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10 posts from October 21, 2013

October 21, 2013

After Sheldon throws in, Thurston mulling own bid for AG

George Sheldon may have filed to run for Attorney General on Monday, making him the first Democrat to challenge Republican Pam Bondi, but there could be more on the way.

When told about Sheldon's candidacy early Monday, Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said he was surprised.

“You caught me off guard,” Thurston said. “Will I rule out running? No. Will I do what’s in the best interest of the party? Yes.”

Thurston said he will make a decision soon, but wouldn’t say when that would be. 

He did say that others are considering a run as well, but wouldn’t name which Democrats he’s heard about. He said he doesn’t know Sheldon, who represents a different era for the party. Thurston leads a caucus that finds itself outnumbered 75 to 45. By contrast, when Sheldon began an eight-year stint in the House in 1974, there were 93 Democrats and 27 Republicans.

“The fact that (Sheldon) would file to run wouldn’t force me to not to run,” Thurston said. "Ultimately, I'll do what will help the party."

Death warrant signed for Miami killer on Death Row since '75

Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant Monday for Thomas Knight, one of the longest-serving Death Row convicts in Florida history.

Knight, 62, was sentenced to die in 1975 for the murders of Sydney and Lillian Gans of Bay Harbor Islands. That death sentence was reversed on appeal, but later upheld by an appeals court. While at Florida State Prison in Starke, Knight killed a prison guard, Richard James Burke, in 1980 and that is the crime cited on the death warrant signed by the governor. Only two other inmates have been on Death Row longer than Knight. Here's background on his crimes from David Ovalle of The Miami Herald.

After Knight stabbed prison guard Burke to death, prison officials insisted on handcuffing all inmates for out-of-cell movements, and inmates responded by flooding toilets, setting fire to mattresses and other incidents. Those two weeks in October 1980 are remembered on the Department of Corrections website as among the "darkest days" in FSP's history.

While in prison, Knight began using the name Askari Abdullah Muhammad, court documents show, but he's still listed as Thomas Knight on the prison system's website.

Here's what the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said about Knight's case just last month: "To learn about the gridlock and inefficiency of death penalty litigation, look no further than this appeal. Askari Abdullah Muhammad kidnapped and murdered Sydney and Lillian Gans four decades ago, in 1974. A Florida jury convicted Muhammad of murder, a Florida judge sentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court of Florida affirmed his conviction and sentence on direct appeal. While he awaited state collateral review, Muhammad killed again; this time, Muhammad murdered a prison guard because he was upset that he had been denied permission to meet with a visitor."

-- Steve Bousquet

Ex-chief aide to Rep. Joe Garcia pleads guilty


Almost unrecognizable in a trim beard, Jeffrey Garcia, the former chief of staff to Congressman Joe Garcia, hugged his relatives, kissed his wife and stepped up to the lectern in a Miami courtroom Monday morning to apologize.

He had directed the Miami Democratic congressman’s political campaign last year to request some 1,800 absentee ballots without voters’ permission, breaking Florida elections laws that require voters or their immediate family to ask for the ballots themselves.

“I should not have done it,” Garcia, 41, told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Nushin Sayfie. “I’m sorry, and I accept responsibility for my actions.”

Then he pleaded guilty.

A few moments later, three police officers placed him in handcuffs and escorted him to jail. As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, he will serve 90 days behind bars, followed by 18 months’ probation — including the first three months under house arrest, wearing a GPS monitor.

During his probation, Garcia, a professional political operative who is not related to the congressman, will be prohibited from volunteering or working for any campaigns.

His sentencing marks the culmination of an investigation by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, triggered by a Miami Herald report, into thousands of fraudulent absentee-ballot requests that rolled into the county elections department’s website last year, a sign of a worrying trend of campaigns using technology to take advantage of the convenient online system.

More here.

Diverse group of candidates vies to represent complicated Miami commission district


Miami’s District 5 has long been the city’s most perplexing and troubled band of neighborhoods.

From Overtown through Little Haiti and up into Liberty City, no neighborhood offers a better view of the glitzy new condos that tower over downtown Miami. Look east from almost any part of Overtown, and the skyline is only a stone’s throw away — though seemingly out of reach.

Many areas of the city’s poorest district are wracked with crime and sky-high unemployment. It’s a problem that has grown over the past 50 years, since Interstate 95 construction tore through the community’s core and split what was once a vast cultural destination. Riots only added to the district’s woes, scaring away possible development and forcing residents to flee.

Now, because of redistricting, candidates vying to represent District 5 on Nov. 5 must learn to straddle between the inner city and at least a portion of a quickly developing waterfront neighborhood. The district, which has historically run from Overtown to Liberty City, suddenly absorbed the neighborhoods of Buena Vista, Oakland and Palm Grove, Shorecrest and Belle Meade.

