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33 posts from December 2018

December 17, 2018

DeSantis picks second Democrat for administration, in Department of Revenue chief

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis talks to the media after a campaign stop on Thursday at the Italian Club in Ybor City. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis selected a second Democrat to serve in his administration Monday, when his transition team announced he's recommending Jim Zingale to lead the Department of Revenue.

The cabinet oversees that agency, so DeSantis' announcement was technically a recommendation to that body, which includes the new governor plus Attorney General-elect Ashley Moody, Commissioner of Agriculture-elect Nikki Fried and Jimmy Patronis, who was re-elected as chief financial officer.

Zingale, 72,  is a longtime public official who previously served in multiple executive roles in the Department of Revenue, including under Florida's last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles. He's also served in several staff roles in both chambers of the Florida Legislature, such as staff director of the appropriations committee, according to the transition.

The announcement said this pick is in keeping with the new administration's "promise of bipartisanship." The first Democrat to be selected was state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who was tapped to lead the Division of Emergency Management earlier this month.

Richard Corcoran unaminously appointed Commissioner of Education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran

Former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, an aggressive advocate for expanding charter schools, voucher-like scholarships and other school choice policies, was unanimously appointed to be the commissioner of education on Monday.

The commissioner is the state's chief education officer, in charge of representing Florida's public educational system (except universities), and is appointed by the State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis publicly recommended Corcoran, who has served as a top adviser to DeSantis during the transition, earlier this month.

Corcoran talked about his vision for the future of Florida's educational system, which is to move away from what he called "one-size-fits-all" schools.

"We won't be concerned with tradition, or who has the power, or who has the might," Corcoran said. "What we're going to do is break down those walls and give kids an opportunity."

The vote to appoint Corcoran came after about an hour of questions from the board members, who said they had also each met with him individually before his appearance at the Monday meeting. Their questions ranged from Corcoran's wife's role in opening a charter school to how he will help solve the state's teacher shortage to whether this appointment was a political favor from DeSantis.

Corcoran generally said he would consider raising teachers' salaries, saying they "need to be valued." In the past, he's supported teacher bonuses based on performance rather than across-the-board raises.

On that last point, said he would have been making more money if he had declined this position. He has a law degree and works for the Nelson Mullins law firm.

"I will tell you I met with partners in my firm and was offered significantly more to stay on with my firm and turned down that offer to take this offer, which was significantly less," he said.  "Don't get me wrong, as government pay goes its one of the highest government pays there are."

The current commissioner, Pam Stewart, makes $276,000 per year, according to state records.

As House speaker, Corcoran earned a reputation for being an unbending ideologue who uses strong-arm politics to ram his priorities through the Legislature. He joked about that reputation during his speech, saying he had recently been compared to Genghis Khan.

Many expect that as commissioner, Corcoran will take the Department of Education from a state agency focused on the daily grind of enforcement to a vocal driver of policy.

Several members of the audience, including Andrew Spar, the vice president of the state teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, questioned why the board would "forfeit" its ability to do a national search for the next commissioner, as it had done in the past, instead of accepting DeSantis' recommendation outright.

Michael Olenick, one of the board members, said Corcoran "checks all the boxes," eliminating the need for a search. Olenick also asked Corcoran the most questions related to how he would support traditional public schools, and said he found Corcoran's answers very satisfactory.

Following the meeting, Fedrick Ingram, the president of the FEA, told reporters the union was "disappointed" in Corcoran's pick, but said he was holding out for a sense of collaboration from the former speaker.

Teachers' unions were horrified last session when the Legislature's education omnibus bill, HB 7055, included a provision that required at least 50 percent of all eligible members to become dues-paying members or face possibly decertification. Many groups, including the FEA, alleged that it was a coordinated attack by Corcoran to disband the unions that had openly opposed his school choice measures.

But Ingram, who was also recently elected, and Corcoran were cordial in a brief conversation just outside the board meeting, as they joked about the holidays and Ingram invited Corcoran to attend the group's Feb. 1 meeting. Corcoran accepted.

