Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

July 06, 2015

Scott sidesteps questions on possible 2018 Senate run

@JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott was offering no hints on Monday about whether he is considering running for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Asked about that prospect, in light of him spending almost $300,000 on political consultants since April, Scott wouldn’t bite.

"I’m continuing to work at my job as governor," Scott said following a ceremony inducting five new members into Florida’s Veterans Hall of Fame. "I just went through an election last year and I’ve got three and a half more years as governor and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure this is a place this a where you want to raise your family."

Besides spending money on consultants, Scott has also been airing television ads statewide through his Let's Get To Work fundraising committee and has tried to elevate his national profile by hosting 7 GOP presidential candidates at an economic summit he hosted in Orlando in June.

Scott's current term as governor runs through 2018, when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, would be finishing his third term in the Senate. Some high dollar donors have said Scott privately has told them he has interest in running for the seat, though he has not said so publicly.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's interns 'Shake It Off'

@PatriciaMazzei

The interns from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office want you to know: They have fun on the job.

They put together a video -- posted on the Miami Republican congresswoman's YouTube channel -- lip-syncing a well-produced version of Taylor Swift's hit pop song, "Shake It Off."

Yes, the congresswoman dances.

Ros-Lehtinen's most famous former intern may be 2016 GOP presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Alas, he worked in her office in the days before social media.

 

Donald Trump's misleading claim about immigrants in jail or prison

Despite the backlash, Donald Trump has remained steadfast in his position that illegal immigrants from Mexico bring rampant crime to the United States.

"You have illegal immigrants pouring through the country," the ultra-wealthy businessman and Republican presidential candidate said on Fox Business Network July 1. "They're incarcerated. Many of them are in jails. You have hundreds of thousands of people going to state and federal penitentiaries. That just came out in a Homeland Security Report."

We wondered if Trump was right that there are "hundreds of thousands" of illegal immigrants in the nation’s state and federal prisons. We polled experts and asked government agencies and found no data that speaks to this claim conclusively.

Turn to Lauren Carroll's fact-check from PolitiFact

Jeb Bush campaign hires regional finance director in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush's presidential campaign has tapped a well-liked Miami-Dade County budget staffer -- and one-time Marco Rubio aide -- as a regional campaign finance director for Florida.

Gigi Bolt's first day on the job will be Tuesday. She resigned two weeks ago from her job as assistant business analyst in Miami-Dade government's office of management and budget.

Before that, Bolt worked for County Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo, a Hialeah Republican who backs Rubio, Bush's hometown rival. Bolt herself worked for Rubio's local office in 2006, when he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

But even earlier, she worked for the Republican Party of Florida under finance consultant Ann Herberger, a veteran Bush family fund-raiser. Bolt's first political campaign experience, when she was 19 years old, was as a volunteer for Bush in the 1998 Florida governor's race.

"He's actually the first candidate I voted for," Bolt told the Miami Herald. "He has always been committed to helping Floridians, and I have confidence in his leadership should he become president."

Bolt said she will work under the Bush finance team headed by Heather Larrison and Les Williamson.

As Donald Trump defended his 'rapist immigrants' comment, he made a False claim about his business book

Appearing on CNN to defend his controversial comments on "rapist immigrants," Donald Trump said he doesn’t understand why Republican party leaders are so quick to publicly dismiss him.

After all, Trump reasoned, he’s surging in the polls and has had a track record of success: He  attended one of the best business schools in America, created a hotel and entertainment empire, and is a bestselling author to boot.

"They like to say, well, we don't consider him a serious candidate. Why wouldn't I be?," Trump said on July 1. "I went to the Wharton School of Finance, I was a great student. ... I go out, I make a tremendous fortune. I write a book called The Art of the Deal, the No. 1 selling business book of all time, at least I think, but I’m pretty sure it is. And certainly a big monster, the No. 1 bestseller. I do The Apprentice, a tremendous success, one of the most successful shows."

We were curious about Trump’s literary credentials. Did he pen the top-selling business book of all time?

See what Linda Qiu of PolitiFact found.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott make PolitiFact Florida's Top 5 in June

In June, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced at Miami-Dade College that he was officially launching his bid for the presidency in 2016.

