November 14, 2018

Rick Scott won't certify the results of his own election, lawyer says

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks during an event in Hialeah, Fla. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Scott McIntyre 775192837

Gov. Rick Scott will not participate in the Elections Canvassing Commission on Tuesday, relieving him from the chance that he could certify — or not — the results of his U.S. Senate race.

Scott had been silent about his participation on the canvassing commission, a relatively obscure board that signs off on the results of each federal, state and multi-county election. The commission consists of Scott and two members of the Cabinet that he chooses.

On Wednesday, his lawyer told U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that Scott plans to recuse himself from the commission, just like he did in 2014, when Scott was running for re-election and also faced the chance of certifying the results of his own election.

Since the other members of the Cabinet were also on the ballot, he appointed then-state Senate President Don Gaetz, Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Kelli Stargel to fill in for them on the commission four years ago.

Lawyers for the League of Women Voters of Florida said they want a "neutral third party" to fill in for Scott. The only other member of the Cabinet who could replace him — CFO Jimmy Patronis — is a Scott appointee who also is also on the ballot this year.

November 12, 2018

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

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@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 09, 2018

Bill Nelson goes back to court Wednesday, challenging Florida’s election signature match law

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Sen. Bill Nelson and his attorneys will head back to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida Wednesday afternoon in a fight for a ruling that would require ballots with “signature mismatches” be counted.

Nelson is suing the Florida Secretary of State and demanding the state count every mail-in and provisional ballot deemed to have a so-called “signature mismatch.” He also requests Saturday's deadline to canvass ballots be extended until the legal matter is resolved.

The threshold for a recount will be determined by the number of ballots reported by the canvassing board by noon Saturday. Those returns are what will determine recounts in not just the Senate race, but potentially the race for governor, agriculture commissioner and a smattering of statehouse seats.

In the complaint, his attorney wrote that by rejecting and discarding ballots with signature mismatches, the local canvassing boards are disenfranchising the voters who cast them. The complaint accused local canvassing boards of engaging “demonstrably standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable” process that has been shown to result in the “disproportionate rejection of [vote-by-mail] and provisional ballots cast by ethnic and racial minorities, as well as young, first-time voters.”

 

Mohammed Jazil, who is representing Secretary Ken Detzner, said in a hearing Friday that by changing the noon deadline, it would cause problems with the counties that have already submitted their unofficial returns.

He said that by 4 p.m. Friday, 52 of the state's 67 counties have already provided their returns to the state. 

"The counties would have to undo the counts they have already submitted and redo the counts," Jazil said."The recount would have to stop and then restart."

Judge Robert Hinkle, who is overseeing the case, said in scheduling hearing Friday that he doesn’t plan on rushing to make a ruling before noon Saturday.

“The subject this endeavor is to get this right,” he said in the hearing. “It’s far less urgent to have a ruling by noon tomorrow. It’s far more important to do this well.”

The state wants to defend the legality of the statute on signature matching, but Nelson’s side "wants a resolution as quickly possible.”

Nelson, who trails Gov. Rick Scott with a slim 0.18 percent margin, believes the final vote total will continue to move in his favor before a recount is called Saturday.

His election lawyer, Marc Elias, said on a conference call Thursday morning that by the end of the month, the senator will be preparing for a fourth term in Washington.

Broward County was still counting early voting and vote-by-mail ballots Friday. Nelson received 68.9 percent of the votes there in the primary. In Palm Beach County, where Nelson received 58.4 percent of the votes, the canvassing board was still counting vote-by-mail ballots.

October 25, 2018

Verizon names Panama City one of the first to get 5G after facing backlash over Hurricane Michael response

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott has publicly rebuked Verizon for its slow response to Hurricane Michael.

Verizon's recovery in the Panhandle from Hurricane Michael has been nothing short of a mess, with its rivals recovering faster and Gov. Rick Scott and others publicly berating the carrier's slow response.

To make up for it, Verizon is throwing hard-hit Panama City a bone: It announced this week that the city would be one of the first five in the nation to get its next-generation 5G network.

Panama City is joining Los Angeles, Houston, Sacramento and Indianapolis in getting the service, which promises download speeds many times faster than traditional 4G LTE.

