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10 posts from June 3, 2013

June 03, 2013

In reelection bid, Simpson not taking chances

It’s more than 17 months away, but if anyone wants to suit up for a political suicide mission, they would do fine to run against Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

The rookie lawmaker, who was first elected in November, appears to be accumulating quite a war chest.

Through March, he’s raised $74,650 -- despite no sign of opposition. On June 26, he plans to throw a fundraiser between 6 and 7:30 p.m. at the Oxford Exchange at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa with a list of supporters that is essentially a catalog of the Republican power structure in Tallahassee.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford. Senate President Don Gaetz. Attorney General Pam Bondi. Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. Senate President Designate Andy Gardiner. Majority Leader Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. Senator Bill Galvano. Senator Jack Latvala. Senator Tom Lee. Senate Appropriations Chair Joe Negron. Senator John Thrasher. (What, no Sen. John Legg???)

“We’re hoping to get a good crowd,” said Simpson, 46, who also ran unopposed in 2012. He had a busy first session, sponsoring high-profile bills like an Everglades cleanup bill, which passed (and might be why Robert Coker of U.S. Sugar is on the host committee), and a pension reform bill, which didn’t.

Continue reading "In reelection bid, Simpson not taking chances" »

Readers: Spend leftover Miami Dolphins cash on elections -- or return it to the team


Sorry, Miami-Dade commissioners. Our readers don’t seem to like your plans for how to spend the elections cash left over from the Miami Dolphins.

In fact, quite a few of them — Dolfans, perhaps? — would prefer you give the money back to the football team.

Never mind that the Dolphins’ nearly $4.8 million payment to cover a planned May 14 referendum on public funding to renovate Sun Life Stadium was nonrefundable. The referendum was canceled, only about $2.5 million of the money has been spent — some invoices are still pending — and a surprising number of readers who answered The Miami Herald’s call for ideas on what elected officials should do with the windfall insisted it should be returned.

“Commissioners should give the money back to the Dolphins and let them give it to any organization they want,” wrote Raul Carbonell, one of more than 80 readers who weighed in via email and through the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with The Herald. “The county just robbed the Dolphins of their own money.”

Readers advocating the return of the cash were outnumbered only by those who agreed with Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who wants to buy new elections equipment recommended by a group that reviewed problems at last year’s polling places. Commissioners are scheduled to decide where the money should go at a meeting Tuesday.

More here.

Columnist Fred Grimm: Quarantine elections in Florida's 26th congressional district

From Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm:

We’re calling the game off down in District 26. Suspending the democratic process. Citizens of District 26 will have to get by without a voice in the U.S. House of Representatives until they can come up with congressional candidates not inclined to subvert elections.

Sure, this sounds drastic. But it now looks as if the shenanigans leading up to the Aug. 14 primary were symptoms of a bipartisan epidemic. District 26 needs to be quarantined until political scientists can isolate the contagion infecting the electoral process.

If it wasn’t for attempts to pervert elections, Congressional District 26’s slimiest problem would be snakes of another kind. The district, which includes a big chunk of Everglades National Park, may have more Burmese pythons slithering about than voters. Most of those (voters, not snakes) are clustered in the southern suburbs of Miami-Dade County. The district also includes the Florida Keys, where residents must be perturbed by their association with the mainland’s election scandals.

Until last week, folks in District 26 thought their electoral embarrassments were all due to debauched tactics associated with former U.S. Rep. David Rivera’s failed attempt at reelection. A Herald investigation last year indicated that a Rivera operative secretly financed the campaign of a patsy candidate in the Democratic primary. The phantom candidate’s tactics were supposed to weaken Rivera’s main challenger, Democrat Joe Garcia, before the general election.

More here.

Rep. Joe Garcia stands by staffer implicated in absentee-ballot request investigation


Congressman Joe Garcia moved quickly to contain the fallout of an election-fraud scandal that rocked his office but said Monday he’s not going to fire a key staffer implicated in the case.

