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59 posts from November 2018

November 30, 2018

Nikki Fried announces full transition team, job openings on new website

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 11.19.38 AM


At the end of election day in November, it appeared that Democrat Nicole "Nikki:" Fried had lost to Republican Matt Caldwell for the Florida Cabinet post of agriculture commissioner.

But after late vote tallies in Broward and other counties showed she was actually ahead, Fried claimed victory and started working on a transition.

The state division of elections had just ordered automatic machine recounts for three statewide races, including Fried’s, but she moved on anyway and announced her transition leadership. 

Her transition team, she said then, will be led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represented the large agriculture community of Martin County. Also on the team is U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and Fred Guttenberg, a gun-control activist whose daughter, Jaime, was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last February.

On Friday, Fried announced the rest of her team and unveiled a new transition website. The team will be working out of the Department of Agriculture in the state capitol.

“We have brought people together from all corners of our state and all walks of life to help build a Department that will respect the priority issues of the people and work hard to deliver results,” Fried said Friday. “From Democratic, Republican, and independent leaders, to leaders in Florida’s agriculture and environmental communities, public safety, energy, consumer protection, and marijuana industries—our transition team reflects the values of all Floridians.”

The team includes:

  • Former Senator Denise Grimsley, one-time agriculture commissioner candidate who served 14 years on the Agriculture committee and three years as Chairman.
  • State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a former assistant Attorney General and state Senator where he served as Chair of the Everglades Restoration Committee. 

  • Former Congressman Allen Boyd, who represented the Panhandle area from 1997 to 2011

  • Susanne Clemons, a fifth-generation Floridian from Highlands County who once served as the first female state chairman of the USDA State Farm Service Committee.

  • Darin Cook, co-founder and co-CEO of Infinite Energy, a Florida-based energy provider.

  • Former Sen. Rick Dantzler, who also served in the Florida House of Representatives and ran for Governor in 1998. Dantzler was appointed by President Obama in 2013 to serve as State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency. He works for an organization that funds research for the Florida citrus industry and is primarily involved in fighting citrus greening.

  • Sheriff Jerry Demings, the recently elected Mayor of Orange County.

  • Chris Hand, a Jacksonville-based attorney and former speechwriter and press secretary for former Florida Governor and then-U.S. Senator Bob Graham. 

  • Former Florida House Speaker Jon Mills, who helped draft the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative in 2016, and the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative in 2018.

  • Sam Poole, former director of the South Florida Water Management District.

  • Scheril Murray Powell, a Fort Lauderdale Agricultural and Cannabis Attorney based in Fort Lauderdale.

  • Former State Rep. Dean Saunders, who spearheaded significant Florida land conservation initiatives during his time in the Legislature.

The general counsel for the office will be Benedict Kuehne, a trial and appellate lawyer and election law specialist. He represented Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 recount trial and also represented Fried’s campaign in the recent recount.

The transition team staff include Eric Johnson as executive director, former campaign manager Shelby Scarpa as deputy executive director, Deborah Tannenbaum as senior advisor, Jordan Anderson as director of operations and former campaign spokesman Max Flugrath as communications director.

The team must also fill around two dozen jobs within the office's many departments, which are listed on her new website.

Sen. Lauren Book files bill to move concealed weapons program to state police


The efforts to move Florida's concealed weapons permit program out from under the state's Agriculture Department has begun.

State Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, filed a bill Thursday that would move the program over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The bill sets up an almost certain showdown with the National Rifle Association in the Legislature, which wants the program moved under the watch of Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, after Democrat Nikki Fried was elected Commissioner of Agriculture.

The NRA believes the program should be under an elected official, but that Fried is unsuitable because she wants to "tinker" with the program. The commissioner of FDLE is appointed, not elected.

"The logical place for it to go is under the CFO," NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer told the Times/Herald on Monday. "The CFO would continue to run it properly."

Book's bill would move the Division of Licensing, which issues concealed weapons permits, all of its records and the concealed weapons trust fund over to FDLE.

The program has never been housed in FDLE, however. FDLE conducts the background checks for people who apply for a concealed weapons permit, but the Agriculture Department processes FDLE's results and issues the permits.

That arrangement is highly unusual — almost every other state has police or courts process and issue such permits. Florida's unusual program has led to various breakdowns in the background check process. 

Florida's two-month legislative session starts in March.

November 29, 2018

Former Beach commissioner wants to move back into city hall. City says ‘no vacancy.’

Michael Grieco


A year after vacating his Miami Beach City Commission office amid a campaign finance scandal, newly elected state representative Michael Grieco wants to move back into the building. But his request to set up shop near the entrance to city hall, which would displace city employees, hasn’t gone over well with some former colleagues.

