Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 295

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Newly-minted Florida Democrats leader Stephen Bittel says he’s raised $500,000 in first month on the job

Among the attributes that supporters of Coconut Grove developer Stephen Bittel offered in the race to become the new chairman of the Florida Democratic Party was his talent for fundraising.

In listing his slate of accomplishments one month into his tenure, the FDP issued a statement on Wednesday touting that he has raised half a million dollars for the party’s coffers.

“I ran for Chair on a platform of reform and securing much needed resources to rebuild the Democratic Party’s grassroots efforts. Today, I’m proud to announce that in the first 30 days we’ve raised an immediate $500,000, established a committee to draft bylaws that work for a modern, big tent Democratic Party, and invested more than $100,000 into our clubs, executive committees and caucuses,” Bittel said in a statement.

The FDP also highlighted other achievements that Bittel has succeeded in.

  • Established a charter and bylaws revision commit tee to draft a new, more inclusive governing structure for the Party.
  • Launched a $100,000 challenge grant to grow Democratic rolls and rebuild grassroots activism in all 67 counties.
  • Announced three new senior level communications positions, including a director of Hispanic media.
  • Expanded Florida Democratic Party presence and offices in South Florida.
  • Launched a national search for a President and two new Senior Vice Presidents of the Florida Democratic Party

Bittel was the establishment choice going into the election for party chair on January 14, and he easily defeated Tampa’s Alan Clendenin for the post, getting 612 votes to Clendenin’s 211. Progressive backed Dwight Bullard received 150 votes.

Bill to repeal Certificate of Need program advances in Florida House

Despite heavy opposition from much of the hospital and hospice industry, a bill that would repeal Florida’s Certificate of Need (CON) program advanced in a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

Currently, health care providers require a certificate of need prior before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. The proposal  (HB 7) sponsored by Sarasota freshman Republican Alex Miller, would eliminate that need.

Certificate of Need was initially created by the federal government in 1973 as a method to control costs, but it was repealed at the federal level in 1987. Since then, 14 states have discontinued their own CON programs, while 34 currently maintain some form of a CON program.

In advocating for its repeal, Miller told the House Health Innovation Subcommittee that it hasn’t been very effective at anything – not at cutting costs, improving outcomes or for improving access. Under the bill (sponsored in the Senate by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley), the Agency for Health Care Administration would develop licensure rules for new providers, and sets guidelines for the licensure of hospitals and hospice facilities.

“We can either stand in the way of progress and innovation, or we can be bold and fearless and remove these antiquated and market restrictive regulations that even our own federal government says is anti-competitive and ineffective at controlling costs,” Miller said in introducing the legislation.

Democrats on the committee said they feared that repealing CON laws would create conditions in which new hospitals are built in affluent areas, while older, safety-net facilities would be left to care for the majority of low-income and uninsured patients.

“Good hospitals are going to become worse hospitals, because everybody is going to leave and move to the good hospital that has money and their going to lose their employees, too, “said Kissimmee Democrat John Cortes, adding “how do we correct that if that does happen?”

Miller said that “cherry picking” question is the one critics invariably go to. She replied that in her experience as a board member at Sarasota Memorial, she saw how nonprofits can compete and even thrive against for profit institutions. They also receive LIP funding and specialty taxing funding as well, she said.

“It’s like a very expensive invitation to a dance, with like no guarantee that you’re going to be asked to dance,” Miller told Miami Democrat Daisy Baez.

The public comment portion of the hearing was dominated by executives from hospital, hospice and nursing home industry, all opposing the repeal legislation.

“We believe (this) will cause declines in average occupancy, that would devalue Florida nursing homes, discourage capital investment in the industry…and more importantly result in increase cost of care for residents,” said Jeff Marshall, senior VP of operations for Omega Healthcare Investors.

But his and other complaints from industry officials did not win the day, with the bill advancing in committee.

Among the supporters of the legislation is Governor Rick Scott,

 

Tampa Bay Times’ acknowledges its recent stories on Mosaic spill are inaccurate

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times quoted two retired hydrology experts who slammed the phosphate giant Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over the massive sinkhole that exploded under a gypsum stack at Mosaic’s New Wales plant in Mulberry last summer, resulting in 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater released into the Florida aquifer.

Don Rice and Mary Hrenda told the Times that a full year before the incident, monitoring wells around the stack showed a sinkhole was developing, and that both Mosaic and the DEP should have been aware of the sinkhole at the time. The information was also presented at a news conference last Friday with environmental groups in Manatee County.