Garcia, a Miami Democrat, said Communications Director Giancarlo Sopo told him he was not involved in a plot last year to submit hundreds of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests — though investigators with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office searched the home of one of Sopo’s relatives Friday in connection with the attempt to manipulate the Aug. 14 primary.

Sopo was placed on unpaid administrative leave late Monday.

“He said he did not do that, and I take him at his word,” Garcia told The Miami Herald. “If I find that’s not the case, he’s not going to be put on administrative leave — he’s going to be let go. Until that happens, I am neither the prosecutor nor the judge and jury.”

Garcia dismissed Jeffrey Garcia, his chief of staff and longtime political adviser, Friday after law enforcement raided the family homes of Sopo and former campaign manager John Estes seeking computers and other electronic equipment. Jeffrey Garcia, who is not related to his boss, admitted to the congressman that he directed the campaign to submit the phantom ballot requests, Joe Garcia said.

“I don’t know why,” he added, saying the operation — which ultimately failed — wasn’t needed. “During this entire election, we were polling. ... We thought we were ahead early on and from the get-go.”

Under state elections law, it may be considered third-degree felony fraud for a ballot request to be filled out by someone other than voters or their immediate family. Using people’s personal information as required in the requests may be considered a first-degree felony.

Miami-Dade commissioners had been scheduled ask the elections department Tuesday to make the online system for requesting absentee ballots more secure, but the measure will be deferred for two weeks while the department comes up with a plan and price tag.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle’s office has said there is no evidence Garcia had knowledge of the ballot operation.

More here.

Gov. Scott gets new set of wings, puts old plane up for sale

Rick Scott, the first governor in Florida history (and likely the last) to travel on his own personal plane, has a new set of wings.

Scott has a 2008 Cessna Citation Excel jet and is selling his other plane, a 2004 Hawker, which is listed for sale at $1.495 million. The purchase price of the new plane was not immediately available. The new plane, like the old one, is owned by Columbia Collier Properties, a Naples business whose registered signing manager on legal documents is First Lady Ann Scott.

The tail number on Scott's old plane ended with his initials, "RS." The tail number on the new plane ends with "AS," which must stand for the first lady of Florida. Among the features on the new aircraft is stand-up headroom with a dropped aisle that runs the length of the cabin, according to the industry website www.airliners.net.

When Scott took office nearly two-and-a-half years ago, he kept his campaign promise to get rid of two state aircraft, one owned and one leased. Since the day he took office, he has flown on his personal airplane at his own expense. The governor's office says no public records exist reflecting how much money Scott has saved taxpayers by paying for his own flight costs; also not known is how much of a tax deduction Scott derives by using his plane for business purposes.

“The governor wants to travel the state as often as possible to listen to the concerns and ideas of Floridians,” said Scott’s chief spokeswoman, Melissa Sellers.

Scott travels more often than his predecessor and possible future rival, Charlie Crist, who traveled at taxpayers’ expense. In fact, the Republican Party of Florida, as part of a series critically examining Crist’s record, noted that Monday was the fourth anniversary of a Times/Herald story that cited his use of state aircraft to attract publicity at ceremonial bill-signing events while campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

“By skillfully using the trappings of power, Crist can spread a popular message at public expense ... as he did Tuesday in the state’s two biggest media markets,” the story said, at a cost of $4,800.

-- Steve Bousquet

PolitiFact Florida checks out Rick Scott's claim about 24 tax cuts

The latest over at PolitiFact Florida:

How many times did Gov. Rick Scott cut taxes? You better believe the unpopular Republican running for a second term is counting the ways.

"Twenty-four times," Scott said last month after signing the state’s $71.1 billion budget.

Could Scott and the Legislature have enacted two dozen different tax cuts in just three budget years, two of which were hamstrung by billion-dollar budget shortfalls? PolitiFact Florida turned to the Truth-O-Meter to sort it out.

Read why PolitiFact Florida rated his statement Half True.

