Headlines Archives - Florida Politics

Emails continue to hound Gillum; fundraising invitation among newest trove

A slowly-simmering email kerfuffle is turning into a close-to-uncomfortably hot scandal for Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who announced his candidacy for Florida governor in 2018 last month.

Another email has been unearthed revealing he used state equipment as a means for campaigning, which is an ethics violation in the state of Florida.
The email in question invited a host of people to a Florida Democratic fundraiser, according to The Tallahassee Democrat.
“Last month, the city of Tallahassee turned over 60 emails sent through software purchased by NGP Van, a company that provides technology to Democratic campaigns and causes,” the newspaper reported. “Several of the emails had political messages, including one inviting people to a 2016 campaign appearance by then-Vice President Joe Biden in Tallahassee.”

Now another 50 emails have been turned over to the newspaper after a records request, the newspaper reported.
“One, however, was an invitation to the FDP fundraiser at the home of then party chair Allison Tant,” according to the Democrat. “U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was the special guest; the event was chaired by Gillum, then vice chair of the state party. Tickets were available at various sponsorship levels, from $50 up to $1,000.”

The Democrat reported $6,850 had been spent by the mayor’s office on the NGP Van software and included $4,965 from the city’s general fund and $1,875 in leftover campaign money that the mayor rolled into his office account.
He was forced to publicly capitulate, apologizing on the same day he filed to run for Florida governor. Gillum has stated previously the emails were his fault.

A criminal investigation was started after a man in Jefferson County sent a complaint to Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell, who notified the sheriff.

“The investigation is progressing and we are continuing to obtain records,” Lt. Grady Jordan, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday, according to the Democrat.

The Tallahassee mayor has stated he is fully willing to cooperate with the investigation.

The latest emails brought forth fresh rebukes from conservatives, the Democrat reported.

“This is another egregious breach of the public trust,” Leon County Republican Party Chair Evan Power said. “When Mayor Gillum apologized for his other inappropriate emails he continued to hide these records from his constituents.”

The Republican Governor’s Association added their voice to the mix:  “Gillum has clearly demonstrated he cannot be trusted to tell the truth or follow the law.”

Congressional Dems target Brian Mast for vote repealing FCC privacy rules

Several thousand voters in Florida’s 18th Congressional District will receive robocalls this week from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee questioning Republican freshman Brian Mast’s vote to repeal FCC privacy rules.

Earlier this week, Mast joined GOP House colleagues with a vote to reverse a recent Obama-era FCC privacy rule requiring internet providers to get customers’ permission before sharing their browsing history with other companies. The rules also require internet providers to protect that data from hackers and inform customers of any breaches.

Last week, the Senate Senate voted 50-48 to reverse the rules in what many call a win for AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications.

What CD 18 voters began hearing Wednesday:

“Representative Mast just voted to allow internet providers, like Comcast and Verizon, to sell your sensitive personal information to other companies — all without your consent. Thanks to House Republicans, your internet browsing history, personal health and financial information and even location, can be sold to the highest bidder. Call Representative Mast to ask why she cares more about corporations than your personal privacy.”

The rule passed last October. At the time, Republican members of the FCC said that it unfairly gave websites like Facebook, Twitter and Google the ability to harvest more data than internet service providers and thus further dominating digital advertising.

Others disagreed.

“The consequences of passing this resolution are clear: broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast, and others will be able to sell your personal information to the highest bidder without your permission,” said California Democrat Anna Eschoo during debate of the proposal. “And no one will be able to protect you, not even the Federal Trade Commission that our friends on the other side of the aisle keep talking about.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the measure, saying companies “should not be able to use and sell the sensitive data they collect from you without your permission.”

Mast defeated Democrat Randy Perkins last November, receiving 54 percent of the vote to succeed Democrat Patrick Murphy. Murphy 

Murphy had announced early in 2015 that he would not for run re-election in the swing district election, instead opting to run for the U.S. Senate. Murphy held the seat for two terms after defeating Republican Allen West in 2012.

Similar robocalls will be used against approximately 14 other Republicans around the nation, mostly those in swing districts who also voted to reverse the FCC privacy rule.

Hundreds rally at Capitol in support of embattled Aramis Ayala

A church atmosphere prevailed as some 300 people converged on the state Capitol Thursday to protest Gov. Rick Scott’s removal of Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala from the murder prosecution of Markeith Loyd.

The protest, organized by Color of Change and Equal Justice USA, included denunciations of the Legislature for threatening to strike $1.3 million from Ayala’s budget.

