February 12, 2019

DeSantis, Scott and Rubio ask Trump for $200 million for Everglades projects

 

Tamiami bridge construction

Ever since he started his term as Florida’s most powerful leader, Gov. Ron DeSantis has held true to his stance on the environment, particularly his commitment to the Everglades.

The self-titled “Teddy Roosevelt-style Republican” sent a letter to President Donald Trump Monday, asking for $200 million to fast-track construction for Everglades restoration.

The letter, co-signed by U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, asks that the president include the money in his annual budget request to fulfill “long overdue federal commitments to restore the Everglades.”

“Florida’s recent struggles with harmful algal blooms have raised the stakes for accelerated progress on Everglades restoration,” the letter said. “Enhanced federal funding to complement years of historic state funding levels would fast-track design and construction [...] to divert and clean Lake Okeechobee releases and increase water deliveries to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay/”

DeSantis, who has made the environment a top priority, made a $625 million commitment to the environment in his annual budget proposal, representing a quarter of a $2.5 billion promise he made to spend on water quality over the next four years — a $1 billion increase from past spending.

About half the spending — a record $360 million — would go to Everglades projects, speeding up a 17,000-acre Everglades reservoir in farm fields south of Lake Okeechobee and remove almost 200,000 pounds of discharged phosphorus per year — a major source of nutrient pollution.

The request for federal money would specifically go toward the Central Everglades Planning Project and the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir. They would also advance construction of water storage and treatment facilities planned for the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir and Indian River Lagoon-South projects, in order to reduce the frequency and intensity of algal blooms.

The state budget proposal makes a commitment to the cause, providing $25 million to treat the blooms and red tide plaguing the state’s water supply.

"Are we spending money now in a way we can look back and say 'it's a good thing they really tackled that?'" he said at a press conference announcing his budget. "With the water, people want us to tackle that and I'm serious and get it done."

February 07, 2019

Patronis to Trump: Ease up on medical marijuana banking

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Jimmy Patronis, [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

In his recent Senate committee testimony, President Donald Trump's new pick for Attorney General made a point that caught the attention of Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

William Barr, who served as U.S. Attorney General under President George H. W. Bush, spoke Thursday about the fact that several states have made laws allowing the use of medical marijuana. 

Barr said the "right way to resolve" the matter is legalizing medical marijuana through the federal legislative process. As for state law, he promised not to go after medical marijuana businesses in states where it's legal. 

“To the extent that people are complying with the state laws, distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” he said.

The Senate panel voted down party lines to move Barr forward, setting up a confirmation vote next week.

In a letter to the President Thursday, Patronis asked him to advise the banks on how they can service the medical marijuana industry without risk of penalty from the federal government before marijuana legislation is potentially passed nationwide.

"The size and staggering growth of the medical marijuana industry, paired with limited regulated banking options, puts patients and employees in dangerous situations as potential targets for criminal activity," Patronis wrote, describing Florida's $300 million and growing medical marijuana industry. "We are now facing a tremendous safety threat as most dispensaries operating in our state are doing so as cash-only businesses."

Federal data released in June shows that by the end of last March, just 411 banks and credit unions across the country were “actively” banking with marijuana businesses.

Banks have been hesitant to service the medical cannabis industry because it's still illegal on the federal level, and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions once indicated that he was going to be stricter than the previous administration on medical pot.

Patronis said since most Florida banks and credit unions won't bank with medical marijuana businesses, it leads to legitimate medical marijuana treatment centers transporting millions of dollars "in duffle bags of cash and even driving the cash endlessly around in trucks," he wrote.

"I know first-hand the risks that come with handling large amounts of cash, which are even greater when a business operates entirely on a cash basis," Patronis wrote. "These businesses are easy targets for criminals and criminal activity [...] We must reassure financial institutions that there will not be retribution for servicing businesses that act within the state’s legal framework." 

Florida's marijuana banking problems became national news during the midterm elections when then-candidate for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried had her campaign accounts closed twice — with both BB&T and Wells Fargo citing contributions from the industry. 