Grieco requested a space on the first floor — wedged between the elevators leading up to the commission chamber — to use as his primary district office in his new role representing Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Little Havana, downtown Miami and Fisher Island in the Florida Legislature. Grieco’s predecessor, David Richardson, rented office space on the fourth floor of a city-owned building next door for $311 a month, but Grieco argued that the city hall office would be more accessible and easier for constituents to find. He asked for a $1 annual lease, the same price Miami-Dade County pays to rent a space on the first floor for the county commissioner whose district includes Miami Beach.

City Manager Jimmy Morales told Grieco that the space he wanted wasn’t available and offered Richardson’s old office instead. The problem, Morales explained in a memo to commissioners, is that the office Grieco wants is already occupied by the Urban Forestry division and five city employees. Residents visit the office every day seeking tree permits, Morales wrote, which are often required for construction permits that can be obtained in the same building. Relocating the office, he said, “will likely result in added cost to the city, in addition to the inconvenience to our customers.”

Read more here

Curbelo considering 2020 Miami-Dade mayoral bid



Carlos Curbelo may not be out of politics for long.

The two-term Republican congressman who lost reelection to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell earlier this month and was mocked by Donald Trump for not tying himself to the president is considering a run for Miami-Dade mayor in 2020, he told the Miami Herald.

“I have a passion for public service and I’m not discarding any possibility right now,” Curbelo said from a coffee shop that is doubling as his office during his final weeks in Washington. “I have always thought about the idea of serving another two years here and then serving as county mayor. This work is certainly not easy on the family.”

Curbelo, 38, said he’s not ready to make a final decision on any future runs for office anytime soon, adding that supporters have also encouraged him to run for Congress again after he lost reelection in the most Democratic-leaning district in the country represented by a Republican. He also plans to “find a way to keep my voice on the big issues I care about,” such as immigration, the environment and the national debt.

Curbelo would be competing in a wide-open race to succeed fellow Republican Carlos Gimenez, who must leave office in 2020 due to term-limits. While the mayoral post is non-partisan, Democrats see an opportunity to use the presidential election to take back the mayor’s office in deep-blue Miami-Dade for the first time since Alex Penelas finished his second term in 2004. Penelas is eyeing a comeback in 2020 with another mayoral run.

Gimenez endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, while Curbelo said he did not vote for Trump or Clinton. Curbelo frequently criticized the president over the past two years, but did vote to repeal Obamacare and helped draft the law that overhauled the nation’s tax system, and was successfully attacked by Democrats for his votes.

More here.

November 28, 2018

Democrats and Republicans want to tax pollution — and give the money back to you

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President Donald Trump said “I don’t see” the dangers of climate change that were included in a report released by his own administration. Voters in Democratic-controlled Washington state rejected a tax on carbon at the polls earlier this month. And a host of climate-minded Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelolost reelection and won’t be returning to Congress next year.

But a group of lawmakers on both sides see a politically palatable way to tax pollution: give the money collected from polluters back to every American in the form of a dividend.

That’s the big idea behind the latest piece of climate change legislation proposed by Florida Democrats Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist and Florida Republican Francis Rooney. The three House members were part of a five-member group that unveiled the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on Wednesday, a sweeping bill that would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised by the tax to everyone.

“The goal was to craft a climate proposal that will be a huge leap forward in the way America responds to climate change,” Deutch said. “In South Florida, climate change is not a political issue. Our hope is with the introduction of the legislation that Congress shows that it can understand that as well.”

The carbon tax introduced Wednesday is unlikely to become law this Congress, because all bills that aren’t passed and signed by the president in the next month will expire. But the group of lawmakers see the bill’s introduction as a starting point for climate change discussions in the coming Congress, where Democrats will control the House while Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

More here.

How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime


Via @jkbjournalist

On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami’s top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz. 

It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.

Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men — both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis — convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.

His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.

The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.

As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.

This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.

Read the series here.

November 27, 2018

Lobbyist Brian Ballard continues trend of inaugurating ceremonies for Florida governors

CHRIS URSO | Times Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis along with his wife Casey wave to the crowd Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum.

Powerful Tallahassee and Washington lobbyist Brian Ballard will continue the trend of organizing inaugural ceremonies for Florida's governors, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday.

Ballard, who co-chaired the inaugural committees of former Republican governors Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, is in charge of planning the Jan. 8 event for the new governor, along with Ballard's wife, Kathryn.

Also helping are co-chairs Stanley and Gay Hart Gaines, a longtime Republican activist, and lobbyist Bill Rubin and his wife Lys.