Bush dominated PolitiFact Florida's Top 5 most clicked-on reports in June. Also on our Top 5 list was an article about one of Bush’s rivals -- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio -- as well as a repeated claim by Gov. Rick Scott about the environment.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to find our most clicked on item in June.

Pro-Marco Rubio political group says it's raised $15.8M

@PatriciaMazzei

Conservative Solutions Project, a political nonprofit formed by backers of 2016 Republican candidate Marco Rubio, said Monday it has collected $15.8 million since it was established last year.

The haul will allow the tax-exempt group to nationally air a television ad criticizing President Obama's nuclear talks with Iran, the nonprofit said in a statement Monday. The spot had so far only been broadcast on more limited cable networks. The group says it has spent more than $3.3 million in ad buys.

"We're also pleased to announce that, with more than $15.8 million raised already, Conservative Solutions Project is nearly two-thirds of the way to our overall fundraising goal," nonprofit President Pat Shortridge said in the statement. "These funds will allow us to continue the fight to restore our military and our nation's role in the world, and given the recent news about the nation's stagnant economy, advocate for conservative solutions to an inefficient tax code and education reform so all Americans have a chance to pursue their dreams."

The nonprofit is separate from but related to Conservative Solutions, a Super PAC also backing Rubio. Both are ostensibly independent from Rubio's campaign -- they're not allowed to "coordinate" -- but run by Rubio supporters. The difference between the nonprofit and the Super PAC is that the Super PAC must periodically disclose its financial donors, while the nonprofit can keep them secret.

Rep. David Richardson officially pulls out of race for Gwen Margolis' Senate seat

Fighting within the Democratic Party over a Miami seat in the state Senate seems to have subsided.

Last week, Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, officially pulled out of the race to replace Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Coconut Grove.

He had entered that election in January but said he would back out if Margolis decided to run again. Now, he says, it’s becoming clear that Margolis wants to stay in her seat.

“I’ve long said that I was not going to run against Sen. Gwen Margolis should she elect to run for reelection,” Richardson told the Times/Herald on Monday. “I believed that she probably would not run for reelection, but it has become clear to me that it’s more likely she will.”

Last week, Richardson filed paperwork with the state indicating that he won’t run for Senate until 2020.

That said, it’s a long time until November 2016. And Richardson said he will run whenever Margolis decides to step down.

If the venerable Senator — the longest-serving member of Florida’s Legislature and a former Senate president — decides to step down, Richardson plans to take the seat.

Richardson was first elected to the House in 2012. He’s the first openly gay member of the Florida Legislature. He has already collected $209,622.38 for his 2016 campaign.

Gov. Rick Scott trumpets MLB spring training complex

via @JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott starts his day with a little baseball celebration.

The Republican Governor will hold a ceremonial bill signing for legislation this morning that allows a land swap between Palm Beach County and the city of West Palm Beach to remove a final hurdle for the construction of a $135 million stadium that will be home to two major league baseball teams’ spring training teams.

The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros would co-operate the stadium that is scheduled to open in 2017.

The deal assures the Astros and Nationals will remain among the 15 spring training teams in Florida for the next 30 years. A year ago, the Astros were considered a potential threat to move to Arizona. They are the only team in either the American League West or National League West that continues spring training in Florida rather than Arizona.

Arizona’s aggressive push to lure MLB teams away from Florida for spring training has been particular tough on Florida’s east coast. Over the last 20 years, Arizona has convinced 7 teams to move to Arizona for spring training, giving it 15 teams total. Only four three teams remain in southeast Florida – the Mets, Cardinals and Marlins. But with the Nationals moving from Brevard County and the Astros from Osceola, there will now be 5 teams clustered around Palm Beach County and Martin County.

Scott signed the legislation on June 10, but often holds ceremonial bill signings around the state to garner extra publicity.

--JEREMY WALLACE, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Former Dolphins player and federal agent Randal Hill to run against U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson

Former Dolphins wide receiver and federal Homeland Security agent Randal Hill will take on U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, in a Democratic primary.

