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.

June 21, 2018

Internal poll shows Maria Elvira Salazar with commanding lead in GOP primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

6a00d83451b26169e201b7c954a10f970b-800wi

@alextdaugherty

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar has a 22 percentage point lead over her nearest competitor in the Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to a new internal poll conducted on behalf of her campaign and shared with the Miami Herald. 

The Miami broadcast journalist received the support of 38 percent of likely GOP primary voters while former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro received 16 percent. No other candidate in the poll received more than three percent, and 36 percent of voters are undecided. 

The poll is the latest bad news for Barriero's congressional campaign, which is reeling after his wife Zoraida lost a snap election for Bruno's old Miami-Dade commission seat on Tuesday. Barriero loaned his wife $95,000 from his congressional campaign account for her unsuccessful race, and he trailed Salazar in fundraising during the most recent quarter. 

Salazar has a 53 percent favorable rating compared to a 10 percent unfavorable rating, while Barreiro has a 36 percent favorable rating and a 16 percent unfavorable rating. 

"This survey clearly indicates that Maria Elvira Salazar is best positioned to win the primary on August 28th, as she captures a plurality of the vote and has the highest favorable rating," according to a summary of the poll conducted by Virginia-based McLaughlin and Associates, a firm that worked on President Donald Trump's presidential campaign. "With her already strong support and popularity, the undecideds have the potential to fall in for Salazar at similar margins."

The McLaughlin poll surveyed 400 likely GOP primary voters in Florida's 27th congressional district from June 11 to June 14. Interviews were administered via telephone and gave voters the choice to conduct the poll in English or Spanish. The survey was stratified by precinct, race/ethnicity, age and gender to correlate with actual voter turnout from the previous statewide GOP primary elections in non-presidential election years. The poll's margin of error was 4.9 percentage points. 

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to keep Ros-Lehtinen's seat in GOP hands. Trump lost the district, which includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal South Dade, by more than 19 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in the country in a GOP-held congressional district. Most of the national election prognosticators rate Ros-Lehtinen's seat as "lean Democratic." 

Salazar said her experience as an outsider in contrast to Barreiro, who has held elected office since 1992, is what gives her an edge with GOP primary voters. 

U.S. Chamber runs ad thanking Curbelo for immigration work

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going to bat for Rep. Carlos Curbelo in the midst of an immigration fight. 

The Miami Republican has spent weeks negotiating with GOP leadership, the conservative wing of his own party and Democrats in an attempt to pass an immigration bill in the House of Representatives. 

Those efforts could fall short today if an all-GOP immigration compromise bill fails on the floor of the House, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is cutting an ad on behalf of Curbelo thanking him for his work on the issue. 

"Do you want to protect Dreamers? Carlos Curbelo does," the ad says. "Carlos believes Dreamers belong here, they are one of us and deserve permanent legal status. Help stop the unfair treatment of Dreamers, protect DACA, stand with Carlos." 

The ad is part of an initial digital buy that will later transition into a larger TV ad buy, according to U.S. Chamber communications director Stacy Day. 

Curbelo likely faces a serious challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in November, who has hammered the Miami Republican in recent days for negotiating with the conservative wing of his own party on an immigration bill after a petition led by Curbelo that would have forced immigration votes with the help of Democrats failed. 

The compromise immigration bill includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants known as Dreamers though it will permanently reduce the number of immigration visas available every year.

Watch the ad below: 

 

Blind trusts and what the millionaires running for Florida's governor say they'll do to avoid investment conflicts

Jeff Greene and familyJeff Greene's entry into the Florida governor's race Wednesday underscored the unavoidable conclusion: Florida's highest offices are quite appealing to the state's richest people. 

Greene, a Palm Beach real estate investor who has said he will spend as much as $200 million to replace Republican governor and millionaire Rick Scott, confirmed he'll be self-funding most of his campaign and "will spend whatever's needed to get the message out." He said he is "not taking a penny from special interests,' but conceded he will accept donations, as long as they are $100 or less.

Greene joins former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, worth $133 million, and Chris King, an Orlando businessman, who are also the primary contributors to their campaigns for the Democratic nomination. 

Like Levine and King, Greene also told reporters that he would establish a blind trust to shield himself from potential conflicts of interest with his investments. 

"There will be no conflicts of interest if I am elected governor,'' Greene said, launching into his life story in which his father "lost everything" in the 1970s and moved to Florida as Greene remained in Worcester, Massachusetts, to finish high school and then attend Johns Hopkins University.

"If there is anything that I own that will in anyway pose any kind of conflict, I will sell it before taking office or I will put it in a blind trust. But I absolutely won't have any conflicts, that's for sure." 