Sarasota's mysterious link to 9-11 raises new questions as feds move to end lawsuit

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers

A senior FBI official has told a Fort Lauderdale federal judge that disclosure of certain classified information about Saudis who hurriedly left their Sarasota area home shortly before the attacks on 9/11 “would reveal current specific targets of the FBI’s national security investigations.”

Records Section Chief David M. Hardy’s assertion is contained in a sworn 33-page declaration filed in support of a Justice Department motion that seeks to end a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed last year by BrowardBulldog.org.

The government’s latest court filings, thick with veiled references to foreign counterintelligence operations and targets, deepen the mystery about a once-secret FBI investigation of Esam and Deborah Ghazzawi and their tenants, son-in-law and daughter, Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji.

The filings by Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole M. Fernandez also seek to justify in the name of national security numerous deletions of information from FBI records about the decade-old investigation that were released recently amid the ongoing litigation.

They do not, however, explain why an investigation the FBI has said found no connection between those Saudis and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people involves information so secret its disclosure “could be expected to cause serious damage to national security.” More here. 

Patrick Murphy campaign used Garcia, who is at center of an ab ballot probe, for web videos

The chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, who was involved in a scheme to submit fraudulent absentee ballot requests also did work for U.S. Rep Patrick Murphy's, D-Jupiter, campaign but wasn't involved in absentee ballots in that race, according to Murphy's office.

Jeffrey Garcia produced videos for Murphy's campaign website in his successful 2012 race against Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West in a newly drawn district in Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast. 

But Garcia had nothing to do with voter outreach including absentee ballot requests, said Eric Johnson, Murphy's lead campaign consultant and now his Congressional chief of staff.

"It was a very minor role in the campaign," Johnson said.

No one from Murphy's campaign has been contacted by law enforcement, Johnson said.

Murphy's campaign paid Jeffrey Garcia's company, Palm Media, about $24,000 for video production or media production services in 2011-12, federal election commission records show. Murphy raised about $4.8 million while West about $19.4 million. 

U.S. Rep. Garcia quickly dismissed his chief of staff who had also been his chief political strategist.

PolitiFact's analysis of Carlos Curbelo's claim about immigrant students

In February as federal lawmakers including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, were drafting immigration reform, Miami-Dade school board member Carlos Curbelo sought a district report to shine a spotlight on the challenges immigration poses to the nation’s fourth-largest school district.

Curbelo, a Republican political consultant who may challenge U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, highlighted a key figure from the report while on Fox News with Rubio on May 24. Rubio has been trying to win over conservatives to the Senate’s immigration bill , which would create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The bill allocates billions for border security and provides visas for high-tech, agricultural and low-skilled workers.

Curbelo cited his school district as an example of the high costs posed by the current immigration system:

"We spend at our school system over $20 million every year as a direct result of the broken immigration system. The federal government doesn't reimburse us despite the fact that it is their fault. Why?

"Because, like you said, a lot of people overstaying their visas and in some cases the government lets families with children in, in the middle of school year, which imposes a burden on schools. So it can't just be the border. We all support border security, but it has to be a lot more than that."

Curbelo’s comments didn’t distinguish between costs associated with legal or illegal immigration.

Still, his figure caught our eye: do Miami-Dade schools spend more than $20 million a year educating immigrants? And how would that change if Rubio’s bill passes? Read more from PolitiFact Florida.

Creole-language radio can make or break North Miami candidates


Carol Keys’ cellphone rings every day with Creole-speaking supporters on the other end, recounting the latest accusations about her on Haitian radio.

Keys, a North Miami council candidate for District 2, does not speak Creole. But her opponent does.

In North Miami where a third of the population is of Haitian descent and the community is vying to have a super-majority for the first time on the city council, Creole-language radio is vital. It can make or break a candidate.

And candidates like Keys agree: whether they speak the language or not, they have to keep tabs on the latest chatter on the AM radio dial.

It’s all about controlling the narrative.

Voters in North Miami will go to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in a runoff election to select a mayor and two council members.

“There are a lot of community leaders who are going on and absolutely lying about me,” said Keys, 60. “People who are elected officials, directors in our city, they’re on the radio and lying.”

More here.