Wilson has represented Congressional District 24 which spans Miami-Dade and Broward counties since 2010.

Hill played professional football between 1991 and 1997 for the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals and the New Orleans Saints. Before playing professionally, Hill played for the University of Miami including their championship team in 1989.

Hill told the Miami Herald in an interview today that he quit his job as an agent with Homeland Security on Friday to run for Congress. He filed his paperwork to run with the Federal Election Commission last week. (Here is his website but it doesn't have anything on it yet.)

Hill said he didn’t have any immediate criticism of Wilson's stances on issues but questioned what she had accomplished for the district.

“If you can tell me what she has done as a Congresswoman than I won’t run,” he said. “One of the first things she did do was she tried to pass a bill for Congressmen or women to wear hats in the House of Representatives. I don’t know how that is helping the community as a sitting politician.”

Continue reading "Former Dolphins player and federal agent Randal Hill to run against U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson" »

State refers voter fraud complaint to Jacksonville prosecutor

After a three-month review, Gov. Rick Scott's administration has referred an allegation of voter fraud to Jacksonville-area State Attorney Angela Corey for possible criminal prosecution. The complaint alleges that a Jacksonville man, Zakee Fur'qan, voted after his civil rights had been revoked because of a past felony conviction.

Fur'qan, according to the complaint, changed his name from Leon Edward Nelson, who was convicted of second-degree murder in Duval County in 1991 and changed his name nine years later. FloridaPolitics.com and the Florida Times-Union reported in April on the name change and that former Mayor Alvin Brown removed Fur'qan's name from a list of campaign supporters after learning about his past identity. Florida's voter registration form asks every applicant to swear that "I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, my right to vote has been restored."

"I'm pleased that the evidence points to taking it to the next level," said the complainant, Mark Glaeser, a self-appointed civic watchdog.

Glaeser said he sent his allegation to Secretary of State Ken Detzner's office on March 27 and received written notification from Detzner's assistant legal counsel, Jordan Jones, about two weeks ago that it had been forwarded to Corey. Among the documents collected by Glaeser was a copy of Fur'qan's voting history indicating that he registered as a Democrat on Sept. 2, 2004 and that he has voted six times since then, even though, Glaeser said, his civil rights had not been restored.

A staffer at the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan's office said Monday that Fur'qan is no longer registered to vote because he's a convicted felon. The office declined to say when his registration ended. Former Duval  Supervisor of Elections Jerry Hollandsaid Monday he did not recall the circumstances of the case.  

July 05, 2015

Jeb Bush condemns Donald Trump's comments as 'extraordinarily ugly'

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush, who had already criticized Donald Trump's comments about Mexicans, took the harshest line yet of any 2016 Republican presidential contender Saturday when he called Trump's remarks "way out of the mainstream."

"To make these extraordinarily ugly kind of comments is not reflective of the Republican Party. Trump is wrong on this," Bush said in New Hampshire. (On Friday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio issued a statement denouncing Trump's comments as "offensive and inaccurate.")

Trump then issued a statement bashing Bush as "out of touch":

I am very proud to be fighting for a strong and secure border. This is a very important issue, which all the other candidates would have ignored had I not started this important discussion. I will fix the border — no one else knows where to begin.

Today, Jeb Bush once again proves that he is out of touch with the American people. Just like the simple question asked of Jeb on Iraq, where it took him five days and multiple answers to get it right, he doesn’t understand anything about the border or border security. In fact, Jeb believes illegal immigrants who break our laws when they cross our border come “out of love.”

As everybody knows, I never said that all Mexicans crossing the border are rapists. Jeb is mischaracterizing my statements only to inflame. As seen with the tragic and unnecessary death of Kathryn Steinle this past week in San Francisco at the hands of an illegal immigrant who was previously deported five times, our unsecured border is a national security threat.

Jeb will never be able to secure our border, negotiate good trade deals, strengthen our military or care for our veterans. The biggest difference between Jeb and me on the border is that I believe in securing our border by building a wall, which will protect our safety, economy and national security. This is a vital step in Making America Great Again!