"This is about helping Panama City rebuild better than ever," Verizon spokeswoman Kate Jay said.

Panama City would become the first city in Florida to get 5G, but the details are thin.

The service might just be Verizon's in-home 5G service, which is meant to replace your traditional home Wi-Fi, albeit with superfast speeds. The other four cities got that service this month.

But the service could be over Verizon's cell towers, like a traditional cellular network. That's cutting-edge technology that the carrier doesn't expect to start rolling out until 2019 (other carriers are racing to roll out 5G as well). No phones currently sold are equipped to use 5G cellular technology.

When asked which service Panama City might get, Jay said, "Stay tuned on that, as we work to finalize our plans."

Whatever service Panama City gets, it won't be until 2019.

Verizon said it suffered "unprecedented" damage to its network after the Category 4 storm made landfall, and it's taken two weeks for the network to recover.

Over that time, it was subjected to multiple rebukes in press conferences and on Twitter by Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis, who's from Panama City.

"We've put a lot of food and water out all across the state," Scott told the press a few days after the storm. "Well, if you have no internet and you have no cellphone, it's hard to get the information out. AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not."

October 15, 2018

Rick Scott and Jimmy Patronis aren't happy with Verizon's response to Hurricane Michael

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Gov. Rick Scott points out some damage caused by Hurricane Michael while flying somewhere over the panhandle of Florida Thursday. The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael the day before came into focus Thursday as rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and rescue crews began making their way into the stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who may have stayed behind. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis have been taking aim at Verizon over the last 24 hours, apparently frustrated by how slow the cell carrier has been to restore service to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.

During a Sunday press briefing, Scott mentioned Verizon's problems twice, while touting the company's chief competitor.

"There in Bay County, we’re still waiting on Verizon," Scott said, adding why it was important for cell service to be restored.

"We’ve put a lot of food and water out all across the state," Scott said. "Well, if you have no internet and you have no cellphone, it’s hard to get the information out. AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not."

Scott, continuing to dig at Verizon, has also been retweeting AT&T and praising the company on Twitter.

Thanks, @ATT, for working to get communications back online quickly & helping Florida communities following Michael," Scott tweeted.

Patronis, whose hometown is Bay County's Panama City, also took aim at Verizon on Twitter, complete with the hashtag #fixitnow.

"We are on Day 6 with no @verizon service in Bay County," Patronis tweeted. "Phones are critical infrastructure for Search and Rescue and First Responder communications. We need the same response from @verizon as we have seen from our electric companies."

Verizon in a statement said it's suffered "unprecedented damage to our fiber, which is essential for our network."

"Our fiber crews are working around the clock to make repairs, and while they are making good progress, we still have work to do to get the fiber completely repaired," the company said.

But the other three carriers are apparently not having the same problem. The Wall Street Journal quoted customers and company officials with AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint saying that all three carriers were up and running in the area.

The Panhandle suffered widespread cell service outages in the wake of Hurricane Michael, with more than 70 percent of towers down in the hardest-hit areas the day after the storm came through.

And the carriers have made little progress in Bay County since the storm made landfall.

All other counties hit by the storm have at least half of their cell towers back in use, but in Bay County, more than 65 percent of cell towers were still out Monday morning — down from 78 percent the morning after the storm, according to the FCC.

Both Verizon and AT&T have been big donors to the Republican Party of Florida for years, and Verizon has given more than $50,000 to Scott's campaigns since 2013, records show.

On Monday afternoon, Scott issued a press release noting that Verizon has opened an emergency communications center at their Panama City store and was also supporting the Bay County Emergency Operations Center.

Herald/Times staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

October 11, 2018

Rick Scott asks CNN to move debate back 2 weeks, citing Hurricane Michael

Gov Rick Scott

@alextdaugherty

Gov. Rick Scott's U.S. Senate campaign asked CNN to postpone a scheduled debate with Sen. Bill Nelson by two weeks on Thursday, saying that the governor will have "no time for campaigning" as the Florida Panhandle recovers from Hurricane Michael. 

"We appreciate CNN understanding the dire situation in North Florida," campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman said in a statement. "Floridians deserve the chance to see candidates debate so they can judge their leadership skills, experience, and differences. Governor Scott looks forward to debating, but will have no time for campaigning in the next few weeks as he focuses exclusively on recovery efforts for the foreseeable future." 