Organizers said they’d collected 130,000 petition signatures seeking Ayala’s reinstatement. The crowd sang hymns and engaged in call-and-response to show their agreement with various speakers.

“I feel like I’m in church now,” the Rev. Richard Dunn, of Miami, said. “We come here today with some stones in our slingshots.”

Participants acknowledged that Loyd stands accused of murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and a sheriff’s deputy.

But they insisted that Ayala alone holds prosecutorial discretion over whether to seek the death penalty. Many state leaders are upset that she has decided never to seek that sanction.

“Whether you agree or not with State Attorney Ayala’s opinion, she was independtly elected by the 9th Circuit, and she has the right to make that decision,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee.

“And I support it,” he added. “I’m going to stand behind that part. And we all should stand behind her at this time.”

Sen Kevin Rader slammed the “injustice the governor is doing,” and criticized “legislative and executive branch intimidation.”

Sen. Gary Farmer saw the episode as part of broader attack on judicial independence.

“If you don’t like the decisions of your elected prosecutors, there’s an answer in this document,” Farmer said, holding aloft a pocket U.S. Constitution. “You vote that person out of office.”

Several speakers remarked in the case’s racial angle — Ayala is the first African-American elected state attorney in Florida.

Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor contrasted the outrage over Ayala to the official “passivity” over the deaths of boys at the Dozier School in Marianna.

“Now, one little chocolate woman who has some principles, who has some standards, she’s got some ethics and morals, she’s got some Christian-heartedness about herself. She’s getting jacked up and beat down.”

David Rivera files to run for HD 105

Former Republican state representative and congressman David Rivera has filed to run for House District 105 in 2018, which is set to be vacated by Miami Republican Carlos Trujillo due to term limits.

Rivera served in the Florida House for four terms before heading to the U.S. House where he served 2 years before losing his re-election bid to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

Garcia himself only held the seat for two years before he was knocked out by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo in 2014.

The Miami Republican dipped his toe back into politics in the HD 118 seat last year, but lost a tight contest to freshman Democratic Rep. Robert Ascensio for the Miami-Dade seat.

Rivera filed his paperwork to run for HD 105, which covers pasts of Broward, Collier and Miami-Dade counties, on Wednesday and is the second candidate in the race alongside fellow Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez of Doral.

The district has a Republican lean despite voter registrations coming out almost even between the two parties. According to 2016 data, the HD 105 has 25,983 registered Democrats, 25,404 registered Republicans and another 27,393 voters not affiliated with either major party.

Last year, Trujillo cruised into his final term with 52.4 percent of the vote compared to 47.6 percent for Democrat Patricio Moreno.

Marco Rubio decries Vladimir Putin as tyrant, calls on White House to push human rights

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio painted Russia President Vladimir Putin Thursday as a tyrant who runs a brutal, corrupt, and repressive regime that murders opponents, seeks to destabilize western countries including the United States, perpetuates war crimes, and does not represent the Russian people.

In doing so, Rubio called on the United States to stand up for the rights of Russians and do all it can to oppose Putin.

“It’s not Putin’s Russia, it’s Russians’ Russia,” Rubio said in a speech Thursday to the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan, mostly moderate, international affairs think tank.

“Vladimir Putin happens to have control of the government there today, but Russia is not Vladimir Putin. Russia is an ancient, proud culture and tradition embedded in its people. Vladimir Putin is a tyrant that just happens to control its government.”

Rubio, Florida’s Republican U.S. senator, was one of three keynote speakers addressing the Atlantic Council Thursday morning on the topic of “The State of Human Rights in Putin’s Russia.” He was joined by a fellow member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Maryland’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin; and Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has survived two apparent assassination attempts by poisoning.

Rubio made no overt criticisms of President Donald Trump or his administration for their friendly overtures and statements toward Putin; nor did he make any comments associated with the investigations into whether Putin and Trump’s election campaign may have conspired in any way to influence last year’s American elections.

However, Rubio did state matter-of-factly that Putin sought to interfere in the American elections. And he called on “the new administration” to adopt policies encouraging human rights and democracy abroad.

“We all have read and have heard and will continue to hear n the weeks and months to come Putin’s efforts to meddle in the democratic elections in Europe, just as he attempted to influence our own elections here in the United States last year,” Rubio said.

“As the new administration now continues to shape its foreign policy and national security strategy, I truly believe it is critical for them to include human rights and democracy as elements of any broader engagement of any country in the world. And Russia is a perfect example of why this is true,” Rubio added.

Ironically, both Rubio and Cardin cut their remarks a little short and left early to catch a meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee, and then the Senate Intelligence Committee, where such matters were at hand.

