« February 6, 2014 | Main | February 8, 2014 »

11 posts from February 7, 2014

February 07, 2014

Charlie Crist: Time to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba

 Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist has now done what would have been suicidal as a Republican and announced support for ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. 

"The embargo has done nothing in more than fifty years to change the regime in Cuba,'' Crist said Friday night in a statement, after announcing his support for the shift in policy on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher show. The former governor was finishing up a week of appearances on the left-leaning talk show circuit to promote his new book.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott pounced on Crist’s latest Cuba remarks.

“The suggestion that Cuban Americans need to be 'stood up to' is insulting,” said Scott in a statement released Saturday afternoon. “Our Cuban community needs to be stood up FOR.”

“Our nation is great because we were built on a foundation of freedom and democracy,” Scott said. “That is not true in Cuba and we should not pretend it is. The importance of maintaining the embargo is that it stands for the Cuban people's right to be free.”

Supporters of the 52-year-old embargo have long argued it gives the United States leverage and should not be removed until democracy returns to the island. Opponents argue that with the Castros still in control of the country, the communist regime has used the embargo as an excuse to continue its abusive human rights record and oppressive economic policies.

Florida's governor has no authority to lift or modify the embargo, which would take an act of Congress, but he can influence public opinion and the issue is considered a political litmus test for many hardline Castro opponents.

As the Republican governor from 2007-2011, Crist backed U.S. sanctions against Cuba and signed a state law hiking costs on agencies that book trips to the repressive regime.

“I think the current policy in place is responsible,'” said Crist on June 14, 2010, on a visit to Miami Beach. “I do support the embargo.”

Maher asked Crist about the Cuban vote and said "I don't see a lot of politicians from Florida having the courage to stand up to that small Cuban community."

Crist responded: "Well, I think they need to. The embargo's been going on what, 50-years now, and I don't think it worked. It is obvious to me we need to move forward and get the embargo taken away,'' he said to applause.

"From a selfish point of view, as a Floridian, I'd like to see that happen because a lot of construction would be required on the island and South Florida could be the launching pad for all of that and really create a lot of jobs," he said.

That's the kind of talk that traditionally gets Florida politicians in hot water, especially in Miami -- where anti-Castro sentiments run deep and the stories of human rights abuses in the communist nation sting like an open wound.

While polling on Cuba and the embargo among Florida voters is scarce, a Florida International University survey after the 2008 elections found that 55 percent of Florida Cuban-Americans wanted the embargo lifted.

Yet a 2011 FIU survey found the opposite was true when it came to Miami-Dade Cuban-Americans, 56 percent of whom favored keeping the embargo. That survey heavily sampled Republicans, however, who are less likely to vote for the Democrat anyway.

After the show, Crist sent out a statement, elaborating: "If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there, not block ourselves out and cede influence to China,'' he said. "It will take time, and we must do it in a way where American investment helps people, not the dictatorship. But the reality is that no state's economy is hurt more by America's Cuba policies than Florida.

"Changing these policies to allow Florida's' farmers, manufacturers, and construction industry to sell goods and services in Cuba would boost Florida's economy and help businesses create more jobs in our state."

Continue reading "Charlie Crist: Time to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba" »

Genting's Miami real estate gamble: idle and uncertain

Genting building@Doug_Hanks

Amid a downtown building boom, one of Miami’s largest landholders continues to sit quietly on the sidelines. The big question: When will Genting make a move?

The Malaysian gambling giant in 2012 pulled back on its grand plans for a 5,000-room casino resort on the Miami waterfront after facing a backlash over the project’s proposed size. Last year it proposed a more traditional mix of condo towers, about 500 hotel rooms and a ground-floor cluster of shops and restaurants.

Now Genting is making moves that could jump-start its stalled plans to build a smaller complex on the waterfront as it bypasses the zoning process in favor of a quick building permit. But with Genting trying to quickly bring a slots casino to land it owns near the waterfront, the company could feel less pressure to start building as it waits for a more favorable gambling climate hinted at this week in Tallahassee. Story here. 


Special districts handle millions but lobbyists are shielded from disclosure rules

By Dan Christensen

Nearly 1,000 special-purpose governments across Florida that raise and spend billions of dollars in public funds every year do not require lobbyists who appear before them to register, pay fees or disclose any information about themselves or their clients.

Lobbyist registration and disclosure has been mandatory for years in Tallahassee and in many city and county halls across the state, where lawmakers found it necessary to preserve the integrity of the decision-making process. Violators can be fined and barred from lobbying for up to two years.