“They should have seen this 2016 sinkhole coming,” Rice told the Times last Thursday. “Alarm bells should have been going off — danger, danger!”

Now the Times acknowledges that Rice and Hrenda have retracted their statements.

“News organizations routinely cover disputes between two credible sides, and that’s what we did in our original story,” says Jennifer Orsi, managing editor of the Times, in an email. “Mosaic, which declined to discuss the allegations for that story, responded the next day, and we covered that as well. Now, the hydrologists quoted in our original story have retracted their findings and expressed regret, which we will cover in a story on the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times. Stories evolve, and we routinely cover those steps as they happen.”

Upon publication of the story Friday, both the DEP and Mosaic strongly disputed the report, and on Tuesday the first independently affiliated group, a relatively new organization based in Florida called the Center for Sustainability and Conservation (CFSC) weighed in.

The group released findings from an independent, Florida-licensed geologist, which also contradicted information originally published in the Times about the genesis of last year’s spill.

“Our geologist concluded that the increase in water levels were due to a grouting program in the area and not the precursor to a sinkhole. In his opinion, an indication of a sinkhole would have produced a drop in water levels, not an increase,” said Dave Gray, founder and Executive Director of CFSC.

Gray said he had his own independent Florida-licensed geologist, Abner Patton, reviewed the data and information Rice provided to environmental groups at last week’s news conference.

In his report, Abner writes that the “significant rise in water levels” in the three recognized aquifers near the New Wales facility “is not related to an event associated with the 2016 sinkhole collapse. In fact, our interpretation would be just the opposite response, significant decline in water levels would have occurred as the sinkhole was developing.”

Abner also refers to a grouting program conducted in the spring and summer of 2015. He notes that it is his interpretation that significant level changes in the three wells “are the result of a successful grouting program within the confining unit.”

“The data and information surrounding Florida’s natural resources and geology are complex and multidisciplined,” Gray said. “It is imperative that everyone understands such data can be used to draw false claims and manipulate conclusions to different outcomes, especially if examined by someone who is not licensed in Florida and does not have a thorough understanding of Florida’s unique geology.”

Rice and Hrenda, who is his wife, both worked as hydrologists in New Jersey, not Florida.

The Times report was challenged last week by the DEP, which said that the data in question have “nothing to do with the formation of the 2016 sinkhole.”

“The data the Tampa Bay Times provided is referring to monitoring wells under the closed North stack at the New Wales facility, which was closed in 2005, not under the South stack where the 2016 sinkhole formed,” the DEP said on Friday.

“I don’t think they did their diligence on evaluating the data, I think they chose some data they thought could carry a message and ran with it, whether or not that message was correct,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s Senior Director of Environmental and Phosphate Projects.

At the news conference in front of the Manatee County Commission last Friday, a host of environmental groups called for an investigation of the DEP, and said they were sending a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and State Attorney General Pam Bondi. It was signed by Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, People for Protecting the Peace River, ManaSota-88, Sierra Club Manatee-Sarasota and Saving the Face of Florida.

They said that the agency was “negligent, possibly criminally negligent” when it failed to recognize warning signs of a sinkhole and taking preventive measures to drain the stack.

On Wednesday, Mosaic officials are set to go before the Manatee County Commission over the proposal to approve the expansion of a phosphate mine on a 3,600-acre plot in Myakka City. The environmental groups strongly oppose the plan.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Michael Flynn’s resignation ‘marks a beginning, not an end’

Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Tuesday that the revelations about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s conversations with the Russians are only the beginning.

“Flynn’s resignation marks a beginning, not an end,” said the South Florida Democratic Representative in a statement on Tuesday.

Flynn resigned Monday night after it reports were confirmed over the weekend that he discussed lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Donald Trump had officially been inaugurated as president. For more than a month Flynn had denied that his conversation with Kislyak had involved anything other than some pleasantries, a statement that Vice President Mike Pence repeated several times.

Wasserman Schultz says that Flynn’s resignation was not only warranted, but overdue. But she says his exit raises more questions than it answers.

“It’s still unclear who and what was known in the White House about his diplomatic discussions with Russia before then-President Obama left office,” she says. “And if the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Flynn had misled them about his communications with a Russian diplomat, and therefore was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow, why was he still on the job? This entire episode reaffirms the need for an independent, bipartisan investigation into the influence Russia has had on our elections, our national security and the current occupant of the White House. Flynn’s resignation marks a beginning, not an end.”

