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16 posts from February 6, 2013

February 06, 2013

Bob Menendez deep ties to aide surface amid overseas port deal, FBI scrutiny

Sen. Bob Menendez's ties to a former Miami aide who could benefit from a controversial overseas port contract, which the Democrat pushed for, extend to an international business group that last year feted Spain’s king and the U.S. secretary of state.

Menendez and Pedro Pablo Permuy hold high-level posts on the United States-Spain Council, funded by major special interests -- from ATT to Bacardi to Wal-Mart-- as well as a little-known investment company of the senator’s top South Florida donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who is under FBI investigation.

Federal agents raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach business office last week, putting a national spotlight on his relationship with Menendez and his business dealings.

One of Melgen’s companies, ICSSI, is fighting with the Dominican Republic government for a mammoth port-security contract. Menendez advocated for it privately and publicly when he spoke in July about the issue at a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

At the same time, Permuy was involved in the ICCSI deal and was supposed to help run the company in the Dominican Republic, according to a defender and relative of Melgen’s.

Permuy, a Belen Jesuit Preparatory school graduate who attended the University of Miami, gave a brief and passing denial to the New York Times and has since stopped answering his phone or emails.

Menendez's spokeswoman said the senator had no idea Permuy was involved with ICSSI, which wants to X-ray port cargo as part of a contract worth as much as $500 million or more.

But ethics watchdogs have their doubts.

"That's the howler of the day. I don't see how the senator couldn't have known about it," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the ethics watchdog group called the National Legal and Policy Center.

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UF - FSU rivalry heats up in State Senate

The rivalry between University of Florida and Florida State University may have cooled on the football field in recent years, but it might get hot this year in the State Legislature thanks to lawmakers with strong school ties.

Gov. Rick Scott’s proposes to award the University of Florida $15 million in an effort to boost it into the upper ranks of higher education. That money is tucked in with $118 million for operation expenses, in lieu of a tution increase, and $167 million tied to performance for the 11 universities in the system.

On Wednesday, however, Sen. John Thrasher, who graduated from Florida State University in 1965 and from its law school in 1972, asked Scott’s budget director if other schools, without naming names, could get the same money that UF is getting.

“In higher education, one particular school it looks like you want to get into the top 10 and I recognize that, I assume the governor wouldn’t have a problem with additional funding to help a couple of other universities to maybe move up the ladder a little bit either, would he?” asked Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, said he would refer the question to Scott. Minutes later, Senate Appropriations Chair, Joe Negron, amplified Thrasher’s request, putting it in stark school terms.

“If we’re going to spend $15 million for UF, which I think is a great idea, we should give an equal amount to FSU,” said Negron, R-Palm City, who on the face of it has no dog in this hunt, having graduated from Stetson University. “So I look forward to working with (Sen. Bill) Galvano on that.”

Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Committee. Oh yeah, he also graduated from UF in 1989, FSU’s rival. He said after the meeting that he supports the $15 million boost for UF and that he wasn’t interested in spreading the bonuses to other schools, at least this year.

“We have to get to that point of having a world class university within the state of Florida to break that glass ceiling if you will for our state university system,” Galvano said. “I applaud the governor for taking that step and making that move. If you’re bold with the leading university, it follows that the others will come on line in the future. But when you just try to create some sort of equitable mediocracy, we’re not going to end up with that top tier university.”

So did that mean he didn’t want to provide any money for FSU?

“We need to look at the University of Florida for what it is and the potential for what it has,” Galvano said. “With regard to the other universities, to try to create funding just to create equity within a single year budget shouldn’t be the goal. If we have an opportunity to get that world class university ranking as a state we should do it.”

Afterward, Thrasher clarified his comments. He said he thinks FSU should get the same amount that UF gets.

“I’d be in favor of it,” Thrasher said. “Florida State has a plan. It’s not like they’re just pulling $15 million out of the air. There is a need to have these two universities elevated, no question about it. I’m for everybody being raised up if there are other resources for it.”

No word yet from the House and how its leaders feel about UF vs. FSU. But keep in mind, House Speaker Will Weatherford's brother, Drew, was a star quarterback for the Seminoles. And his father-in-law, former House Speaker Allan Bense, now sits on the Florida State University Board of Trustees.

