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May 24, 2016

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: 'Venezuela is on the verge of total collapse'


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday to blast Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his administration.

"To put it simply, Mr. Speaker: Venezuela is on the verge of total collapse," Ros-Lehtinen said. "And what an impact that will have throughout our hemisphere. It is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when."


U.S. Senate candidate Todd Wilcox lacks proof that waterboarding works

U.S. Senate candidate Todd Wilcox said the controversial interrogation practice of waterboarding isn’t torture but an effective tool in the global war on terror.

It gets results, he said.

In an interview published in the Miami Herald on May 20, Wilcox blamed the White House for limiting the country’s ability to gain intelligence from alleged terrorists.

"I can tell you that the enhanced interrogation techniques that have since been banned by this administration — specifically waterboarding — work," said Wilcox, who is vying for the Republican nomination to replace Sen. Marco Rubio. "They work on the terrorists, and there's a proven history of that."

Wilcox didn’t consider the practice to be torture, and also said while he didn’t advocate overusing waterboarding, it’s an option that should be available for interrogators. 

We wanted to know if waterboarding — strapping a prisoner to a board or table and then pouring water over a cloth covering their mouth and nose to simulate drowning — was a proven method of questioning someone.

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

Did Patrick Murphy exaggerate cleanup role in Gulf oil spill?

via @learyreports

BP oil gushed in the Gulf of Mexico in spring 2010, motivating Patrick Murphy to quit his job as an accountant and embark on a mission to protect the Florida Keys, where he'd grown up.

Though oil never reached the Keys, Murphy has used the experience to cast himself as an entrepreneur with an environmental conscience. "Immediately following the BP oil spill, Congressman Murphy spent six months in the Gulf of Mexico leading cleanup efforts with his small business, Coastal Environmental Services," reads his official House website.

But a review raises questions of whether Murphy exaggerated his role in the catastrophe.

His campaign refuses to make public contracts he says he secured to clean up oil, or to characterize how much oil the company's skimmers cleaned up and how much the firm earned.

While Murphy's bio says he spent "six months in the Gulf of Mexico leading cleanup efforts," a timeline provided by his campaign contradicts that.

It states he moved to Louisiana in May "and started looking for opportunities to get involved in the cleanup effort" and began cleanup in July. But it also says Coastal Environmental Services did not get the contracts until "early August" and ceased operations in "late September." The campaign said dispersants caused oil to sink, "making the work of oil skimmers nearly impossible."

More here.

Anonymous takes aim at Rick Scott, who focuses on Everglades restoration instead


Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been asked a great deal of questions, but perhaps none quite like the one he got from a Miami television reporter Tuesday: What were his thoughts on a video from the group Anonymous calling for the Republican governor to be impeached or else for him to resign?

The video, posted on Anonymous' Facebook page earlier in the day ("Hello, citizens of the world," it begins), accused Scott of working to "destroy the great state of Florida's ocean wildlife" by allowing polluted waters from Lake Okeechobee to run off into the Atlantic Ocean. The masked figure with a disguised, robotic voice also charged the governor with "lining his pockets" with support from Big Sugar. 

The video was first reported by Political Fix Florida.

Scott, speaking to reporters after a ceremonial bill signing at the Department of Children and Families office in Miami, ignored the part of the question about Anonymous and instead focused on Everglades restoration efforts.

"Here's what's exciting that's happened in the last five years," he said, rattling off a list of accomplishments from settling lawsuits with federal agencies to appropriating $880 million from the state budget to improve water quality. 

"So we're clearly heading in the right direction, and this state can be proud of what we're doing."

It's the federal government, Scott countered, that "has not paid up their portion" of Everglades projects.

Jeb Bush returns to education foundation


Jeb Bush is returning to his education foundation now that he's no longer running for president.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education announced Tuesday that Bush will once again serve as its chairman and president of the board of directors. The former Florida governor had stepped down from the post in the foundation he created to run for the Republican presidential nomination. 

"One of the greatest challenges and opportunities we have in America today is to create a 21st century education system that ensures all students have the skills, teachers and educational options they need to succeed in life," Bush said in a statement. "Too many children right now are failed by a deeply flawed bureaucratic system, but I'm optimistic about the future because I've seen the great results produced by states across the country."

Bush replaces Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State who had assumed the position in January 2015 and will remain on the foundation's board.

Barney Frank to host fundraiser for Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Former Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Barney Frank will host a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Fort Lauderdale May 31.

Frank was the first openly gay Congressman. The host committee includes some longtime gay rights activists in Broward including Ken Evans, who is Hillary Clinton's LGBT volunteer coordinator in Florida, Julie Carson, Wilton Manors' first openly gay city commissioner and Michael Albetta, who has served on the board of the Dolphin Democrats. Other host committee members include Ashley Walker, who ran President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign in Florida, as well as developers, lawyers and lobbyists.

