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11 posts from December 7, 2012

December 07, 2012

Crist attends White House Christmas Party, registers officially as a Democrat

Crist the DemIt was just a matter of time. Charlie Crist is becoming a Democrat.

Crist — Florida’s former Republican governor who relished the tough-on-crime nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” and used to describe himself variously as a “Ronald Reagan Republican” and a “Jeb Bush Republican” — on Friday evening signed papers changing his party from independent to Democrat.

He did so during a Christmas reception at the White House, where President Barack Obama greeted the news with a fist bump for the man who had a higher profile campaigning for Obama’s reelection this year than any Florida Democrat.

The widely expected move positions Crist, 56, for another highly anticipated next step: announcing his candidacy for governor, taking on Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and an untold number of Democrats who would challenge him for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

“I’ve had friends for years tell me, ‘You know Charlie, you’re a Democrat and you don’t know it,’ ” Crist, a career-long populist, recounted Friday night from Washington, D.C.

Crist has been registered with no party affiliation since the spring of 2010, when his Republican candidacy for U.S. Senate was fizzling against Republican upstart Marco Rubio. Since losing that race, he has been steadily inching toward the Democratic party, first when his wife Carole switched her affiliation to Democrat and later when he threw himself into Obama’s reelection campaign, earning a prominent speaking slot during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. More from Adam Smith here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/07/3132538/charlie-crist-signs-papers-to.html#storylink=cpy

Florida recedes on license tag fight

Backing away from a possible court fight, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles announced Friday that it will halt its attempt to bid license tag services to private vendors.

Tax collectors — which distribute state tags — and two manufacturing groups tried to block the change by lobbying elected officials and filing legal action against the department.

Highway Safety Chief Julie Jones had wanted to save money by paying private companies $31.4 million over two years to make tags and distribute mail and online orders, but she abandoned the idea under pressure from Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, among others.

Read more here.

Watchdog groups raise the heat as Gaetz increases distance from transparency program

Open government advocates increased the heat on state officials to unleash access to a budget transparency web site Friday as the Senate president continued to distance himself from the site under his control. 

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, announced the he was asking Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, to develop legislation to create a “user-friendly, accurate, cost-effective, web-based transparency tool”  for the state budget that could include or replace the system developed by Spider Data Systems.

The state has already spent at least $4.5 million on the Spider Data budget transparency program, called Transparency 2.0, under a contract signed by former Senate President Mike Haridopolos but kept under wraps. The sole-source contract allowed for the company to use its patented technology to merge state budget, contract, personnel and accounting data into a single portal to allow legislators and staff to track how government money is spent.  Download Spider

But the powerful search functions of the web site also weaken the ability of legislative leaders and budget staffers to control the flow of information in Tallahassee and the program has never been rolled out formally for lawmakers to use. 

Continue reading "Watchdog groups raise the heat as Gaetz increases distance from transparency program" »

PolitiFact checks elections' chief claim about 'record' turnout

A few days after the election, a CNN reporter asked Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner about long lines and other problems Florida had on Election Day: "How could this happen in 2012 in a state in the United States, that people would wait six hours and many would just abandon and not vote at all?"

Detzner responded that there were two reasons for the long lines. First, Florida had a long ballot -- 11 constitutional amendments and in Miami-Dade, a slew of local amendments -- on top of the presidential election and local races.

Second, he said, turnout "was unprecedented. It was a record year of turnout. More people voted before Election Day using absentee ballots and voting early than ever before in our history." Detzner identified some other issues throughout the interview, including that elections offices need to have sufficient equipment and the state needs more early voting locations.

Was the Nov. 6, 2012, election in Florida a "record" for overall turnout? And did Florida also break a record of pre-election day voting? Read PolitiFact for the answer.

Gov. Rick Scott delays implementation of early learning funding formula

Responding to concerns expressed by the state's early learning coalitions, Gov. Rick Scott said today that he would not move forward with changing how it allocates tax dollars to these agencies next year.

The Florida Association of Early Learning Coalition took its concerns about the funding formula public this week, saying the state came up with a new way to allocate school readiness dollars to the 31 regional coalitions without their input, the News Service of Florida reported. 

From the News Service's report:

In late June, just before the new budget year began, the coalitions were notified of changes in their funding. One of the biggest losers was the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, which lost $3.7 million, effective five days later – leaving 11,000 children waiting for services.

The Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend lost nearly $700,000, or 4.5 percent of its budget, also with less than a week to prepare. Executive director Lauren Faison saved the children's places but had to cut staff support for the providers. 

