharper when, three days after he was sworn in, Gov. Ron DeSantis' plane had a critical mechanical issue and was forced to make an emergency landing in St. Petersburg while he was on his way to Fort Lauderdale.
 
New details about the emergency landing emerged Tuesday, when DeSantis recounted the harrowing event to reporters at a regular press conference in Tallahassee.
 
“We’re in the plane and we’re flying. I have my chief of staff, the attorney general, Helen (Aguirre Ferré) our communications (director), and the masks ... drop from the ceiling. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s an old plane, maybe something just triggered, whatever,’” DeSantis said, chuckling. “I just look around like, ‘We’re not actually supposed to do this?’ And the pilots are telling me, ‘Put it on.’ So we’re all huffing into this thing.”
 
After the emergency landing, DeSantis and the rest of the passengers took another plane to Fort Lauderdale to still make their news conference that evening. But since then, DeSantis said he took the original plane to Sebring last week after a shooter killed five people there and DeSantis joined law enforcement in a press conference.
 
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said “they’ve got it fixed,” DeSantis said, adding: “I have never had to do that before in all my years of flying in different aircraft whether it’s a civilian or military, so it’s a little bit of a strange deal ... (but) we’re back at it again.”
 
The governor had an announcement of his environmental budget scheduled in Naples for Tuesday afternoon, and they would be taking the formerly faulty plane to that event as well, he said.
 
The entire ordeal has been a consistent reminder of now-Sen. Rick Scott’s move to sell off the state’s airplane fleet when he took office as governor in 2010, instead insisting he would use his own private plane to travel the state. Years of controversy plagued the planes when officials used them for trips outside official business.
 
Scott is a millionaire who made his fortune as a chief executive of the Hospital Corporation of America.
 
But DeSantis, whose financial disclosure filed during the campaign lists his net worth at $310,971, does not have his own private plane and thus has been forced to get creative. Because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides his security detail, he’s been allowed to use a Beechcraft King Air (a small, twin-turbo prop plane) that the agency seized as part of a drug raid.
 
That leaves the rest of the Cabinet — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis —to fend for themselves, because they are not granted the same protections from state police. Before Scott took office, Florida’s governor, lieutenant governor and Cabinet could all use three planes that made up the state fleet.
 
Fried, the only Democrat on the Cabinet, has said previously that “as statewide public servants in one of the largest states in the nation, an efficient method of air transportation is prudent to best serve our constituents." However, there hasn’t been any visible movement toward adding more planes, and Fried has been driving or flying commercial to her events throughout the state.
 

Andrew Gillum joins CNN as a political commentator

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@alextdaugherty @elizabethrkoh

The election may be over, but Andrew Gillum isn’t leaving your television screen.

The former Florida gubernatorial candidate announced Tuesday he is joining CNN as a political commentator, the latest 2018 also-ran to snag a television gig.

“Thrilled to be joining CNN as a political commentator,” Gillum tweeted.

Gillum, whose recent meetings with Barack Obama and big-time Democratic donors fueled speculation about a 2020 bid for president, is still facing political trouble from his time as mayor of Tallahassee.

The CNN announcement comes on the heels of an advancing ethics complaint alleging Gillum flouted ethics laws on two trips in 2016. The trips, to Costa Rica and New York City, were taken with a lobbyist and former friend who is believed to be a center of an FBI investigation into public corruption in Tallahassee, and the second trip also included two undercover agents who were part of the investigation.

More here.

January 18, 2019

DeSantis retracts 46 of Scott’s last-minute appointments in rebuke of his predecessor

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Rick Scott, right, attends the inauguration of his successor, Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, before he left early. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
Ending what had become a public feud over former Gov. Rick Scott’s last-minute appointments, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday retracted 46 of Scott’s picks.
 
DeSantis retracted all the appointments that required approval by the state Senate — in other words, all the late appointments that DeSantis had power over once he took office. Scott made 84 appointments to various boards, committees and courts on Jan. 4 and 7, against the wishes of the DeSantis team. DeSantis was sworn in Jan. 8.
 
DeSantis chose to retract the entire batch of appointments rather than a select few, following the advice of some of his advisers. So the action affects even those picks who are popular in conservative circles, such as Parkland parent Andrew Pollack, who was appointed to the State Board of Education and already had his first meeting as a board member this week.
 
Pollack said Friday he was unconcerned by the news and is looking forward to continuing his mission to advance school safety. He has been a strong backer of both Scott and DeSantis, so it’s likely he will remain on the board.
 
“I’m more concerned with where I’m going to eat tonight than if the governor is going to reappoint me,” he said. “I’m behind both of these guys ... so I’m going to let them do their thing.”
 
It also includes more controversial picks like developer Carlos Beruff, who was appointed to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission despite facing a pending ethics complaint from when he chaired a water management district board, one of his developments being accused of illegally moving an eagle’s nest and heading up a company accused of ripping up a taxpayer-owned conservation area.
 
