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8 posts from October 7, 2013

October 07, 2013

Joe Garcia's backing for Cuba drug-trial puts spotlight on embargo, exile community


In a significant break with Cuban exile leaders, Miami Congressman Joe Garcia is supporting the efforts of a Havana research institute that wants U.S. approval to test and market a diabetes treatment in this country.

Garcia’s endorsement marks the first time a Cuban-American in Congress has overtly backed a measure that, in the eyes of critics, undermines the embargo and could eventually give the Castro government access to U.S. markets without making democratic reforms.

The move splits the Cuban-American congressional delegation for the first time, could become a campaign issue in the Democrat’s reelection campaign and, more broadly, indicates a shift in Miami politics as the exile community’s power appears to wane amid new waves of immigrants.

Garcia said his decision was not political, but was intended to help people who suffer from diabetic foot ulcers.

“This is about something that can maybe save lives. This is about medicine,” Garcia said. “There are 70,000 amputations that happen yearly from diabetes. I’m not going to be the guy who decides that people will suffer because of the embargo.”

But the political significance is tough for experts to ignore.

“This is a ‘wow’ situation. Nothing like this has ever happened,” said Mauricio Font, a Latin America studies expert at the City University of New York. “In the past, this position would essentially be considered collaborating with the Castro regime.

More here

Shutdown myths about the ocean and Amber Alerts face Truth-O-Meter

From @PolitiFact

The shutdown has been going on for a week now, and the claims in social media are starting to get a little extreme. We recently looked at two statements floating around the Twitterverse:

• The Obama administration shut down the Amber Alert program because of the government shutdown. Our fact-check looked at how the Amber Alert program actually works: It's a state-based program, and two Amber Alerts were issued while the government was in shutdown. We rated the claim False.

• The Obama administration shut down the ocean. This far-reaching claim is based on closures at the national parks. Officials have restricted access to Florida Bay, a body of water that's part of a national park. But a bay is a bazillion gallons short of the whole ocean. We rated the statement False.

Report: Gambling industry dependent on Florida residents even if games expand

Florida’s gambling terrain is already so saturated — particularly in the populous Miami-Dade and Tampa regions — that the arrival of resort casinos, and even the expansion of slot machines to 23 dog tracks and jai alai frontons, would have “minimal economic” and social impact on the state.

That is the central finding of a $400,000 report done for the Florida Legislature and presented to the Senate Gambling Committee on Monday by Spectrum Gaming Group., a New Jersey-based research firm hired to assess the economic effects and social costs of expanded gambling in Florida.

“Florida is already a gambling-rich state,” Joseph Weinart, executive vice president of Spectrum Gaming, said at a three-hour hearing before the Senate committee to discuss the report. It concludes that “the expansion of casino gambling, whether on a small scale or very large scale, would have, at best, a moderately positive impact on the state economy.”

But the most interesting findings of the nearly 1,000-page report may not be what’s ahead, but what’s already here: One in three Florida adults who live within an hour of a casino gamble there at least once a year, and Florida residents account for 93 percent of the $2.4 billion in estimated revenue collected by existing casinos.

The average Florida gambler spends $866 each year — 16 percent less than the national average, the report concluded, and half of all residents who live within five miles of the casinos in South Florida gamble.

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Movers & Shakers

New appointments at the Department of Agriculture

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam has named five appointments in his department.

Alan Edwards has been named director of administration for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Edwards, who has served with the agency for more than 20 years in various roles, was previously the director of policy and budget. Prior to joining the department, he was the controller for a multimillion dollar construction company and sole proprietor of a CPA firm.

Derek Buchanan, who joined the department in 2008, has been named director of policy and budget. He held several positions in finance and accounting and policy and budget, and previously served as a senior auditor for the Florida Auditor General’s Office. 

Brooke McKnight has been promoted to cabinet affairs director. She was previously in the deputy director position. She also served as a senior legislative assistant for Putnam when he was a U.S. representative for Florida's 12th Congressional district.

Jessica Field started working as deputy cabinet affairs director on Oct. 1, afer working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since 2008. She was most recently  an environmental consultant.

Jon Rees has been named deputy legislative affairs director. He recently served as the legislative assistant to Rep. Ross Spano.He's a former governmental and political affairs coordinator for Associated Industries of Florida. 

DCF press secretary moves to the Attorney General's office 

Whitney Ray, who had been press secretary for the Department of Children and Families for about five months, has joined Attorney General Pam Bondi's office as press secretary.

Before working at DCF, Ray was a TV reporter for the Capitol News Service.

Ray replaces John Lucas, who has become press secretary at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

RNC names new Hispanic outreach staffers

From Alex Leary at The Buzz:

A former aide to state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has been named Florida state Hispanic director for the Republican National Committee.

Alex Garcia, who will work closely with the state GOP, is among three staffers the RNC will have in the state as it seeks to build ties with Hispanics, a group Republicans have struggled with.

The RNC said today it had hired staffers in seven states.

"The engagement team will build a grassroots infrastructure and engage with voters at community events, as well as strengthen our ties with Hispanic Republicans," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "As part of the RNC’s effort to build a permanent ground operation, the RNC will work in partnership with state parties to ensure a year-round presence in Latino neighborhoods."

