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18 posts from January 22, 2013

January 22, 2013

Irked by tweet, Pam Bondi pays a visit

TALLAHASSEE -- Don't underestimate a tweet. They get read. And sometimes, they can annoy the powers that be.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was in a meeting Tuesday when a staffer interrupted to show her this tweet from the League of Women Voters Florida: "Sen. Darren Soto expresses concern about revolving door issue at the FL Attorney General's office and asks for regulation."

The tweet refers to the practice of staffers leaving state agencies to work for firms that then lobby the agency they left. Soto mentioned the Attorney General's office in a hypothetical scenario, but didn't intend to besmirch Bondi's office.

Minutes after the tweet,  Bondi dropped by the Senate Ethics Committee meeting that was a 5-minute walk from her office. As she sat down, Committee Chair Jack Latvala welcomed Bondi and asked her why she was visiting.

"I heard disparaging remarks made about my office," she told Latvala, who looked startled but continued with the meeting.

Minutes later, it was time for Bondi to explain.

“I tell ya, I didn’t hear any disparaging remarks about your office, but if you’d like to come speak to us about ethics, it’s a great day in Florida and we’d be happy to hear from you,” Latvala told Bondi.

“Thank you,” Bondi replied. “I think maybe, perhaps, someone tweeted out something that misrepresented what a senator perhaps said. I guess it got sent out that I had a revolving door at my office. But if anyone has any questions with employees at my office, I guess that got misconstrued in a tweet. I know that’s shocking to hear that can happen. So I just wanted to be here if anyone had any questions.”

“I didn’t tweet,” Latvala quipped.

“I just wanted to be hear if anyone had any questions,” Bondi said.

“I do apologize," Soto said, cutting in. "We were talking here ..If it was taken that way, that was not the intent. “ (NOTE: Soto didn't tweet it).

"Thank you," Bondi said.

"I didn’t hear anything that was disparaging," Latvala said. 

"Thank you," Bondi said. "May I address the committee?  If you ever have any questions regarding my office, please come sit down with me."

As Bondi left, she added: "I actually got pulled out of a meeting."

Later, the League of Women Voters tweeted this: "We apologize to @AGPamBondi for incorrectly paraphrasing Sen. Soto's remarks about revolving door issue, and we respect her office."

In the hallway, it seemed that Bondi had moved on.

"I don’t want to create something that wasn’t there, but someone tweeted my office needs reform because of a revolving door," Bondi said. "I’m very proud of my office and my staff and the hard work that we do, I wanted to be able to respond."

Why so sensitive? Well, even though he did apoligize, Soto, an Orlando Democrat, did write 2011 press release with Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who also sits on the Ethics Committee that said this: 

“A number of troubling questions have come to our attention involving past and current 
employees of the Attorney General’s office and at least one mortgage processing company
currently under investigation. In particular, we are especially concerned with the sudden departure to Lender
Processing Services of your former special counsel, Joe Jacquot, and the subsequent dismissal of
two apparently top notch foreclosure fraud attorneys – June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards -
from the Department of Legal Affairs.
Now that's a revolving door.

It might be a landmark bill now, but will ethics reform bill get watered down?

TALLHASSEE — Political ethics experts say they are impressed by many of the items in the proposed bill that a Senate ethics committee unanimously approved Tuesday.

"This sounds like Florida may be taking a big step forward in refining its ethics regulations," said Edwin Bender, executive director of The National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that analyzes the influence of money in politics in all 50 states. "As far as addressing the public's trust in the state Legislature, this is a good step."

Touted as the most far-reaching ethics reform in 36 years, the bill would:

• Extend a ban that currently prohibits lawmakers from lobbying their colleagues in the legislative branch for two years after leaving office to include the executive branch (the governor's office and state agencies);

• Prohibit lawmakers and all elected officials in Florida from accepting a state administrative job after getting elected;

• Require lawmakers to abstain from voting on issues that benefit them or family members;

• And prohibit lawmakers from using political committees for personal expenses.

The bill doesn't have a companion bill yet in the House, where Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has also declared ethics reform to be a top priority.

"We will shop it over there once we have a bill," said Senate President Don Gaetz, who thanked the chair of the committee, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, for the bill's quick passage Tuesday.

Latvala said he isn't naïve about the bill's chances, but said the committee's unanimous support, including from Democrats and representing a third of the Senate, boosts its chances.