But Florida’s independent special districts are a separate class of government — a hodgepodge of obscure taxing and other authorities that, with few exceptions, offer the public no information about lobbyists or what they’re up to at their agencies.

BrowardBulldog.org, supported by a grant from the Washington-based Fund for Investigative Journalism, spent months documenting that sweeping lack of government accountability, a free ride enjoyed by lobbyists at independent special districts around Florida with the power to tax, assess fees and/or sell low-interest bonds to finance government spending. Story here. 



UPDATED Argentina's government is no fan of Marco Rubio


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had harsh words this week for the government of Argentina. In questions to the Obama administration's nominee to become U.S. ambassador, the Florida Republican said he doesn't consider Argentina an "ally" -- or that its government is a "mature democracy."

"Elections alone do not make you a democracy," Rubio said, noting President Cristina Kirchner's government interfering with the Argentine judicial system and press freedom.

"There is a very high likelihood that if you are confirmed, while you are in that post, you are going to have another similar collapse in Argentina to what you saw economically just a decade ago," he added.

The remarks Thursday by Rubio and Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came during questioning of Noah Bryson Mamet, who has been nominated to the ambassadorship.

In Argentina, the government took notice.

On Friday, the foreign minister and a Cabinet chief both reacted angrily to the senators' remarks.

"In Argentina, the citizens and residents enjoy full democracy and social inclusion," Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich said, according to the AP. "So what I would like to communicate to this Republican legislator is that he have respect for the offices that each of us have, just as we have respect for the United States."

One Argentine newspaper, La Nación (The Nation), published a piece in Spanish titled, "Who is Marco Rubio, the American senator critical of Argentina."

That piece, and several others, included a purported Rubio quote in which he compared Argentina to North Korea. However, Rubio made no mention of North Korea in Thursday's hearing (view his remarks, culled by Rubio's office, here, and the full hearing here).

He and Menendez did, however, compare Argentina to "growing authoritarianism" in places like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

FEB. 10 UPDATE: La Nación has admitted it erroneously reported Rubio's remarks, chalking up the mistake to a "transcription error," according to the AP

Next step in campaign finance reform could be web site overhaul

When Florida lawmakers raised campaign contribution limits last year, they said the goal was to make the money in politics more transparent. There was one problem: the state’s campaign finance web site.

The 9-year-old system is difficult and cumbersome and it has no provision for tracking the explosion in soft money checks to the candidates and issues the money is intended to target. Campaign finance watchdogs, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, gave the state a D grade for that oversight in a report last year.

Lawmakers proudly touted the reforms they passed last year: raising the minimum contribution limits for legislative campaigns from $500 to $1,000 and to $3,000 for statewide candidates, and increasing the frequency of reporting, making the web site data more current. But the law did nothing to make the independent expenditures, or soft money, easier to track or to make the web site more user-friendly.

Now there is new momentum to address that issue. The new law included a little-noticed requirement that the state submit a proposal for replacing Florida’s outdated web site with a statewide electronic filing system for all state and local campaign finance data.

In a December report to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, the Division of Elections recommended the state require all state and local candidates to submit their campaign finance information to a statewide web site, and offered two pricetags and timelines to do it: The state could use existing staff and spend three years and $534,000 or hire a private contractor and, according to estimates from 10 companies, the cost would be $1 million and time frames would range from three to 18 months. Story here.   Download SEFS Final Proposal_11272013 Full Version

Gov. Rick Scott hosting event at Tropicana Field to celebrate spring training baseball


Gov. Rick Scott likes to fashion himself as Florida's spring baseball training promoter-in-chief.

Months after taking office, he ignored the booing crowd and threw out the first pitch in a spring game between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees in Tampa. Last year, he participated in a "Let's Get to Work" Day with the ground crew at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland.

This year, it's a fundraising dinner benefitting the Florida Sports Foundation at the home of the Tampa Bay Rays to kick off the season. Comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo is the special guest at the dinner, to be held Feb. 13 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Tickets start at $75 but can be as much as $312.50 for priority seating. The price includes cocktails and a silent auction, so there's that.

The event, called the 2014 Governors Baseball Dinner, will honor 100 years of the Florida Grapefruit League. Fifteen Major League Baseball teams will hold spring training in Florida this year with games starting later this month.

A record number of people attended spring training baseball games in Florida last year, according to Scott's office. The total spring training attendance was 1.6 million people after 247 games.

