August 27, 2014

Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board

The normally staid meeting of the Public Service Nominating Council could get a bit lively on Thursday as a group of climate change activists, including a scientist who met with Gov. Rick Scott, stage a protest at the Miami International Airport to complain about the utility board's "cozy relationship with Florida's utility companies."

There are two vacancies on the five-member PSC and the legislatively-dominated nominating council has a history of picking candidates that are endorsed and backed by the state's largest utilities -- which are among the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and non-profit causes promoted by legislators.

The nominating council will interview 16 candidates on Thursday and offer up as many three nominees for each of the two seats on the commission. Gov. Rick Scott will choose from the list of nominees and in the past has re-appointed candidates backed by the state's power companies. 

Seeking a second term is Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown, who will be among those interviewed on Thursday. A second position was opened when Commissioner Eduardo Balbis decided not to seek a second term. He was an occasional critic of the industry on a board that has a record of embracing much of the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities in the past four years. 

Also to be interviewed is Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant which is owned by his family. Patronis lists no utility-related experience in his resume but is a favorite for the job because of his political connections. Patronis dropped out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race and many expect him to be named by Scott to the utility board in consolation.

Here's the press release from Florida For All: 

Continue reading "Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board" »

Proposed FIU expansion could be on November ballot, if Miami-Dade commission approves


Miami-Dade County has already endorsed the expansion of Florida International University onto the Tamiami Park fairgrounds. Now it wants the political backing of a far more powerful group: county voters.

Before continuing tricky discussions with the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, whichdoesn’t want to relocate and would not be required to pay for a potential move, the county plans to ask the electorate if it supports FIU’s proposal in the first place.

County commissioners are scheduled to decide Wednesday whether to put a question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The Miami-Dade elections department has said next week is the deadline for county charter amendments.

“I’m hoping that we have a serious discussion and put something in motion that clears the way for what I’ve said in many occasions is a win for our community,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the legislation’s sponsor.

Support at the polls to turn over 64 county-owned park acres to FIU could give Miami-Dade and FIU more leverage over fair organizers, who oppose holding a popular vote before new fairgrounds — or relocation funds — are identified. County administrators want to keep looking for a suitable alternative for at least another six months.

More here.

Tortured pre-teen went from 115 pounds to 56 at death

Tamiya Audain@Marbinus

Tamiyah Audain, a sickly and severely disabled preteen under the care of state child welfare authorities, endured life-ending neglect so severe that it constituted “torture,” police say.

Twelve-year-old Tamiyah was left in the care of a cousin when her mother died of the same devastating disease Tamiyah battled. The relative, Latoya Patterson, was arrested Tuesday on charges of felony murder. An indictment handed up in Broward Circuit Court says Tamiyah died as the result of aggravated child abuse. She faces life imprisonment.

“This child died of apparent deprivational abuse, or torture,” said a sworn statement written by Lauderhill Police Sgt. Atina Johnson. “The caregiver made active steps to isolate her from therapists, who would have intervened in her nutritional and general neglected state.”

Patterson, 33, was one of four women indicted in connection with Tamiyah’s death, which occurred last fall. Also charged was Jabeth Moye, a child welfare caseworker with Broward’s private foster care agency, ChildNet, which operates under contract with the Department of Children & Families. Moye, 34, who was fired by ChildNet last month, is charged with child neglect causing great bodily harm, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment.

Also indicted were two professional psychologists, Juliana Gerena, 42, and Helen Richardson, age not immediately available. The two face sentences of five years’ imprisonment on charges of failing to report suspected child abuse or neglect — charges that are filed very rarely across Florida and the United States.

Tamiyah suffered from a neurological condition called tuberous sclerosis, as well as both physical and cognitive disabilities. But a specialist from the University of Miami’s Leonard Miller School of Medicine, neurologist Michael Duchowny, told authorities that Tamiyah most likely was neglected to death. When Tamiyah succumbed on Sept. 25, 2013, she had been ravaged by several deep wounds, including at least one that exposed her bone. Such sores can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening systemic infection. Story from Carol Marbin Miller here. 



Culture of secrecy extended to governor's 'legacy' Mansion project

Florida Governor's MansionThe idea made sense: create a “governor’s park” around the Florida Governor’s Mansion to spruce up the entrance by buying up shabby commercial property on the adjacent street and replace it with a grand boulevard and a visitors commons.