Eyeing Senate bid, Carlos Lopez-Cantera must decide to stay or go as lieutenant governor

via @stevebousquet

After 18 months in Gov. Rick Scott’s shadow, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has to make his first big decision.

Before he enters Florida’s wide-open race for the U.S. Senate, he’ll reach a political crossroads as the state’s No. 2 executive: Should he stay or go?

Lopez-Cantera won’t say, and the public probably would not notice the difference.

He’s not required to immediately resign his $125,000-a-year state job to run for another office, but observers say he faces a number of potential problems if he doesn’t cut ties with Scott.

Lopez-Cantera’s opponents already are accusing him of campaigning on the taxpayers’ dime, a charge he denied when he met recently with a Broward County commissioner and insisted they didn’t talk about the Senate race.

He could take a stand as a Republican that conflicts with Scott’s scripted message, putting him in hot water with his boss. Scott has told friends he’s eyeing Florida’s other U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Lopez-Cantera also would be forced to defend Scott’s decisions whether he agreed with them or not, including a recent rash of budget vetoes that disproportionately hit his home county of Miami-Dade.

More here.

Donald Trump on the Truth-O-Meter

PolitiFact has been fact-checking Donald Trump since 2011, when he debuted on our Truth-O-Meter with this statement about President Barack Obama: "The people that went to school with him, they never saw him, they don't know who he is."

That statement earned a Pants on Fire rating. Media accounts and biographies are filled with on-the-record, named classmates who remember Obama. We even tracked down one of his classmates and talked to her ourselves.

Since that first fact-check, Trump has made several more provocative statementsthat have caught our attention, including a slew from his speech in June announcing that he was running for the Republican nomination for president.

Turn to PolitiFact to learn more about our Trump fact-checks.

July 04, 2015

In honor of the Fourth of July, PolitiFact takes a look at a claim by Scott Walker about the Founding Fathers

As he moves closer to declaring a presidential bid, Gov. Scott Walker often tells audiences a story about his first visit to Independence Hall in Philadelphia and his reverence for the founding fathers.

In closing a June 20, 2015 speech to the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C, Walker repeated the story, describing how, as a boy, he viewed the founding fathers "like superheroes."

He was awed when, in 2011, he stepped into the building where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and signed.

"And I looked at the chairs and I looked at the desks and it dawned on me," Walker told the audience with a dramatic pause. "These were ordinary people. These were ordinary people who did something extraordinary. You see, they didn’t just risk their political careers. They didn’t just risk their business ventures. These were patriots who risked their lives -- their lives -- for the freedoms we hold dear today."

Walker has many times called the founding fathers ordinary people. And while campaigning, he has emphasized that he himself doesn’t come from wealth or prominence, even bragging that he bought a sweater for a dollar.

Turn to PolitiFact Wisconsin for the rest of the story.

Gov. Rick Scott spends nearly $300K on political consultants in 3 months

via @JeremySWallace

For someone who cannot seek re-election, Gov. Rick Scott is spending a whole lot of money on political consultants, adding fuel to speculation that he is aiming to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

This week, Scott’s Let’s Get To Work political fundraising committee reported paying $26,000 to a pair of political consulting firms, one in Miami that specializes in Hispanic outreach and the other based in Tallahassee. With that, Let’s Get to Work has now spent $292,616 on eight different political consulting firms just since April 1 on a wide range of services, including work on surveys, research, advertising and general consulting.

Scott has told some big political donors that he is interested in running for the Senate in 2018. But publicly, Scott has brushed off the questions by the media about his political future.

Asked in April about running for the Senate, Scott did not directly answer.

“I’m going to keep working on being governor,” he said then. “I just got re-elected. We’re going to have a good four years. It’s exciting.”

More here.

Jeb Bush donor pens Miami Herald op-ed backing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations

@PatriciaMazzei

Coral Gables health-care executive Mike Fernandez backs renewed U.S.-Cuba relations, he said in an op-ed published in the Miami Herald -- a significant endorsement from a prominent political backer of 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

Fernandez wrote:

Cuban Americans everywhere, but especially the diaspora in South Florida, have been awakening to the reality that Cuba's isolation was and is not a sustainable strategy.