“The state of human rights in Russia under Vladimir Putin has of course long been on a severe decline. This deterioration has only accelerated in recent years as Putin, and his cronies have cracked down on civil society, the media, anyone critical of the Russian government.”

Rubio drew attention to Putin’s critics, “mysteriously poisoned on multiple occasions, thrown out of windows, murdered, all this just this year alone, and we’re only in March.” He also drew attention to last weekend’s large opposition rallies, made up largely of young Russians, which ended with crackdowns and hundreds of arrests.

“This reminds us of how critical it is that the United States stands with the Russian people in their fight against a brutal, corrupt and repressive regime.”

Omar Khan among a group of former Obama staffers now working for Chris King’s gubernatorial campaign

Central Florida businessman Chris King has made some major hires for his burgeoning candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Florida governor.

King has named Omar Khan to serve as his senior adviser, as well as adding other Barack Obama alumni Jeremy Bird, Hari Sevugan, Larry Girsolano and Isaac Baker to his team.

Khan was campaign manager for Charlie Crist’s 2014 gubernatorial run. He also served as National Associate Political Director on President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-elect and as Deputy Political Director in Florida in 2008.

Bird was the National Field Director for Obama’s 2012 re-elect campaign and was Deputy Director of Organizing for America. After Obama’s election in 2012, he founded 270 Strategies, a political consulting firm.

Sevugan was a senior spokesman on the 2008 Obama campaign and served as national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee throughout the Obama administration.

Isaac Baker served as Deputy Director of Paid Media for Obama in 2012 and was his Ohio Communications Director in 2008.

King is the founder and CEO of Elevation Financial Group, a consortium of companies which invest in and manage affordable housing. He is a Harvard graduate and also has a law degree from the University of Florida.

Florida ex-student seeking full refund, apology may delay Trump U settlement

President Donald Trump‘s $25 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit that alleged fraud at his now-defunct Trump University may be put on hold because a former student in Florida wants a full refund plus interest and an apology.

A federal judge in San Diego will decide Thursday whether to let Sherri Simpson opt out of the settlement and sue the president individually.

Simpson, a Fort Lauderdale bankruptcy and consumer rights attorney, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she thinks Trump should acknowledge wrongdoing and apologize. Simpson and a partner paid $35,000 in 2010 to enroll in Trump University’s “Gold Elite” program, where they were supposed to be paired with a mentor who would teach them Trump’s secret real estate investment strategies.

Like other members of the lawsuit, Simpson said they got little for their money – the videos were 5 years old, the materials covered information that could be found free on the internet and her mentor didn’t return calls or emails. Under terms of the settlement, Trump admitted no wrongdoing and the students will get back 80 percent of their enrollment fees – about $28,000 for Simpson and her partner.

Simpson said that’s not enough, financially or morally. She doesn’t want U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel to scuttle the entire settlement – she just wants the right to sue Trump individually.

“I would like an admission that he was wrong, an admission that, ‘Oops, maybe I didn’t handle it as well as I should have, I didn’t set it up as well as I should have, that I didn’t maintain it or oversee it as well as I should have,'” said Simpson, who appeared in two anti-Trump ads made by political action committees last year.

Trump’s lead attorney Daniel M. Petrocelli didn’t immediately return a phone message or email. But attorneys representing both the former students and the president have told the judge they oppose Simpson’s request and want him to give final approval to the settlement. They say Simpson and the other former students were informed in writing that they had to opt out of the lawsuit by Nov. 16, 2015, if they wanted to pursue individual lawsuits. They say she filed a claim form on Feb. 1 to receive her share of the settlement, but then filed her objection three weeks ago.

“The 2015 notices were crystal clear,” wrote Rachel L. Jensen, an attorney for the students, in a court filing. “If Simpson had any questions or concerns, she could have brought it up with counsel for the class on any one of their many calls. She did not.”

Simpson argues that the written notice also said that if the students obtained money, they would be notified how to receive their share or “how to ask to be excluded from any settlement.”

Of the 3,730 members of the class, attorneys said only Simpson and a man who wants triple his money back have objected. Thirteen former students opted out before the 2015 deadline, but none have sued Trump individually.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond Law School professor who has been following the lawsuit, thinks the judge will approve the settlement but could let Simpson pursue her own lawsuit. If she does, it would raise the question of whether Simpson’s attorneys could depose a sitting president, and the case could be delayed until Trump leaves office.