The fundraiser will be held at Oceanland Investments on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

Wasserman Schultz is in an expensive battle against Tim Canova in the Aug. 30th Democratic primary for Congressional District 23 in Broward/Miami-Dade counties.







Ron DeSantis helps lead charge against IRS chief


U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, is among the members of Congress taking the lead in trying to impeach John Koskinen, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

DeSantis, a candidate for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, on Tuesday urged the House Committee on the Judiciary to move forward with impeachment, saying Koskinen should lose his job because he "stonewalled and obstructed attempts by Congress to find out truth about the IRS."

At issue are questions that date back two years to the scandal over how the IRS screened conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. DeSantis and others say Koskinen, brought in by President Obama to clean up the agency, has instead tried to block Congress' investigations.

The issue is also about politics, however, as DeSantis gears up for a hotly contested Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race. And Koskinen may be a useful target: He's an appointee of a Democratic president and head of the least-popular federal agency.

Still, pressed by a fellow congressman, DeSantis wouldn't pin any problems in the agency on the White House, and said he has "never argued" for Obama's impeachment.

"It's really irrelevant," he said.

Carlos Beruff: VA secretary is a "moron"


The head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would be fired today if he worked for Carlos Beruff.

Beruff, one of five Republicans running to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate, ratcheted up his criticism of VA Secretary Robert McDonald for talking about wait times at Disney theme parks as a way to deflect questions from reporters about how the VA tracks wait times for veterans seeking care.

"The guy should be fired," Beruff said in an interview in the Florida Panhandle with the Times/Herald. "He's an idiot. He's a moron."

Beruff's comments come a day after he called McDonald's comments disgusting in a press release.

At a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Monday, McDonald was pressed by reporters about why the VA does not publicly report when veterans first ask for an appointment, which would help the public track true wait times for services. 

"The days to an appointment is really not what we should be measuring. What we should be measuring is the veteran's satisfaction," McDonald said at the breakfast reported by the Christian Science Monitor. "What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA? When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What is important is what is your satisfaction with the experience."

Those comments quickly fired up critics of the VA. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was on Twitter within hours chastising McDonald's comparison.

"This is not make-believe, Mr. Secretary. Veterans have died waiting in those lines," Ryan tweeted from his Twitter account.


Annette Taddeo picks up union endorsement


Annette Taddeo has picked up another labor-union endorsement as she battles former Rep. Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary for Florida's southernmost congressional district.

On Tuesday, Taddeo said she received the backing of the Communications Workers of America and CWA Local 3122, which whose members work in a variety of industries raging from airlines and IT to television and education. The union represents AT&T workers.

"Our members understand that this election is crucial to the future of union workers, not just for the people of South Florida, but across the country," CWA Local 3122 President Don Abicht said in a statement. "Annette has fought alongside unions for years, and we eagerly look forward to her fighting for us in Washington."

The cumulative effect of several union endorsements for Taddeo could bolster her efforts against the better-known Garcia, who is leading in polls commissioned by the two rival campaigns. Her biggest pickup has been from the Service Employees International Union, which was Garcia's top supporter when he won the seat in 2012. She's also gotten support from the Teamsters, longshoremen and two transportation unions.

Democratic super PAC reserves $10.5M in TV time for U.S. Senate race in Florida

via @learyreports

Senate Majority PAC said Monday it is reserving $10.5 million in TV time in Florida in an effort to capture the seat now held by Marco Rubio.

"Republicans are going to nominate a far right, Tea Party candidate who is out of touch with Florida's middle-class. We're going to be ready to hold their eventual nominee accountable," said Shripal Shah, a spokesman for the super PAC.

He said the ads would begin in September and run through Election Day, on both cable and broadcast television. The PAC has also set aside time in New Hampshire, Nevada and Ohio. CNN has more.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

City commissioner facing corruption charges dies after driving into tree

IMG_IMG_terrence_pindervia @ChuckRabin @jayhweaver

An Opa-locka city commissioner who was scheduled to turn himself in to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office on corruption charges Wednesday was killed in an early morning car crash Tuesday at Opa-locka Executive Airport in an apparent suicide, several sources said.

According to sources, Commissioner Terence Pinder ran his car into a tree in a field on the south side of the airport at a speed estimated to be over 100 miles per hour.

Opa-locka is in the throes of a financial meltdown that is being investigated by federal law enforcement. Pinder’s planned surrender on Wednesday to state prosecutors was not related to the federal investigation into corruption charges.