California Democrat Adam Schiff told his fellow House Democrats that more information regarding Flynn’s conversations with the Russians will surface in the coming days, POLITICO reports.

 

On MSNBC, David Jolly wonders how serious Donald Trump is taking the presidency

David Jolly is in New York this week, making the rounds at the cable news networks as one Republican not afraid to criticize Donald Trump.

On his latest appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word (with guest host Joy Reid), the former (and possibly future?) congressman from Florida’s 13th District called Trump’s first month in office “his JV moment,” specifically referring to Stephen Miller’s performance on the Sunday morning shows.

Miller is the 31-year old senior adviser to Trump who is reported to be working alongside Steve Bannon in crafting the President’s messaging.

Among Miller’s most provocative comments was on CBS’ Face The Nation, when he said, “The media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

“The first month of the Trump administration has been his JV (junior varsity) moment,” Jolly said on MSNBC. “Get the 31-year-old sweaty kid off the TV, and bring in the steady senior hand.”

Jolly compared the beginning of Trump’s presidency with that of George W. Bush’s, the last president elected without winning the popular vote. Jolly said that Bush 43 surrounding himself with senior Washington officials like Dick Cheney and Andy Card, who, he said, “whether you liked them or not, we’re a steady hand.”

“We will see turnover, and frankly, this 31-year old should not have been the voice of the president on Sunday morning TV when we’re in such a pivotal moment,” Jolly said.

Jolly also questioned how seriously Trump is taking his job as the most powerful man in the free world.

“I think this is the very quiet anxiety of most Republicans, including congressional Republicans, is how serious is the president taking this job?” he asked. “He is our president. President Donald Trump. Like him or loath him. But how seriously is he accepting this responsibility and the anxiety we have is based upon the decisions he made in the first 30 days, the people he is surrounding himself with?” Jolly asked.

Jolly appeared Monday on CNN’s New Day as well and is scheduled to make another appearance on MNSBC later this week.

The 44-year-old Jolly has been increasing his media profile in recent weeks (complete with stylish glasses and a new beard) as he keeps his options open regarding 2018. Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points against Charlie Crist, in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District last fall.

He engendered speculation that he was considering another run for the seat in 2018 when he hired former Crist staffer Vito Sheeley last monthThe circumstances behind Sheeley’s departure from working for Crist remain shrouded in mystery, part of was has led people to wonder about Crist’s somewhat rough beginning in his short time in Congress.

Four Florida Congress members sign letter requesting meeting with Donald Trump on taxes and infrastructure

Four members of Florida’s congressional delegation co-signed a letter to President Donald Trump, requesting a meeting to sit down and talk to him to discuss areas of potential agreement, including tax reform and infrastructure investment.

“The Problem Solvers Caucus would like to begin discussions with you immediately on the possibility of tax reform and infrastructure legislation,” write New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer and New York GOP Rep. Tom Reed, the leaders of the caucus. “Addressing either issue, on a broad bipartisan basis, could give a significant boost to our economy and provide Americans with confidence that government can work for them.”

The Problem Solvers Caucus was conceived just prior to the 2014 midterm elections, and works closely with No Labels, an advocacy group encouraging bipartisanship.

Among the 35 co-signers to the letter include Florida Democrats Charlie Crist and Darren Soto, and Republicans Illeana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo (who was selected to serve as co-senior vice chairman of the caucus earlier this month).

“History shows that the most consequential and long-lasting reforms are usually bipartisan, from the passage of Social Security and Medicare to the last time comprehensive tax reform in 1986 was achieved,” the letter goes to say. “The Problem Solvers Caucus will take on the important issues facing our country; we are willing to work with you to find the issues ripe for bipartisan agreement and to turn them into law.

News of the letter was first reported by POLITICO Playbook.

New non-profit report says incarcerating non-violent youth in Florida is costly and often ineffective

A new report issued Monday urges state lawmakers in Florida to expand initiatives in community-based treatment for wayward youth, saying it is less expensive and results in better outcomes than going through the incarceration route.

“Florida is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to run state and county youth detention centers, while evidence shows that locking up Florida youth for non-serious or non-violent offenses does little to improve public safety,” said Joe Pennisi, executive director of the Florida Policy Institute. “These young people are better served in treatment facilities that are within their communities, where they can receive the assistance they need to become healthy, productive members of society.”