But it was an idea that was going to take cash. Lots of cash: $2.3 million for the project and $2.7 million more to acquire an old house, a pawn shop, a tire store and three other properties nearby, records from 2011 and 2012 show.

First Lady Ann Scott embraced the project. Mansion director Carol Beck was on board, the governor’s deputies coordinated the effort with donations from the state’s top industries and persuaded Republican legislative leaders to dedicate $2.5 million in the state budget. A lavish party at the Mansion was held to recognize the generosity of the corporate donors.

But while records show that everyone involved was using state time to do the work, they wanted to avoid creating a public records trail, so they used private email accounts and private cell phones to keep what they were doing out of the public eye.

The practice was part of the culture in the new governor’s office. The governor’s first two chiefs of staff, Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara, instructed employees to use personal emails and personal cell phone text messages to communicate anything that was sensitive, creating a barrier to access when records requests were made, former employees have told the Herald/Times. More here.


Continue reading "Culture of secrecy extended to governor's 'legacy' Mansion project " »

Study: States with medical pot see drop in overdoses from narcotic pain meds

MarijuanaFrom Stephen Nohlgren, Tampa Bay Times

In a finding that could ripple through Florida, a study released this week reported that the average number of narcotic painkiller overdoses in medical marijuana states is 25 percent lower than would be expected if pot use weren't legal.

The study, published in theJournal of the American Medical Association,estimated a reduction of about 1,700 overdoses in 2010 in the 13 states that had medical marijuana systems up and running then.

The association seemed to strengthen as years passed. Overdose rates averaged 20 percent lower than expected a year after medical marijuana was allowed and 33 percent lower by the sixth year.

"This suggests an unexpected public health benefit from medical marijuana laws,'' said lead author Marcus Bachhuber, a researcher at Philadelphia's VA Medical Center.

The numbers did not prove cause and effect. In fact, the authors said that unrelated factors — like cultural shifts — might account for the lower overdose rates.

But they theorized that marijuana might lead people to take fewer painkillers. Or perhaps pot relaxes people, so they take fewer anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants that can lead to "drug cocktail" overdoses. Story here.

Continue reading "Study: States with medical pot see drop in overdoses from narcotic pain meds" »

Florida court ask state Supreme Court to address gay marriage questions

From the Associated Press:

Florida's highest court is being asked to decide whether or not the state's ban on gay marriage is constitutional.

In an unusual decision, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday asked the Florida Supreme Court to settle the question due to "great public importance." If the high court takes up the case, it could result in having the issue settled even before the U.S. Supreme Court acts.

The ruling is connected to a Hillsborough County divorce case involving a same-sex couple who had been married in Massachusetts but since relocated to the Tampa area. Their petition to dissolve their marriage was rejected by a Florida judge who noted that state law does not recognize gay marriage.

"Resolution of the constitutional questions will no doubt impact far more individuals than the two involved here," states the unsigned opinion. "And there can be little doubt that until the constitutional questions are finally resolved by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, there will be a great impact on the proper administration of justice in Florida."

A panel of judges with the Lakeland based appeals court earlier this summer rejected a request to forward the case up the state Supreme Court. But that ruling was overturned in a 10-3 decision by the entire appeals court. More here. 


CFO candidate William Rankin not scheduled to campaign with Democrats


Democrat William Rankin wants to be taken seriously as a challenger to incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a Republican.

But Rankin has raised very little money going into the 70-day general election campaign period and is getting no love from the establishment. The Florida Democratic Party has ignored Rankin's campaign thus far, and he hasn't been asked to make appearances alongside other Democratic candidates for statewide office.

Compare that to George Sheldon, who won Tuesday night's primary to become the Democrat's candidate to run against Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi. Sheldon is to be featured at Thursday's party unity events in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Rankin is not.

Meanwhile his campaign has raised just $15,210.99. Compare that to Atwater's $2.5 million treasure chest.

Rankin says he continues to fill his calendar with campaign stops -- a food giveaway on Thursday, Labor Day picnics over the weekend --and has tried to reach out to party leaders to talk about his campaign. He says he has not had good luck raising money from folks who often finance Democratic campaigns.

Still, his name is on the ballot in November he he says his grassroots campaign is at full speed.

"In politics, money is what people focus on too much," he said.

Why Charlie Crist's tepid North Florida Dixiecrat support makes him a typical Democrat


Here's another sign that Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist is a real Florida Democrat: conservative North Florida Dixiecrats aren't crazy about him.

