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52 posts from January 2019

January 18, 2019

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

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Also rescinded is the re-appointment of Thomas Grady to the State Board of Education, who is a friend and key ally of Scott’s, and four members of the Board of Governors in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.

Nikki Fried adds LGBTQ protections to department workplace policy


After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an anti-discrimination order for state employees that excluded protections for the LGBTQ community, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a revised discrimination policy for state employees in her department.

The revisions add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of workplace protections for the Department's 4,000 employees. Florida civil rights laws don't explicitly protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

In a statement Friday, Fried said the revision to her Department's policy is "long overdue" and that her fellow Cabinet members should follow suit.  

"We are pledging today that our Department is committed to an inclusive culture of equality, in which every employee is hired, promoted, and respected on the basis of their merit," she said. "This is a common-sense, long-overdue measure that the majority of Fortune 500 companies have implemented, and the majority of Floridians agree with."

When asked about the exclusion of the LGBTQ community at a press conference Thursday, DeSantis said he was simply continuing the anti-discrimination policy that came before him under Gov. Rick Scott. 

"My workplace policy is really just one sentence: we hire based on merit." he said. 

January 17, 2019

Marco Rubio and Rick Scott follow Trump and McConnell’s lead on shutdown negotiations

Gov Rick Scott


Amid the longest-ever federal shutdown, Rick Scott called a solo press conference on Thursday to address “Washington dysfunction,” an unusual move in the U.S. Senate, where rank-and-file lawmakers typically pair up or gather in groups in front of the cameras.

The former governor, who campaigned on a slogan to “Make Washington Work,” is unable to force action as the most junior Republican in the Senate. As governor he passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act against the wishes of the National Rifle Association and liberal Democrats weeks after the Parkland school shooting. In Washington, Scott is following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lead.

Florida’s Republican leaders in Washington don’t have the power to end a government shutdown on their own, but Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio aren’t publicly offering any ideas to resolve the current impasse between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over border-wall funding.

Thousands of federal employees aren’t getting paid while negotiations between the president and House and Senate leaders are largely at a standstill.

During his 10-minute press conference, Scott’s only substantive contribution to alleviate part of the shutdown’s effects was signing onto a relatively uncontroversial bill backed by Democrats and Republicans that would make sure Florida’s 5,000 Coast Guard members get paid during the shutdown, a proposal also backed by Rubio. Scott’s other ideas, such as suspending congressional pay and demanding that lawmakers stay in Washington over Martin Luther King Day, do nothing to resolve differences.

“It’s frustrating to me to watch how our government’s shut down,” Scott said. “The Coast Guard’s not getting paid. Other people are not getting paid and we’re not going down the path to secure our border.”

More here.

Curbelo lands gig as MSNBC political contributor

Carlos Curbelo 3

As he mulls a campaign for Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Curbelo has landed new digs and a new gig.

Curbelo appeared on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" Thursday, during which co-host Mika Brzezinski announced that the former GOP congressman is now a political contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. The announcement followed a segment in which Curbelo said there's some "skepticism" among Republicans about Trump's border wall and called for a "grand bargain on immigration" as a way out of the historic government shutdown.

The news of Curbelo's new media job comes hours after Harvard reported that Curbelo will be among a class of Spring “resident fellows” who live on campus and hold an eight-week not-for-credit study group based around their life experiences. The group of six includes former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

Curbelo was also announced Wednesday as a new member of the board of advisers to the Alliance for Market Solutions, a conservative-based organization that supports clean energy and the reduction of carbon pollution.

Curbelo’s commentating gig should be good exposure following his loss in Florida's 26th congressional district to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. He told the Miami Herald shortly after the election that he's weighing whether to run for county mayor in 2020.