The case has been made for decades that Cuba’s failure is a self-inflicted wound by its dictatorial leadership.

Unfortunately, those of us born on the island — and in partnership with U.S. policies — provided the strategic scapegoat that perpetuated the cover that allowed the Cuban government to blame the embargo and Washington for all its failures.

[...]

Let the embassies open. Let Google and Yahoo, the press and Yoani, and the memory of Paya and many others be the order of the day.

Let’s support the Cuban people’s hunger for a future, a future that has been denied to them for decades now. Let's us be a force of change, not a people of unremitting anger.

My friends, my family, my fellow Cuban Americans, let’s set our people free.

Let us free our minds of hate and memories and thoughts or revenge. 

That's very different from what Bush said this week when President Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced the re-opening of embassies in Washington and Havana.

"I oppose the decision to further embrace the Castro regime by opening an embassy in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "The real test of the Obama Administration's rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama's legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.

"The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the Administration’s policy is failing this test."  

Marco Rubio, Chris Christie hosted in New Hampshire by Mitt Romney

@PatriciaMazzei

Mitt Romney found out Marco Rubio and Chris Christie would be in New Hampshire for July Fourth parades. So he invited them to stay at his vacation home in Wolfeboro, the Associated Press reported.

Rubio aide Jim Merrill tweeted a photo Friday night of Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, with Romney. Rubio, Christie and Romney were also spotted in a local ice-cream shop.

Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has yet to pick a candidate in the crowded 2016 race. He is scheduled to meet with Jeb Bush next week in Kennebunkport, according to the Washington Post.

Bush is also in New Hampshire for the holiday weekend.

July 03, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott isn't really that rich, is he? (No, he isn't)

The big surge in Gov. Rick Scott's personal wealth in the past year raises a question: Is Florida's governor the richest governor in the country? The short answer is no, not by a longshot, but he's way up there.

Scott's net worth is $147 million. He got rich running the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, left the firm in 1997 with a $10 million severance package and stock worth $300 million, became an investor and has successfully nurtured an extensive portfolio. The financial disclosure statement he filed with the state this week shows his net worth grew by $14 million over the past year but is still well below the $217 million he reported when he filed to run for governor in June 2010.

Scott has not yet made up the $73 million he spent in that campaign.

By comparison, Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee reports a net worth of $2 billion. He's the son of the founder of the nationwide chain of truck stops known as Pilot Flying J, based in Knoxville, Tennessee. Care to fill 'er up, Mac? Pilot's presence on America's interstates is as ubiquitous as mile markers: There are a dozen Pilot travel centers within a 100-mile radius of Tampa alone, and more are on the way.

A number of former governors are a lot wealthier than Scott, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger of California ($300 million in 2014), Jon Corzine of New Jersey ($300 million in 2013) and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts (at least $190 million in 2012). Former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller had a net worth of $62 million in 1974, which in present-day dollars would be worth about $303 million. Net worth numbers fluctuate from year to year and states have different reporting requirements.

On the web site cheatsheet.com, based on public records and news reports, Scott is rated as the eighth-richest officeholder in the U.S. Behind Haslam at No. 2 is Rep. Darrell Issa of California, followed by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. and Secretary of State John Kerry, whose wife Theresa is heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune.

It's all relative. The bottom line is that Scott makes more money in a month that most Floridians will make in a lifetime. Isn't that rich? 

--With reporting by Tampa Bay Times researcher Caryn Baird

July 02, 2015

Hillary Clinton to speak to National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale

@PatriciaMazzei

Hillary Clinton's coming to South Florida this month -- and this time, not just to raise money behind closed doors.

The 2016 Democratic presidential contender is scheduled to address the National Urban League Conference on July 31 in Fort Lauderdale. It would mark Clinton's first public event locally since becoming a candidate; she came to Florida in May for a series of private fund-raisers.

The National Urban League is a civil-rights organization that, among other things, advocates against racial discrimination and for African Americans. Clinton's speech to the group would be geared at black voters, a key Democratic constituency that helped President Obama win the presidency.

She has already used other speeches to address issues of criminal justice, violence and racism.