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13 posts from February 11, 2013

February 11, 2013

Mr. Smith goes to Tallahassee. With a brickbat for RPOF, Crist, Rubio et al

From Tampa Bay Times Adam C. Smith:

You could practically hear the gasp of relief from Florida Republican leaders Monday when ex-GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to theft and money laundering charges, sparing them a sordid, two-week trial.

What a trial it could have been, a veritable reality show featuring testimony about lying political leaders, hookers, bitter vendettas, personal slush funds and secret contracts.

The whole sorry story of the Florida Republican Party under Jim Greer is exhibit A on how near-absolute power, combined with astronomical campaign accounts, can and did breed breathtaking arrogance and entitlement, if not outright corruption, among party leaders professing conservatism.

Don't buy the hogwash about this being an unfortunate chapter isolated to the tenure of one buffoonish chairman hand-picked by former Gov. Charlie Crist. That is as much nonsense as Greer's contention that he was the victim of intolerant Republican hard-liners out to destroy him because he supported Crist's moderate ways.

"Jim Greer was just a greedy little b------ who brought too much attention, too much heat, to the point that elected officials and some major donors finally wanted him gone,'' said Allen Cox, the former state party vice chairman who was ousted because of his long-stymied efforts to expose Greer's lavish spending.

"What we learned from Jim Greer is that the party has really morphed into a front for legislative fundraising and front for payments to consultants," Cox said Monday. "Nobody really cared about Jim Greer's spending. All he did was, by wicked excess and spending so much of that money, draw attention to himself. He was being too flashy, too obnoxious, too profligate. Had he not actually diverted funds into (an allegedly secret fundraising company), everything would have been washed over, and nothing would have become of it."

Let's stipulate a few things:

• Gov. Rick's Scott's hands are entirely clean in this mess. A newcomer to Florida politics, he had nothing to do with the state party before or during Greer's 2007-10 tenure. An explosive, ugly trial actually would have served him well, highlighting Crist's close association with Greer. The former governor was supposed to testify Thursday.

• The other statewide elected Republicans in Tallahassee — Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — are also untainted.

• Crist, now a Democrat, may or may not have been seriously damaged by trial testimony, but he still is tarnished. If he runs for governor again, he has plenty to answer for. He anointed Greer party chairman and ignored repeated red flags while standing by him until the end. And in his legendary enthusiasm for raising campaign money, Crist repeatedly showed suspect judgment in embracing less than savory political benefactors: longtime friend Harry Sargeant, accused of war profiteering and illegal campaign donations; convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein of Fort Lauderdale; and Alan Mendelsohn of Hollywood, now serving a four-year sentence for public corruption.

• Sen. Marco Rubio's name may not have surfaced during the trial, but he epitomized the culture of the state GOP in recent years as much as anyone. As legislative leaders today talk about reforming the campaign finance system, so politicians can no longer operate personal slush funds, they are talking about Rubio and plenty of others.

The leading candidate for president in 2016 used his party credit card to charge everything from groceries to personal flights to family reunion expenses — charges for which he had to reimburse the party after they were exposed by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

Rubio has declined to release two years of earlier party credit card statements, so we don't know the scope of his spending. But he has never denied telling a disenchanted former supporter, political analyst Chris Ingram of Tampa, that during that period he charged to the party card — and later paid off, he told Ingram — $4,000 to $5,000 in new flooring for his home.

More here

Medicaid expansion in Maine, Arizona provide case studies for Florida

The Senate’s select committee on the Affordable Care Act focused on Medicaid expansion today, listening to advocates on both sides of the debate as well as some touching public testimony.

Early in the meeting, legislators heard from Florida hospital executives who were adamant the state should accept the federal money and expand Medicaid. But the meeting closed with a think tank leader who said two other states' experiences expanding Medicaid years prior outline hidden costs and unexpected issues that make it a bad move for Florida.

Arizona and Maine decided to reduce their uninsured populations well before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law. Both, according to report from the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability, saw Medicaid spending spiral out of control without any substantial improvements in healthcare or reductions in uninsured people showing up at hospital emergency rooms. The foundation, based in Naples, is run by former Maine legislator Tarren Bragdon.

Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, also appeared via Skype, adding onto Bragdon's report with numbers of her own that, she said, showed how disastrous Maine's attempt to expand healthcare coverage had been. Mayhew is an appointee of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who has already said the state will not accept the federal dollars to further expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But is Maine a good litmus test for Florida?

Continue reading "Medicaid expansion in Maine, Arizona provide case studies for Florida" »

Marco Rubio, the GOP's chosen one, still "has a long way to go" (but he's getting there)

Marco Rubio resists being called the GOP “savior.”

But on Tuesday night, he’s the party’s chosen one.

The Florida senator was picked by Republican Party leaders to rebut President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address — and Rubio will do it in English and Spanish.

Rubio’s speech will be the first of its kind delivered in two languages.