He said that despite his financial disclosure that shows he is worth $3.3 billion, Greene said his "real worth to Florida is that he is someone that is going to go fight for them because I don't have special interest money behind them. I don't need to do this." 

But not everyone is convinced Florida’s blind trust law is trustworthy.

Gwen Graham, the former congresswoman also seeking the Democratic nomination, disclosed more than $14 million in assets when she filed to qualify Friday, including $13.7 million in stock in the Graham Companies. But Graham is not confident that Florida’as blind trust law really works, as evidenced, she said, by the lawsuit Scott has against him alleging he and his wife have joint control over assets in her trust, which is not disclosed.

Matt Harringer, a spokesman for Graham, said she's placed her Graham Companies holdings in a trust in order to distance herself from the management of her investment. But she has no intention to create a blind trust "because we've seen the problems caused by Scott hiding his assets from the public,'' he said.

Levine said Monday that he would also put his assets $133 million in assets in a blind trust. 

"I think when you're the CEO of an $89 billion organization, I'm not so sure you have time to run anything else,'' he said. "When you become governor, your No. 1 priority is to be governor 24/7. I only wish that same law in Florida would apply to the presidency -- full disclosure and everything else."

Greene said that having rich Democrats run is the only way they can beat Republicans. "The Democrat message is the winning message in the state of Florida. There are more independents who absolutely lean Democratic. The problem is, we have not had the funds to compete with this Republican onslaught that has been two to three times what we've been able to spend."

He said that if he wins the nomination, he will also "do everything I can" down the ballot to "take with me senators, house members, to finally get this state in the right direction."

Photo by Mary Ellen Klas: Jeff Greene with his wife Mei Sze and sons, Malcolm, 8, Brandon, 6 and CamerAn, 4, at the Florida Division of Elections office on Tuesday, where Greene filed his qualification papers to run for governor.

June 20, 2018

Curbelo says children at Homestead separated from their parents will be reunited

Curbelo

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told him during a meeting on Wednesday that the 94 children residing at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children will be returned to their parents due to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that temporarily ends the White House's child separation policy. 

Curbelo said the children will be transferred from Health and Human Services custody to Department of Homeland Security custody to be reunited once the Department of Justice is finished prosecuting the parents who are currently separated from their children. 

"We're trying to get a time and a date to visit the facility," Curbelo said, adding that he thinks Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz should have been let into the shelter on Tuesday. 

The Homestead facility is located within Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district, as the Miami Republican tries to find enough Republican votes to pass a compromise immigration bill on Thursday. A number of conservative Republicans appeared upset with Speaker Paul Ryan during House votes on Thursday, and if they vote en masse against the compromise bill it will fail. 

Trump's executive order is a shift from yesterday when the president claimed he couldn't act to end family separation without a bill from Congress. The executive order would end the policy of separating children from their parents while keeping families who attempt to cross the border illegally in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. 

"We're signing an executive order," Trump said. "I consider it to be a very important executive order. It's about keeping families together, while at the same time being sure we have a very powerful, very strong border." 

Shalala still holds a strong lead in Miami congressional race despite weeks of pummeling

SP_shalala

Donna Shalala has been attacked by her opponents in the press, at debates and on TV for months now in a brutal Democratic primary to win a high-profile Miami congressional race, but a new internal poll suggests she’s still the clear frontrunner.

A poll conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International found that were the Democratic primary for Florida's 27th congressional district held in early June, Shalala would have taken 43 percent of the vote in the five-way contest. Her closest competitor, David Richardson, netted 16 percent, with Kristen Rosen Gonzalez at 8 percent, Matt Haggman at 5 percent and Michael Hepburn at 2 percent.

A little more than a quarter of likely voters were still undecided little more than two months out from the Aug. 28 primary, which will decide who will face the Republican nominee in the campaign to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress.

The poll was conducted through live bilingual interviews with 600 likely Democratic voters from June 2 through June 8. The margin of error was four percent. As with all internal polls, the results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Download Shalala POLL 6.19

The survey, though, is the first published since Shalala’s campaign released a poll conducted in January, and the first since the field dwindled to five and the ballot was set for the Democratic primary. It was conducted after Richardson launched a TV and mail campaign that harshly attacked Shalala's record, and before longtime friend Hillary Clinton endorsed her campaign Monday.

The results are also fairly consistent with an independent poll given privately in April to POLITICO, which reported that Shalala was pulling 40 percent of the vote at the time.

But it’s not all bad news for Shalala’s opponents, who threw shade at the numbers Wednesday and said the poll was already outdated.

