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.

May 28, 2015

Want to change every reference of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush to 'Florida Man'?

@PatriciaMazzei

The folks over at IJReview have drafted computer code that will turn every reference of Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio into that beloved Sunshine State figure, Florida Man.

They've created a Google Chrome extension that, if installed, will swap the names of the candidates with the generic Florida Man. Laughs may ensue. ("Florida Man" references will also change, randomly, to Rubio and Bush, the developers say.)

Another Republican, George Pataki, launches presidential bid

via @LightmanDavid

WASHINGTON -- George Pataki, arguably the longest of longshots among prominent Republican contenders, is running for president.

Pataki, 69, who served three terms as New York governor, launched his effort Thursday morning with a four-minute video.

“We are all in this together. And let us all understand that what unites us is so much more important than what might seem superficially to divide us,” he says. “If we are to flourish as a people we have to fall in love with America again."

He calls Washington “too big, too powerful, too expensive” and “exactly what the Founding Fathers feared.” He says his is not a partisan vision but “a vision about people.”

Pataki recalls the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, when people came together, and urges a revival of that national spirit. “We the people, not Washington, are equipped to lead this nation,” he says.

Pataki is hoping to do well in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state, as a center-right candidate. He’ll hold a rally later today in Exeter.

Pataki faces formidable odds. He won his last term as governor in 2002, and his more moderate positions are unlikely to win him a strong backing from an electorate dominated by conservatives. In a Fox News poll of Republicans earlier this month, he tied for 15th, with less than 1 percent.

 

--DAVID LIGHTMAN, McClatchy Washington Bureau

State settles lawsuit over treatment of mentally ill inmates

Inmates with mental illnesses who were once confined around the clock to a cell block filled with feces, rotten food and insects — and sometimes allegedly beaten, tortured and starved by staff — should be treated more humanely under a landmark lawsuit settlement reached this week between the Florida Department of Corrections and a statewide disability advocacy group.

The agreement could have far-reaching impact. It requires the state to overhaul the way it treats inmates with mental disorders at Dade Correctional Institution, which has the largest mental health facility in the state prison system.

Disability Rights of Florida brought the action following a series of stories last year in the Miami Herald about guards at Dade Correctional who allegedly used scalding showers and other sadistic forms of discipline to punish and humiliate inmates in the prison’s psychiatric ward, or Transitional Care Unit.

The disability rights group found that the blistering-hot showers, coupled with other physical and mental abuse and a lack of adequate healthcare, were the norm at the institution in June 2012, when 50-year-old inmate Darren Rainey collapsed and died in a shower that had been cranked up to 180 degrees.

Witnesses said that Rainey, who was serving time on a drug charge, was forced into the specially rigged stall by corrections officers, who taunted him as he screamed in panic for nearly two hours until he died.

Other inmates complained that guards forced them to perform sex acts, had them fight each other for the staff’s entertainment, terrorized them with threats and beatdowns and put laxatives and urine in their food. One inmate, Richard Mair, hanged himself after leaving a note detailing alleged atrocities at the hands of officers. Although the prison disciplined some guards for failing to conduct timely security checks the day of the hanging, the agency’s inspector general did little to inquire into Mair’s claims, citing the fact that he was dead and could no longer be questioned.

The advocacy group discovered evidence that officers often targeted those inmates in the unit who suffered from the most severe mental illnesses, and that the medical staff at the prison often failed to report the abuse.

“Mr. Rainey was not the only victim of the shower treatment. What we learned is that, to some extent, those same abuses were affecting others in the unit," said Peter Sleasman, of the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project, which brought the lawsuit for Disability Rights Florida.

Guards who worked in the TCU have been replaced by officers specially trained to handle inmates with mental illnesses, he said. In addition, under the negotiated agreement, experts have been brought in to monitor and evaluate the unit over the next several months. The DOC also has its own experts evaluating the facility and the two parties will come together by year’s end to draw up additional reforms.

Sleasman said that his organization is evaluating other mental health treatment units in prisons around the state, and hopes the reforms implemented at Dade Correctional will be employed at the other facilities.

The agreement is unusual, Sleasman said, because the Department of Corrections cooperated with the advocates to come up with a plan in a timely manner.

More here.

Quinnipiac poll: No leader in GOP presidential field

@PatriciaMazzei

The more candidates that jump into the 2016 Republican presidential race, the less clear the field appears in voters' eyes, according to a new poll.