“I appreciate Chief Patronis highlighting this crucial issue — an issue I dealt with firsthand while campaigning for this office," she sid Thursday night. "Our growing medical marijuana and cannabis industry faces an uphill battle when they must fight to gain access to basic financial services, which limits their stability, competition, and safety. Secure financial services will allow our businesses to compete and thrive, and add to our state’s economy while expanding access for sick and suffering patients.” 

January 31, 2019

Rick Scott says Trump should use emergency powers to pay for a border wall

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Sen. Rick Scott is urging President Donald Trump to declare an emergency to pay for a border wall if Democrats won’t agree to it.

Less than one week after the longest shutdown in federal government history was temporarily halted, Scott said the president should bypass Congress and use Department of Defense dollars to pay for a border wall, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Thursday that there will be “no wall money” in a bill to fund the government beyond February 15.

“If the Democrats refuse to work with him, then the president needs to use his emergency powers to fund border security and include a permanent solution for DACA and TPS,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott’s position is new. He did not explicitly endorse a move that could divert Department of Defense funds from ongoing disaster relief projects to build a wall during the previous shutdown. An emergency declaration by Trump would almost certainly be challenged in the courts, though it would allow the president to sign spending bills to keep the government open without reneging on a campaign promise to build the wall.

More here.

December 21, 2018

Fried says Florida jobs, revenue will benefit from Farm Bill's hemp provision

HempKentucky

President Donald Trump signed into law Thursday an $867 billion farm bill which, among other things, classifies hemp as an agricultural commodity and takes it off the federal controlled substances list.

Nicole "Nikki" Fried, agriculture commissioner-elect, said she was “elated” when she heard the bill passed.

Hemp, a form of the cannabis plant, contains only trace amounts of THC — the naturally occurring component in marijuana that produces a high — and uses less water and fertilizer to grow. States like Kentucky have embraced hemp as a way to replace failing tobacco farms and falling crop prices.

“Lifting the needless ban on hemp presents an incredible opportunity for our farmers and Florida as a whole," said Fried,  a marijuana lobbyist and South Florida attorney who made a name for herself on a weed-heavy campaign platform. "I look forward to ensuring we take the necessary steps so Florida is ready to become a national leader on hemp.

Hemp growing is already being studied in Florida, thanks to legislation that authorized the Department of Agriculture to issue hemp field study permits through Florida A&M and the University of Florida. 

UF’s two-year program is housed on three sites across the state, where researchers are studying the risk of hemp plants becoming invasive threats as well as identifying hemp varieties suitable for Florida’s various environments. Right now, researchers are preparing the land and necessary approvals for planting at the research locations in the spring. They are still hiring research personnel, ordering seed, applying for planting permits and working to get additional sponsorship.

Since the new farm bill will allow hemp production beyond the university setting, Fried’s campaign promise to expand industrial hemp can hold true

"This is an alternative crop which will give Florida’s agriculture community the tools they need to be competitive and successful," Fried said. "It has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar industry for our state, which could drive job growth with an open market and account for a strong new source of revenue." 

December 10, 2018

Frederica Wilson never got an apology from John Kelly. She got nooses from critics.

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty

Frederica Wilson says she never received an apology from outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly after he falsely attacked her.

Instead, she’s received death threats and nooses in the mail over the past year.

The Miami congresswoman was part of a national firestorm a year ago when she criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of a phone call with the widow of La David Johnson, a constituent of Wilson’s who was killed under mysterious circumstances during a military operation in Niger. In response, Kelly took the unusual step of addressing the national media from the White House briefing room to attack Wilson for taking undue credit for an FBI field office that opened in South Florida.

Now Kelly is scheduled to depart the White House in a few weeks. It’s unclear who will succeed him.

“I truly thought he would be fired long before now,” Wilson told the Miami Herald on Monday. “I think the president was hesitant because of all the publicity that he can’t hold staff or he’s a bad manager.”

