Bob Sparks, Author at Florida Politics

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue.

Curbelo incident demonstrates pettiness of Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Carlos Curbelo is a two-term Republican Congressman from Kendall, just a few miles southwest of Coral Gables. He is the son of Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Put those two facts together and you get an Hispanic Member of Congress. Pretty simple, right?

Not for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).

Based on his demographic provided by his parents and his occupation provided by voters, Curbelo applied for membership in the CHC. Despite meeting the basic qualifications, he was denied admission.

It turns out there is a third requirement: members must be Democrats. On this point, the moderate Republican fails.

Make no mistake, this is the reason Curbelo had the door slammed in his face. Members revealed their partisan motives in a disingenuous statement following the vote.

“The CHC isn’t just an organization for Hispanics; it is a caucus that represents certain values,” said CHC spokesman Carlos Paz. “This vote reflects the position of many of our members that Rep. Curbelo and his record are not consistent with those values.”

Curbelo did not hold back with his response. While it contained a strong dose of hyperbole, he took on the true motives behind his exclusion.

“This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry, and division,” he said in a statement. “Unbelievably petty, partisan interests have led the CHC to formally endorse the segregation of American Hispanics.”

Over the past couple of months, the whisper campaign said Curbelo was unworthy because he did not sign on as a co-sponsor of the Dream Act. Launched on July 26, this legislation was designed to grant legal resident status to those younger undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country by undocumented parents or relatives.

There is one problem with that roadblock. Curbelo was four months ahead of them.

On March 10, he introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which also would provide the mechanism for permanent residency for those affected. Why would one co-sponsor another bill when he had his own?

So, what were other values Curbelo might have lacked? He must be an ogre when it comes to climate change, one of the key issues that defines the Democratic Party.

It turns out Curbelo is concerned about climate change, too. That’s why he teamed up in February with Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, to form the House Climate Solutions Caucus.

The bipartisan membership is now up to 50. Apparently, the best way to gain admission to a caucus is to start your own.

The Hispanic Caucus wants Curbelo to pay for his support of the GOP tax bill and his vote to replace the Affordable Care Act. Some think he has not done enough to help Puerto Rico.

He is right about the pettiness of the caucus membership. Look no further than the Congressional Black Caucus for the example on how to do it.

Republicans Mia Love was admitted in 2015, as was former Florida Rep. Allen West 2011. Others before, like former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts and then-Rep. Tim Scott (now Senator) were offered the chance to join, but refused.

In other words, they were black and members of Congress, meeting the qualifications for membership.

Why is that so difficult for the Hispanic Caucus to comprehend?

Recent revelations not the only problem with Roy Moore

Florida voters have no say in the race for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. All we can do is watch in amazement and wonder what is coming next.

Alabama’s sitting Senator, Republican Luther Strange (you can’t make this up), was defeated in the GOP primary by Roy Moore, a former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Despite having the backing of President Donald Trump, Strange’s fatal flaw was being branded part of The Establishment.

Moore was expected to defeat his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. Then came the recent Washington Post story describing sexual encounters with minors nearly four decades ago allegedly involving Moore.

Moore emphatically denies the accusations, but in the era of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others, the presumption of innocence is seemingly no longer applicable.

For example, in a Friday tweet, 2012 GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney said “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. Moore is unfit for office and should step down.”

“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”

Moore’s dilemma makes it tough for one of Romney’s former key advisers. Tallahassee’s Brett Doster helped the former Massachusetts Governor win the Florida primary and go on to the nomination.

Doster, a strong conservative and good at what he does, is one of Moore’s top message guys. On the day the story broke, he revealed the campaign’s first general election ad featuring “Military, the flag and jobs.”

Doster is a good guy and a strong conservative who is four-square behind Moore. But he and his colleagues have a Herculean task in front of them.

Just for a moment, let’s imagine the creepy stuff had never surfaced. Even without the accusations, Republicans who believe in the rule of law should have plenty of problems with Moore.

I am among those conservatives who try to live by the 10 Commandments and care deeply about law and order and the Constitution. We are the ones who sometimes profoundly disagree with court decisions, but are obliged to go along because that’s how our system of government works. Plenty of liberals fall into that category as well.

In 2003, Moore refused a federal judge’s order to remove a stone monument containing the 10 Commandments from a government building, leading to his removal from the bench. After regaining his place as Chief Justice, he refused to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage, which led to his resignation earlier this year.

An individual’s personal view does not trump a promise made with the left hand on a bible and the right hand in the air. Moore took an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Alabama” in that order. He reneged.

