October 24, 2010

Joe Garcia may be more mellow this time around

He has tamed his unruly mop of hair -- and, perhaps, his impetuous nature.

Call it Joe Garcia, version 2010.

He's still the brash Democrat who ran for Congress two years ago and lost to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart by six points in an election year when Democrats clobbered Republicans to take the White House, the Senate and the House.

But that stinging defeat and a stint working for the Obama administration have mellowed the hard-charging Garcia, his friends say -- at least as much as can be expected for a guy who never met a political match he didn't like.

"No one will ever accuse me of not enjoying people,'' Garcia said with a grin in a recent interview. "I'm a believer that you have a good argument, but then you move forward, right?"

A longtime political operative, Garcia has never been elected to public office, though he has landed high-paying roles by appointment from Democrats in power.

Now Garcia, 47, is engaged in a tumultuous, closely watched battle with Republican David Rivera over Diaz-Balart's open seat in a key swing district targeted by both political parties. Allies of Garcia sued Rivera this week to disqualify him from the ballot over questions about Rivera's financial disclosures.

Read the full profile here.

October 22, 2010

McCollum backs off gay adoption ban, pulls the appeal

Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that he has decided not to appeal the ruling that has thrown out the Florida's ban on the adoption of foster children by gay couples, putting an end to the law that has been on the books for 33 years.

The decision comes after McCollum's office spent years the constitutional challenge to the law, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Martin Gill, a Miami man who wanted to adopt two foster children he and his partner have been raising for almost six years. McCollum even got personally involved in the selection of an expert witness to defend the state law.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Department of Children and Families had already announced that they would not appeal the decision. McCollum made clear in his statement that he hopes for a future case to uphold the constitutionality of the law.

"The constitutionality of the Florida law banning adoption by homosexuals is a divisive matter of great public interest,'' McCollum's office said in a statement. "As such, the final determination should rest with the Florida Supreme Court, not a lower appellate court.  But after reviewing the merits of independently seeking Supreme Court review, following the decision of our client the Department of Children and Families not to appeal the decision of the Third District Court of Appeal, it is clear that this is not the right case to take to the Supreme Court for its determination. 

"No doubt someday a more suitable case will give the Supreme Court the opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of this law."

ACLU called McCollum's decision a welcome relief.

"This law, by baselessly branding gay people unfit parents, was one of the most notorious anti-gay laws in the country, and we are delighted that it has been ended once and for all,” said Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project, who argued the case before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal. “This victory means that the thousands of children in Florida who are waiting to be adopted will no longer be needlessly deprived of willing and able parents who can give them the love and support of a family.”

August 11, 2010

'Taj Mahal' faces tough questions

Those 60-inch LCD television screens may not grace the walls of the judges at the 1st District Court of Appeal's fancy new building.

Also, judges could someday be banned from lobbying the state Legislature.

Those are some of the things under discussion in the wake of a St. Petersburg Times story describing the sneaky way two of the 1st District judges managed to get themselves a new courthouse that some are calling a "Taj Mahal.'' Or "Taj MaHawke.'' Read Lucy Morgan's piece here.

June 11, 2010

Greer seeks delay in civil case as new documents emerge

Indicted former GOP Chairman Jim Greer is asking a judge to put his civil lawsuit against the Republican Party of Florida on hold until his criminal case is finished.

Greer sued the party in May after FDLE acknowledged the criminal investigation that led to six felony charges earlier this month ranging from money laundering to organized fraud concerning a secret contract he authorized to skim party contributions to a company he owned. He contends the party never paid him the $124,000 owed under a severance agreement signed by party leaders in exchange for his resignation.

Greer's attorney, Damon Chase of Lake Mary, filed a motion to abate at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Seminole County court. "In as much as Greer's criminal indictment appears more, at least in part, to be the latest attempt in a long line of attempts by RPOF to avoid its obligations under the the severance agreement, Greer respectfully requests this honorable court abate the instant matter until resolution of the criminal matter as opposed to outright dismissing his facially meritorious claim," Chase states in the motion obtained by the Times/Herald.

The documents filed with the court include a number of new details that indicate incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon repeatedly assured Greer that the party would honor the contract even after the interim executive director, Bret Prater, tried to end the deal.

Continue reading "Greer seeks delay in civil case as new documents emerge" »

June 03, 2010

Who is Jim Greer's mystery benefactor?

One of the most mysterious elements of the affidavits in the Jim Greer case is the unnamed Republican Party donor who gave the indicted chairman $10,000 for 18 months. Greer apparently "pleaded for financial help" given his debts, which at one point hit $25,000, investigators said.

The Florida political world is abuzz with speculation about the identity with typical guesses fingering convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and major GOP donor Harry Sargeant III, who was named in a federal criminal indictment. (Sources tell us Rothstein is not the donor.)

Gary Lee, a Florida GOP committeeman, told the Times/Herald that this is a key point for federal authorities investigating the finances surrounding Greer and the Republican party. "I know the bureau is keenly interested in that," Lee said Thursday.