January 16, 2019

State Board of Education eyes changes to school safety law, bullying scholarship

Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education and former Florida House Speaker
The State Board of Education had its first and only meeting before the Legislative session begins in March and the board members indicated that they hope lawmakers revisit some of the most heated issues in education.
School safety was constantly mentioned as a top priority for this year, by all members but especially by Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack who was killed in last year’s shooting in Parkland. Wednesday marked Pollack’s first meeting as a member of the state board since he was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott as one of Scott’s final actions.
Since the shooting, Pollack has risen to prominence in his calls for greater accountability in Broward County, and he made clear that his tenure as a board member would have the same theme.
“A lot of these districts have bureaucrats and they don’t know what the word ‘urgency’ means," he said, before suggesting there should be strong penalties for schools that don’t comply with last year’s school safety law. “There’s no accountability for not putting our kids' safety first.”
Board member Michael Olenick said the Legislature should consider increasing funding for both armed school security and for increased mental health programs in schools. Both those elements were crucial pieces of last year’s SB 7026, the monumental law that was passed following the Parkland shooting which requires all public schools to have armed protection, either through law enforcement officers or trained school staff.
“We all have the same goal but it’s individual ways we achieve that goal that has to be looked at,” he said, adding that districts should be allowed greater “flexibility” with how they use the guardian program to arm school staff.
Olenick also said the Legislature must address Florida’s growing teacher shortage, as well as consider adjustments to requirements for school building construction, which he said are antiquated and make erecting new buildings too expensive.
Richard Corcoran, who attended the meeting in Pensacola for the first time as Commissioner of Education, said he’s certain that Gov. Ron DeSantis is also going to advocate for those same ideas.
“Whether its increasing mental health funding, finding a way to improve upon teacher recruitment and retention, school security and ways to work with the districts in creating easier pathways and on school construction ... they’re front and center on his agenda,” he said. “We’re going to move forward on all four of those in a very dramatic way.”
There was much anticipation in the education world surrounding Corcoran’s first meeting, as many looked to see whether his reputation as an aggressive House Speaker and political arm-wrestler would follow him into his new position. But he did not speak at great length at any point during the meeting, other than to follow agenda items where he made a presentation to the board on failing schools seeking approval for a second year of district-managed turnaround. During that portion, he successfully recommended that two schools to be denied, including North Side Elementary School in Broward County, which had slipped from a D to an F in its first year of its turnaround program.
“Obviously we’re dealing with people who even with the (state turnaround) criteria, can’t figure it out," he quipped.
He also harkened back to a major piece of legislation that he championed last year: the Hope Scholarships, which are offered to students who said they’ve been bullied so they can attend another public or private school. During the meeting, Step Up for Students Chief Financial Officer Joe Pfountz said that only 60 students have so far been approved for that scholarship, citing a lack of public awareness and troubles getting correct documentation about the reported bullying incidents.
Corcoran assured the board that there are changes in the works, and said that the remaining funds collected for that scholarship could be directed to students on the waiting list for other scholarships administered through Step Up. He said the bullying scholarships are anticipated to generate $46 million, which it won’t “come close” to spending. The money is raised by Floridians checking a box when they buy a car to redirect $105 of their state sales tax to Step Up for Students for this program.
“Every program, when it comes online, there’s always a slow ramp-up," Corcoran said. “It’s a laborious application process that needs to be fixed. I think the Legislature is going to go in and tweak the application process to streamline it.”

Florida governor warns Airbnb to reverse its West Bank policy or face state sanctions


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Tuesday that Airbnb faces sanctions over its decision not to list properties in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, arguing that the policy is discriminatory and may violate a state law that prohibits Florida from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.

Florida’s State Board of Administration is preparing to present findings at the end of the month on whether the popular tourism service should be placed on a state list of scrutinized companies that boycott Israel, DeSantis said Tuesday. Administrators have not yet made a recommendation to the SBA’s board of trustees, which is composed of Florida’s governor, attorney general and chief financial officer.

DeSantis said he hopes Airbnb will make the controversy moot by reversing its position. But Florida’s new governor also made clear during a visit to the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s Boca Raton headquarters Tuesday that he believes Airbnb’s policy regarding the West Bank — which he referred to as “the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria” — is anti-Semitic, and said the company is dangerously close to making it onto Florida’s “hit list.”

“We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy. It does target Jews specifically. I think that’s wrong,” said DeSantis, who declared Tuesday that state employees will no longer be reimbursed for stays at Airbnb properties while on government business. “Airbnb claims it’s a company of inclusion and yet this policy only affects Jews who have homes on the West Bank. It doesn’t appear to apply to anyone else on the face of the earth.”

In announcing in November that it would not list roughly 200 homes in Israeli settlements, the popular home-sharing platform explained that it was uncomfortable doing business in an occupied territory subject to a historical dispute between Palestinians and Israelis. Much of the world considers Israel’s West Bank settlements, built on land Israel claimed in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law. The United Nations considers the West Bank an occupied territory.