In addition to dealing with crime and public-works woes, the candidates are suddenly facing constituent concerns over controversial height restrictions and complaints from shopkeepers about parking meters driving away customers. The change in boundaries last summer increased the district’s population by about 5 percent to 80,193. Though registered black voters still constitute the vast majority of voters at 65 percent, the number of Hispanic and white non-Hispanic registered voters both made significant gains, jumping to 26.5 and 6.5 percent, respectively.

More here.

Campaign worker in Homestead absentee-ballot controversy resigns


A man accused of absentee-ballot fraud last week in Homestead has resigned from Mark Bell’s mayoral campaign.

James Brady resigned from his job as a campaign worker late Friday, a few hours after Bell learned that a family of four had accused Brady and another man of filling out their ballots with the names of candidates they didn’t want.

“He told us his version of what happened and I told him, ‘Mr. Brady, until the investigation is over we’ll have to suspend you,’” Bell said Monday. “He said he’d voluntarily step down.”

Bell, whose wife is Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell, stressed that all his campaign workers are instructed not to touch voters’ ballots. Their job, he said, is simply to canvass voters and promote his campaign.

Brady, 31, did not respond to a phone message Monday.

Betty Brockington accused Brady and another man whose name she didn’t know of filling out the families four absentee ballots with the names of candidates she and her relatives don’t support: Bell for Homestead mayor and Norman Hodge Jr. for city council.

More here.

State analysts discuss financial impact of proposed medical marijuana law


A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana is still well short of the signatures needed to make it on the 2014 ballot. But enough people have expressed support for the referendum that a team of state analysts has started the process of drafting the financial impact statement that would have to be included in the ballot language.

Today's Financial Impact Estimating Conference meeting included an overview of how other states have implemented medical marijuana laws and reviews of national studies on the topic. The analysts discussed different ways the law could be implemented in Florida, if voters approve, and how it could affect the state's bottom line.

For example, depending on how medical marijuana is classified, there could be new sales tax or property tax revenue coming into the state. The law will bring new costs, as well. State agencies will have to oversee implementation and enforcement. A representative of the Florida Sheriff's Association also warned about increases in drug dependency and traffic crashes.

Led by prominent attorney John Morgan, supporters of medical marijuana have turned in 109,310 valid signatures so far, according to the state Division of Elections website. They need 683,149 signatures in order for the proposed amendment to appear on the November 2014 ballot.

Enough signatures have been turned in to trigger a review of the ballot language by Attorney General Pam Bondi and the drafting of a financial impact statement.

That committee hopes to reach an agreement and finalize that language by Nov. 4. Their next meeting is Oct. 28 to review more information about potential costs and revenue associated with the law, as well as estimates of the number of Floridians who would elect to participate in a medical marijuana program.

Continue reading "State analysts discuss financial impact of proposed medical marijuana law" »

Lawmakers seek in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants

Democratic state lawmakers are trying again to pass legislation that would extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and state Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, have introduced a bill enabling undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities, but only if they attended a Florida high school for at least three years and graduated or received an equivalency diploma.

Torres called the proposal "an issue of economics, community and fairness."

"If we have a generation of educated, talented, and prosperous residents, our communities will benefit, our economy will be stronger and we will continue to see Florida reach its promise of being a leader on some of this nation’s most pressing issues," he said.

Said Bullard: "I'm hoping my colleagues can come to a reasonable understanding on what we can do to move forward. The repercussions on our students' ability to be competitive in the global marketplace with double or triple amounts of debt is simply too much to ignore."

Similar proposals have failed to gain traction.

Earlier this year, the Florida House passed a proposal extending in-state tuition rates to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. But the bill died because its Senate companion never received a floor vote.

Former DCF secretary Sheldon announces he's running for AG

George Sheldon, who served as secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families under Gov. Charlie Crist, said Monday he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Sheldon on Friday quit his $179,000 job as the assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families in Washington. In a 10-hour drive on Saturday, Sheldon said he called potential donors to raise the money he’ll need to take on Bondi, who has already raised $1.4 million.

“I’ve got to be competitive from a dollar standpoint,” Sheldon said. “I can’t be outspent 3-1, or even 2-1.”

A former legislative aide to then-state senator Reubin Askew, Sheldon served in the Legislature from 1974 to 1982. He served as deputy attorney general for former Attorney General Bob Butterworth from 1999 to 2002. He ran against Crist in 2000 for Education Commissioner and lost. In 2000, he ran for Attorney General but came in third in the Democratic primary, which was won by Buddy Dyer, who is now the Orlando mayor. Dyer lost to Crist.