Nikki Fried says she'll move to pardon the Groveland Four at her first Cabinet meeting

Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee.Florida Memory Project

Incoming Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says she'll move to pardon members of the Groveland Four during the first meeting of Florida's Cabinet next year, correcting one of the worst abuses of the state's racist past.

"The families have suffered, the legislature has spoken, and history shows that this was an undeniable injustice — racially motivated and a stain on the history of our state," she said in a statement. "We must look to correct this grave injustice and denounce the abuses of the past."

The Florida Legislature last year asked Gov. Rick Scott and the other three members of the Clemency Board to speed up the process to posthumously pardon the men, who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949 and then murdered, tortured or wrongly imprisoned.

But neither Scott nor the other three members of the board have done so. And the board's last meeting has been indefinitely postponed, making it unlikely that Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will have another chance at it before they leave office on Jan. 8.

Fried said she plans on bringing up their cases during her first Cabinet meeting, where she plans on convincing her new Republican colleagues to pardon them.

"During the collegial discussions, I hope to convince my colleagues that a pardon is the right and just decision," Fried said in a statement.

Fried's action would force a vote to pardon most of the members of the Groveland Four. (One of the four was shot and killed by a posse before he could face charges.)

But forcing a vote would not guarantee their pardons. Clemency Board rules require the vote of the governor plus two members of the board for someone to be pardoned.

Incoming Attorney General Ashley Moody has hinted that she's interested in a pardon.

“It’s going to be one of the first things I look at when we get to work,” Moody told Florida Politics. “It’s something I’m very interested in.”

But the next governor, Ron DeSantis, has not said anything about it. And his spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about his opinion on the pardons.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the only returning member of the board, has been mum about whether he'd pardon them.

In November, Fried became the first Democrat elected to the Cabinet since Alex Sink in 2006.

Her stance on the Groveland Four is likely influenced by one of her advisors, Chris Hand, an attorney who used to be press secretary for Gov. Bob Graham.

Hand, who is on Fried's transition team, has has been part of a group helping to pardon the men.

December 13, 2018

Ron DeSantis in Washington for Trump event with governors-elect


President Donald Trump greets Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for Florida governor, and his wife Casey at a campaign rally in Fort Myers. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)


Ron DeSantis is in Washington, D.C. today for a White House event with governors-elect from across the country, and will likely have an additional one-on-one meeting with President Donald Trump.

Shortly after the election results came in on Nov. 6 showing DeSantis with a considerable lead, he told reporters that he and Trump had spoken on the phone so the president whose endorsement, rallies and tweets helped DeSantis claim victory could congratulate him.

Since then, the two have spoken frequently, according to his transition team.

Thursday's event with the governors-elect was announced through the White House press office.

DeSantis told the Palm Beach Post that one item he intends to discuss with Trump on Thursday is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to end toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

December 12, 2018

‘I’m just a country boy who loves serving my state:’ Bill Nelson says farewell

Bill Nelson


Bill Nelson got something Wednesday that doesn’t happen very often these days in the U.S. Senate.

An audience.

Most Senate speeches are delivered to a largely empty chamber, but a few dozen colleagues turned up to hear and applaud Nelson’s final address, in which the outgoing senior senator from Florida reflected on many different aspects of his life and career in elected office that began in 1972.

“When it comes down to it I’m just a country boy who loves serving my state and my country for all of my life,” Nelson said at the end of his speech. “It’s been an incredible honor.”

With that, the chamber erupted in applause.

Nelson began his remarks by sharing a story about his first floor speech in 2001. He waited a few months after being sworn in to formally speak, out of deference to his more senior colleagues, and spoke in front of an empty chamber. By the time he finished, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, heard Nelson was in the midst of making his maiden speech and made his way to the chamber. He followed Nelson with a 30-minute oration about the history of first speeches in Congress’ upper chamber.

“You can imagine, nothing I said was memorable, but it was certainly memorable to this senator that all the sudden I would be treated to the corporate knowledge of one of the lions of the Senate in looking back at the history of this body,” Nelson said.

Nelson then went into a detailed description about how he became an original “Florida boy,” with Florida roots that date back to 1829, 16 years before Florida became a U.S. state. 

More here.