Airbnb denied Tuesday that it is anti-Semitic, or that it has discriminated against Jews.

Read the rest here.

January 15, 2019

Audrey Edmonson unveils new committee slate for Miami-Dade commission


Audrey Edmonson picked a mix of liberals and conservatives for her leadership team as the new chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Commission. Three of her fellow Democrats didn't make the cut for committee chairmanships, or for seats on the powerful policy council that Edmonson will run as a clearinghouse for legislation on the environment, transit, affordable housing and other areas she identified as priorities during his two years as chairwoman. 

Committee chairs are considered plum assignments, since they can give commissioners that hold them elevated roles in the legislative process and advantages in fundraising from lobbyists and contractors with business before the panels. 

The 13-seat county board is a non-partisan body, so party affiliations have no official role in the chambers. But both parties got involved in commission elections last year, particularly in the District 5 race that tipped the majority to Democrats with the win by Eileen Higgins.

On Tuesday, Edmonson's office released a memo laying out the new committee structure and leadership.

Continue reading "Audrey Edmonson unveils new committee slate for Miami-Dade commission" »

Hallandale official faces backlash for saying Muslim lawmaker may ‘blow up’ Congress


@blaskey_s @alextdaugherty

A rookie commissioner from a South Florida beach city is facing calls for her resignation after she called newly elected Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib a “danger” and said the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress may decide to become a “martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

From Washington to South Florida, the post has been called “indefensible” and “racist.”

“That’s terrible,” Tlaib said when informed of the Facebook post by the Miami Herald. She said the comments were part of a national campaign to penalize supporters of Palestinian rights.

Five days after Tlaib made national headlines for a vow to help fellow Democrats “impeach the mother------,” a reference to President Donald Trump, Hallandale Beach commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub signed an online petition to remove Tlaib from office. She then shared it on Facebook along with racially charged comments first reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Proudly signed,” the first-term South Florida commissioner wrote when she shared a “We the People” petition on Facebook. “A Hamas-loving anti-Semite has NO place in government! She is a danger and [I] would not put it past her to become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald her support for removing Tlaib from office had little to do with the possible offense Tlaib caused Trump and his supporters. She also ignored critics who called for an immediate apology for the offensive post, and instead justified her actions by pointing to Tlaib’s stance on Israel.

“My issue with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is her affiliation with the BDS movement, Hamas, Hezbollah and CAIR,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald. (BDS refers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.) CAIR-Florida called for Lima-Taub’s immediate resignation after learning of the post.

“To say someone might be a terrorist because they are Muslim is wrong,” said Hallandale Beach Commissioner Mike Butler. He said members of all faiths are welcome in the South Florida City.

Read more here

U.S. Sugar, mystery DC group among top donors to inaugural pot

Desantis dance

Via @MahoneysTheName

TALLAHASSEE — When Gov. Ron DeSantis took his oath on the steps of the Old Capitol in front of more than 2,000 people, then danced with the first lady to a live jazz band at the Inaugural Ball, one question lingered: Who paid for this?

Because DeSantis' inauguration fundraised through the state Republican Party, it’s impossible to separate donations used for the inaugural festivities and other party needs. But new finance reports begin to provide answers the inaugural programs, which listed sponsors but no amounts, didn’t.

U.S. Sugar donated $350,000 to the Republican Party of Florida between the midterm election and the end of 2018 – making it the No. 1 donor for that time period.

During the campaign and since his election, DeSantis has made repeated comments calling out the sugar industry as being inhibitors of toxic algae cleanup in a way that was unprecedented for a Republican candidate for governor. In one of the primary debates, DeSantis even labeled his primary opponent, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, as the sugar industry’s “errand boy.”

When asked if U.S. Sugar’s donation went toward the governor’s inauguration, RPOF spokeswoman Yohana de la Torre responded in a statement saying donations in this time period were not “earmarked,” meaning that all the donations were deposited into the party’s account and then spent on inaugural events as needed.

Meredith Beatrice, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, also emphasized the list of expenses other than the governor’s inauguration that would have benefited from U.S. Sugar’s donation.