These are not 38-year-old allegations. They are present-day facts.

One of Moore’s supporters in the 10 Commandments controversy was the state’s Attorney General, Bill Pryor. But when the judge ruled, Pryor, unlike Moore, was true to his oath.

“As attorney general, I have a duty to obey all orders of courts even when I disagree with those orders,” Pryor said Aug. 14, 2003.

Unless some irrefutable evidence surfaces somehow proving the 38-year-old allegations against Moore, he is likely to try and ride out the storm. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.

Trump said that if the charges are true, Moore “will do the right thing and step aside.” If not, there is a month remaining until Election Day.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is talking up a write-in campaign for Strange.

Though a long-shot, that would at least give thoughtful Republicans a place to go. It was Murkowski who lost in a 2010 primary but won the general election in that manner.

The drama playing out is made for Hollywood in more ways than one. If it ever becomes a movie, may I suggest The Life and Times of Judge Roy Moore as the title?

 

Supreme Court brings new meaning to ‘oral arguments’

What a year we’re having in Florida’s capital city. Just not in a good way.

In April, we had the sad spectacle of Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigning from the Senate after uttering racial slurs in the direction of Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson. Less than two weeks ago, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens resigned after admitting an affair with a lobbyist.

Now, we have six women alleging misconduct on the part of powerful Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, a candidate for governor. At the same time, another potentially big story, this one involving the Florida Supreme Court, is almost being ignored.

A few days ago Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica was at the Florida Supreme Court to hear arguments on the case involving whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint three justices to the Supreme Court the day before he leaves office in January, 2019.

The lawsuit seeks to force Scott to prove he has the authority to fill the seats currently occupied by Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who all must retire due to constitutionally-imposed age restrictions. Something weird, or suspicious – choose the word – occurred after oral arguments.

Rosica reported Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga could be heard on a hot mic, where Labarga says “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Listen to you about what?

“There” is the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends names to fill Supreme Court vacancies, from which the governor selects.

Israel U. Reyes from Miami-Dade is one of those members. Before Reyes’ name came up, Labarga can be heard uttering “Panuccio,” and Pariente shortly thereafter was picked up saying “crazy.”

Jesse Panuccio, former head of the Department of Economic Opportunity, is also a JNC member.

Was this discussion about trying to influence the nominating process? It doesn’t look, or sound, good. Jason Unger, Chairman of the JNC, filed a public records request to try and get to the bottom of it.

Another piece of intrigue developed the following day. After the Florida Channel removed the portion that included the exchange from their website, Unger sought, and received the clip.

Jason Gonzalez, a former general counsel for Gov. Charlie Crist, posted the video only to be told to take it down by the Florida Channel. To the surprise of no one who knows Gonzalez, he refused (citing the Fair Use Doctrine) and it is now part of the YouTube universe.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported Scott asked for documents and a copy of the recording. The request was made through his general counsel, Daniel Nordby, who is arguing the appointments case before the Court. Nordby is also a member of the 9-person JNC.

Capital watchers will recall 1998, when the outgoing and incoming governor faced a similar quandary with the impending retirement of Justice Ben Overton. Both Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush claimed authority to make the appointment, but the two agreed to both interview the candidates and decide on a nominee.

Quince was the choice and now she is part of the other end of the process.

The court will make a decision in the coming weeks, making future Chiles/Bush-type agreements no longer possible or necessary. Before they decide, calls by Republicans for Pariente and Labarga to step aside are likely to grow.

If nothing else, this budding controversy brought an all new meaning to the term “oral arguments.”

Bob Sparks: Only one hero in Donald Trump vs. Frederica Wilson fiasco

A sad spectacle playing out now will hopefully fade from the spotlight of cameras and the front pages of print media. It can’t happen soon enough.

Somehow, the return of a soldier killed in action across the ocean became a political sideshow starring President Donald Trump, retired General John F. Kelly, and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.

By now, most know the story that Trump telephoned the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, killed during an ambush in Niger, to hopefully offer some words of comfort. We also know the widow, Myeshia Johnson, did not take the president’s attempt to console very well.

Especially the part where Trump said “he knew what he signed up for, but it still hurts.” Johnson also said she did not like his tone and the president could not remember her husband’s name.

The following day, Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, came out to the White House briefing room. As he detailed how a fallen military member is removed from the battlefield and eventually arrives home, one could have literally heard the proverbial pin drop.