Had it not been for the rural counties, Crist's 74-26 percent statewide win over longtime Democrat Nan Rich would have been bigger. It's not as if the conservatives up north loved what the liberal from down south stood for -- they just don't like the frontrunner, even a fellow Southerner.

Look at what happened in the 2010 Democratic governor’s race: then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink ran against a complete unknown named Brian P. Moore, who earned 23 percent of the vote – only 3 percentage points more than Rich four years later -- thanks in great part to strong North Florida support.

Continue reading "Why Charlie Crist's tepid North Florida Dixiecrat support makes him a typical Democrat" »

Teachers union to take "legal action" against voucher program

The statewide teachers union plans to announce new "legal action" against Florida's school voucher program at a press conference Thursday, union leaders said.

The voucher program, also known as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, enables corporations to fund private-school scholarships for low-income children. The businesses receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits in exchange for their contributions.

The cap on tax credits for the program is set by state law.

About 69,000 students statewide are currently receiving tax credit scholarships. Supporters say the program provides choices for students who might not succeed in a traditional public school. But opponents argue the dollars would be better spent within the public school system, where there is more oversight and accountability.

The lawsuit is separate from the union's recent challenge to a 2014 law expanding the voucher program. That litigation, which is pending in Leon County, raises questions about the way the legislature approved the voucher expansion -- not the program itself.

Suspended Homestead mayor's corruption trial pushed back until next month


Suspended Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman was supposed to be in trial this week on corruption allegations -- but he can thank acquitted Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi for a bit of a delay. 

The reason: Both men are represented by bow-tie-wearing lawyer Ben Kuehne

A jury on Aug. 14 acquitted Pizzi in a corruption case that ran longer than expected in a Miami federal court. The next day, Kuehne asked a state court judge, Robert Luck, to push back the trial to give the defense more time to prepare. 

"We didn't anticipate the enormity of the Pizzi trial," Kuehne told the judge.

After a few more days of schedule wrangling, a new date for Bateman's trial has been set: Sept 15. Kuehne will be defending Bateman along with Michael Davis, who was also part of Pizzi's defense team. 

Pizzi, who is still technically suspended by the governor's office, is suing to be returned to his post as mayor of MiamiLakes. 

Bateman has pleaded not guilty to state allegations he secretly worked as consultant for a health-clinic company that was seeking government approval for a construction project.


UPDATED Democrats welcome Republican Carlos Curbelo to general election with video attack


National Democrats wasted no time Wednesday to go after Carlos Curbelo, the Republican who won Tuesday's primary and will face Miami Congressman Joe Garcia in November.

In a web video titled "Why We Can't Trust Carlos," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used video footage from the primary in which GOP opponent Ed MacDougall criticized Curbelo for failing to disclose the clients of his media and public relations firm. Mitt Romney, who endorsed Curbelo and was in Miami raising money for him last week, is also featured.

"Accused of hiding his income and helping his powerful friends, what else does Carlos Curbelo have in common with Mitt Romney?" the video says. 

Also in the video: Elaine de Valle, the political blogger whom Curbelo has accused of pay-to-play. She has denied it.

Web videos usually provide little campaign news, and they often reach very few voters. But this one, coming the day after the election, underscores that the Democrats' line of attack against Curbelo between now and the Nov. 4 general election will be to go after his character. Curbelo has tried to run as the candidate of integrity, highlighting that Garcia's former chief of staff ended up is jail and has a pending federal investigation against him.

UPDATE: Turns out the National Republican Congressional Committee also weighed in on the race late Tuesday, noting that Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report tweeted that Curbelo's margin of victory -- he won with 47 percent of the vote in a five-way race -- could make him the "ever-so-slight fave" over Garcia.

"Carlos Curbelo offers South Florida families a chance to vote for a representative that actually has their best interest in mind, unlike Garcia who is just looking for his next election to rig," NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill said.

Garcia, it should be noted, has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.

UPDATE #2: Curbelo's communications director, Wadi Gaitan, called the DCCC's attack "frivolous."

"While the DCCC is trying to pivot from the cloud of controversy and scandals  surrounding Joe Garcia and his campaign – including the fact that his campaign remains under FBI investigation for the potential illegal financing of a straw candidate – Carlos Curbelo, contrary to Joe Garcia, can proudly campaign on the values of honest, ethical, and responsible leadership," Gaitan said in a statement.