The lawsuit became campaign fodder last year as supporters for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said it showed Trump University was a scam and that Trump lied in its advertising. Trump told prospective students that he “hand-picked” the teachers and had helped devise the curriculum, which he said would be “Ivy League quality.”

But in a 2012 deposition, Trump told lawyers that he had no direct role in hiring teachers or designing courses. Trump University, which opened in 2005, changed its name to “The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative” in 2010 after New York officials said it was not an accredited school. It mostly ceased operations later that year.

During the campaign, Trump blasted Curiel’s rulings on the lawsuit and insinuated that the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican ancestry influenced his decisions.

Trump has proposed building a wall between Mexico and the United States as a curb to illegal immigration. Curiel was appointed to the bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama.

Trump vowed never to settle the case. But less than two weeks after the election, the settlement was announced.

Trump tweeted shortly after, “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Florida may shift students away from failing schools

Calling it an “emergency,” Florida may agree to spend up to $200 million to shift students from chronically failing schools to charter schools run by private organizations.

The idea crafted by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other top Republicans in the Florida House is this: Offer up money to help build “Schools of Hope” in neighborhoods, many of them in urban and poor areas.

The schools would be within 5 miles of or in the zones of existing traditional public schools that have repeatedly earned low grades under the state’s school grading system.

“No longer will we rob children of dignity and hope,” Corcoran said. “Now every single child will be afforded an opportunity of a world-class education.”

Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’Lakes, has touted the idea for months of using charter schools to serve low-income students, but his ambitious proposal is sure to ignite an ongoing debate over expanding the role of charter schools. Charter schools are considered public, but they are run by private organizations that sometimes use privately run companies to manage them.

The “Schools of Hope” proposal is coming at the same time that the Republican-controlled Legislature is considering a contentious idea to force school districts to share part of their local property taxes with charter school operators.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, the lead Democrat on the House’s main education committee, called the House plan part of a long-running movement in the state to offer assistance to charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools run by districts.

“We are creating a mess,” said Jones, who is from Broward County. “We should be taking $200 million to put the resources into those failing schools to ensure those schools are successful.”

Republicans, however, counter that many of the low-performing schools already get extra money from the state and from the federal government but have been unable to make steady improvements. They cite the recent decision of Jefferson County —a rural county in north Florida — to hand over its schools to a charter operator after years of struggle.

More than 100 schools statewide have been consistently ranked as low performing for more than three years.

Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said legislators met with charter school operators and asked what it would take for them to set up schools in the neighborhoods now served by traditional public schools. He said one answer was that they needed help paying for new buildings to house the school.

The House proposal would create both a grant program that would pay for expenses such as teacher training and other startup costs, and a loan program that would pay up to 25 percent of any school construction costs. It would also extend the money only to school operators that are already either nationally recognized or have a record of successfully serving students with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

A big question is whether or not the proposal will survive a looming fight during the next month between the House and Senate over a new state budget. Both sides have crafted vastly different spending plans.

But Sen. David Simmons, the Senate Republican in charge of the panel that oversees education spending, said he is open to any idea that seeks to help students at low-performing schools. Simmons has been championing his own proposal to offer a long school day at the same schools.

“I’m looking at anything that works,” Simmons said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Constitution Revision Commission gets earful in Orlando

If there was any concern about whether citizens would show up to tell Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission how they feel about the state’s founding document, the panel’s first public hearing meeting Thursday night at the University of Central Florida put that to rest.

A crowd overflowed the 200-seat meeting room, then overflowed the 86-seat overflow room, and then filled the hallway of the Fairwinds Alumni Center. More than 100 people signed up to speak. Most of them offered recommendations on changing the Florida Constitution, with wants ranging from restoration of felons’ rights, to closure of a perceived loophole in order to help regulate abortions; from abolishing Florida’s right-to-work status, to preventing judges from overturning elections.

And a few came to complain about the commission itself, its rules, the late notice for this meeting, its policies overriding some of Florida’s Sunshine laws for commissioners’ activities and records, and its partisan and perceived ideological one-sided makeup.

Chairman Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County builder and former Republican U.S. Senate candidate whom Gov. Rick Scott picked to lead the every-20-years review, took it all in with grace. Even in the face of overt criticism, he stuck to his promise to just listen, even if other commissioners complained about such things as applause for speakers interrupting proceedings.

“It’s about the citizens of Florida showing up, and making a difference in a document that regulates the state of Florida, the constitution,” Beruff said. “We’re at capacity, which is a wonderful thing. I hope every meeting we go to and attend in the next 14 months is at capacity.”

And they showed up, at least well over 300 did so. The commission’s attendance was less impressive, with just 26 of 37 members appearing at the first meeting.