The national survey by Quinnipiac University found a five contenders atop the growing list, which means no one is the front-runner. Among the five are both Miami hopefuls, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and two more Florida residents, physician Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, along with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. All poll at 10 percent each.

Comprising the rest of the top 10 are Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (7 percent), Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (6 percent), Donald Trump (5 percent), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (4 percent), and Carly Fiorina and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (2 percent each). The poll's error margin is 2.4 percent.

Organizers of the first GOP debate in August have said they'll fit no more than 10 people on stage. Half of the people who would be included today -- Bush, Walker, Trump, Christie and Kasich -- have yet to formally launch their candidacies.

"Safe to say, the 2016 Republican presidential primary is anyone's race," Tim Malloy, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement. "With no front-runner and identical numbers for the top five contenders, it's a horserace which can only be described as a scrambled field -– at least so far."

Democrat Hillary Clinton leads all potential Republican rivals, with the closest match-ups putting her 46-42 percent against Paul and 45-41 percent against Rubio. Were she to face Bush, the split would be 47-37 percent.

"This poll reflects what many others do -- Sen. Paul's brand of opportunity conservatism is the GOP's best hope of defeating Hillary Clinton and the Washington Machine," Paul spokesman Doug Stafford said in an email.

With so much of the field undefined, however, it's too early to read much into polls -- especially national ones that don't portray the state-by-state primary contests.

AP: Jeb Bush's roles on numerous corporate boards could become 2016 presidential campaign issue

From the Associated Press:

During his transition from Florida governor to likely presidential candidate, Jeb Bush served on the boards or as an adviser to at least 15 companies and nonprofits, a dizzying array of corporate connections that earned him millions of dollars and occasional headaches.

More here.

Bush served on the board of directors or as an adviser to at least 15 companies and nonprofits since leaving office as Florida governor in early 2007. Here are the 15, his role for each, the years he served and his pay in the cases it is known.
 
Read the list here.

AP: Marco Rubio returns to other childhood home: Las Vegas (not Miami)

From the Associated Press:

When Marco Rubio attends his 44th birthday party and fundraiser at the home of the host of the "Pawn Stars" reality show Thursday, it won't be his first birthday in Las Vegas.

The Cuban-American son of South Florida spent part of his childhood in Las Vegas, from 1979 to 1985, where he joined the Mormon church, became a fierce union supporter at a tender age and grew alienated from his Cuban-American peers before returning to Miami for high school. In these formative years, Rubio impressed schoolmates and neighbors as a curious and driven boy who talked too much in class and showed early signs of the policy wonk and competitive player he would become.

More here.

May 27, 2015

In Miami, Obama sets stage for Democratic donors to wade into 2016

@PatriciaMazzei

In Miami, the early 2016 presidential campaign has for months played out as the Jeb and Marco Show, starring two Republican hometown candidates with little attention paid to anyone else.

Now it’s Democrats’ turn to vie for the spotlight.

President Barack Obama unofficially kicked off his political party’s own local fund-raising season Wednesday, attending a pair of $33,400-per-person events in Coconut Grove to benefit the Democratic National Committee for next year’s election.

Though he didn’t name her, Obama set the stage for his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to ramp up her own check-collecting from South Florida’s well-heeled donors. Clinton has two private receptions planned for Thursday in the Grove and Coral Gables, followed by two more events Friday in Parkland and outside Orlando.

“An eight-year span in the life of a country is pretty short,” Obama said. “We can get a lot done, but part of what we’re also doing is laying the foundation so that we then pass that baton to the next administration, and we institutionalize some of the progress that we’ve been making.”

More here.

Environmentalists renew call for Everglades land buy before special Florida session

via @jenstaletovich

Environmentalists say they are not giving up the battle to secure land south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration. They’re just changing tracts.

With lawmakers scheduled to meet Monday for the start of a 20-day special session, several of the state’s most influential conservation groups on Wednesday renewed calls to buy land needed to store water and move it to the thirsty southern Everglades. They also want lawmakers to order the South Florida Water Management District to set a schedule for designing and building a reservoir.

“We have a path forward,” said Mary Barley, president of the Everglades Trust. “The cost of inaction could be catastrophic.”

Over the dry winter, Florida Bay withered as salinity shot up. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was also forced to release dirty lake water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers to protect the lake’s aging dike. The dirty lake water triggered a toxic algae bloom two summers ago that killed fish and made the rivers off-limits for months.