In other words, don't count FSU out just yet.

Two South Florida Reps tapped to help Republicans recruit more Hispanics

Two South Florida state Representatives have been recruited to a national Republican group that is looking to of recruiting Hispanic Republicans to state office across the state. 

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, are joining the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Future Majority Caucus.

 That caucus is made up mostly of Hispanic lawmakers and led by honorary co-chairs Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada.

"Representatives Diaz & Oliva will be outstanding leaders for the Future Majority Caucus, helping us support candidates who reflect the full diversity of our nation," said RSLC President Chris Jankowski, in a statement.  "The key to growing our Republican Party is identifying candidates like Rep. Diaz, and Rep. Oliva, from across our country who believe in the principles of smaller government, lower taxes, and supporting job creators who can lead the way in our states."

"I am honored to be chosen as an Executive Committee Member for the Future Majority Caucus, and I am ready to support our mission to recruit and support diverse candidates across the states," said Diaz.  "The leadership of the Future Majority Caucus will enact a long-term and sustained engagement with voters as we work together to tackle the challenges in our states of reducing the size and scope of government, and make the American Dream a reality.

The committee is the latest phase of the Future Majority Project, which was launched in 2011 to recruit Hispanic Republicans to run for office.

The release is below:

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Broward sheriff Scott Israel supports assault weapons ban

Newly elected Broward Sheriff Scott Israel (D) sent a letter this week to Florida Senators Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) outlining his support for several gun control measures proposed by President Barack Obama. Israel called for reinstating and strengthening the assault weapons ban, closing the gun show loophole and adding 1,000 more resource officers and counselors in our nation's public schools.  (The letter didn't contain any proposal for a specific number of school resource officers in Broward schools.)

Israel wrote that these measures will help curb gun violence without "putting an undue burden on our Second Amendment rights." 

Jeb Bush offer to buy Marlins baseball club rejected


From Miami Herald reporter Barry Jackson's Sports Buzz

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, in recent months, has rejected overtures from a half dozen people who expressed interest in buying the Marlins, including one of South Florida’s most famous residents: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

According to a source, Bush made a “large offer” to buy the team this offseason, but Loria told him he’s not selling. A second source said Bush had put together a group of wealthy investors, with Venezuelan media mogul Gustavo Cisneros among possibilities mentioned. Cisneros declined to discuss the Marlins in an e-mail.

Bush -- who was governor from 1999 to 2007 and now runs an education advocacy group, consults and gives speeches – refused to discuss the matter or confirm whether he would have been Marlins CEO and managing partner if Loria had agreed to sell. Managing partner was the title his brother, George W. Bush, held when he co-owned the Texas Rangers before he was elected President.

MLB rules would have allowed Jeb Bush to become Marlins managing partner even if he owned only a small percentage.

Loria, 72, theoretically would have more incentive to sell after 2014, when he no longer would need to share profits with Miami-Dade County. But a friend of Loria insists that barring a health problem or change of heart, he does not want to sell because he loves owning a team.

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/sports-buzz/2013/02/famous-name-rebuffed-in-attempt-to-buy-marlins-heat-canes-fins-chatter.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/sports-buzz/2013/02/famous-name-rebuffed-in-attempt-to-buy-marlins-heat-canes-fins-chatter.html#storylink=cpy

Fasano calls Citizens president to testify, says company isn't following 2012 law

Rep. Mike Fasano was denied the opportunity to sit on the House’s Insurance and Banking committee, but the outspoken consumer advocate is still finding a way to get involved in the debate over property insurance.

As the chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, Fasano, R-New Port Richey, is requesting that the president of Citizens Property Insurance appear at the next committee meeting to answer some tough questions.

Despite a law passed last year that requires Citizens to offer a more basic (and usually cheaper) policy to homeowners beginning Jan. 1, the state-run insurer has not yet begun to do so.

“Effective Janurary 1, 2013, the corporation shall offer a bssic personal lines policy similar to an HO-8 policy with dwelling repair based on common construction materials and methods,” reads Fasano’s letter, quoting a law passed last year. “It is the Committee’s understanding that this requirement has yet to be implemented by the Corporation.”

Fasano wants Citizens president Barry Gilway and Insurance Commissioner to appear before his committee at its next meeting, on Feb. 19.

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