While Shalala is known among two-thirds of the voters in the district and the number of undecided voters has dwindled, the poll found her opponents remain largely unknown, suggesting they still have room to snare some of her voters as they roll out their campaigns and voters begin to pay more attention to the race. Richardson’s ad blitz -- which began in May and is ongoing -- also boosted his numbers, and Haggman only began airing his first television commercial Wednesday. Rosen Gonzalez has maintained that her own, informal queries show her in a much different position.

"We have the resources to make sure all of the voters hear our message, and we will be rolling out more ads in the next few weeks," said Helena Poleo, a spokeswoman for the Haggman campaign. "This poll was conducted before our ads were up, so these numbers don't mean much."

And while their attacks didn’t appear to have knocked down Shalala’s lead by early June, they did appear to have kept it from growing further considering that her “unfavorable” numbers grew from 8 percent in January to 18 percent in June. The poll also found lower favorable numbers for Shalala in June (46 percent) than the independent query released to POLITICO in April (58 percent).

"In politics, when a campaign releases an old poll it always means they don't want you to know what's happening in the race today," Eric Johnson, a political strategist for the Richardson campaign, said after this blog first published. "By her own poll, Shalala's negatives were on the rise three weeks ago as voters learned how she sold out progressive values for profits. If you fast forward to three more weeks of TV and mail about her record versus David Richardson's accomplishments, the poll results would be much worse for her."

Jacksonville lawmaker doesn't mention his bank failures in application for banking regulator

Fantastical
State Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville

State Rep. Jay Fant touts his experience leading his family's Jacksonville bank as justification for becoming the state's banking regulator.

But in his application, released Wednesday, he doesn't mention the most important aspect of his experience: it was run into the ground under his leadership.

Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, spent 18 years working at First Guaranty Bank & Trust of Jacksonville, the last nine as its CEO. The bank was founded by Fant's grandfather in 1947, and at one point it was the oldest bank in Jacksonville.

According to his application, his "reason for leaving" First Guaranty was that it "became CenterState Bank."

That's technically true, but it's the nicest possible version of the story of First Guaranty.

The reason why the bank "became" CenterState Bank was because it was shut down by the Office of Financial Regulation in 2012, and the FDIC turned over its assets to CenterState, based in Winter Haven.

Banking regulators at OFR found that under Fant's leadership, the bank started offering riskier commercial real estate loans, including loans to people with questionable backgrounds. When the Great Recession hit, the bank went under.

That version of events is nowhere in his application to become OFR commissioner, overseeing the very regulators who shut down his bank. The Florida Cabinet could choose the next OFR commissioner as early as next week.

In his cover letter, he cites his "direct involvement with regulatory agencies including the OFR," but he doesn't appear to be keen on some aspects of regulation.

"As prospective commissioner, my primary objective is to provide Floridians with responsible financial oversight while ensuring that innovation in the marketplace is not unduly inhibited with draconian regulatory policy, state or federal," he wrote in his cover letter.

On Tuesday, Fant announced he was dropping out of the attorney general's race and would instead throw in to become OFR commissioner. He blamed his bank's failure on "wayward government policy."

We've reached out to Fant for comment but have not yet heard back.

Jack Shreve, 85; took on utilities on behalf of Florida consumers

Jack Shreve, a long-time champion of the rights of Florida consumers in cases involving telephone and utility companies, died June 12. He was 85.

Shreve served two terms in the state House as a Democrat from 1970 to 1974, representing Brevard County.

After he left the Legislature, he ran the Office of Public Counsel for a quarter of a century, acting as the people's lawyer on behalf of consumers in utility rate-increase cases. The post was created during an energy crisis in 1974.

"I love the job, and I've been at it for 25 years," Shreve said in a Times story when he retired in 2003. "A lot of people retire to try to get away from work, but I don't feel that way. But it's probably time for me to go."

Tall and courtly with an easy smile, Shreve had a low-key demeanor and avoided confrontation, and won praise for getting results.

"Shreve has survived not by being a bomb-throwing publicity hound, but a mild-mannered compromiser," Times columnist Howard Troxler wrote in 2003. "His demeanor is Jimmy Stewart-ish, or sometimes Columbo."

As the Times reported, Shreve negotiated many rate-case settlements with electric utilities and phone companies including a 1994 agreement in which Southern Bell, as BellSouth was then known, agreed to reduce rates by $300 million a year.

"When they (utilities) file, they know they're going to have to deal with him," Bill Newton of the Florida Consumer Action Network told the newspaper. "So that's kept things reasonable."

Shreve later returned to state government as special counsel and consumer advocate in 2007, working for Gov. Charlie Crist.