“The 2019 Inauguration will be a celebration of our great state as we move forward together toward continued success," DeSantis and incoming First Lady Casey DeSantis said in a statement. "The Inaugural Committee will play a critical role in organizing inclusive inaugural events which reflect the diversity and uniqueness of Florida.”

Leading the finance team, which is in charge of raising money for the events, is lobbyist and chair Nick Iarossi, along with co-chairs James “Bill” Heavener, the CEO of the for-profit Full Sail University, and Mori Hosseini, Chairman and CEO of ICI Homes.

The rest of the inaugural committee includes some of DeSantis' biggest donors and supporters, including the reclusive GOP donor and Marvel chairman Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter.

You can view the entire list of inaugural committee members here.

Incoming Attorney General Ashley Moody announces top lobbyist to inaugural committee

Republican candidate for Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody, speaks to news crews after voting in the Aug. 28 primary at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. [ BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

Incoming Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced her inaugural committee today, and among the names is a lobbyist whose recent clients include a company being sued by the current attorney general.

Michael Corcoran is a top lobbyist in Tallahassee whose recent clients include Verizon, Tampa Electric, Coca-Cola — and opioid drug maker Purdue Pharma.

Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, is at the heart of arguably the biggest lawsuit the Attorney General's office is handling right now, a potentially multi-billion dollar case against drug makers and distributors that Attorney General Pam Bondi blames for causing and fomenting the opioid crisis.

"It's time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction that they have caused," Bondi said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit this year.

Purdue has denied any wrongdoing.

Corcoran is the brother of just-departed House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is helping with Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' transition team.

Corcoran lobbied on behalf of Purdue in the Legislature this year. The company was in favor of Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to tighten opioid prescriptions.

It's unclear if Michael Corcoran is still representing them, though. He didn't return a request for comment.

Moody's spokeswoman, Christina Johnson, said that the inaugural team "has no relation to the function and operation of the Attorney General’s Office," and that "Mike and Jesse Corcoran have had a more than decade long friendship with Ashley Moody."

She noted that Moody, a former federal prosecutor, has been a supporter of the opioid lawsuit and is married to a Drug Enforcement Agency agent.

"From the beginning of her campaign, the Attorney General-Elect has been passionately outspoken about the opioid epidemic, its effects, solving this crisis, and holding those responsible accountable," Johnson said.

Corcoran also served as statewide finance chair for the Tampa Republican's campaign.

"He has earned a reputation as one of Florida’s most prodigious fundraisers for Florida House, Senate, Congressional and locally elected candidates and is widely considered to be one of Florida’s leading political experts," Moody's campaign said in a press release Tuesday.

The inaugural committee is responsible for raising money for and organizing the Jan. 8 inauguration ceremony.

Corcoran is one of three co-chairs on Moody's committee. The others are state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. The executive director for the committee is Samantha Blair, the finance director for Moody's campaign.

November 26, 2018

Former Scott, Crist advisor Shane Strum named DeSantis chief of staff

TAILYR IRVINE | Times Ron DeSantis reacts to a high five during the DeSantis rally at the DeSantis and Scott Hillsborough County Campaign Headquarters on November 2, 2018 in Tampa.

Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis named a former advisor to Gov. Charlie Crist as his chief of staff today.

Shane Strum, a senior vice president for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, will assume one of the most important jobs in the DeSantis governorship.

It's a spot that Strum is familiar with: He was chief of staff to Crist between 2009 and 2011, and he was a transition advisor to Gov. Rick Scott for two months after Scott was elected.

“I am very pleased to announce that Shane is returning to public service and bringing his expertise to our administration,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Having spent many years in both the private and public sector, and previously serving two Florida Governors, Shane will be a great addition to our team.”

Strum is a former chairman of the Broward Republican Party, and he worked for years in state government as well.

Under the Crist administration, he championed strategic transportation and infrastructure planning and higher education reform.

And before that, he served as the Deputy Secretary for Business Operations in the Florida Department of Management Services, overseeing a 450-person team.

Strum will take the job on Jan. 8, when DeSantis takes office.

DeSantis was also considering for the job lobbyists Kathy Mears and Scott Ross and his own chief of staff in Congress, Scott Parkinson, who is also deputy executive director of DeSantis' transition team.

November 21, 2018

Want to work for Ron DeSantis? Transition team activates job application portal

Desantis rally

As Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis works to fill hundreds of jobs in the administration, his transition team has opened up their search to the public.

The transition team launched a new website on Wednesday, featuring an application portal where people can submit their credentials.

Gov. Rick Scott had a similar portal during his transition, though it's unclear how many hires were ultimately made from the public.

DeSantis' website also has a countdown clock that ticks down the seconds until his inauguration on Jan. 8. At time of publication, it was 47 days, 12 hours, 56 minutes and 27 seconds away.

But who's counting?