Julio Utsav, a friend of Pinder’s who worked with him at the Opa-locka Flea Market, spoke with the commissioner Monday night and said he found his friend distraught over the pending corruption charge.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

Finance chief of Miami suburb says city can't pay its bills

via Michael Sallah and @jayhweaver

In a city government close to collapse, Opa-locka’s top financial officer broke ranks and warned her supervisors the city will run out of money after its payroll next week and that its recovery plans will not be enough to save Opa-locka from insolvency.

In an unprecedented move, Charmaine Parchment sent an email to acting city manager Yvette Harrell on Sunday saying that the budget deficit is three times larger than what the city has revealed to taxpayers and demanded that her name be removed from a city recovery plan submitted to the state.

“After the next payroll, the city will not be able to pay its bills,” Parchment wrote in an email chain obtained by the Miami Herald.

The director’s messages represent a far bleaker picture than what’s been stated for months by top administrators, including City Manager David Chiverton, who pledged at a public meeting earlier this month that the troubled city would have a balanced budget by the end of the fiscal year.

Parchment said that she had been warning supervisors “for many months” of a growing shortfall that she said will soon reach $4.5 million — an amount equal to a third of Opa-locka’s budget.

On Monday, another key manager, budget director Keith Carswell, weighed in on the controversy in his own email, saying he agreed with Parchment’s assessment of the city’s failed finances.

More here.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz collects enough signatures to qualify by petition

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced this morning that she received enough signatures to qualify for the ballot by petition in her primary battle against Tim Canova

Qualifying by petition is a way for candidates to show they have local support -- and they get to skip the $10,440 filing fee.

“I’m running for reelection so I can continue to fight for hard-working South Florida families, be a strong voice to protect children and defend Social Security and Medicare for Seniors. I'm grateful for the trust voters in the district have placed in me to be their voice in Washington and will continue to work every day to earn their vote once again this year,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “I am also humbled by the quick and overwhelming level of support we are receiving. We  collected enough petitions to qualify in less than one week from when we began and the petitions are still pouring in. In fact, in two weeks time, we have received more than 10,000 petitions from supporters who live in the district. I am truly grateful for their support.”

Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair from Weston, and Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law profefssor from Hollywood, are running in left-leaning Congressional District 23 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. 

Both candidates have big-name supporters: Wasserman Schultz has been endorsed by President Barack Obama while Canova has been endorsed by Bernie Sanders.

The state Division of Elections will start accepting qualifying papers June 6 and the qualifying period is June 20-24.

Patrick Murphy falsely said he had a 'dual degree' in 2013 interview


Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign said Monday it was simply an "inadvertent error" that congressional and campaign websites for the Jupiter Democrat had exaggerated his academic record at the University of Miami.

But Murphy has himself made inaccurate claims about his education in recent years.

During a January 2013 interview with local access TV in Port St. Lucie, Murphy described himself as having earned "a dual degree in finance and accounting." (The interview is included below. He makes the comment at the 4:24 mark.)

But a "dual degree" is not the same as a double major -- which is what Murphy actually pursued while getting his bachelor's degree in business administration. He graduated from the University of Miami in 2006.

Murphy's congressional and campaign websites were amended on Monday after the Herald/Times asked questions.

Read our full story here.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary contributed to this post.

May 23, 2016

Utility regulators reject request from public's lawyers for more time in FPL rate case

Lisa Edgar via PSCThe Florida Public Service Commission offered a glimpse into how bitter, and potentially personal, the high stakes debate over Florida Power & Light's request to raise its rates $1.3 billion may become later this summer.

On Monday, the PSC voted unanimously to reject a request from the Office of Public Counsel, the lawyers who represent the public before regulators, who want more time to prepare their case.

The OPC had asked the panel to reconsider a May 4 order by hearing officer and PSC Commissioner Lisa Edgar who ruled that the public counsel would have just over four weeks - until May 31 - to file its testimony in two parts of the rate case. She gave FPL just over five weeks - until July 5 -- to file its rebuttal.

It was a timeframe that Public Counsel J.R. Kelly considered unprecedented, unworkable and unfair so, rather than file a motion with Edgar for more time, he and his staff asked for a full vote of the PSC.

It backfired.

Continue reading "Utility regulators reject request from public's lawyers for more time in FPL rate case" »

Enterprise Florida's short-time CEO on mission to Mexico

Like the song says, he's south of the border, down Mexico way.

Bill Johnson has announced he's leaving Enterprise Florida, his board has approved his six-month severance package and he has one foot out the door. But that didn't stop him from leading a 73-member delegation to Mexico City Monday on a three-day export trade mission.

"Mexico is currently our nation's third largest trading partner and second largest export market for U.S. products," Johnson wrote in a letter to Florida business leaders. "I urge you to join me on this mission as we work together to grow our state's economic ties with this important trading partner."