Republicans made similar moves before the last presidential election, but Barack Obama got 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, illustrating how much ground must be made up.

The GOP is on safer footing in Florida, where Cuban-Americans remain a potent voting bloc. But demographic changes along with new immigrant groups provide an upside for Democrats.

The Florida staffers are (bios provided by RNC):

Alex Garcia is the Florida State Hispanic Director for the Republican National Committee. Prior to joining the RNC, Alex spent over four years working in the Florida Legislature as a Legislative Aide for Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Michael Bileca. As deputy campaign manager for the Anitere Flores for State Senate campaign in 2010, Alex became familiar with the fundamentals of grassroots campaigning. Additionally, he served as campaign manager for the Michael Bileca for State Representative campaign. Alex holds his B.Sc. from Florida International University's College of Nursing and Health Science.

Jeannette Quinones-Hernandez is the Hispanic Field Director for Florida (Central Florida). Jeannette grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and moved to Central Florida in 1989. Jeanette is an experienced manager and supervisor, and has volunteered in the community and in the political arena, working with the Marco Rubio for Senate campaign in 2010 and with Gov. Mitt Romney's Hispanic Outreach efforts. Jeannette is a member of First Baptist Church of Orlando; she currently lives in Orlando with her husband.

Lourdes Aguirre is the Hispanic Field Director for Florida (South Florida). She was previously the Executive Producer of "Eres America," a television, radio and internet-based program. Lourdes sits on the board of Mujeres de Esperanza, an influential Hispanic Faith Based organization, and is a member of the Hispanic Association of Pastors in Miami-Dade County and serves as an active Executive Committee member for special events. Lourdes is a wife and mother of four daughters ages 10 thru 29.

The other states are California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

Will AT&T's Criser be the next university system chancellor?


He has the business background, political connections and the pedigree. Could Marshall Criser III, the president of AT&T in Florida, be the next chancellor of Florida's state university system?

Even under the speedy timetable outlined by the search committee, it's still early in the process. But Criser's name is coming up most often during whispered conversations about the job and who may apply.

Criser, who lives in Coral Gables, declined to speak with the Times/Herald Monday. Board of Governors spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said eight applications and a number of inquires have been fielded already, but declined to identify Criser specifically.

"The pool of applications already includes a wide range of individuals with experience in higher education, business and government," she said via email. "As is the case with high profile searches, we expect the bulk of the applications to come in as we get closer to the October deadline."

Several folks with knowledge of the process say Criser is the man to beat, though they are still keeping an open mind that an even stronger candidate could surface before Oct. 31.

Criser has worked for AT&T or one of its predecessor companies his entire career. One of Florida's most visible businessmen, he serves on the Florida Chamber of Commerce board, the Florida Council of 100 and Enterprise Florida board. He is also the former chairman of Florida TaxWatch and was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to serve on the state's Transportation Commission.

He was appointed to the University of Florida Board of Trustees in 2010 and also is a member of the Scripps Research Institute board. Criser also serves on the state's Higher Education Coordinating Council and the board of Miami-Dade College's Foundation.

He earned a bachelor's in business administration from UF in 1980 and later completed some management training in France. The lack of any advanced degree is the one dark spot on his resume and could lead to lukewarm support from university professors and faculty members.

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Rep. Ros-Lehtinen announces new policy-legal adviser: Keith Fernandez

From a press release:

Miami, Florida - Today, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced the appointment of Keith Fernandez as her Legal Counsel and Director of Communications. The appointment, effective immediately, places Fernandez at the head of the Congresswoman's media and communications operation in both Miami and Washington, DC. Fernandez will also serve as a close advisor to Ros-Lehtinen on legal and policy matters.

Said Ros-Lehtinen, "I'm excited to have Keith on our Congressional team. His political work and issue advocacy are well-known in South Florida and he is a valuable addition to our already great staff. Keith's insights on current events and policy will assist me in representing South Florida and will provide a valuable perspective on policy decisions."

Background: Keith Fernandez, a Miami native, is a graduate of the University of Florida, Levin College of Law and Florida International University. He previously served in various political roles for Ros-Lehtinen and served as a judicial intern to the Honorable Bertila Soto. Fernandez is actively engaged on several policy issues and looks forward to working for his friends and neighbors in South Florida.

Carlos Curbelo posts big, $450k cash-haul in race v. U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia


It's probably safe to start calling Carlos Curbelo a frontrunner in the Republican race to unseat Congressman Joe Garcia. The Miami-Dade school board member reported raising slightly more ($450k than the incumbent ($440k) did last quarter.

But there's a difference: Curbelo had an exploratory committee before he officially announced, meaning his cash haul includes a few extra days or even weeks of fundraising.

Also, it's tough to beat an incumbent who won his seat by 10.6 percentage points in the newly drawn District 26, which President Obama won by about 7 points. But then, Democrats and left-leaning voters tend to underperform in mid-term elections.

Here's the press release:

Continue reading "Carlos Curbelo posts big, $450k cash-haul in race v. U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia" »