Continue reading "It might be a landmark bill now, but will ethics reform bill get watered down?" »

As expected, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, continues as DNC chair

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who criss-crossed the country in support of President Obama during the 2012 presidential campaign, will continue in her job as chairperson of the powerful Democratic National Committee.

Wasserman Schultz, a Broward Democrat, announced her acceptance of the job in a series of tweets Tuesday from her Twitter account.

"Today I proudly accepted the nomination to stay on as DNC chair—to continue what we do best: out-work and out-organize our way to victory.

"Together, we will harness the energy, enthusiasm, and strategy that defined our campaign and channel that momentum into #progress.

"We’re going to keep building the country we’ve been fighting for from day one—where the American Dream is truly within reach for everyone.

"We will move #forward, with common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication to help create a better America.

 

Senators hear opposing viewpoints on Affordable Care Act

A Massachusetts college professor known as "Mr. Mandate" made the case why the Florida Legislature should embrace the Affordable Care Act. But nearly every point he made was countered by a representative from the conservative Cato Institute that is dead set against the health care law.

The result was a two-hour debate where the speakers agreed on very little, giving senators a lot to think about it as they consider what Florida should do when it comes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave an overview of his state's law that provided the model for "Obamacare." A long-time defender of both the Massachusetts and federal health care reforms, he encouraged Florida to embrace "Obamacare" as a way to provide more access to the uninsured and improve their quality of health.

As Gruber encouraged the state to accept billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, Cato's director of health policy studies Michael Cannon outlined eight reasons why Florida should not. The government can't avoid it, the system is rife with fraud and inefficiencies and there still aren't enough details on how it should work, Cannon argued. More than once he said the expansion would cost Florida $20 billion in the first 10 years, a number that was questioned, debunked and eventually revised much lower by state economists.

(Update: Cannon called us Wednesday night to clarify that the number he was using was not based on the state's $26 billion estimate that was later revised but a different report by a Cato Institute senior fellow, which he stands by. Link here.)

Both men did agree on one thing, although for different reasons. They both argued that Florida should not pursue creating a health exchange, at least initially.

Continue reading "Senators hear opposing viewpoints on Affordable Care Act" »

Former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez is back - as a bodybuilder

DSC_0064Former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez is back, in rare form, displaying bulging muscles from his pecs to his calves, bronzed from head to toe, dressed in the briefest of black skivvies.

After almost two years of seclusion, Alvarez reemerged in November, taking home first prize in the National Physique Committee’s South Florida “Over 60s” Master’s bodybuilding competition at Miami’s James L. Knight Center.

Event promoter Sergio Pacheco said Alvarez’s victory over five other men qualified him for the more prestigious Junior National Master’s competition.

Pacheco, who owns Pacheco’s Physique Gym in Hialeah, said he had heard the former mayor competed in an event a few weeks earlier in West Palm Beach, but had no idea he had entered the Knight Center contest.

“When I saw him walk in, I said, ‘Wow, I know him,’ ” Pacheco said.

The former mayor and county police director was recalled from office in March 2011 by 88 percent of the electorate, after constituents had a hard time wrestling with a series of raises he awarded his inner circle and with his backing of the new, $634 million Miami Marlins ballpark in Little Havana. Alvarez, 60, was a 35-year county employee. He spent the first 28 of those years in the police department, working his way up to director.

More from Charles Rabin here. (The mayor's bodybuilding victory was first reported Tuesday by the Miami New Times.)

photo courtesy of www.NorthAmericanBodies.com

CAIR cashes in on "NUTS" letter from former U.S. Rep. Allen West through Ebay

While still in office, controversial U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Florida, wrote a brief but terse letter on August 4, 2011, to the Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter in South Florida.

Click here for the Ebay posting with a photo of the actual letter

In the letter, West simply wrote "NUTS" in responding to a letter from CAIR asking the congressman denounce "anti-Islamic activists."

CAIR officials decided to do something "NUTS" itself -- they posted the letter on Ebay.

On Tuesday, CAIR officials announced the Ebay auction netted them $2,625. They reported a Stockton, Calif. man had outbid about a dozen other bidders for the West letter penned on congressional stationery.