He said FBI agents questioned him on the matter recently but he didn't know the identity of the donor. He said authorities are looking at possible charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and possibly campaign finance law violations. "They aren't done yet," Lee said.

June 02, 2010

Greer's attorney: 'It's a basic political assassination'

Jim Greer's attorney, Damon Chase of Lake Mary, called the arrest of his client "basic political assassination."

"You can indict a ham sandwich because your only presenting one side of the case," Chase said. "Ultimately when you show the rest of the story .... you realize it's not criminal."

An associate of Chase's law firm, who is representing Greer in the civil case against the Republican Party of Florida for a breach of contract, said FDLE agents are "ripping apart" Greer's upscale home in Oviedo as a part of a search warrant. "It's like a movie," Chase said.

Greer's first appearance is set for 1:30 p.m. in Seminole County court where his attorneys will ask for a lower bond, which is currently set at $105,000. He is expected to be released later today.

UPDATE: A jail processing snag kept Greer from making the scheduled first appearance. His attorney is in the process of bonding him out (at $105,000) at the moment.

May 06, 2010

McCollum won't support raising oil damage cap he voted for

As the oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, the talk in Washington involves the federal $75 million liability cap on damages, which was approved by Congress in 1990. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants to raise the ceiling to $10 billion.

It's worth noting that then-Congressman Bill McCollum voted for the cap as a part of the Oil Pollution Prevention, Response, Liability, and Compensation Act, which won unanimous approval.

The vote puts McCollum, now the attorney general and a candidate for governor, in a precarious spot as the clean up is sure to linger throughout the campaign season. His rival, CFO Alex Sink, was quick to notice.

So does McCollum support raising the federal cap he voted for? His campaign wouldn't say. A campaign spokeswoman said it's a potential legal matter for the state.

Continue reading "McCollum won't support raising oil damage cap he voted for" »

April 20, 2010

The strange life of a life insurance bill

UPDATED: The bill with the strangest ride through the legislative process this session is likely HB885 titled "Life Insurance" by Rep. John Tobia, a first-term Republican from Satellite Beach.

It changed dramatically earlier this month when House GOP leaders added language pertaining to the federal health care reform and Attorney General Bill McCollum's lawsuit against President Barack Obama.

The McCollum language was stripped off and put in a separate bill (House PCB 7235) last week. And now lawmakers wanted to add a firebrand amendment Tuesday, though it was later withdrawn. Sponsored by Reps. Matt Gaetz, Chris Dorworth and Scott Plakon, the amendment appears to forbid any state-regulated health insurance plan or hospital from paying for an abortion.

The amendments are not likely to survive the germanity rules that require it to relate to the original bill. For this reason, the amendments were withdrawn before the bill came to the floor

(It's interesting to note the unintended consequences of the McCollum language, which changed the bill title to a broad "insurance bill," attracted a swarm of lobbyists who wanted to tack on their cause. So the GOP leadership likely changed course to prevent a further feeding frenzy.)

April 19, 2010

Abortion bill appears dead; supporters blame Gardiner's 'cowardice'

A controversial bill to expand parental notification for abortion appears dead this session after the Senate Health Regulation Committee failed to consider the measure Monday. It is still moving in the House, so critics are careful not to celebrate yet.

But it's the legislation's supporters who are throwing in the towel -- and blaming bill sponsor Sen. Andy Gardiner.

In an e-mail titled "UNBELIEVABLE," the Christian Family Coalition said Gardiner "ran out on his bill" and "lost all credibility" with supporters. He left the room before it was considered and asked committee Chairman Don Gaetz to postpone it. The committee won't meet again this session.

"This is the biggest act of COWARDICE that I have seen a public official display in all of my years in statewide politics, he didn't even have the decency to stay in the committee hearing room and postpone his own bill," said Anthony Verdugo, the founder of Christian Family Coalition in a statement. "Someone needs to get the message to Gardiner that politics is a contact sport and NOT for the faint at heart!"

April 08, 2010

GOP plan to prevent federal health care reforms now in trouble

UPDATED: A proposed effort to block the implementation of federal health care reforms hit its own roadblock Thursday. Rules Committee Chairman Bill Galvano attempted to effectively neuter the bill on legal grounds with a last minute amendment. But his fellow GOP leaders -- Adam Hasner and Sandy Adams -- temporarily postponed his amendment and then the entire bill, a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR37).

Galvano told bill sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon the Florida Constitution is no place to tell the federal government what it can and cannot do -- particularly because of the federal supremacy clause. The amendment would have prohibited only Florida from mandating health care coverage -- not the federal government. (Later, Galvano said he supported Attorney General Bill McCollum's lawsuit against the federal government -- calling it the appropriate avenue to challenge the federal law.)

Plakon reluctantly accepted Galvano's change but other Republicans on the committee weren't so quick. It's unclear whether the bill surface again, if the disagreement can't get reconciled. The original version already passed its Senate committees.