State office issues warning about unlicensed combat sports

Florida has its share of under-the-radar  “combat sports,” including “fighting” matches involving strippers, backyard brawls and unlicensed boxing events.

One of those events involved celebrity boxing promoter Damon Feldman, who was banned from holding an unlicensed celebrity fight in a Fort Lauderdale hotel in 2011. Feldman was recently in the news for planning a controversial boxing match pitting George Zimmerman, acquited in the death of Trayvon Martin, and rap star DMX, expected to take place in March in Philadelphia, if it actually happens. The hype alone has prompted a groundswell of opposition.

Unlicensed combat sports are often undetected until someone files a complaint or gets hurt, so the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation has issued a cautionary note to warn consumers and amateur athletes about the dangers of these events, whether you're a participant or bystander. 

“If they’re not following rules, there are obvious safety violations that could occur,’’ said Beth Frady, deputy communications director of the DBPR. Equipment could be substandard and these types of unlicensed events often attract unscrupulous spectators, she said.

Combat sports licensed and regulated in Florida include boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts (unarmed combat that includes grappling, kicking and striking).


Continue reading "State office issues warning about unlicensed combat sports" »

Richter delays release of Senate gambling bill until Feb. 24

Here's the content of the letter to members from Senate Gaming Committee Chairman, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, on Friday:

During the Gaming Committee meeting last Monday, I announced plans to publish the first DRAFT of a comprehensive gaming bill shortly before our February 10 committee meeting. That timing was driven by: (1) my goal to get the proposed committee bill on our agenda for February 17, and (2) Senate policy that a proposed committee bill be published on the Senate website prior to inclusion on a meeting notice (by February 10 for the meeting on February 17).

As it turned out, we did not finish the workshop on “elements and options” for inclusion in the proposed committee bill. Our discussion was helpful and productive, but there simply was not enough time to cover the issues presented. That being the case I think the right choice now is to postpone filing the proposed committee bill until the committee completes its high-level review.

On February 10, the Gaming Committee will continue consideration of “elements and options.” If we finish, and I expect we will, we will not meet on February 17. If more meeting time is required before the initial draft is published, we can meet again on February 17.

In either case, I expect to publish the proposed committee bill on February 24 and to take it up for the first time during the week ofMarch 3. As discussed when we last met, the SPB likely will be deliberated, discussed, potentially amended, and temporarily passed several times before the Gaming Committee considers a motion to introduce it as a committee bill.



Court affirms ruling that barrel racing is not a legit parimutuel sport in Florida

The First District Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court and on Tuesday ruled that the decision by Florida regulators to license barrel racing as a parimutuel sport was a misuse of the rulemaking powers of the state. Download 13-2660

“ . . . the narrow issue in this case is whether the (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering’s) policy of treating barrel match racing as an authorized form of quarter horse racing is an unadopted rule,” the court said. 

Here are the statements from the United Florida Horsemen and the group representing the barrel racers: 

Continue reading "Court affirms ruling that barrel racing is not a legit parimutuel sport in Florida" »

Crist says he'll meet with UF students over state's rejection of campus center as early voting site

Criticizing the state's decision to block the University of Florida's student union as an early voting site, Charlie Crist posted a Facebook notice Friday stating he'll meet with students and voters at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday at Turlington Plaza to discuss the issue. 

The posting follows a tweet from the Democratic candidate at 6:15 p.m. Thursday:  "This is an outrage," Crist tweeted. "Stay tuned on how we can protest Rick Scott's awful insult to every student & voter in the state."

To address complaints of long waits at polling sites in 2012 that attracted national attention, legislators last year expanded the list of early voting sites to include fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers and government-owned community centers.

In response to a request by the city of Gainesville to use the Reitz Union for early voting in March's municipal elections, Maria Matthews, director of the state Division of Elections, which is run by a Scott appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, wrote in an advisory opinion that "the terms 'convention center' and 'government-owned community center' cannot be construed so broadly as to include the Reitz Union."

Crist joins the growing number of critics blasting the state's decision, including the League of Women Voters, election supervisors and Democratic legislators.

In a statement Friday, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston (D-Fort Lauderdale) said  “Governor Scott and state elections officials seem once again to be trying to suppress the vote of university students and other Floridians. I urge him to stop laying roadblocks to voting. The governor should do more to encourage, not discourage, voting among young people who are interested and engaged citizens.”

Continue reading "Crist says he'll meet with UF students over state's rejection of campus center as early voting site" »