Kelly then went on to express his dismay at how the solemn, somber process of honoring a fallen soldier had become politicized. He proceeded to disparage Wilson, without mentioning her by name, and misstated her role at a South Florida building dedication in 2015.

Heroes are hard to find in this story.

Trump was already behind the 8-ball before the call to Myeshia Johnson ever took place. When asked about his plans, Trump claimed past presidents did not make the calls he would soon make.

What purpose did it serve to say that?

It gave him no capital to defend the controversial remark about “he knew what he signed up for.” The president was advised to say something like that from Kelly, who received that very message when he lost his son in Afghanistan.

Trump may have had difficulty with his tone, as Johnson said, but the message is accurate. Adding, “but it still hurts” was supposed to help, but obviously it did not.

Who is old enough to remember Viet Nam when widows and families lost loved ones who had no choice but to serve in the Army, cross an ocean, and lay their lives on the line? They didn’t sign up for anything.

Kelly was on his way to restoring the meaning and the reverence of a returning fallen hero. That all came unglued when he accused Wilson of saying something she didn’t say.

What purpose did it serve to say that?

Wilson is demanding an apology from Kelly. For the factually wrong remarks attributed to the Congresswoman, she should get one.

At the same time, Wilson owes one, too. Not to Kelly, and certainly not to Trump, but to all who wish to keep the homecomings, the sharing of grief, and the remembrance of our returning heroes as one of the few moments where Americans can come together.

The reason we know about the phone call is because the Congresswoman publicly talked about it. That should not have happened and she is fortunate to not be sharing any of the blame for the spectacle.

Neither the president (and Twitter), nor Kelly, comes out of this unscathed. Wilson, who is famous for her hats, should have kept what she heard under it.

Which brings us full circle.

As it was on the day all of this became media fodder, the only hero in this story is Sgt. La David Johnson.

RIP.

Can Matt Gaetz get through big tax increase on NFL?

Progressives have an opportunity to get behind a bill that would end certain tax exemptions for a group they would normally refer to as “fat cats.”

One Member of Congress went on television this week promoting a bill that targets the corporate headquarters for wealthy business owners, saying it’s time for them to pay up.

“The current millionaires and billionaires associated with professional sports leagues, including the NFL, have a tax exemption,” the member said. “They don’t have to pay taxes. That’s special treatment that is not afforded to just regular folks (who I represent) or the small businesses on Main Street throughout America.”

That sounds like something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco might say, or ultra-progressive Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; or Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

In reality, it was said by conservative Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz is now the lead sponsor of a bill originally filed in January by the now-retired Utah Republican, Jason Chaffetz. The PRO Sports Act would end a sports league’s 501(c)(6) tax exemption (as a non-profit) if they generate more than $10 million each year. He links the bill to the actions of NFL players “taking a knee” or sitting during the national anthem.

This is good politics for two reasons. For Gaetz and the conservative First Congressional District, it’s a slam dunk, or touchdown, if one prefers.

On the other hand, the left can, and will, make the free speech argument in siding with the protesters. But wouldn’t most of their constituents want the “tax breaks for the wealthy” to go away whether players stand or kneel?

Gaetz is rallying support. The quote above was uttered during an interview Monday night on Fox News.

On Tuesday, he wrote to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, formally asking the committee to consider ending the exemptions. Protesters, he wrote, “have every right to do so, but they should do it on their own time and on their own dime.”

This week, Gaetz picked up his first two co-sponsors with Alabama Republican Mo Brooks and Texas Republican Blake Farenthold signing on. Is all of this getting the attention of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell? Lagging attendance and dropping television ratings certain are.

While polls do not show strong majorities for either side, people are voting with their feet. Attendance is lagging and television ratings are going down.

This week, Goodell wrote to all 32 NFL teams saying “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem.” While offering respect to the players, he also wrote: “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

In the meantime, another weekend of games will take place before owners gather next week for their fall meetings. Thursday night’s Eagles vs. Panthers game in Charlotte saw no kneeling, just two Philadelphia players conducting symbolic gestures while standing.

If an understanding soon develops between players and owners, perhaps with locking arms replacing the kneeling, Gaetz’ bill may well wither on the vine. Even President Donald Trump gave the thumbs up for that gesture.

Goodell could only hope for such an occurrence. If controversy continues, look for more of Gaetz in the media and more co-sponsors for his bill.

It might actually get a hearing.

 

Both sides of NFL protests fail to understand the other

For those who care, the fourth week of the NFL season kicks off tonight with the Chicago Bears traveling to Green Bay to face the Packers. The best ratings for this game will likely be a few minutes before kickoff.