A native of Crestview, he was a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and later was a helicopter pilot in the Navy reserves while attending law school at the University of Florida.

At UF, he was a track champion, president of the prestigious Florida Blue Key and a classmate of Lawton Chiles, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and two terms as governor.

Shreve also served as Cocoa city attorney, assistant state attorney and general counsel for the Florida Department of State.

Kids separated from their parents in Homestead are at the center of a political fight

Immigration Florida(3)

@alextdaugherty

Bill Nelson didn't show up for work on Tuesday, but he likely won't get dinged for it.

The Democratic senator fighting for reelection against Republican Gov. Rick Scott was 1,100 miles away from Washington, sweating in front of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children after being denied entry to the facility with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Dozens of news cameras surrounded him.

"This is not a good day for our country, where a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Congresswoman have been turned away from a federal facility because the Trump administration does not want us to check on the welfare and care of the children inside, children who have been taken from their moms and dads," Nelson said.

The moment has marked the most media exposure Nelson has secured during his Senate campaign so far. His face was plastered on front pages across the state and across evening newscasts, while his opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, saw his latest trip to Puerto Rico relegated to second-fiddle status.

The Trump administration's decision to separate immigrant children from their families after they attempt to cross the border illegally has turned into a political firestorm in Miami-Dade, where the presence of three facilities that house unaccompanied minors and children that were separated from their parents is the physical embodiment of a White House policy that is widely condemned throughout the country.

And it has given Democrats a chance to go on offense to blame the Republican Party for standing by as the Trump administration loses of nearly 6,000 children.

It puts Republicans, including members fighting for reelection, in a tough spot. Miami Rep. Rep. Carlos Curbelo has blamed the Trump administration for the situation in Homestead, which lies within his Miami-to-Key West congressional district, as he works with the Trump administration to stitch together support for an all-GOP compromise immigration bill in Washington.

"I do think that anytime a Member of Congress shows up at one of these facilities, they should be granted access," Curbelo said Wednesday morning. "It's the Congress that funds all of these government departments, and the administration should welcome members into these facilities to make sure they know exactly what is going on there so we can explain it to our constituents."

But even as Curbelo said that he would fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions for implementing the policy and asked him to stop it immediately, Democrats excoriated him.

Read more here

 

Democratic candidates for Florida governor plan to march Saturday at Homestead child migrant shelter

Dems brady bunch

Four of the five Democrats running for Florida governor say they plan to attend a rally Saturday outside a child migrant shelter in Homestead.

Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine have all announced plans to attend. Jeff Greene has not said whether he'll attend, and a spokeswoman said Wednesday afternoon that he was on a plane to Tallahassee and could not immediately be reached.

The March to Keep Families Together is planned for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, on the corner of Southwest 288th Street and 137th Avenue. The event is a collaboration by at least 16 organizations, including the New Florida Majority and ACLU Florida.

 

The facility has become a flashpoint in a new federal policy of separating children from their parents when families are caught crossing U.S. borders illegally, though President Donald Trump said today he'll sign an executive order keeping migrant families together.

Click here for yesterday's coverage of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and state Rep. Kionne McGhee being barred from entering the shelter.

A foul mouth and filthy attitude: Was Miami's mystery Russian a spy or a con man?

Foto_fittedLying, cheating and charming, spying and scamming his way through the world with a warm smile on his face and a gun tucked in his back pocket, Henry Greenberg — or whatever his name is; he uses at least four — was born in Russia. But the sun and the swindles brought him to South Florida, which is now the backdrop for the latest chapter in the seemingly endless controversy over who may have have ripped off whom in the 2016 presidential election.

Greenberg, who has left a trail of arrests halfway around the world, is the mystery man at the center of the newest report of contact between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign staff and shadowy Russians. Greenberg stands accused by Trump associates of trying to peddle derogatory information about Hillary Clinton to Trump's organization for a cool $2 million.

But if it's true, was Greenberg part of a Russian government attempt to tilt the scales of the election in Trump's favor? Or a sinister undercover shill for the FBI, trying to lure Trump's lieutenants into an illegal act for which they could be prosecuted? Or just a run-of-the-mill Russian con man trying to make a quick freelance score for himself?

The strange and captivating tale of Greenberg came to light over the weekend in The Washington Post. The Post reported that two former senior Trump campaign advisors who had previously told a congressional committee that they didn't recall talking to any Russians during the campaign both changed their testimony. They said they now remembered having fleeting contact — "a matter of minutes," one said — with Greenberg, who wanted to sell them political dirt on Clinton.