Among the findings in the report, titled, “Community-Based Treatment More Effective, Less Expensive than Incarceration for Youth Offenders, include:

  • Florida’s Black youth are nearly twice as likely as white youth to be incarcerated, and that number continues to grow
  • The state spent $82.5 million in 2014 to run its 24 state and county youth detention centers
  • Approximately 35 to 67 percent of incarcerated Florida youth will be rearrested within a year of being released for committing a new misdemeanor or felony crime
  • Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care, an evidence-based treatment model geared toward high-risk youth with behavioral problems, realizes a return of $14 for every extra dollar spent on treatment
  • More than 80 percent of youth in alternative incarceration programs remain arrest free

The report also calls for closing youth prison facilities and institutions throughout the state, with the savings to go into “alternative-based, effective and rigorous community-based programs.”

The report comes as the Florida Legislature begins debating several issues regarding youths caught up in the state’s criminal justice system, including Miami Republican Anitere Flores’ bill (SB 196) that would mandate law enforcement officers to offer a civil citation for youths admitting to one of 11 separate misdemeanors.

“The reason why I find this bill to be very important is that it brings uniformity to the Civil Citation Program,” Flores said during a Senate hearing last month, “so that ability to get a second chance doesn’t depend on where you live or what the color of your skin is, and that it just be something that in the state of Florida we prioritize for all members of our state.”

Kathy Castor calls some of Donald Trump’s actions ‘beneath the dignity of the office’

It’s less than a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, but Congresswoman Kathy Castor is not impressed so far, describing some of his actions and demeanor “beneath the dignity of the office.”

“President Trump is simply unprecedented,” the Tampa Democrat said to reporters following a news conference held at the USF College of Nursing George & Marian Miller Center for Virtual Learning. “His actions and demeanor are really beneath the dignity of the office. And I worry about young people and kids seeing that as an example of their president and Commander in Chief. Hopefully he’ll rein that in.”

Castor joined her House Democratic colleagues at a retreat in Baltimore last week, where they attempted to find a common strategy to combat Trump and the GOP-majority Congress over the next two years. She said that she is well aware that the Democratic base is alive and engaged in politics in a way never before seen in her decade long in Washington.

“The grassroots are on fire,” she said. “People want to know – what’s coming up on the floor of the House this week. So that’s a little bit different, where we’re having to educate all of our neighbors and encourage them and teach them how to weigh in.”

Castor says that the nature of Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and his “playing footsie” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin are actions that “really undermine our national security.”

“So there are a lot of very serious issues, and you can’t blame our neighbors for being on edge, upset and wanting to be engaged,” she surmised.

For the second consecutive weekend, one of Castor’s GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Congressional delegation, Pasco/Pinellas Representative Gus Bilirakis heard from dozens of angry constituents regarding his intent to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Eight years ago, it was Castor who was singled out for her support of the ACA, specifically when facing a hostile crowd of Tea Party activists at a town hall on the ACA at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.

“People are scared and that’s what you’re seeing at these town hall meetings for members of Congress,”she said, adding that “folks are reasonably frightened that there’s going to be this radical repeal plan, they’re just going to rip the rug out from under families. That’s the fight right now.”

At Tampa rally for Enterprise Florida funding, Rick Scott repeatedly calls out Shawn Harrison

Saying that he is “shocked” that a committee in the Florida House voted to kill funding for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida last week, Governor Rick Scott came to Tampa on Monday to urge the public to urge their state legislators to maintain the funding for those two besieged  agencies.

“This is an important issue to me personally,” Scott said in his comments to reporters after concluding the second of three scheduled appearances around the state in what his staff is calling a “Fighting for Florida Jobs Roundtable.”

Now in his sixth year as chief executive, the “jobs governor” has taken it as a personal rebuke that lawmakers aren’t on the same page with him when it comes to fully funding the public-private agencies. His arguments for maintaining the funding are wide and varied, including his statement on Monday that a flourishing economy could enable the state to put more money into education and the developmentally disabled, but only if the Legislature comes through to support the agencies.

“Our economy is on a roll. This is crazy to stop this!” he said after hosting the roundtable at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in North Tampa.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Visit Hillsborough CEO Santiago Corrada, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott and dozens of other members from the business community sat in chairs three rows deep in a semi-circle in what was a virtual half-hour informercial for the two programs, under fire in the House as being an example of “corporate welfare” in a campaign led by Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I am shocked that members of the Florida House of Representatives, politicians in Tallahassee, are turning their back on job creation,” Scott said, specifically calling out New Tampa House District 63 Republican Shawn Harrison for his vote in the House Career and Competition Subcommittee last week that would eliminate the Enterprise Florida economic development organization, and VISIT Florida, the tourism marketing agency, as well as a host of economic incentive programs.