The list of participants includes representatives from more than two dozen companies and the Pinellas and Hillsborough economic development councils, Tampa International Airport, University of Miami, Broward County and city of Pensacola. The trip schedule includes briefing by U.S. Embassy staff members, appointments with Mexico business leaders and two "networking luncheons." 

Fact-checking Rick Scott's higher education promises before his Orlando summit

Gov. Rick Scott holds a higher education summit in Orlando this week so PolitiFact Florida checked on Scott's progress on two higher education promises.

Scott promised to make Florida No. 1 in higher education affordability -- even though our tuition is already one of the lowest in the nation. Here is our update about his promise.

He also promised to be in the Top 10 and Top 25 ranked public universities. See our update on his progress here.

PolitiFact Florida has been tracking Scott's promises about taxes, education, economy and environment from his 2010 and 2014 campaigns on our Scott-O-Meter.

Marco Rubio's life advice to high schoolers


The man who lost his presidential bid stood before the graduating high schoolers on Monday morning and invoked hard-learned life lessons.

"You are going to fail. That's going to happen," Marco Rubio said. "Failure in many ways is a benefit, because it teaches you in ways success never can."

The U.S. senator from Florida wasn't talking specifically about his Republican primary campaign. But it was difficult not to think about it as Rubio gave the keynote address for the Latin Builders Association Academy, a public charter school created in part by his friend, fundraiser and former LBA president, Bernie Navarro.

"I'm incredibly excited to see what you guys are going to be doing in four or six or seven years," Rubio told the students. "Maybe even running for president -- 'cause I lost to a developer, so you can too!"

When the room burst into applause, Rubio joked: "Are you clapping 'cause I lost, or -- ?" More laughter. He made no other mention of Donald Trump.

It was Rubio's second appearance of the day before a teenage audience. He started Monday at Miami Edison Senior High School, speaking to mostly juniors and seniors as part of Haitian Heritage Month. They asked him about global warming, the minimum wage and college affordability. But what Rubio really wanted to do was share advice.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio's life advice to high schoolers" »

After Bernie Sanders endorsement, Tim Canova raises $250,000

Bernie Sanders is helping Tim Canova rake in the dollars in his Democratic primary battle with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Sanders announced Saturday that he is backing Canova and sent out a fundraising plea for him Sunday. Today, Canova's campaign announced that he had raised $250,000 since Sanders' weekend announcement. Sanders has been critical of Wasserman Schultz's leadership at the Democratic National Committee where he has said she has showed favoritism toward Hillary Clinton. Wasserman Schultz has denied that repeatedly.

It doesn't appear likely that Sanders will campaign for Canova in the Broward/Miami-Dade Congressional District 23 anytime soon.

"The senator's focus now is on the presidential campaign and winning delegates to the Democratic National Convention," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said.

Canova, a law professor running his first race, announced earlier this month that he had raised $1 million. Wasserman Schultz raised $1.8 million through March and hasn't released an updated figure. The next campaign finance reports are due July 15.

Wasserman Schultz has been endorsed by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will headline a fundraiser for her at Stephen Bittel's Coconut Grove home in June.




Lopez-Cantera takes aim at David Jolly in campaign ad for U.S. Senate race



The first attack ad in the U.S. Senate race is out, and it comes from an unexpected source. Republican Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who has raised just over $1 million for his campaign, is taking aim as U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, with a new ad that draws attention to Jolly opposing creation of a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood.

"David Jolly refused to hold the largest abortion provider in the country accountable last week by voting to end the investigation of the harvesting and trafficking of fetal body parts," said Courtney Alexander, the press secretary for the Carlos Lopez-Cantera for U.S. Senate.

In the new web-based ad, a narrator declares Jolly's opposition to the Planned Parenthood investigation as a "major folly by David Jolly." All the while a ragtime brass band plays in the back ground.

Jolly was the only one to oppose a new investigation into Planned Parenthoood because the House had already had three other investigations into the organization, said Max Goodman, Jolly's campaign manager. In an op-ed letter Jolly wrote las year, he said he was simply trying to save taxpayers money by not duplicating what was already happening.

"We simply don't need a new special committee to do the job Congress is already sworn to do," Jolly said after he voted against the new committee. "That is why I was the lone member of my party to oppose the measure. "

Goodman said Jolly voted for legislation earlier to defund Planned Parenthood and move their funding to other womens' health groups.

Lopez-Cantera is in 4th place when it comes to raising money for the campaign, as of the last campaign finance reports released by the Federal Election Commission in April. His $1 million puts him well behind Rep. Ron DeSantis who has raised $4.1 million. Todd Wilcox has raised $1.4 million and Jolly has raised $1.3 million. Beruff has less than $220,000, but has since put in $3 million of his own money to support his campaign.