The two former advisors — Roger Stone, who now runs a Fort Lauderdale political consulting company, and Michael Caputo, co-owner of the Miami Beach-based public relations company Zeppelin Communications — said they originally dismissed Greenberg as "crazy" and a "waste of time" and promptly forgot about him. They didn't mention him when they were questioned under oath by the House Intelligence Committee as part of the burgeoning number of Washington investigations of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But in April, according to Caputo, as his attorney grilled him in preparation for questioning by the Senate Intelligence Committee as well as FBI agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller, Caputo suddenly remembered the encounter. Greenberg had allegedly reached out to Caputo's business partner with the offer of information, after which Caputo asked Stone to take the meeting.

His memory allegedly refreshed, Caputo told both the Senate investigators and the FBI about Greenberg — but was surprised that the FBI agents already seemed more familiar with the subject.

Read the rest by clicking here.

Gwen Graham's second-biggest donor has been fined nearly $2 million for environmental violations

412551_URSO_005_GwenGraham-1200x837
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

As Gwen Graham's campaign for governor continues to rack up financial contributors, one of her top money-makers stands out.

It's not her father, Bob Graham, the former governor and senator who's given a quarter-million dollars. Nor is it his old college fraternity brother, a Winter Park developer who's poured in $150,000.

It's actually a Lynn Haven contractor who's been fined nearly $2 million by state and federal authorities for various environmental violations.

James D. Finch, owner of Phoenix Construction Services outside Panama City, has given $290,000 to her campaign so far, making him the second-biggest donor to her campaign. (The top giver is easily Emily's List, the organization giving loads of money to "pro-choice Democratic women" across the country.) 

Over the decades, he's been cited multiple times, none bigger than in 2009, when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection levied a $1.7 fine for environmental permit violations.

Here's what happened, according to Politifact:

Finch, a former NASCAR team owner, has given to Republicans and Democrats over the years, but he's chosen to side with centrist Democrats as of late.

He gave more than $200,000 to then-Democrat Charlie Crist's run for governor four years ago, and got called out by Republicans for flying Crist around in his private plane. They dubbed him a "serial polluter" in campaign commercials.

Check out the extensive Politifact piece on Finch's record here.

Finch didn't respond to a request for comment left with his company, Phoenix Construction.

But a year ago, he told Politico that he thought Graham did a good job during her two years in Congress, citing her 2015 vote in support of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Since that quote, he's poured another $240,000 into her campaign. 

Graham's campaign isn't embarrassed by it, though.

"Yep, Finch has contributed. He obviously admires Gwen's leadership," campaign spokesman Matt Harringer said. "So does the Environmental Defense Fund, which has also given to Gwen — and the more than 20,000 individual supporters who have also contributed to Gwen."

The environmental nonprofit gave $1,000 this month, Harringer said.

June 19, 2018

Miami, Miami Gardens mayors heading to Texas border to protest 'tent city' with other U.S. mayors

Mayor-suarez

@joeflech

Amid growing backlash against President Donald Trump's policy to separate immigrant children from their parents — including uproar over an immigrant children center in their own backyard — Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert are joining a group of other U.S. mayors on a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border to protest at shelters housing unaccompanied migrant children.

The nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors is paying to fly the mayors out to Tornillo, Texas, to join Stephen K. Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, to tour the tent city that has been erected to house children of immigrants.

Benjamin is president of the national mayor's group, which passed a resolution condemning the policy. The mayors of Los Angeles; Augusta, Georgia; Gary, Indiana and Rochester Hills, Michigan, are among the other municipal leaders who will attend.

Suarez said Benjamin called him Tuesday to ask him to join him and other U.S. mayors on the trip.

"Hopefully, they will give us access," Suarez said Tuesday evening. "The images we are seeing are very troublesome and appalling."

Suarez, a Republican, echoed bipartisan calls to end the separation of children from their parents. 

"It's contrary to our core values as a country," he said.

As Suarez prepared for the trip, controversy continued to swell in his own county Tuesday as U.S Sen. Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz were blocked from entering a Homestead shelter housing as many as 1,000 immigrant children.

The mayor, who will return to Miami late Thursday, said he attempted to arrange a visit to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children but was told he wouldn't be allowed.

FWC sets new requirements for airboat operators, spurred by death of University of Miami grad

IMG_3000

@elizabethrkoh

Airboat operators carrying passengers on their boats will soon have more stringent requirements to pilot their vessels, after a deadly crash that killed a University of Miami graduate last year.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved new course requirements Tuesday, following the passage of a law that directed the agency to set new regulations for commercial airboat operators earlier this year. The legislation, named for 22-year-old victim Ellie Goldenberg, requires airboat operators to complete a more comprehensive training course and pass an exam to pilot the powerful boats, which are popular with tourists in the Everglades.