Rich did better with conservative upstate voters

The rural-urban schism between Florida Democrats was glaringly obvious in Tuesday's primary, as conservative upstate voters spoke with one voice: They're decidedly ambivalent about Charlie Crist.

Even though Crist's rival Nan Rich had virtually no money, a liberal voting record and is from South Florida, she received more than 40 percent of the vote in 22 counties. She carried two of them, Holmes and Putnam, and she and Crist broke even in Calhoun.

The Democratic vote totals in these counties don't amount to a huge number, but together they account for a vast portion of geography and the turnouts will be among the highest in the Nov. 4 general election. The results speak for themselves: Voters in this broad swath of the state are rejecting Crist as the Democratic nominee and will likely flock to Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November.

Rich received 40 percent or more of Democratic votes in Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Glades, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hardee, Holmes, Jackson, Lafayette, Okaloosa, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Walton and Washington counties. Crist's victory margins were much bigger in two small counties, Gadsden and Madison, where African-Americans make up a sizeable share of the Democratic vote.


Dismal South Fla. turnout a red flag for Democrats

If South Florida voters are fired up about the 2014 election, they sure didn't show it Tuesday, as they reaffirmed a basic truth about Florida politics: The voters Democrats need the most are the hardest ones to get to the polls. A repeat performance in November is likely to produce another disaster for Democrats, who have lost the past four elections for governor.

Turnout in the state's three largest counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach again trailed the state as a whole as mass numbers of Democrats ignored the election. Those weak numbers will help Republicans reinforce the idea of an enthusiasm gap in this election. 

Statewide, the turnout was 17.55 percent, the lowest since the first primary in 1998. Broward's turnout was 10.76 percent, second only to rural Glades County, which reported a turnout of 9.3 percent. Palm Beach County wasn't much better with a turnout of 12 percent, and Miami-Dade turnout was 14.4 percent.

Turnout was significantly higher in other, medium-sized counties where Republican Gov. Rick Scott will be strong in November: Bay, 22 percent; Brevard, 22 percent; Citrus, 29 percent; Lee, 24 percent; and Okaloosa, 21 peercent.

Tom Steyer's new ad puts Rick Scott's King Ranch controversy in its sights


Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer's group, NextGen Climate, is planning to air its fifth ad targeting Gov. Rick Scott, attacking the Republican this time for his controversial secret hunting trip to King Ranch in Texas.

"What was Rick Scott really hunting for in Texas? Campaign cash from the sugar industry," a narrator intones as a wad of cash comes into a rifle's sight. "The same industry that got a massive bailout from Rick Scott, sticking taxpayers with the bill for cleaning up Big Sugar's water pollution. Rick Scott: sweet deals for the powerful few -- not you."

Oh, the irony. 

Scott's rival, Charlie Crist, was once Big Sugar's favorite when he was a Republican governor and inked a land deal with U.S. Sugar. Scott bashed the buyout/bailout, but then became governor and embraced it and now attacks Crist for not closing the deal.

This ad is scheduled to run in the West Palm Beach and Naples-Fort Myers' media markets.

With this spot, Steyer is closing in on $1 million spent against Scott on TV. Steyer has plans to spend as much as $10 million, including a large field organization that, if done properly, could bring environmental voters to the polls in a large and unprecedented way.

Here's the spot.

August 26, 2014

Challenger declares victory in Miami-Dade commission race

@doug_hanks @PatriciaMazzei

Daniella Levine Cava claimed victory Tuesday night against incumbent Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell after a costly race that divided along partisan and ideological lines, and ended with the former charity executive posting a small but stubborn lead against the one-term commissioner.

With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, Levine Cava led Bell by 680 votes out of more than 17,000 cast. Bell, who scheduled no post-election celebration, offered no remarks, and she and her aides did not respond to repeated telephone calls.

Should Levine Cava’s lead hold, it would mark a rare defeat for an incumbent county commissioner and reset the voting balance on the 13-member commission, strengthening its progressive wing.

Shortly after 10:20 p.m., Levine Cava took the microphone at her Palmetto Bay election party and declared victory in her run for elected office.

“The results are clear, and my platform is clear,” she told the crowd of supporters. “After a good night sleep, I am ready to go.”

More here.

Tuesday's election brings new faces to the Florida House

South Florida voters on Tuesday opted to send two new faces to the Florida House of Representatives.

Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner, won the contest to represent House District 94 in central Broward County. He edged out fellow Democrat Levoyd Williams, a city commissioner in Lauderdale Lakes.

With 56 of 63 precincts reporting, DuBose had won about two-thirds of the vote.

Because there were no other candidates in the race, there will be no November election. DuBose replaces the termed-out Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Another fresh face likely to be Tallahassee bound: Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs. Jacobs, a Pompano Beach resident and former Broward County mayor, easily defeated former state Rep. Steve Perman in the Democratic primary for House District 96.

Jacobs won 76 percent of the vote to Perman’s 24 percent.

Her only remaining opposition is write-in candidate Ronald Bray, a University of Miami graduate student who is not actively campaigning or raising money. No write-in candidate has ever been elected to the state legislature.

Read more here.

Broward School Board member appears to survive N-word controversy


Four Broward School Board incumbents appeared likely to hold onto their seats on Tuesday – including Ann Murray, who faced questions during the campaign over her past use of a racial slur.

Seven years ago, Murray uttered the N-word while working as a supervisor in Broward’s school bus department. She was reprimanded, but the incident did not become public until several years later, and Tuesday marked Murray’s first attempt at re-election following the controversy.

Narrowly, it appeared Murray would survive a challenge from Felicia Brunson, the vice mayor of West Park. Brunson, who is black, had received the important endorsement of Broward’s teachers union.

Yet Murray prevailed. Neither candidate returned phone calls late Tuesday.

The N-word issue surfaced at times during the campaign, but voters on Tuesday repeatedly said they either didn’t know — or didn’t care — about it. Murray previously apologized for saying the word.

More here.

Carlos Curbelo wins Miami GOP congressional primary, will face Joe Garcia


Carlos Curbelo, a longtime political insider and former aide to a U.S. senator, won a decisive Republican primary victory Tuesday to run for Congress himself.

He received 47 percent of the vote in a field of five candidates that included a scandal-plagued former congressman vying for his old seat. Ex-U.S. Rep. David Rivera came in fourth place.

Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member, now faces the far more difficult task of running against incumbent Joe Garcia, a Democrat who was elected two years ago to represent the swing 26th congressional district that extends from Westchester to Key West.

The closely watched race among Republicans and Democrats nationwide is considered a tossup. Republicans hope to flip it to their column come the Nov. 4 general election.

“I will work hard to honor your trust,” Curbelo told campaign supporters gathered Tuesday night at Killian Palms in Kendall. “I will serve with honor and integrity. We live in a community that needs new leaders.”

More here.

Miami-Dade property appraiser's race goes to runoff between former incumbent and state rep


Former Miami-Dade property appraiser Pedro J. Garcia is set to face state Rep. Eddy González in a Nov. 4 runoff for Miami-Dade Property Appraiser after they emerged as the top vote-getters in a crowded five-man field.

The race will be one of sharp contrasts: Garcia, 76, is a professional real estate appraiser with 38 years’ experience. He was the property appraiser from 2009-2012, then narrowly lost reelection.

González, 44, has no experience in real-estate appraisal: he serves as business development leader at CAC-Florida Medical Center. But the career politician, who faces term limits in the state Legislature, has fundraising power, organization and name recognition.

González has been chairman of the Miami-Dade delegation to the Legislature and a former Hialeah City Council member. He raised more than $270,000 for the campaign — more than all the other candidates combined. That included nearly $116,000 transferred from fundraising for a 2015 Hialeah City Council race he abandoned to pursue the property appraiser’s seat.

More here.

Two Miami-Dade judges lose reelection


Voters on Tuesday elected Miami assistant city attorney Veronica Diaz to the judicial bench while two of four incumbent judges lost their seats to upstart challengers and one may be headed to a run-off race.

Diaz, 36, easily defeated former Miami-Dade School Board Member Renier Diaz de la Portilla in what was the most hotly contested judicial race.

“The people of Miami-Dade realized they wanted someone with experience and who wasn’t a politician,” Diaz said late Tuesday. “All of the mud-slinging was very disgusting but at the end of the day, the voters chose correctly. I’m so looking forward to representing all of the citizens of Miami-Dade County.”

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Fleur Lobree lost her second judicial election – this time to defense lawyer Mavel Ruiz. And County Judge Nuria Saenz, criticized because of her support from a big-spending auto insurance company, lost to personal injury attorney Victoria Ferrer.

More here.