Wilson said she has heard “not a word” from Kelly or the White House since his attack turned out to be false. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I think he made it very clear when he was asked by the media over and over and he said that he would never apologize,” Wilson said. “I think my concern was when he attempted to slander me and to impugn my integrity as a sitting member of Congress when he went to the White House briefing room and actually spoke about it to the American people.”

More here.

November 12, 2018

Trump, Scott and Rubio continue to push claims of Florida voter fraud without evidence

Donald trump 2

@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump and Florida’s two highest-ranking Republicans are continuing to push unfounded claims of voter fraud as the state recounts votes to decide closely watched races for governor, U.S. Senate and agriculture commissioner.

The president said valid ballots in Florida should be thrown out because “an honest vote count is no longer possible.”

Governor Rick Scott said his Democratic U.S. Senate opponent, Bill Nelson, is “clearly trying commit voter fraud to win this election.”

And Republican Senator Marco Rubio said “Democrat lawyers... are here to change the results of the election and Broward is where they plan to do it.”

There is no evidence of voter fraud in Broward County, according to election monitors from the state’s Division of Elections who have been stationed there since at least Election Day. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not received a request in writing to investigate voter fraud from Scott. And the Florida Department of State said Monday their staff has “not seen any evidence of criminal activity in Broward County at this time. ”

The president suggested Monday that Florida should certify the election based on Election Night vote tallies — even though the state is in the midst of a legally mandated recount. He had previously tweeted that Democrats were trying to “steal two big elections in Florida,” suggesting that Broward County withheld votes during the 2016 presidential election because they were “getting ready to do a ‘number’” on Trump’s margin of victory in Florida and that Democrats “’found’ many votes” in Broward County to help Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.

“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged,” Trump tweeted, while providing no evidence. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

Read more here.

November 02, 2018

Independents will decide Florida’s statewide elections, but polling them is tricky

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@alextdaugherty

Independent voters are the white whale of Florida elections.

They cannot vote in closed primaries, so they didn’t play a part in electing Andrew Gillum or Ron DeSantis in August, and typically turn out in lower numbers in years when a president isn’t on the ballot.

But a national environment dominated by President Donald Trump, combined with record-breaking spending in the U.S. Senate race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, have focused the political world’s attention on Florida. The intense interest is reflected in an uptick among all voters in early voting, including independents.

Statewide polls conducted in the past month show a massive variance among voters who are not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party. One poll conducted by the University of North Florida this week shows Gillum with a 25 percentage point lead over DeSantis among independents and Nelson leading Scott by 17 points. Another poll conducted by CBS/YouGov this week shows DeSantis and Scott both winning independents by 13 percentage points.

and Nelson with slight leads within the margin of error. For example, the UNF poll showed Gillum with a 6 percentage point lead and Nelson with a 1 percentage point lead, while the CBS poll showed Gillum up by 1 percentage point and Nelson in a tie with Scott.

Accurately polling voters who don’t identify or aren’t registered with either party is a tricky proposition.

“When you’re dealing with small samples like that, it gets really difficult to get a good sense of what they’re doing exactly as a group,” said Michael Binder, the director of the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Library. “The margin of error for that is relatively high. That’s just a problem you have.”

More here.

October 23, 2018

GOP leader who wants to build Trump’s wall is raising cash for Maria Elvira Salazar

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@alextdaugherty

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy likes Donald Trump so much he once sorted through a bag of Starburst candy to pick out the cherry and strawberry flavored square-shaped fruit chews—Trump’s favorite flavors—to present the president with a personalized gift.

McCarthy, a California congressman who wants to lead Republicans in the House of Representatives after the November election, has voiced explicit support for funding Trump’s proposed Mexico border wall and sponsored a bill called the “Build the Wall, Enforce the Law Act of 2018.”

He’s also raising money for Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican running in a majority Hispanic district Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points.

Salazar is set to host a fundraiser with McCarthy on Wednesday, according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. The lunchtime gathering at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables lists a $10,000 in fundraising for “host” status and $5,000 in fundraising for “co-host” status.