That alone speaks volumes about Rubio’s key role in attracting Hispanics to the GOP and leading its immigration-reform efforts. It earned him a spot on the cover of Time magazine, which called him “the Republican Savior.”

“There is only one savior, and it’s not me,” Rubio responded on Twitter last week, closing his message with the hashtag “#Jesus.”

Continue reading "Marco Rubio, the GOP's chosen one, still "has a long way to go" (but he's getting there)" »

Movers & Shakers: Former DOC secretary has a new gig

Former secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections, Ken Tucker, now at U.S. Attorney’s Office

Ken Tucker, former secretary of state Department of Corrections, is in a new role as the Law Enforcement Coordination (LEC) Specialist for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, managing the program’s northern district (from Gainesville to Pensacola).

One of Tucker’s priorities will be working on national security, terrorism and sharing information with federal, state and local enforcement agencies. He’ll be establishing task forces on issues like  school safety and he will also identify federal grants for law enforcement agencies..

"Mr. Tucker is a proven leader with over three decades of experience and knowledge in the field of criminal justice," U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh said in a press release. "Implementing effective crime prevention and law enforcement strategies is a priority for the Department of Justice, and I am confident that he will be an invaluable contributor to these efforts."  

Before his job at the Department of Corrections, Tucker was assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; he was at FDLE from 1983 to 2011. He began his law enforcement career with the Daytona Beach police department after completing three years in the military.

Lobbyist opens new governmental affairs firm

Longtime lobbyist and former healthcare executive Jon B. Rawlson today announced he’s launching a new governmental affairs firm, Armory Hill Advocates, with locations in Tallahassee and Orlando.

Rawlson, who served on the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, will focus on healthcare and nonprofit clients “making less than $300 million per year” in Florida and Washington, D.C.

"Our expert knowledge and experience in government affairs, public policy, and community engagement is unmatched," Rawlson said in a prepared statement. 

Before his years with Akerman Senterfitt, Rawlson led federal and state government relations at PharMerica, then AmerisourceBergen’s long-term care subsidiary. 

In 2001, Rawlson was appointed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush to serve on the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council and he was chairman for three of the nine years he was on the council.

Head of Independent Colleges and Universities appointed to national role

Ed Moore, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), will serve as the 2013 chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities State Executives.

Moore will continue in his position at the ICUF while serving as the head of the national advocacy group. 

Moore stated in a press release: “It is a privilege to be the leader of an association which often serves as the united voice of independent higher education in the U.S. I look forward to continuing a nationwide conversation as we face higher education challenges together and collaborate with our state counterparts.”

The ICUF is an association of 31 private, nonprofit educational institutions based in Florida serving more than 150,000 students.

Movers & Shakers is a periodic blog of political personnel changes. Send tips to rkoff@tampabay.com.

Rochelle Koff, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Integrity Florida's sponsored research triggers resignations

The decision by the nonprofit watchdog group Integrity Florida to produce research sponsored by Americans for Prosperity has triggered a pair of resignations. AFP, run by the politically influential Koch brothers, paid for a research project that concluded that a "pay to play" culture exists at Enterprise Florida Inc.

Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation, resigned her seat on Integrity Florida's board after questions were raised about the propriety of sponsored research. Immediately afterward, Integrity Florida's Dan Krassner stepped down from his seat on the First Amendment Foundation.

"We agreed it was best for Barbara to resign, and Dan offered to resign and I accepted the resignation," said Tim Nickens, editor of the Tampa Bay Times editorial pages and chairman of the First Amendment Foundation board.  

Petersen said: "I found myself in the uncomfortable situation of being asked by citizen groups and the media to justify recent decisions by Integrity Florida that, to some, inaccurately folded [the First Amendment Foundation] into Integrity Florida's decision-making process ... This put me in a very difficult position and I decided it would be best if I resigned." Krassner said Petersen did not attend any Integrity Florida board meetings and played no role in the decision to partner with AFP.

-- Steve Bousquet 

House leaders predict 'dramatic change' as campaign finance bill passes first hurdle

A House plan to eliminate controversial political slush funds and raise the campaign contribution limit in Florida to $10,000 won approval on a bi-partisan first vote Monday.

But the top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford faces a fight. Senate critics and ethics watchdogs warn that the solution will create new loopholes, allowing the parties to control big checks with no accountability, concentrate power in the hands of incumbents and party officials, and make the system less democratic. 

Those criticisms did not dissuade the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee Monday, however, which passed HB 569 on a 10-2 vote. Democratic Reps. Katie Edwards of Plantation and Mike Clelland of Lake Mary joined Republicans who predicted the bill will result in "dramatic change."