“The donation to which you refer was to the Republican Party of Florida general revenue fund and may be used at the discretion of the chairman and the executive committee,” she said.

Because the inauguration was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, the same account used for the inauguration was also used to recoup legal fees from the midterm recounts and was available for any inaugural events for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody. Patronis held a modest event at a local Tallahassee pizza parlor. Moody never released a schedule of inaugural events.

Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, which made a surprise endorsement of DeSantis in the general election, said she is certain the donation from the sugar industry will have no effect on DeSantis’ policy.

In his first week in office, DeSantis announced a sweeping executive order aimed at cleaning up the toxic algae and also asked all the members of the South Florida Water Management District, who approved a last-minute extension to the sugar industry’s lease, to resign.

“It’s not a concern. I know Ron DeSantis and … this is not a man who can be bought,” Mitchell said. “What you’re highlighting is something that is troubling and has been for long time which is the influence and the sheer dollar amount that is doled out to politicians is obscene. They are desperately trying to do anything they can to change the tide — and they can’t.”

U.S. Sugar did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Another top donor to the Republican Party of Florida is a health care management company, Centene, which is a parent company for others that contract with the state to provide Medicaid or health services in 61 Florida correctional facilities. Centene donated $100,000.

Yet another $100,000 donor is a mysterious Washington group called the Center for Advancement of Integrity and Justice, which listed a Washington, D.C., address on Pennsylvania Avenue and its purpose as “advocacy” in contribution reports. However, the group has no website and just registered in October 2018 as a corporation in Delaware – a state known for lax business registry requirements.

No contact information was available for the group. A receptionist for the center’s registered agent in Delaware, called the Corporation Trust Company, said they weren’t legally allowed to provide any information on their clients.

Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful lobbying group, donated just over $290,000 in their name and also through their affiliated political committees.

Others in the $100,000 category: Florida Power and Light, the Florida Association of Realtors, private prison operator The Geo Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consulate Health Care and the Republican Governors’ Association.

Tampa’s Third Lake Capital, LLC, part of the Ashley Furniture family of companies, also donated $100,000. ZWB Holdings, an Orlando real estate investment company, donated the same amount.

Disney donated $75,000, while Ashbritt, the massive debris pickup company that has fallen under state scrutiny — and employed DeSantis' new emergency management chief former Rep. Jared Moskowitz — donated $50,000. Utility giant Duke Energy, Florida’s largest payday loan company Amscott and Surterra, the medical marijuana company, also donated $50,000 each.

Times/Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh and Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

January 14, 2019

Alex Diaz de la Portilla files to run for Miami commission



Former state senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla will make a third run at returning to public office.

On Monday, the political consultant filed to run for the Miami City Commission. Diaz de la Portilla filed paperwork with the city of Miami to open a campaign account, confirming a rumored run for the District 1 commission seat, which is being vacated by Wilfredo "Willy" Gort. Gort is term-limited this year.

Diaz de la Portilla's most recent foray into Miami City Hall politics was 2017, when he worked on Commissioner Joe Carollo's campaign. A state representative in the 1990s and state senator during the 2000s, Diaz de la Portilla has worked as political consultant in recent years and has unsuccessfully run for office twice since 2017. That year he lost a bid to return to the state Senate, where he once served among the senior leadership of the Republican majority. When former county commissioner Bruno Barreiro resigned his seat to run for Congress in 2018, Diaz de la Portilla ran for his seat in a special election. He placed third behind Zoraida Barreiro, Bruno's wife, and Eileen Higgins, who was elected in a run-off.

Diaz de la Portilla joins four other candidates who have already opened campaign accounts for the District 1 race: Horacio S. Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission; Michael Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser who ran in the Democratic primary for Florida's 27th Congressional District; Miguel Angel Gabela, a businessman who has twice lost to Gort in past elections and has already contributed $100,000 to his campaign; and Yanny Hidalgo, an attorney.

The District 1 race will be one to watch in Miami, particularly in the context of one high-profile City Commission vote on the horizon. David Beckham and his partners are expected to negotiate a lease of public land to build a soccer stadium and retail complex on Miami's only city-owned golf course -- a lease that would require four of five commission votes. Commissioner Manolo Reyes has said he's a firm no, and Gort has opposed the idea in the past. The stadium deal could be a major issue in the election.