Salazar, a former TV journalist, has won over national Republicans after making the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen against Democrat Donna Shalala competitive. The prospect of a Salazar victory has led to outside groups investing in the race after previously considering it unwinnable and has drawn the attention of Republicans like McCarthy who can raise money.

It also brings a Republican to South Florida who has pledged to support Trump’s request for Congress to fund a border wall, something the GOP has not done during Trump’s first term despite a unified majority in the House and Senate. As Speaker, McCarthy would have the power to force votes on spending bills that could include Trump’s border wall.

Salazar’s campaign did not respond when asked if McCarthy’s visit means that she will vote for him to lead House Republicans if elected. 

More here.

October 12, 2018

‘That looks good, man’. Trump Jr. is served steak by Salt Bae

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@alextdaugherty @nicknehamas

President Donald Trump is no fan of Nicolás Maduro, but his son enjoyed artistically salted steaks Thursday by a celebrity chef who set off protests in Miami for feeding the Venezuelan dictator last month.

Donald Trump Jr. posted a video on Instagram Thursday night that showed him being served steak by Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef known as Salt Bae for finishing his elaborate steak presentations with a flourish of salt.

“This happened tonight. Amazing meal with @nusr_et #saltbae #salt#bae,” Trump Jr. posted to his verified Instagram account.

Salt Bae’s decision to post videos of him feeding Maduro and providing him with a customized T-shirt while Maduro puffed on a cigar set off protests in Miami after Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal critic of Maduro, posted the address and phone number of Salt Bae’s Miami restaurant. Trump Jr. appears to have posted the video from Salt Bae’s New York location.

Rubio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More here.

October 08, 2018

‘We are not the enemies’: GOP candidate touts journalism career in congressional race

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Maria Elvira Salazar is trying to hug her way to Congress.

The telegenic former TV host turned Republican candidate is at Las Mercedes senior center in West Dade, a campaign stop full of elderly Cuban-American voters who helped fuel the GOP’s dominance in Miami for the last 40 years.

Everyone recognizes her. Most do not speak English.

Salazar works the room, hugging dozens who are eager to chat with someone they saw on TV for years. One asks her how she’s in such good shape for a 56-year-old.

“I don’t eat dairy,” Salazar replies with a laugh.

She is seeking to pull off an upset in the country’s most Democratic-leaning district currently under GOP control in a year where Democrats are poised to make gains in Congress. Her opponent is former University of Miami president and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates ever.

In an era where President Donald Trump shouts “fake news” at unflattering news coverage and belittles journalists who ask him tough questions, the Republican Party is putting its faith in a woman who touts her 35-year career in news reporting — and has vowed to serve as a centrist not beholden to the conservative wing or the president.

Republicans need to keep 24 seats from flipping blue if they want to maintain the House of Representatives for the latter half of Trump’s first term in office. Salazar, who voted for Trump, is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, one that Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016, the largest margin of defeat for the president in any district held by a Republican. But Salazar has the support of retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — who won reelection in 2016 by 10 percentage points despite Trump’s presence on the ballot — and local Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“Being a journalist for 35 years it’s very difficult to stop being one,” Salazar said. “I covered the first year of [Trump’s] presidency so there is my record. I’ve always covered the issues, not on the fluff or on the words.”

Salazar is campaigning as Ileana 2.0. She’s indicated an openness to a ban on assault weapons, backs Curbelo’s new carbon tax proposal and says she’ll fight for comprehensive immigration reform if elected.

And she’s aware of the potential challenges Trump poses to her candidacy.

“The Republican Party, its values, the values that are entrenched are bigger than the president,” Salazar said. “I understand that Trump is an unconventional guy, I get that sometimes his words are not the proper ones, but I see what he’s done for the country, and what he’s done for China and North Korea no other president did.”

Salazar insists that she’s seeing a path to victory, and polling shows a closer-than-expected contest between Shalala, a former Clinton administration official and Clinton Foundation executive who does not speak Spanish, and Salazar, a known presence on Spanish-language television.

“Surprise!” she says when asked about her potential to steal what should have been a Democratic layup. “I can’t tell you the secret but the path to victory is there.”

Read more here.