Contractors who rented condo to Ron DeSantis named to governor-elect's transition panels


For five months in 2016, then-Congressman Ron DeSantis crashed at a beachside condo owned by two federal government contractors who had given his campaigns tens of thousands of dollars.

Now, Gov.-elect DeSantis has named both men to advisory committees guiding his policies on public safety and the economy.

Kent Stermon, chief operating officer of Jacksonville-based Total Military Management, is leading the more than 45 people on his public safety committee, DeSantis announced Tuesday.

Matt Connell, the company's CEO, is on DeSantis' advisory committee about the economy.

They're co-owners of a 1,400-square-foot condo in Palm Coast that DeSantis rented for $2,000 a month after his congressional district was redrawn.

Their company, which lobbies the federal government, contracts with the federal government to relocate military members around the country. The two men, plus their company, have given DeSantis at least $45,000 to his races for Congress and Florida governor since 2012.

After Politico broke the story of the unusual arrangement, a Miami lawyer filed an ethics complaint against DeSantis, arguing that he underpaid for the property. (Reporters from the Huffington Post noted that the rent DeSantis paid was in line with the Zillow estimate.)

An investigation into the complaint was dropped when DeSantis resigned from Congress during his campaign for governor.

A DeSantis spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. In  March, a campaign spokesman told Politico that DeSantis rented the condo from a "friend."

"Ron DeSantis temporarily moved into the condo of a friend while he looked to buy a home in Flagler County," spokesman Brad Herold said. "He paid upfront and above market value."

Times/Herald reporter Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.

December 11, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen's Nicaragua sanctions bill passes Congress

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


The House of Representatives formally approved a bill by Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that would limit U.S. loans to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government until the longtime president carries out democratic reforms. 

Ros-Lehtinen's Nicaraguan Investment and Conditionality Act, which passed the U.S. Senate earlier this month with additional penalties on Nicaragua sponsored by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, now heads to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature. The bill passed the House by a voice vote on Tuesday.

"With the final passage of the amended NICA Act, Congress took a leap forward in creating further accountability against the heinous abuses committed by Ortega and his puppets," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "In a desperate effort to cling to power, Ortega and his thugs have continued to clamp down on free speech and peaceful demonstrations. The United States has answered the call of the Nicaraguan people and will continue to do so in support of much needed electoral and human rights reforms.”

The bill also includes more sanctions for individuals who can be connected to violent acts against anti-Ortega protestors.

Though the NICA Act passed the House of Representatives earlier this year by a voice vote, Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney and Nicaraguan businessman reportedly lobbied against its passage in the Senate. Ros-Lehtinen was also worried that the bill's passage could get hung up on procedural grounds at the end of this Congress. Any bill that doesn't pass by the end of the year would need to start over in the next Congress, and Ros-Lehtinen is retiring. 

"We are one step closer to expanding sanctions and other pressures against the oppressive Ortega regime and sending a clear message that the United States will not tolerate the ongoing human rights violations,"Rubio said in a statement. "I thank Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who spearheaded these efforts, for her tireless work in support of democracy in the Western Hemisphere."

A conversation with Andrew Gillum about Florida and 2020

Gillum ps speech

It’s a brisk Monday night in December and Andrew Gillum is standing on a small stage above a lively crowd gathered amid tiki torches on an outdoor second-floor terrace of a teachers’ union headquarters overlooking Biscayne Boulevard.

The race for Florida governor was called for Republican Ron DeSantis nearly three weeks prior following a controversial recount, but the runner-up is still campaigning. In the wake of his narrow loss, Gillum continues to tour the state and country in promotion of the progressive causes that took him “within a rounding error” of becoming the governor-elect.

He is still attracting crowds. Still courting the press. And on this night, he is in Miami sounding like a man with unfinished business.

“Let us know that we still have work to do,” Gillum says, riffing in seemingly one single breath through part of an 11-minute “thank you” speech that detoured onto education, wages, healthcare, the environment and guns. “Those challenges are still real today. They will be challenges for us tomorrow. Not one of us can take this election, put up our hands and walk away like the job is done. It’s not done for me.”

A woman shouts “2020!” Someone yells “Run for president!”