In the last several years, commercial airboat tours have had little official oversight, with no required licenses for operators or specific safety classes. Though airboat operators are currently required to complete a general eight-hour boating safety course, no background checks are required and no education specific to airboating is mandated. The flat-bottomed boats, propelled by powerful airplane-like engines, do need to be registered with the FWC and have basic features like a muffler for the engine’s sound. But insurance is often not required and airboat operators have been otherwise unregulated.

A Miami New Times analysis found more than 75 accidents involving private and commercial airboats in the last three years, with at least seven deaths and more than 100 injuries.

The rule approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission Tuesday will require operators to be certified in CPR and first aid, subject to a fine. Anyone operating an airboat with passengers must also take a course with at least 24 hours of instruction, including 8 hours of classroom time and 14 hours on the water. Courses will be required to cover several topics, including state and federal boating requirements, navigation rules, environmental concerns, ecosystem awareness and the causes and prevention of airboat accidents.

Airboat operators will also have to pass a final exam of at least 50 questions, and course instructors will have their own standards too: at least 120 hours of experience operating an airboat in the last three years and no felony convictions in the last five years.

“Public safety is important to the FWC, and with the Legislature’s guidance, this new rule provides additional requirements for airboat operator courses which will improve safety measures for passengers aboard an airboat for hire,” commission chairman Bo Rivard said in a statement.

The law behind the new rules was approved during this year's legislative session after Goldenberg, a recent theater graduate at the University of Miami, was killed during an Everglades airboat tour last May. The 22-year-old died the day after she received her diploma when, during the tour her family took to celebrate, the craft flipped over and trapped her underneath. The other passengers on the boat and the operator survived.

Blood tests showed the airboat operator, Steven George Gagne, had high levels of THC, the active compound in marijuana. But Gagne was not charged with a crime after prosecutors said they were unable to definitively prove Gagne was piloting recklessly. Among the obstacles in charging Gagne was the fact Florida law does not set a standard for how much THC can be considered operating a vehicle or vessel “under the influence.”

Goldenberg's death spurred her family to push for legislation in Tallahassee that would tighten requirements in airboating. The bill, which was nicknamed “Ellie’s Law,” directed the FWC to set stronger standards for airboat operators and for required courses before they can pilot the crafts.

The rules will go into effect by Jul. 1, 2019.

Goldenberg's father, David, said the rules were a "step in the right direction" but insufficient in addressing his daughter's death. He said he intends to return to lawmakers next year to increase the penalties for violating the new boating requirements to make sure the law "has some teeth."

An earlier version of the legislation made violating the new regulations a more severe second-degree misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 days, though it was amended down to a more lenient penalty.

"A misdemeanor means nothing — it's not even a slap on the wrist," he said. He said he also intends to advocate for a law punishing drug use among operators: "Just because there's no marijuana law in Florida yet is not a good enough reason," he said. Gagne "walked off scot free and he killed my daughter."

Photo: The airboat that crashed last year in the Everglades, killing recent University of Miami graduate Ellie Goldenberg. [Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office]

Lawmaker wants to lead the office that shut down his family's bank

Fantastical
Rep. Jay Fant, R- Jacksonville. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

State Rep. Jay Fant is dropping out of the attorney general's race to try to become the state's financial regulator, leading the office that shut down his family's bank six years ago.

In a Tuesday evening announcement, the Jacksonville Republican said that he wanted to become commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, which oversees banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan shops.

That was the same institution that blamed Fant for the failure of the First Guaranty Bank and Trust, founded by Fant's grandfather in 1947.

At one point, it was Jacksonville's oldest bank. But under Fant's leadership, the bank engaged in risky loans, some of which state regulators said violated banking regulations. When the Great Recession hit, the bank was crushed.

"The bank's financial deterioration is a direct result of poor loan underwriting and a lack of sound lending department controls," OFR examiners wrote in 2009. "The board and executive management are responsible for the resulting deterioration as they failed to institute sound policies and procedures and appropriately oversee credit practices."

That report also said Fant accepted the blame.

"Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Julian E. Fant III acknowledged the board's responsibility for the condition of the bank. … Chairman Fant acknowledged that in hindsight he did not appreciate the gravity of the concerns raised in prior examinations," examiners wrote.

But on Tuesday, Fant blamed "wayward government policy" for the bank's failure:

"I was running a small community bank during the Great Recession and Florida real estate crisis," he said in a statement. "Our company, like all banks and financial firms, suffered tremendously. The federal government intervened by passing a massive bank bailout that helped the largest banks and left the small community banks out in the cold. 64 banks in Florida alone, including ours, went out of business. Wall Street won. Main Street lost."