“Now he’s a Democrat,” Sheldon joked. “It’s ironic that I ran against Charlie and then later served as his secretary (of DCF).”

Sheldon said he’s announcing now because he wants to take advantage of this weekend’s Florida Democratic Party State Conference, where he will be introduced as a speaker by his former boss, Butterworth.

Sheldon, 66, said he'll make Bondi's opposition of the Affordable Care Act and concerns raised about her fundraising top issues in his campaign.

"I clearly think that Pam Bondi hasn't shown a serious approach to her job that I think she should," Sheldon said. 

Here's his statement:

"This past Friday I officially resigned as Assistant Secretary for the United States Department of Health and Human Services and today I am announcing my candidacy for Attorney General for Florida.

"As Deputy Attorney General for Bob Butterworth I know the potential that office holds for protecting our families and taking on any one or any corporation that would threaten us.

"Taking on predatory lenders, human traffickers, and those who engage in deceptive practices is the job of the Attorney General…not working full time trying to deny health insurance to children and anyone with preexisting conditions.  

"This race is about character.  Who has the experience and character to use the office of attorney general for general good rather than as a personal, political, partisan platform.

"I hope you agree that my experience in Florida’s Attorney General office, serving as Secretary of Children and Families in Florida, and as Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of Health and Human Services allows me to serve as Florida’s Attorney General.

"I’m proud that children and families have been in my job title for almost a decade and that protecting has been a job description.

"It is time to restore integrity in the Attorney General office. Together we can do it.  I ask for your vote, your help, your time and your prayers. Together we can restore character to the office of attorney general."  

Upon the announcement, Bondi's campaign manager, Pablo Diaz, released a statement.

"As Florida's Attorney General, Pam Bondi has fought hard to defend and protect the people by making Florida a zero tolerance state for pill mills, taking on human trafficking, and pursuing consumer relief from both, mortgage and Medicaid fraud. 

Pam Bondi and George Sheldon have very different credentials and points of view, and we welcome the opportunity to show the voters in Florida that they will have a clear choice between two distinctly different candidates."

Sheldon provided this bio:

Acting Assistant Secretary for children and Families, US Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services,  2011-13

Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, 2010-12

Assistant Secretary for Operations, Florida Department of Children and Families,  2009-10

Associate Dean, St. Thomas University Law School, 2003-09

Stiles, Taylor, Grace, 2002-2003

Deputy Attorney General for Central Florida, 1999-2002

Sheldon, Cusick and Associates, 1987-99

 Levine, Freedman, Hirsch and Levinson, 1982-87

 State Representative, District 69 representing Tampa, 1974-82

 Executive Director, Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, 1973-75

 Assistant to the Deputy Secretary, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, 1971-72

 Legislative Aide to then-Senator Reubin Askew, 1969-70




Politics cloud Common Core controversy

There were outraged parents, tea party stalwarts and a man in a Revolutionary War uniform.

“As far as I’m concerned, Common Core is the same as communism,” one attendee said at the Wednesday night meeting in Davie.

“Marxism!” someone shouted from the audience.

The three public hearings on the Common Core State Standards, held last week at the request of Gov. Rick Scott, were intended to let parents, educators and taxpayers in Florida express their opinions on the new national benchmarks for students.

But many of their voices were drowned out by emotional outbursts and political jabs aimed at the federal government.

Read more here.

Also, check out PolitiFact's look at the hearings.


New FL site, Politics After 5, tries to jump start on Kickstarter

From a press release:

ORLANDO, FL- A new Kickstarter campaign from former political operative Joe Culotta hopes to offer a new angle on your typical news show.

Called Politics After 5, it will have an informal format—no suits or ties allowed—and dive into more personal topics like sports, music and fashion, as well as the issues of the day.“My show will be a chance for politicians and insiders to connect with a broader audience” said Culotta. “Over the years, I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in politics and I love getting to know politicians and the little behind the scenes stories that characterize their personalities. It’s a side of politics the public rarely gets to see—and that’s what I want to change.”

Politics After 5 will also integrate viewer questions selected from social media. So if you’ve got a question you’re just dying to ask Senators Marco Rubio or Speaker Will Weatherford, you might get your chance soon. You can find more details and show your support for the show at politicsafter5.com.

About Joe Culotta

Joe Culotta is half political junkie, half socialite and exactly the person you’d want to watch having drinks with some of the top elected officials. His past includes work with the Republican Party of Florida, the College Republican National Committee and the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections office—but he promises to be non-partisan and play nicely with Democrats too.  

About Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website where artists, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, etc. can post projects and receive pledges from others who believe in their ideas. In order for a project to be funded, it must reach it’s funding goals by the deadline. For more information, go to: http://www.kickstarter.com