Despite losing by 33,000 votes to Republican governor-elect Ron DeSantis, Gillum’s post-script campaign is still going strong even now, a full two years after he first sat in the home of then Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Alison Tant to discuss a dark-horse run for governor.

He is, for the first time since his days in college, without a political position, having stepped down as the mayor of Tallahassee last month. And he is without a political organization to represent after giving up his longtime job with People for the American Way in order to launch his gubernatorial campaign.

But the framework of Gillum’s campaign apparatus still exists, and he still has access to a network of thousands of volunteers and staffers who helped him become a national figure for Democrats during the 2018 midterms. Meanwhile, his state political committee continues to raise small-dollar donations. And he continues to generate buzz despite grousing among some Florida Democrats who believe he might have beaten DeSantis had he run a better campaign.

Still, with the 2020 presidential contest already looming, Gillum’s name is now being floated among the dozens of Democrats who might challenge Donald Trump. A December meeting with Barack Obama in Washington and a report by the Associated Press of a Tuesday return to the nation’s capital to speak with Democratic donors have done nothing to tamp down those rumors.

Nor has Gillum, who deflects when asked if he’s considering a run.

For now, he says his only concrete plans are to continue promoting a progressive network in Florida rather than letting it atrophy and collapse. He’s also taken a once-a-week teaching gig at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“After I get a little renewal from that process, we’re going together do the work that’s required to transform the future of the state of Florida,” Gillum told the crowd Monday at the United Teachers of Dade complex, where he laid out plans to champion new election laws, engage in field organizing and help with outreach to some 1.4 million felons whose voting rights are set to be restored next month following a state constitutional amendment.

After his speech, Gillum sat down for an interview with the Miami Herald to talk about his future, his chat with Obama, and whether a presidential run is in his future.

Click here for excerpts from the conversation.

DeSantis names state representative to lead Department of Business and Professional Regulation


State Rep. Halsey Beshears | Florida House of Representatives

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' transition team announced the appointment of state Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, to lead the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Tuesday.

"Throughout his distinguished career, Halsey has been a champion for deregulation and, under his leadership, this agency will become the focal driver that will make Florida a premier destination for entrepreneurs and companies seeking to relocate," DeSantis wrote in a statement.

Beshears, 47, owns several businesses in North Florida, including commercial property management, bicycle equipment and a wholesale agriculture company, according to the transition team's release.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation is in charge of licensing and regulating various businesses and professions, such as cosmetologists, veterinarians and real estate agents.

His appointment marks the second state lawmaker to be plucked from the Legislature into the new governor's administration, following the surprising appointment of Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz to the Department of Emergency Management, likely requiring special elections to refill those seats.

DeSantis' lieutenant governor, Jeannette Núñez of Miami, also hails from the statehouse.

3,400+ Floridians ask DeSantis to address climate change as governor


By Alex Harris, Miami Herald Staff

Despite the fact that Florida is the most vulnerable state in the nation to climate change, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has shied away from discussing the issue or his plans to address it.

On Tuesday morning, environmental groups delivered DeSantis a petition with more than 3,400 signatures asking him to acknowledge the threat and become “the Governor who saved our state.”

“This is a nonpartisan issue that affects all Floridians. The Governor-elect has no choice but to make climate action a top priority. We are running out of time,” Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief said in a statement.

DeSantis did not specifically detail his potential plans for climate action, but said in a statement:
“The Governor-elect has always made clear he will take on the issues facing our state head-on. That includes fighting for clean water, protecting Florida’s coastlines and conserving our natural environment.”

In previous press statements, the Governor-elect has said he is unclear on the cause of climate change (the majority of scientists say it’s from fossil fuels burned by humans), although he sees the effects and wants to address them.

“The sea rise may be because of human activity and the changing climate, maybe it is not, I do not know,” he told Miami Herald news partner CBS4. “What I do know is I see the sea rising. I see the increase in flooding in South Florida. I think you would be a fool to not consider that is an issue we need to address.”

In the letter, co-signed by Miami’s CLEO Institute, Environment Florida and the Sierra Club, petitioners asked DeSantis to help Florida transition to renewable energy, protect the state’s waterways, charge polluters and institute a “Florida Future Fund” to pay for resilient infrastructure.