What will happen during the national anthem will interest most viewers far more than anything Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers or Chicago’s Jordan Howard does. What happened last week following President Donald Trump’s firing of “SOB” kneeling players  comments have been well-documented.

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Louisville can bring up Penn State when appealing NCAA penalties

For those who have the stomach to read the NCAA’s report on what happened with the Louisville men’s basketball program between 2010 and 2014, put your head on a swivel. One’s head will instinctively shake.

It is a detailed account of strippers, prostitutes and teenagers all in the name of luring them to play basketball for the Louisville Cardinals and Coach Rick Pitino. The Committee on Infractions panel presented a meticulous case against those involved and why Pitino bears  responsibility, even if he was unaware of what was transpiring.

One of the penalties prescribed was forfeiting games over those four years, which includes their 2013 NCAA championship. This part should be, and must be, reversed.

To be sure, what happened over that four-year period is beyond reprehensible. Louisville admitted that one of Pitino’s staff members (identified by accuser Katina Powell as Andre McGee), arranged sexual trysts for teenage recruits, including four 17-year-olds and at least one who was only 16 at the time. Graduate assistant Brandon Williams was also implicated.

At least two players on the Louisville 2013 championship team roster were also involved. Those identified to ESPN by Powell and two of her daughters (who were among the “escorts”) were star player Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell.

They are now on probation, they lost scholarships and their recruiting practices are limited. The also made it difficult for McGee to get a job in college basketball for 10 years and Williams for one year.

For his part, Pitino is suspended for the first five games of the 2018 ACC schedule. Then NCAA accepted the school’s self-imposed post season ban in 2015-16.

All of these make sense. It is a little bit tougher when the committee ordered the school to give up its share of revenue earned from playing in the 2012-2015 NCAA Tournament. The justification? The participating members of the basketball team became “ineligible” because they received “impermissible benefits.”

This is the logic also used in forfeiting all wins over the period, including the 2013 championship. Impermissible benefits are usually reserved for cash under the table, cars, no-work jobs, etc. While such actions carried out with legal age young men may be morally wrong, it’s hard to keep a straight face in hearing sexual favors described as a benefit when determining eligibility.

“Not only was this unjust and over the top in its severity,” Pitino said at a news conference, “but I’ve lost a lot of faith in the NCAA.”

Why should anyone outside of the Cardinals’ fan base be worked up about this? Two words:

Jerry Sandusky.

Sandusky perpetrated horrific treatment of young boys while serving as an assistant coach to Joe Paterno at Penn State. Sandusky is rightfully in prison and the NCAA ruled Paterno and the university were negligent as the atrocities continued. According to court testimony, Paterno knew about Sandusky’s behavior.

The Committee on Infractions slapped PSU with a $60 million fine, cut scholarships, instituted a post-season ban and forced Penn State to vacate their wins from 1998-2011. They were also forced to return bowl game money.

But when Penn State and supporters fought back (rightly or wrongly), the vacated wins were restored by the NCAA in January, 2015.

Think about that. No wins are vacated following criminal behavior that ruined lives.

What Louisville did was wrong, repugnant and also qualifies as child abuse in some of the cases. But when compared to Penn State, they should have every reason to believe they will win on appeal to either the NCAA or in court.

State, feds agree to extension for red snapper fishing

Most anglers thought the red snapper season for fishing in federal waters came and went almost two weeks ago. Thanks to an agreement between the U.S Department of Commerce and the State of Florida, recreational anglers now have 39 additional days to go after the prized catch.

The previous season lasted only three days, from June 1 until June 4, leaving fishing enthusiasts and members of Congress highly frustrated. The new arrangement calls for rolling back available red snapper days in state waters while extending the opportunities in federal waters.

“We are thankful for the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Florida’s Congressional delegation as well as the partnership across all five Gulf states in providing more sustainable fishing opportunities and sound fisheries management,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Though we had to reduce state waters fishing days in the summer and fall, we are pleased to be able to offer more fishing access this summer to anglers across Florida.”

The 39-day additional season begins Friday and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day, September 4. Also included is Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4.

“Local folks wanted me to fight for their right to fish, and I was happy to help,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Ft. Walton Beach Republican from the First Congressional District. “I’m glad the Trump administration has agreed to extend the federal red snapper season.

The federal government establishes quotas for red snapper fishing. Based on whether that quota was exceeded or under-fished in federal waters, the season is adjusted accordingly.