Scott has been a near constant presence on TV this week in his official capacity as governor, urging residents in evacuation zones to leave and giving updates on storm preparation by state agencies. Nelson was in Washington to vote on a massive water infrastructure bill when Michael made landfall on Wednesday but both Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio missed votes on Thursday to travel to the Panhandle. 

Moving the Oct. 16th debate back two weeks would set the nationally televised event for Oct. 30, exactly one week before Election Day and after early voting begins. 

October 08, 2018

Nelson one of seven Democrats who didn't speak on Senate floor about Kavanaugh

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was one of seven Senate Democrats who did not speak on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination in recent weeks on the Senate floor, a list that includes a host of Democrats facing competitive reelection bids. 

Nelson eventually voted against Kavauangh, who was successfully confirmed on Saturday, and announced his opposition after Kavanaugh testified about sexual assault allegations from 35 years ago in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nelson tried to set up a meeting with Kavanaugh, but was unable to do so. 

"I've had many questions about Judge Kavanaugh and in an effort to be fair, I wanted to meet with him, but he was not available," Nelson said in a statement when he announced his opposition. "Dr. Ford's testimony was compelling and raises questions about his character and, therefore, there needs to be a full FBI investigation. As stated before, I will vote no."

 

The other Democratic senators not to speak on Senate floor about Kavanaugh beginning on September 28, the day Nelson officially announced his opposition, were Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Montana Sen. Jon Tester, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. The only senator among that group who is not up for reelection in a state won by Donald Trump in 2016 is Warner. Manchin was the only Democrat who voted for Kavanaugh, and his confirmation passed on a 50-48 vote. 

Gov. Rick Scott has criticized Nelson for failing to meet with Kavanaugh during the confirmation process, and called on his Democratic opponent to confirm him. 

"Nelson sold his vote to [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer, who funds his campaign," Scott said in a statement on Friday. "That’s why he came out as a no before Kavanaugh was even selected. Shameful. DC has turned this process into a circus. It’s a great example of why we need term limits. Senator Nelson and Senate Democrats have used Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford as pawns in their political game."

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio gave a floor speech affirming his support for Kavanaugh last week. 

October 04, 2018

Rick Scott keeps calling Bill Nelson ‘confused.’ Is this a dog whistle that could bite back?

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via @scontorno

What does Gov. Rick Scott mean when he calls Sen. Bill Nelson "confused," as he did twice during Tuesday's U.S. Senate debate?

To Democrats, Scott's intentions are clear. The repeated references to Nelson's state of mind are a flagrant and unseemly attempt to draw attention to the age of a 76-year-old senator who has never been accused of poor mental fitness.

Scott's campaign said that's not the case at all.

"It's that he has become such a party-line liberal, and like most career politicians, he talks a lot but doesn't get anything done," the Republican's spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

Whether it is a dog whistle, or just a particularly cutting attack in a long line of brutish missives, Scott's campaign isn't backing away. Campaign manager Jackie Schutz Zeckman sent reporters a post-debate recap that asserted Nelson was "losing his mind" and "barely hanging on."

"A rambling, incoherent, confused, disjointed performance," Schutz Zeckman said in the statement. It was a startling conclusion to draw from the debate, a straightforward, if not mundane clash between two seasoned politicians who went to great pains to avoid missteps by saying little, if anything, new.

Nelson's campaign said Schutz Zeckman's remarks crossed a line. And on Wednesday, the left-aligned Alliance for Retired Americans called on Scott to "stop using ageist, inflammatory language to describe Senator Nelson immediately."

Nelson turned 76 on Sept. 29, and has often dismissed questions about his age with a challenge to a pushup contest. There are 11 senators older than Nelson in a chamber where the median age is 63 — or two years younger than Scott. If elected, Scott would be 66 at his swearing-in, 19 years older than Florida's other senator, Marco Rubio.

Republican strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich said it's obvious Scott's campaign sees Nelson's age as a vulnerability to exploit — part of a plan to paint Nelson as too old and having spent too long in office. Nelson was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1972.

Stipanovich is less sure how it will play out in a state where 1 in 5 residents are retirement age.