Said CAIR in a statement to media on Tuesday:

"We are taught in Islam to meet a bad deed with a good deed. So we turned Allen West's bad deed into 2,625 good deeds. We thank Allen West for his "NUTS"! Every penny of these monies will be used to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding."

CAIR officials also sent a statement from the highest bidder, though they did not name him.

 “As a former high school history teacher, I know that many groups through our history have been the target of mindless demonization, and right now American Muslims, and indeed Islam itself, are chosen as the targets. I am not a Muslim, but I support the work of the Council on American Islamic Relations/ Florida (and elsewhere) in their positive and proactive efforts to fight irrational Islamophobia, and I am glad to make a token contribution toward that goal.”
No word from former congressman West, who was defeated in November by Democrat Patrick Murphy in a razor-thin race for Florida's 18th congressional district along the Treasure Coast.
Click here for the Ebay posting with a photo of the actual letter

Bill Nelson didn't catch an Everglades python, but team with county commissioner and state rep did

Python1

Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz spent Saturday dressed in camouflage gear, riding an air boat and hunting for pythons in the Everglades. And someone on his team actually caught one.

Diaz and Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles, taller and also clad in camouflage, and Florida Wildlife Commissioner Ron Bergeron posed for a photo with the python as part of the 2013 Python Challenge -- while the python was still alive, Diaz said. Artiles and Diaz are both U.S. Marine veterans. 

"The python was caught by the team that had gotten to the island just before us," Diaz said. "I had one that I kind saw the tail end of it, and I tried to grab to get it, but it went into the water."

He estimated the photographed specimen -- caught by a wrangler known as "Python Dave" -- measured around 10 feet. Diaz called it "very aggressive" because it snapped at them a few times. (He also said he had an encounter with a gator who growled at him.)

"It's not an easy thing to do," he concluded from his python-hunting trip. "You gotta really be careful."

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, took part in the python hunt last week, and brought reporters along, but returned empty-handed. That was before the weather cooled, which usually prompts pythons to leave the water and sun themselves.

As of Monday, 27 Burmese pythons had been caught as part of the challenge, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

photo courtesy of the office of Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz

Senate and House agree to one more study to determine fate of treacherous gaming policy

The Florida Senate Committee on Gaming continued to do what its chairman said was to “creating the foundation of understanding” for a sweeping rewrite of the state’s gambling laws, which is expected to come next year.

In an unusual move, Senate Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has reached an agreement with House leaders to pay for an independent company to conduct a study about the economic and social impact of the state’s existing gambling laws on the state economy and what impact of expansion or changes might have.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ Richter told the committee at a hearing on Wednesday. He said the committee may not meet during the upcoming session as they await the results of the study and he expects  legislation to wait until next session.

The request for proposal will come sometime before lawmakers convene in regular session on March 5, he said. But the breadth and scope of the study, as well as who will conduct it, is still undetermined.

“A study can sometimes get you where you want to go,’’ said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who asked what the RFP will look like. 

“It’s a work in process,” Richter responded.

Continue reading "Senate and House agree to one more study to determine fate of treacherous gaming policy" »

Florida Congressman Joe Garcia named to House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, who is serving his first term in Congress, could be getting an insider's view of the immigration debate.

He has been named to the House Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. The South Florida Democrat was elected in November to represent a district that stretches from west Miami-Dade to key West. The committee is responsible for drafting immigration legislation in the United States House of Representatives.

“As a member of the Immigration Subcommittee, I will help lead the effort to ensure that we achieve comprehensive immigration reform that will strengthen our economy by providing 11 million people with a pathway to citizenship," Garcia said in a statement. "The time has come to resolve this issue and afford citizenship to those immigrants who are Americans in every other way and want to work to move our country forward.”

- Franco Ordoñez, McClatchy Washington Bureau

Lawmakers push for more oversight at Citizens Property Insurance

A freshman legislator from Miami Beach has filed a bill to increase scrutiny on Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by creating a new inspector general position at the state-run entity.

Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, filed HB 433 on Tuesday, which requires Citizens to have an Inspector General to look over its affairs. 

“After learning of severe managerial shortcomings at Citizens, including reports of lavish spending on travel, reports of severance packages for employees with abuse charges, and unprofessional behavior of staff, I immediately recognized the need for stronger state oversight,” Richardson said in a statement.

Continue reading "Lawmakers push for more oversight at Citizens Property Insurance" »