The groups had hoped to complete a deal to buy about 46,000 acres from U.S. Sugar before it expired in October using money from Amendment 1, a November constitutional measure that 75 percent of voters supported. But the deal fell apart after the company backed off the plan and water managers instead voted to endorse a vague budget plan by Gov. Rick Scott to spend $500 million on restoration efforts. With that controversial deal behind them, group leaders said they were hopeful Wednesday that opposition would also fade.

More here.

South Florida lawmakers take up Medicaid expansion at health forum

via @chabelih

With a special legislative session set for next week, South Florida lawmakers, hospital representatives and health groups gathered Wednesday to discuss Medicaid expansion, the future of healthcare in Florida and a looming Supreme Court decision on subsidies.

Sen. Rene Garcia, a Miami Republican who chairs the Senate healthcare budget committee, in a panel discussion with Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, said a healthcare crisis still exists in Florida after the Legislature adjourned without passing a budget. About 850,000 Floridians fall into the healthcare “gap” created when Florida chose not to expand Medicaid.

Garcia said he is frustrated with the House’s refusal to explore options for Medicaid expansion: “It just makes no sense to me that you cannot sit in a room and have a conversation as to how we are going to fix the problem.”

The panel offered some hope of a solution to the impasse, noting that House appropriations chair Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, called the Senate’s proposed Medicaid expansion plan “exciting” earlier this week, with the caveat that the Senate guarantees it will take up several other House proposals.

Still, no House Republicans attended the Health Foundation of South Florida’s forum, though they were invited.

More here.

House responds with batch of bills it says will lower health care costs

After spending the last legislative session knocking down Senate proposals for expanding health care coverage while offering no alternative of their own, Florida House Republicans filed a series of bills Wednesday that attempt to take a rifle-shot approach to lowering the spiraling costs of health care in Florida.

Many of the proposals are not new, and some have been passed by key committees in the state Senate, but all embrace the belief of many House leaders that the state must inject free-market competition into the health care marketplace to lower costs of health care before expanding access to the uninsured. Opponents, however, claim that many of the proposals just unleash turf battles within the health care industry that will not suppress costs.

“The crisis in health care begins at the cost part of that equation,’’ said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, a top House lieutenant. “Until we address costs there will never be enough [Medicaid] expansion as those costs continue to rise. What I need to do is put together a system that is heavily dependent on competition and consumerism and free markets.”

The bills, filed along with several budget bills that will be introduced in the three-week special session that begins Monday, include:

Continue reading "House responds with batch of bills it says will lower health care costs" »

Judge dismisses final marijuana challenge; access expected by 'end of year' state says

Florida regulators said they expect to provide access to a limited strain of non-euphoric marijuana for medical purposes by the end of the year after a Tallahassee judge on Wednesday dismissed the final challenge to the long-awaited rule.

The Florida Department of Health, which developed the rule, is expected to start accepting applications within three weeks from eligible growers for the strain of marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Growers could start selling to eligible patients who are put on a state-run "compassionate use registry" within months.

"I am one happy legislator,'' said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, one of the sponsors of the 2014 legislation that attempted to expedite the development and cultivation of the so-called "Charlotte's Web" strain of low-THC marijuana to help people suffering from epileptic seizures, cancer and other ailments.

Legislators had intended for the medical strain of cannabis to be available to Floridians by January of this year but regulators had their first rule rejected, and then faced a series of legal challenges. On Wednesday, they offered patients new hope.

"Today's ruling allows the department to move forward with implementing the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, approved by the legislature in 2014,'' the Department of Health said in a statement. "The department remains committed to ensuring safe and efficient access to this product for children with refractory epilepsy and patients with advanced cancer. We are moving swiftly to facilitate access to the product before the end of the year.”

Continue reading "Judge dismisses final marijuana challenge; access expected by 'end of year' state says" »

AP: Rick Santorum to formally enter GOP presidential race

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Rick Santorum, an aggressive advocate for conservative family values, will launch a second bid for president on Wednesday, a spokesman said.

The former Pennsylvania senator exceeded the political world's expectations by scoring a second-place finish in the race for the Republican presidential nomination four years ago. Yet as he competes again, he may struggle even to qualify for the debate stage in 2016.

The 57-year-old Republican will deliver his announcement at a factory near his western Pennsylvania hometown, according to spokesman Matt Beynon.

Santorum will be surrounded by factory workers at the event, a carefully scripted setting designed to showcase his focus on the working class. A major player in 2012, he opens this political season almost as a heavy underdog in a race expected to feature more than a dozen high-profile Republicans — most of them newcomers to presidential politics.

More here.