"Those are dog whistles. Who exactly they're designed to appeal to, since such a great percentage of the voters are Nelson's age, I don't know," Stipanovich said. "I don't know if that's a great strategy or not."

Read more here.

October 01, 2018

How Parkland school massacre turned guns into a top 2018 campaign issue in Florida

Congress Gun Violence

@alextdaugherty

Gun rights have motivated portions of the Republican base in Florida for years, but the script has changed in 2018.

The National Rifle Association sued the state of Florida after Gov. Rick Scott and 67 state lawmakers with an “A” rating from the nation’s largest gun group signed a bill that bans anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. Congress passed a bill that authorizes funding for school safety measures after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, but hasn’t taken up other ideas that would limit access to firearms. Republicans running in competitive congressional races across Florida say they are open to a ban on assault weapons.

Parkland and the March For Our Lives movement started by a group of Broward County high school students have thrust gun politics into the top tier of issues ahead of the 2018 elections, where Democrats are hoping to keep Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat and flip up to a half dozen congressional seats that could determine which party wins the majority in the House of Representatives.

“Even if you go back 10 years, it’s amazing how much this issue has changed,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “If you looked at the polling, people supported background checks and banning certain types of weapons, but the entire energy for voting was on the other side. A larger swath of the population is saying that if you’re not reasonable about gun safety, we’re not going to vote for you.”

Though Parkland is in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, congressional candidates in nearby Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties have changed their tune on guns in the last year. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, running for reelection in a Democratic-leaning district, called on Congress to ban devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like automatic rifles after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017. Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast cited his military experience when calling for an assault weapons ban after Parkland. Miami congressional candidate Maria Elvira Salazar, a Republican, said this week that she supports background checks on guns and is open to an assault-weapons ban.

All three breezed through their respective Republican primaries even though Mast drew two challengers after announcing his stance against assault weapons, and Salazar faced a host of challengers who were more conservative on guns.

“The threat that the NRA has made for years is that if you oppose us, you will lose,” Schale said, adding that zero Republican incumbents who signed the state-level gun bill or called for more gun restrictions after Parkland lost their primaries. “If you look at folks like Brian Mast who came out for an assault weapons ban... it’s hard to imagine in the past that a GOP member of Congress could come out with that position without being completely terrified of the NRA.”

Read more here.

September 20, 2018

Lawsuit filed (again) over Gov. Scott appointing justices to state supreme court

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Rick Scott [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

It's back: two groups that were previously told their case was "not ripe"filed a new lawsuit Thursday that alleges Gov. Rick Scott does not have the legal authority to appoint justices to the state supreme court, as three major vacancies loom in January 2019.

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida have asked the state supreme court to stop the Judicial Nominating Commission from nominating candidates to fill the vacancies.

Their case was previously struck down because Scott had not yet picked new justices, but last week, he directed the commission to begin seeking nominees.

"Governor Scott intends to follow this precedent and will invite the governor-elect to conduct his own interviews of the nominees following the general election," Scott's statement said at the time. "The governor's expectation is that he and the governor-elect — like Governor Chiles and then Governor-elect Bush — will agree on the selection of three justices who will serve with distinction."

READ MORERick Scott orders panel to screen nominees for Supreme Court

The lawsuit contends that Scott is acting "unquestionably beyond his authority" by intending to make nominations before the vacancies open and while Scott is still in office, which they say violates the state constitution.

In a statement, John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, hit back.

"It’s disappointing that these partisan groups filed a politically-motivated lawsuit that would create three prolonged vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, contrary to all historical practice," he wrote.

What's at stake with the next justices is the ideological makeup of the state's highest court. Because of a mandatory retirement age of 70 that's set in the state's constitution, all three justices must retire.

Two of the three justices, Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente, were appointed by Florida's last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, with the third, Peggy Quince, having been jointly appointed by Chiles and then-incoming Gov. Jeb Bush.

They have all issued opinions in opposition to the Scott Administration.

Republicans like the GOP's nominee for governor, Ron DeSantis, have spoken often about their retirement as an opportunity to "end judicial activism" by appointing strong conservatives to the bench. His campaign has indicated he would cooperate with Scott.

But if Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum is elected, it's likely he, too, will challenge Scott for the power to appoint the justices. His campaign has said that they believe the rightful authority lies with the next governor.