...Some areas, like Broward and Southwest Florida, got more money under the new formula, not less. But the state is planning to phase in five more years' worth of cuts – and in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, that's another $22.3 million lost.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott delays implementation of early learning funding formula" »

Sen. Aaron Bean says federal government will likely run Florida's health exchange initially

State Sen. Aaron Bean brings a unique perspective to the Legislature's debate on how to implement the new health care law. As chairman of Florida Health Choices, the state's health insurance marketplace, he knows all too well how the indecision among lawmakers have created uncertainty across the state.

Florida Health Choices, which pre-dates the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but operates very similar to the health exchanges mandated in the law, is scheduled to launch later this year. But there is also a chance the Legislature will also the public-private partnership to alter its mission to meet the requirements of the health care law.

Those decisions aren't coming anytime soon, said Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

“It looks as if the first year Florida will default to allowing the federal government to run the exchange or having the federal government do it, then the following year it’s up in the air," he told the Florida Health Choices board during today's meeting.

Rose Naff, the chief executive officer of Florida Health Choices, said insurers have chosen not to participate in Florida Health Choices because of uncertainty about how the state will implement the health care law.

Continue reading "Sen. Aaron Bean says federal government will likely run Florida's health exchange initially" »

Longtime BSO spokesman as well as undersheriff stepping down

Add two more big names at the Broward Sheriff's Office who plan to submit resignations next week: Undersheriff Thomas Wheeler and Jim Leljedal, head of media relations, Leljedal said today.

Leljedal has been with BSO for 29 years. He said that he had gotten word back indirectly that the newly elected sheriff,  Democrat Scott Israel,  doesn't want him.

"I could dig in my heels and stay on as a deputy I suppose but under these circumstances it is probably best to move on," he said.

Israel beat Republican Al Lamberti in November. Israel is at FDLE's sheriff's school this week and could announce some important new hires next week.




Thousands of rejected absentee ballots in Florida show perils of voting by mail

Absentee ballots are often touted as a pain-free, easy way to cast a vote without having to stand in long lines at a polling station.

But nearly 2,500 Miami-Dade County voters had their absentee ballots rejected this election in what amounts to a wake-up call for those who ignore or fall prey to the perils and pitfalls of not voting in person. Another 2,100 ballots were rejected in Broward County.

Some voters forgot to sign their ballots. The county elections office negated others because the signature on the ballot didn’t match the voter’s on-file John Hancock. And three voters died in between Election Day and the time they sent in their absentee ballots.

Most absentee ballots in Miami-Dade and Broward were rejected because they arrived well after Nov. 6 at the elections office.

Many voters were angry. They cast their mail-in ballots from home for convenience, only to face a greater inconvenience when their vote didn’t count.

“I voted absentee because I realized lines in Miami-Dade County would be horrendous and I didn’t feel I wanted to deal with that hassle,” Patricia Tepedino, a 45-year-old Democratic Obama voter, wrote in an email.

Continue reading "Thousands of rejected absentee ballots in Florida show perils of voting by mail" »

Field for United Teachers of Dade elections getting crowded

After news that longtime president of United Teachers of Dade will not seek another term, the field of candidates to lead the largest union in Miami-Dade is getting crowded.

Eugenio "Geno" Perez told the Miami Herald Friday that he will team up with state Rep. James Bush III. Bush, a Miami Democrat, will run for president and Perez, a Republican, will vie for vice-president under the caucus dubbed "No Teacher Left Behind" -- a twist on the controversial federal eduation law.

"We'll do the best we can for teachers and the community," Perez said, on his way to file his paperwork at union headquarters.

Perez ran last election cycle in 2010 against current president Karen Aronowitz but is still contesting those results in court. He also recently lost a bid for the state seat representing District 115 against Michael Bileca, who sponsored the so-called parent trigger law last session.

Other candidates planning to run for president of United Teachers of Dade: Fedrick Ingram, Artie Leichner and Ceresta Smith.

Guess who didn't go to dinner with Scott? Gaetz

Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott invited Senate President Don Gaetz and his wife Vicki to dinner at the Mansion Thursday night. That may sound innocuous, but it isn't.

Gaetz, an enthusiastic fan of the governor's, graciously accepted, but then he realized that Senate rules and the state Constitution prohibit him from discussing state business out of the sunshine. Gaetz has raised the bar for the conduct of public officials and says ethics reform is one of his highest priorities in his two-year term as Senate president.

It didn't take long for Gaetz to tell the governor he wouldn't be coming. The Senate interprets its own rules (Rule 1.45) to require a four-hour advance notice to the public and to the media before Gaetz meets with the governor, even if it's strictly a social occasion -- a higher standard than was expected of Gaetz's predecessors.   

"Senator and Mrs. Gaetz will not be able to attend the reception or the dinner with the Governor and First Lady due to the notice requirement," said Gaetz's spokeswoman, Katherine Betta. 

-- Steve Bousquet