Also rescinded is the re-appointment of Thomas Grady to the State Board of Education, who is a friend and key ally of Scott’s, and four members of the Board of Governors in charge of state universities.
 
In a statement, DeSantis said all the appointees will have the opportunity to be re-appointed, if he chooses.
 
"I agree many of these individuals are outstanding citizens who are experts in their respected fields,”he said. “I thank these individuals for their willingness to serve our state. They will be afforded every consideration as my office re-opens the application process to fill these critical appointment vacancies.”
 
DeSantis sent a curt letter to Senate President Bill Galvano announcing his decision and listing all the affected appointees. That letter can be viewed here.

January 11, 2019

'We have people counting on that.' Gov. DeSantis weighs in on using hurricane funds for border wall

Desantis hurricane tour
Al Cathey, Mayor of Mexico Beach, left, shows Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center, some of the destruction from Hurricane Michael along Canal Parkway, Wednesday, January 9, 2018. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Ron DeSantis hasn't even finished his first week as Florida governor and he already appears to be on a collision course with the man who helped him get the job: President Donald Trump.

On Friday, DeSantis said that it would not be acceptable for Trump to take funds from hurricane relief to be used toward the border wall.

"We have people counting on that," he told reporters. "If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine but I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us."

DeSantis' comments came after news broke Thursday night that Trump, his political benefactor, was considering using disaster funding intended for storm-damaged Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and for wildfire recovery in California to pay for the wall at the border. Trump has mentioned several times that he's considering declaring a national emergency so he can bypass the standoff with Congressional Democrats over the $5.7 billion in wall funding.

Such a Plan B for Trump would almost certainly put him at odds with DeSantis.

A former Navy lawyer, DeSantis said he's unsure of the legality of Trump's national emergency Hail Mary.

"In all my years in Congress we never dealt with this idea of an emergency so I just need to look at the law," he said. "My sense, just as somebody who studied the Constitution, the president wouldn’t be able to just appropriate his own money under any circumstances. You may be able to repurpose some money. I'm not sure how that works."

DeSantis added that he's not spoken to Trump about this matter, and did not say if he has plans to do so. One of the hallmarks of his campaign last year was that Florida would have a close relationship with the White House because of his political relationship with Trump, whose endorsement helped DeSantis beat a more established candidate in Adam Putnam in the GOP primary.

DeSantis' comments Friday struck a different tone than when he was asked about the shutdown on Thursday — before news broke that Florida's hurricane funding could be in sacrificed for the border wall. DeSantis said then that he has his "hands full down here," indicating he didn't want to get involved in all the "political posturing" in Washington.

DeSantis toured some of the worst of Hurricane Michael's damage in Mexico Beach on Wednesday, a trip he said was "really, really powerful." On Thursday, he announced a sweeping executive order to address toxic algae blooms aimed at cleaning up Florida's water.

But progress on both the issues of hurricane recovery and environmental cleanup have been stunted by the partial federal government shutdown, which began at midnight on December 22.

The shutdown has meant federal scientists researching Red Tide are at home instead of in their labs tracking the toxic algae as it has subsequently popped back up near the beaches of Sarasota and Manatee counties.

And as the New York Times reported, it's intensified the hardships in the Panhandle where government employees who were already struggling post-hurricane are now making due without paychecks. Meanwhile, the website for the Federal Emergency Management Agency is not being "actively managed" during the shutdown, per a disclaimer on the site, which adds: "We will not be able to respond to inquiries until after appropriations are enacted."

Bradenton Herald staff writer Mark Young contributed to this report.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comments delivered Friday morning by DeSantis.

January 08, 2019

"Here's to the winners." Ron DeSantis, political insiders celebrate win at Inaugural Ball

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Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis share their first dance at the Inaugural Ball. | Scott Keeler TIMES

TALLAHASSEE — Tuesday night, the sound of the thunderous military jet flyover from the swearing-in ceremony was swapped for the plucking of a stand-up bass and the breathiness of a saxophone, as the state’s capital slipped on their gowns and tuxedos for the swanky Inaugural Ball.

Around 1,600 lawmakers, lobbyists and other political insiders mingled and drank complimentary cocktails in the dimly lit Donald L. Tucker Civic Center at Florida State University. Meanwhile, in the VIP area, an electric violinist twirled on a stage while carving away at his violin with an electric blue light-up bow.

Earlier in the night, about 150 people lined up to take photos with Gov. Ron DeSantis and Casey, the First Lady.

Just before 9 p.m., the first couple emerged onstage for their first dance, along with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and their dates. Also invited onstage was Brian Ballard, the chair of the inauguration and Nick Iarossi, who led fundraising efforts, with their wives. Inaugural events are paid for by private donors.

“We had a really great day today,” DeSantis told the crowd. “We wanted to thank you all for your support and your friendship we’re really excited for Florida and excited to work with the folks up here.”

“I’m going to try to not step on her dress,” he also said, referring to Casey’s triple-peplum red gown.

Some of the lyrics of the song, played by the band: “Here’s to the winners.”