How Rick Scott snubbed the Florida GOP on presidential cattle call

via @adamsmithtimes

Gov. Rick Scott will be front and center before the national media Tuesday as he hosts his Economic Growth Summit at Disney World, where most of the top tier presidential candidates will be talking about the vision for growing the economy.

Overlooked on this high profile cattle call is how the entire thing was put together through Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, rather than the state GOP. This is unprecedented and a reminder that the leading elected Republican in Florida still has a rocky - at best - relationship with the Republican Party of Florida. It's been that way since party officials snubbed him early this year by electing state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia the party chairman, rather than Scott's preferred candidate.

Traditionally, the state party has used these events to raise money through sponsorships, speaking fees, and the like that ultimately helps pay for the Republican nominee's general election campaign in Florida. No one from Let's Get to Work has yet responded to our inquiries today, so we don't know if Scott's committee is raising any money off his summit. 

Here's the rough schedule Tuesday:

Continue reading "How Rick Scott snubbed the Florida GOP on presidential cattle call" »

WaPo: Ohio Gov. Kasich looks to announce 2016 bid this summer

From the Washington Post:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has been actively gauging reactions to a possible campaign for president in 2016, is now moving rapidly to assemble the staff and financial resources for such a bid and is looking to declare his candidacy sometime after June 30, according to knowledgeable Republicans.

Kasich advisers say his principal competition would come from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). 

Kasich v. Bush 

"They consider Bush potentially hobbled by resistance to a third president from the same family," reports Post. Asked in the recent interview whether his message would be similar to Bush's, Kasich said, "I don't know anything about [Bush's theme]. I really don't. I've never listened to him. What's "Right to Rise"? Getting up in the morning?" Right to Rise is the name of Bush's super PAC.

Kasich v. Rubio

Kasich advisers view Rubio as having significant potential but faced with the problem of being a first-term senator who would be trying to follow a first-term senator -- President Barack Obama -- to the White House. "We hired an inexperienced person to run the country," a Kasich adviser said. "That didn't work out very well. That plays well in his [Kasich's] favor."

More here.

White House 'disappointed' over Florida Medicaid-expansion impasse

@PatriciaMazzei

President Obama's two-day stop in Miami has nothing to do with Florida's upcoming special legislative session forced by a disagreement over how to fund healthcare.

But the White House couldn't avoid a reporter's question Wednesday about the president's opinion on the opposition from statehouse Republicans to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

"We have demonstrated a willingness to work closely with state leaders to tailor solutions" to their residents, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said when asked about the issue in a conference call with Florida reporters. "The refusal of Republican officials in Florida to put the interests of their citizens ahead of their own political arguments is something that we've been disappointed by."

Obama arrives Wednesday afternoon for a pair of Democratic Party fund-raisers. Earnest's question-and-answer session was intended to delve into the president's visit Thursday to the National Hurricane Center, where he will ask people to prepare for the annual storm season that formally begins June 1.

Yet with Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled Legislature still at odds over how to craft a state budget in the special session that begins the same day, Earnest had to address the impasse. He said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department is open to a compromise -- if Florida is.

"There are officials at HHS who continue to be in regular contact with Gov. Scott's office, and we continue to be ready and willing to engage in serious discussions about a Florida-tailored Medicaid expansion proposal that would help 750,000 people in Florida get access to quality, affordable health coverage," Earnest said.

(The number is closer to 850,000 people, according to a different study than the one cited by the White House; the figure depends on how the uninsured are measured. Both studies rely on statistical formulas to update old data.)

Googling 'Hillary Clinton' in Florida? Conservative America Rising PAC has a web ad for you

@PatriciaMazzei

A conservative political action committee that has Hillary Clinton in its crosshairs wants Floridians interested in her visit this week to see and hear not-so-nice things about the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner. 

America Rising PAC is targeting Google, Facebook and YouTube users who search for "Hillary Clinton" or whom they have identified as Democrats with a web video attacking Clinton as "unethical." The campaign is aimed only at users in Miami, Parkland and Orlando -- the three cities where Clinton will attend campaign fund-raisers Thursday and Friday.

The video will appear as an ad before other YouTube videos. Ads will pop up for users on Facebook and Google Search.

"By highlighting Clinton's ethical lapses, we're ensuring Democrats know about Clinton's conflicts of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department," America Rising spokesman Jeff Bechdel said in an email.