Fant would be replacing outgoing Commissioner Drew Breakspear, who was pressured to resign by CFO Jimmy Patronis, who complained that Breakspear was not being responsive to people in the industry.

On Tuesday, Fant told Politico, which first reported his announcement, that he wants to instill a "servants culture" in the office.

He's going up against 22 applicants, including Linda Charity, who twice led the office in an interim role.

In April, Charity defended Fant's role in the banking failure, telling the Herald/Times that "people just walked away from their loans."

The Florida Cabinet, made up of Patronis, Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi, could pick a replacement as early as next week.

Fant's chances are likely better than they were in the attorney general's race, where he was falling behind in fundraising. And one of his opponents, Ashley Moody, was already endorsed by Bondi.

Herald/Times staff writer William March contributed to this report.

Nelson, Wasserman Schultz blocked from entering immigrant children shelter in Homestead

XV8A4561

@newsbysmiley @brendamedinar

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz were denied access Tuesday to a Homestead facility where as many as 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are being held.

Nelson and Wasserman Schultz, both Democrats, tried to enter the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a day after Wasserman Schultz announced that she'd learned Health and Human Services had transferred hundreds of children to the South Miami-Dade site. The center, which HHS says is only temporary, held unaccompanied minors during the Obama administration.

"The company running this facility told us we would be welcomed to tour the facility," Nelson said on Twitter. "HHS then denied us entry and said that they need 'two weeks notice' to allow us inside. That’s ridiculous and it’s clear this administration is hiding something."

 

It remains unclear just what role the Homestead facility is playing in the new and controversial immigration crackdown under President Donald Trump. The center may be housing children who entered the country without parents, or housing them after authorities took them from their parents after the family entered the United States illegally, or a mix of both. An HHS spokesman has declined to clarify.

The facility closed last year amid a sharp decline in illegal border crossings under Trump, easing the flow of unaccompanied minors needing housing. Washington reopened the facility earlier this year without public notice, and the new population of minors did not receive media attention until Wasserman Schultz disclosed it during an event Monday.

Read more here.

Matt Haggman to run 'abolish ICE' commercial in Miami congressional race

 

With furor building over the Trump administration's decision to separate families caught crossing into U.S. borders outside regulated checkpoints, a Miami congressional candidate is going on air with a pledge to work to abolish the country's Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm.

Matt Haggman, one of five Democrats hoping to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress, is spending six figures to run the 16-second spot, mostly on Miami network television.

"We can protect our border without being cruel to kids," Haggman says in the ad, in which he also takes a swipe at the race's frontrunner. "Donna Shalala, she's had her chance."

Shalala and David Richardson are already on TV in the race, which also features Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn. But Haggman's timing is good, given that news broke Monday that federal authorities had sent as many as 1,000 children to a previously dormant child shelter in Homestead. On Tuesday, Bill Nelson is heading to the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children -- further highlighting what a poll suggests is an incredibly unpopular policy decision in Miami by President Donald Trump to separate children from their parents as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

Jeff Greene's $3M ad buy includes video of him jawing with Trump

Jeff Greene

Amid speculation that he'll spend tens of millions of his own dollars in order to get elected, real estate tycoon Jeff Greene announced Tuesday that he's dropping $2.9 million this week to air two commercials statewide as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor.

Greene began running two commercials Tuesday, one in which the Palm Beach billionaire explains how his dad lost his job and later died of a "massive heart attack" at age 51 under the pressure of supporting his family, and another in which he stresses his opposition to President Donald Trump. The latter includes a clip that seems to show Greene and Trump jawing at each other, as a narrators says Greene "is the only candidate in America willing to stand up to Trump in his own dining room."

You can see the ads here

According to Greene's campaign, the video was taken in December of 2016 at the Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach, where Greene was attending a friend's birthday party. Greene was crossing the room when Trump, at the time the president-elect, noticed Greene and remembered that Greene had supported Hillary Clinton and bad-mouthed him on national TV.

Trump, Green's campaign says, began yelling and pointing at Greene, who fired back. Green's wife filmed the clip, the campaign says.

The video sets a different narrative than one Greene, a Mar-a-Lago member, helped create shortly after Trump was elected when he called for the country to unite behind Trump and give him a chance. He recently told the Miami Herald that he'd hoped Trump's rhetoric was just campaign shtick, but quickly lost hope that the president would strike a more conciliatory tone in office and now completely opposes him.

Greene has ground to make up if he's going to win the Democratic nomination in August. Polls have shown that he has retained little to none of the name-recognition he earned in 2010 when he spent $24 million of his own money in an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate. But it helps to have money, as Philip Levine has shown in spending more than $10 million on commercials since November on his way to becoming the race's frontrunner.