“We pressed Washington for an expanded season and Washington listened,” said Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican from the Second Congressional District. “This decision provides relief this season while we work to fix what’s broken in recreational management of the red snapper fishery. I’m glad the Commerce Department is letting common sense prevail for Florida anglers.”

Marlins sale still involves Who’s Who of Republican politics even without Jeb Bush

The news began to break on Tuesday evening. Jeb Bush was reportedly no longer interested in purchasing the Miami Marlins, according to anonymous sources.

Bush was yet another among the biggest names in Republican politics seeking to buy one of baseball’s worst performing teams. Others include President Trump’s family circle and a serious investor carrying the name of Romney.

The Bush family has been involved with baseball for decades. George H.W. Bush was captain of the 1948 Yale baseball team and a frequent patron of the Houston Astros. George W. Bush co-owned the Texas Rangers in the 1990s.

Before we learned of Bush’s pursuit of the Marlins, news broke in February that current team owner Jeffrey Loria had a “handshake agreement” to sell the team. Not just to anybody, but to Ivanka Trump’s father-in-law and brother-in-law for $1.6 billion.

Charles Kushner, father of White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, and Joshua Kushner were seriously pursuing the purchase, but halted their bid. The problem developed when Trump was said to be strongly considering Loria for the role of ambassador to France. Loria is a major donor to the Republican National Committee.

“Although the Kushners have made substantial progress in discussions for us to purchase the Marlins, recent reports suggest Mr. Loria will soon be nominated to be ambassador to France,” read a statement from another member of the group, Joseph Meyer, Joshua Kushner’s brother-in-law. “If that is true, we do not want this unrelated transaction to complicate that process and will not pursue it.”

Loria is yet to be nominated, leaving open the possibility the Kushners would re-engage if Trump goes in another direction for France. If so, Charles Kushner would need to address questions from his past regarding a conviction for tax evasion.

While Bush is apparently stepping aside, his partner, future first ballot Hall of Famer Derek Jeter is looking for other investors. If the Kushners do not get back in, the Tampa resident’s main competition comes from Massachusetts.

Tagg Romney, a venture capitalist and the 47-year-old son of the GOP 2012 nominee for President Mitt Romney, is making a strong bid and apparently picking up steam. Mitt Romney is not involved with his son’s bid.

In April, former Atlanta Braves’ legend and 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Tom Glavine joined the group. In early May, former Oakland A’s pitching star and Arizona Diamondbacks General Manager Dave Stewart joined Romney and Glavine. Miami native Alex Rodriguez declined an offer to join.

The two competing groups are said to be offering about $1.3 billion. The Marlins hope to close the sale by the time they host the MLB All-Star Game in mid-July.

Florida congressmen want more than a 3-day Red Snapper fishing season

There are 365 days in calendar year 2017, but for 362 of those days, it will be illegal for individuals to fish in federal waters for Red Snapper. For two Panhandle congressmen, that is insufficient.

Shalimar Republican Matt Gaetz and Panama City Republican Neal Dunn are urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to allow more days for private recreational fishing. The lawmakers are seeking greater than 10 times more allowable days than the federal government is providing.

The governing authority over the fishing seasons is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is a part of the Commerce Department. NOAA set the season for private anglers to begin Thursday, June 1 at 12:01 a.m. The season closes at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, June 4.

Along with several of their colleagues from Gulf states, Gaetz and Dunn wrote to Earl Comstock, Director of the department’s Office of Policy of Strategic Planning.

“We strongly urge you to use any authority at your disposal to expand the 2017 private recreational Red Snapper season in federal waters to include Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in June, July and August, as well as July 3 and July 4, consistent with the current health and overall sustainability of the stock,” they wrote.

NOAA described the need for the brief season is a result of the private angling quota for 2016 being “exceeded by 129,906 pounds.” To rectify, according to NOAA, the excess “must be paid back by the private angling component because that component exceeded its quota.”

Recreational fishing has a 49-day season, running from June 1 until July 20. That component also exceeded its quota last year.

Private angling represents more than half of the total annual catch. Combined, the 2017 quota is 5.28 million pounds.

The elected officials are certainly aware that with the season less than a week away, time is of the essence.

“As you consider this solution,” they wrote, “we ask that you act as quickly as possible to ensure greater access to the private recreational angling community.”

Update: This story includes corrected information on the recreational fishing season. The for-hire boat component underfished their component in 2016 and have received increased fishing days for 2017 from NOAA.

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