Harrison narrowly won re-election last November over Democrat Lisa Montelione in HD 63, considered one of the most extreme “swing” districts in the state. The former Tampa City Council initially won the seat in 2010 but lost it in 2012 before returning back to the House in 2014.

“I’m still shocked that Shawn Harrison voted the way he did,” Scott repeated several times during the half-hour roundtable, and later when speaking with reporters afterwards. He repeatedly issued out positive statistics about the state’s economy, saying Florida’s job growth was double the national average, and that there was $771 million that came from tourists last year. Time and again, he went after the critics of the two agencies.

“What Shawn Harrison and other House members are saying – ‘oh we’re not worried about jobs anymore’ – that’s wrong!” he exclaimed. “That’s somebody’s life!”

During his presentation, he mocked anybody who voted against the programs. “How could anybody? I can’t imagine anybody who runs for office saying, ‘I’m for getting rid of jobs.’ Absolutely not.”

Scott’s pleas to maintain full funding for EF and VF sometimes reached new lengths.

“I’ve watched my mom cry because she couldn’t pay for health care. I don’t want that ever to happen to a family in our state,” he said. The sentiment might surprise the majority of Floridians who are still upset about the fact that Scott rejected expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act four years ago, denying health coverage to an estimated 850,000 people.

Scott did repeatedly shower his affection for Jack Latvala and Dana Young, two GOP state Senators from the Tampa Bay area who support continued funding of the agencies.

Buckhorn, a Democrat who has on occasion blasted Scott, emphasized the bipartisan nature of support for funding EF and VF. And he oozed contempt for lawmakers who want to kill the agencies. “What is happening in Tallahassee is ideology is getting in the way of the practical application of what these incentives are all about,” he said, denying that it’s a “giveaway program.”

“This would be patently absurd to cut off our nose, to spite our face, just because somebody is reading off a playbook provided to them by the Koch Brothers,” Buckhorn said.

Americans for Prosperity Florida, which receives funding from the Koch Family Foundation, is a leading state agency fighting against what they describe as corporate welfare run amok. The organization tweeted out on Monday, “Rep Harrison voted against rigged system! Why should taxpayers pay to pad special interest pockets.”

Craig Richard, the new CEO of the TampaHillsborough Economic Development Corporation, has worked in economic development for the past 20 years in six different states. “I’ve never heard anyone interested in doing away with the goose laying the golden egg,” he said.

“It’s kind of silly that we’re having this type of conversation,” Bobby Harris ,the founder and CEO of freight and logistics provider Blue Grace Logistics. He said that the incentives that helped him hire more than 100 employees in his Tampa offices would have gone to Chicago instead.  He said the House vote is “not a good vote of confidence for business leaders.”

Harrison did not return a call for comment.

Pasco County GOP official in trouble after social media posts go national

Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Secretary Bill Akins is under fire  after a story about his history of pushing out racist jokes and conspiracy theories on social media was published Sunday by the Washington Post.

The reason that the previously little-known local Republican even earned the interest of the Post was because of what happened on Saturday at Congressman Gus Bilirakis raucous town hall meeting in New Port RicheyThat’s where Akins told a crowd of mostly supporters of the Affordable Care Act that it was a fact that they would face “death panels” at the age of 74 under the legislation.

“Death Panels” were often mentioned by Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 when the ACA was initially being discussed. PolitFact called the term the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd in an exchange that was repeatedly by CNN and MSNBC on Saturday.

Akins apparently deleted all of his posts on his Facebook page on Saturday night, after the story by the Post’s Dave Weigel went live. The earliest posts now available to see on his page go back to 2011.

Among the controversial statements that Akins made included comparing black protesters to monkeys, accusing former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim, and that Bill and Hillary Clinton had potential trial witnesses against them murdered.

He claimed that former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, that “Climate Change” is a globalist hoax, and that Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

The Pasco County GOP Facebook page was filled with angry responses on Sunday.

“Rep Bilirakis SR was a truthful and honorable man,” wrote Chris Perfusion Clay. “The present Representative (who used to be my Representative until they gerrymandered again) makes a fool of himself by agreeing with a delusional Bill Akins. Mr Akins Facebook page is an example of why Republicans are seen as seriously problematic.”

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting said the revelation about Akins social media history was a definite “black eye for us, no question about it.”

At the town hall, Akins identified himself as being the Secretary of the Pasco REC. He was only recently elected to that post.

Akins did not return our request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Nor did Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

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