"Through careful geo-targeting and messaging, we are able to deliver ads tailored specifically to the areas where Clinton will be traveling and to groups most interested in seeing ads about Clinton," he added. "Unlike with TV ads, this strategy stretches our advertising dollars further and spends them more effectively."

 

Florida Republican Party invites Hillary Clinton to Miami 'press conference'

@PatriciaMazzei

The Republican Party of Florida plans to welcome Hillary Clinton to Miami on Thursday with a press conference highlighting Clinton's lack of press conferences.

The party plans to stage its event outside of one of Clinton's stops to raise money for her 2016 Democratic presidential campaign. It's her first Florida trip as a candidate. Though a possible public event had been mentioned, none has been announced for now.

RPOF's stunt is intended to draw attention to the fact that Clinton, who is so well known she doesn't need media exposure, has given relatively few interviews compared to the rest of the likely presidential field.

"Dear Mrs. Clinton," begins an "invitation" from GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. "The Republican Party of Florida is hosting a 'Conversations with Hillary' press conference and we are extending you an invitation to be the sole participant. Our goal is to make sure you have the opportunity to address the important questions that have led to voters across our state not to trust you."

"We want to help, so we are going to take care of everything -- from setting up the press conference with a podium and microphone to notifying the press and public."

Clinton, of course, won't show up. But if RPOF draws a gaggle of reporters hungry for news -- and getting none from the Democrat -- it plans to bring out speakers of its own.

Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, who needs to move up in national polls to qualify for the first GOP debate in August, tried a similar tactic Wednesday in South Carolina. She held a media availability before a Clinton event in Columbia to draw a contrast with the Democratic front-runner. 

"Our events tomorrow are all open to the press. And by open press, we mean we'll actually take questions," Fiorina spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores wrote reporters Tuesday. "That's right. We've answered hundreds of questions from reporters because we believe the American people will not and should not elect a president that can't answer for her record, won't explain her positions or for whom the truth is whatever she can get away with."

Watchdog groups want Justice Department to investigate Jeb Bush fundraising

From Lesley Clark in Miami Herald/McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Two campaign finance groups are asking the Department of Justice to appoint a special, outside counsel to look at whether likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his Super PAC, Right to Rise, are knowingly violating campaign finance laws.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center say there are “powerful grounds” to believe that Bush and his fundraising arm are violating federal contribution limits and prohibitions on soft money. They charge that Bush and the fundraising group is “engaged in a scheme to allow unlimited contributions to be spent directly on behalf of the Bush campaign and thereby violate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

The complaint is the second the groups have filed against the former Florida governor, who has not formally entered the race but is raising tens of millions of dollars at fundraisers across the country. A spokeswoman for Bush said he and his allies are “fully complying with the law in all activities Governor Bush is engaging in on the political front, and will continue to do so.”

Continue reading "Watchdog groups want Justice Department to investigate Jeb Bush fundraising" »

Fact-checking Rick Santorum

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., is joining the ever-growing field of 2016 Republican presidential contenders. Here’s a look back at his Truth-O-Meter record.

Santorum, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2012, set an announcement date of May 27, 2015. He served as a senator from 1995 to 2007 and as a member of the House of Representatives before that. He is an attorney.

We have fact-checked Santorum 55 times over roughly four years. His record includes six Trues, seven Mostly Trues, 13 Half Trues, 11 Mostly Falses, 13 Falses and five Pants on Fires.

We have fact-checked his claims about immigration, abortion, welfare and other topics. Turn to Lauren Carroll's story from PolitiFact

Did Marco Rubio says felons should be barred from voting but get their guns back?

A Facebook meme suggests that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., believes convicted felons should regain their right to own a gun but not the right to vote.

The meme, sent to us by a reader, presents two quotes purportedly by Rubio. The first, dated March 16, is, "No, felons should not have their voting rights restored even after they have served their sentence." The second quote, from May 6, says, "Of course, convicted felons should be allowed to own guns after they have done their time. It is their constitutional right."

The claim was attributed to the Facebook community group "Stop the world, the teabaggers want off."

We’ll note right off the bat that the group’s Facebook page cops to being a primarily satirical site. It says, "This page is for entertainment purposes. It is NOT meant to be taken seriously. It is primarily satire and parody with a mix of political memes and messages."

Still, casual Facebook users are unlikely to see this bit of context and could easily take the quotes in the meme at face value, so we’ll check the substance of the meme anyway. We searched Nexis and Google for the quotes and did not find any instances in which Rubio said those words. 

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the rest of our fact-check and see our full Truth-O-Meter file for Rubio.