Greene has thrown out gaudy hypothetical numbers when asked how much he may spend on his own campaign. Tuesday's ad blitz, which includes digital spending, should only be the beginning.

Voters in Carlos Curbelo's district are opposed to separating families at the border, poll shows

IMG_IMG_curbelo_6_1_1TCH_7_1_USCSTTBR_L357400841

@alextdaugherty

Two-thirds of voters in Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's congressional district are opposed to a newly enforced Trump administration policy that separates parents from their children when they cross the border illegally, according to a new poll commissioned by Equity Forward and conducted by the left-leaning polling firm Global Strategy Group. 

 

Voters in Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district opposed the new "zero tolerance" policy 64 percent to 27 percent, with 8 percent who didn't take a position. The majority of voters, 81 percent, said they had heard about the recent policy announcement that has led children to be held in empty big-box stores as they cry for their parents. "

"Congressman Curbelo’s constituents are deeply opposed to the Trump “zero tolerance” policy that has separated over 2,300 children from their parents in just six weeks and Curbelo faces a
major backlash from constituents if he refuses to act to stop the separations," the polling firm said in a release. "Voters–including a significant number of Republicans and Trump supporters–strongly support Congressional action to stop this new policy and to increase the accountability and transparency of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)–an Office within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which is charged with caring for the children detained as a result of this unprecedented policy." 
 
Curbelo has said he does not support the policy, and is attempting to address the issue in an all-GOP immigration compromise bill that could receive a vote in the House of Representatives this week. Curbelo called the separation policy "a tragedy" on Twitter over the weekend, and referenced former President Barack Obama's policy of detaining families and unaccompanied minors.

"While some tolerated it when it happened under the previous administration, I found it unacceptable then & I find it unacceptable now," Curbelo tweeted. "We’re crafting legislation to remedy this sad situation." 
 
Curbelo's likely Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, also condemned the Trump administration's decision. 
 
"This is truly heartbreaking. We need action now," Mucarsel-Powell tweeted. "This inhumane and cruel practice against innocent children cannot continue."
 
The race between Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell will be closely watched this year by both national parties, and will likely see both candidates raise and spend millions in an attempt to control the House of Representatives. Curbelo represents a district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by 16 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in a congressional district held by a Republican running for reelection in 2018. 
 
The Global Strategy Group polled 402 likely general election voters in Curbelo's district from June 12 to 17. The survey has a margin of error 4.9 percentage points. The poll used landlines and cellphones, and was conducted in English and Spanish. 

June 18, 2018

Levine discloses his net worth at $133 million

Levine0095 JAI

Gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine says he'll place his assets in a blind trust if he's elected governor of Florida, a decision intended to enable the $133 million man to govern without conflicts under state law by handing control of his investments to a third party.

"I think when you're the CEO of an $89 billion organization, I'm not so sure you have time to run anything else,'' Levine said Monday in Tallahassee after explicitly disclosing his net worth and assets for the first time in his political career. "When you become governor, your number one priority is to be governor 24/7. I only wish that the same law in Florida would apply to the presidency — full disclosure and everything else."

Levine made the commitment while opening a Tallahassee regional office for his campaign, and shortly after filing a detailed financial disclosure with the Florida Division of Elections in order to make the August Democratic primary ballot. Levine declared his net worth at $133 million — or about five times the $25 million he said he might be willing to invest in his own campaign when he announced he was running for governor.

Though Levine filed five years' worth of financial disclosures with the city of Miami Beach during his 2013 run for public office and his four ensuing years as mayor, those disclosures were limited in scope and did not require him to explicitly explain the value of his investments or his annual income. On Monday, he laid out an array of stocks, securities and funds that altogether were worth $140 million — minus an $8.3 million liability with City National Bank — and brought him more than $5 million in revenue last year.

Read more here.

Hillary Clinton endorses Donna Shalala

Shalala

@alextdaugherty

Hillary Clinton made an unsurprising endorsement in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, saying former Clinton Foundation director Donna Shalala would make an excellent Congresswoman if elected. 

"I know she will be an excellent Congresswoman from Florida," Clinton told an audience of women in New York on Monday. 

It's not clear if Clinton would hop on the campaign trail for the former Health and Human Services Secretary and University of Miami President, who faces a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination. 

Shalala faces former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, former University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn and former state Rep. David Richardson in the Democratic primary. Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based district voted for Clinton over Donald Trump by 19 percentage points in the 2016 election, the most Democratic-leaning result of any congressional district currently held by the GOP.