Several speakers argued for the commission to end Florida’s stripping of rights of felons, which has left the Sunshine State with by far the most residents unable to vote or run for office.

Several more called for the commission to give Florida voters the rights of initiative and referendum to pass and repeal laws, and for recalls for elected officials.

Paul Heroux of Orlando argued that the lack of an initiative process for citizens to push for law changes is what leads to abuse of the constitutional amendment process, as the only means citizens have to push for simple statutes.

“The avenue of amendment by state constitution is a frustrating way for people to have their voices heard, especially when we know it could be addressed in statutory format,” Heroux said.

“Pig gestation,” he continued, referring to the infamous 2002 constitutional amendment regulating confinement of pregnant pigs. “Was it a good statute? Heck yeah. Rotten amendment.”

Others called for other changes in Florida election laws, including moving opening primaries and moving some elections to Saturdays.

Mat Staver, founder of the Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based Christian-conservative activist law firm, was one of several speakers to urge the commission to remove Article 1, Section 23, of the Constitution, which they said said has been preventing laws requiring abortion notifications.

Others countered with a call for an amendment to assure women access to safe and legal abortions.

Michael Johnson, who did not give any more identifying information, at first called upon something to protect liberties of women, gays and Floridians of all creeds and religions, and then declared that what that should be is some sort of ban on Sharia law.

Gary Bruhn, mayor of Windermere and incoming president of the Florida League of Cities, pushed the commission to strengthen protections for cities and counties to govern themselves under the home rule doctrine, complaining that the Florida Legislature whittles away at their powers ever year, especially this year.

Still others called for very specific changes that might escape the notice of most people. Blaise Trettis, state public defender for Florida’s 18th Judicial circuit, urged the commission two delete two sentences in the constitution he said make Florida’s search and seizure rules far more lax than they should be.

And then there were those who cautioned the commission to live up to the independence and transparency that Beruff had pledged, and expressed skepticism.

Ann Hellmuth of the League of Women Voters of Orange County expressed deep concern about the commission’s rule allowing individual commissioners to talk to each other about the panel’s work, outside of Florida’s open meetings law requirements.

“This should be corrected in order to give everybody the confidence in the openness and the transparency of the CRC,” Hellmuth said.

Sarah Wissig of Orlando brought Beruff’s only rebuff of the night when she accused Commissioner John Stemberger of being a bigot who did not belong on a state board.

“I would like to bring attention to the presence of an open bigot on the commission and I’m wondering for what political purpose someone who has spent their entire life and career demonizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians, what political purpose does it serve having John Stemberger on this commission?” she asked.

Another commissioner angrily objected, but Beruff politely dismissed her, saying, “This is not appropriate. Thank you so much for your comments.”

Later, Stemberger, president of the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, a Christian conservative organization that has taken strong lines against gay rights, shrugged off Wissig’s comments, saying he thought it was in poor taste, but within her rights.

“She has a constitutional right to speak, and I respect that,” he said.

 

Palm Beach tax collector joins growing list of Dems behind Andrew Gillum

Anne Gannon, the tax collector for Palm Beach County and a delegate for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention last summer, has endorsed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor in 2018.

“As a local elected official, I know firsthand the challenges facing Floridians, from an economy that has disproportionately led to low-wage jobs, an education system that is overly reliant on high-stakes testing, and a lack of 21st-century infrastructure,” Gannon said in a statement. “I deal with these problems on a daily basis, and it is my calling to ensure I’m improving on them for my constituents, and not playing politics-as-usual like our Governor and Republican Legislature.

“I endorse Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for Governor because he has the experience and vision to make life better for every one of my constituents. Mayor Gillum has made Tallahassee a great place to raise a family, start a business, and put children on the path to success. I enthusiastically endorse him and look forward to sharing his experience and vision with my constituents.”

“It’s humbling to have the endorsement of an influential leader like Anne Gannon,” said Gillum. “As the first woman to hold her Palm Beach County position, Anne has spent her entire career serving others as a distinguished public servant and tireless advocate for women and children, protecting victims of domestic violence and cracking down on human trafficking. I look forward to campaigning with her!”

The 37-year-old Gillum announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for 2018 a month ago, and has been busy crisscrossing the state and collecting endorsements ever since.

State Representatives Ramon Alexander and Loranne Ausley, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos have all endorsed his candidacy.

In an appearance in Tampa earlier this month, Gillum said his biggest challenge would be fundraising, which certainly could be the case if financial heavyweights like Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan and/or Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine get in the race.

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