Continue reading "House leaders predict 'dramatic change' as campaign finance bill passes first hurdle" »

South Florida lawmakers want to bring attention to gun violence at Tuesday's State of Union

In a move to highlight the need for gun control legislation, two South Florida lawmakers, Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Lois Frankel, will bring those directly impacted by gun violence to Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said she will accompany Megan Hobson, a 17-year-old from Hialeah who survived a drive-by shooting last May. She was hit by a bullet that entered through the trunk of a car and helped save the life of a two-year-old passenger, according to the congresswoman's staff. Hobson spent three weeks under intensive care at Memorial Regional Hospital.

Hobson, now a senior at Miami-Dade's American Senior High, will join Wasserman Schultz at a news conference Tuesday morning before traveling to Washington for the president's speech.

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Boca Raton, invited Lynn McDonnell, the mother of a Newtown, Conn., shooting victim, as her guest to Tuesday’s State of the Union address. 

McDonnell is the mother of Grace, 7, who was killed in the mass shooting on Dec. 14 that left more than two dozen people, mostly children, dead. McDonnell’s husband, Chris, will attend the State of the Union with U.S. Rep., Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-California.

Said Frankel in a statement: “Like so many Americans I have been inspired and moved by the families who lost loved ones in the Newtown tragedy,” Frankel said. “When I look into the eyes of Newtown parents like Lynn and Chris McDonnell, I want to be able to tell them that our kids should have the freedom to be safe at school and that our Congress is ready to pass meaningful laws that will help prevent future gun violence tragedies.”

State grasping at how to implement health care law for its own employees

Though Gov. Rick Scott fought the law since its infancy and Attorney General Pam Bondi took the matter all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida lawmakers are now awkwardly having to comply with key provisions of the Affordable Care Act — including offering health insurance to thousands of additional state workers.

"The budget we proposed includes the mandatory portions of the president's new health care law, which means the state needed to provide coverage for state employees or pay a per-employee penalty to the federal government," said Melissa Sellers, the governor's spokeswoman.

How the state implements the federal health care law for its 160,000 employees is a separate question from whether lawmakers decide to expand the state's Medicaid program to cover additional Floridians.

Some work already has occurred, and some is getting started.

Big changes come in 2014. First, new taxes and fees are expected to increase Florida's insurance costs by $20.4 million.

In addition, thousands of temporary state workers may now be eligible for insurance. That could cost an additional $29 million next year.

Read more here.


Miami-Dade mayor: We may require Super Bowl as condition for Dolphins stadium tax dollars

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he may require South Florida hosting a Super Bowl first as a condition for using county hotel taxes to fund part of a $400 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium.

At Monday morning news conference announcing a referendum requirement for the taxes, Gimenez also said he would like to have voters give the county the option to withhold the money if the NFL snubs Miami-Dade in its Super Bowl bid.

"I don't want to be eligible for anything," Gimenez said. "I want to be awarded."

Over the weekend, the Dolphins dropped objections to a countywide referendum on their stadium plan and now are pushing for a vote in time for the May 22 meeting of NFL owners to decide between Miami Gardens and the San Francisco area for the 2016 Super Bowl. The loser will take on Houston for the 2017 Super Bowl, but the '16 game is considered the big prize since it is the 50th game.

Gimenez said he would not call for a referendum until he has approved a financing deal with the Dolphins. "We haven't started negotiations. It doesn't mean a deal is going to be done," Gimenez said.

Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said the team would welcome the referendum, and did not realize it could be held between the team's January unveiling of their financing proposal and the May 22 decision on Super Bowl.

The team has been pushing for tax dollars for Sun Life since 2010, and has not proposed a referendum before. Dee said Monday the Dolphins are confident the public will support the plan.

"We believe a decision by the voters will go our way," Dee said.

The county needs 60 days' notice for a referendum, meaning the language must be approved by commissioners in March.

Developing story here.

Miami lawmaker supports Dolphins' referendum, calls current plan 'bad deal'

Another lawmaker is throwing support behind a plan for the Miami Dolphins to go before voters prior to receiving taxpayer funding for a $400 million stadium renovation.

Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, said he believes voters should be “partners” in whatever deal is struck for the Dolphins, since they ultimately will provide the taxpayer funding. He said more changes need to be made to what is currently a "bad deal."

 “If we as taxpayers are going to invest in the success of our hometown NFL franchise, we ought to do that as their partners not as their benefactors. We want them to succeed; they should want us to benefit as well,” said Rodríguez.

Over the weekend, Dolphins pivoted their strategy to include a referendum vote on the stadium financing plan. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, confirmed that he would be changing the language of the bill to allow for a referendum vote.

Rodríguez believes billionaire Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should pitch in more of his own money in the deal. The Miami-Dade delegation of lawmakers did not throw its official support behind the Dolphins’ proposal, with some lawmakers opposed to the deal.

Rodríguez wants lawmakers to consider more stipulations in the deal, including potentially using some of the money generated by the Dolphins to help pay for the county’s debt on the Marlins stadium.

Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez has also said he'd like Ross to pitch in more of his own money,.

See the press release below:

Continue reading "Miami lawmaker supports Dolphins' referendum, calls current plan 'bad deal'" »