Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

How Mike Pence wasted Jacksonville’s time

As VP Mike Pence prepared to come to Jacksonville last Saturday to sell the American Health Care Act to Florida, some of the best members of the media dreaded it.

A TV person’s reaction: “Oh, God, I hope I don’t get called in.”

A print guy’s take: “I hate watching these politician events.”

In the end, neither of them were there. Nor were any of the real agenda setters in the local press. The local press turnout was sparse. The national correspondents were no-names. It turned out, a week later, all that was a bad sign.

Also a bad sign: the facility where the event was held — an envelope manufacturing plant — had the virtues and drawbacks of a secure warehouse setting.

The principle virtue: fencing and police at the perimeter of the building and blocks away controlling ingress and egress managed to keep the protesters away — a determined band of Democratic/Progressive activists kept, for the most part, out of the media’s line of sight.

The drawbacks were myriad.

One such drawback: no restrooms for the public. While there were portalets, there was no hand washing station. Politicians and the kind of party volunteers who made the apparently contested invite list love to shake hands. With those grins and grips on Saturday, they shared more than bonhomie.

Another such drawback: security’s key interest was in keeping the media in the pen.

Yes, yes, I know. It’s 2017 and the media are the most dishonest people in the world, except for Infowars and Russia Today and Fox and Friends, of course. But the people tasked with publicizing the event spent the whole time being watched.

We were forbidden to leave the pen after about 12:30. For me, a local guy who knew half the room, that precluded me from the kind of conversations I would have had with certain people in any other milieu.

However, the audience could come in the pen. This led to people approaching more than one female TV reporter and striking up conversations that weren’t of mutual interest.

So, beyond not getting the publicity the VP would have wanted, and beyond the ham-handed logistics of the event, what else went wrong?

The waste of political capital of local and state pols who made the trek.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

LOL.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry got a warm reception from the same folks who sent him hate mail over not vetoing the HRO, but his words now look pretty hollow given the inaction of the House, which couldn’t get repeal and replace done when given a free kick on goal during what passes for the president’s “honeymoon period.”

Rep. John Rutherford may have enjoyed watching March Madness with the VP on the plane to Jacksonville, but he ended up at the periphery of the debate otherwise.

And Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t help himself much either.

How much time did Scott spend conferring with the Trump administration on health care in recent months? How does this Trumpian botch affect his Senate run next year?

Scott, the most prominent Obamacare critic of any state governor, spent his entire administration rejecting the Affordable Care Act.

Pence rewarded the governor’s messaging the day before in a press release and letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price. The VP vowed  to allow “states like Florida” the ability to have a block grant to administer their plans, and a “work requirement” for coverage.

“State solutions,” Pence said, are the best way forward for Florida.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

So, here’s what happened in Jacksonville. The VP decided to make his stand here, giving Rutherford a platform because neighboring Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis weren’t feeling this bill. The governor came in and got his moment in the spotlight. And Mayor Curry made the stop before going on Spring Break.

All of them got a news cycle.

But what happens the next time they try to sell a Trump initiative?

Will they be as useful?

After his re-election, George W. Bush said “what good is political capital if you don’t use it.”

Then he wasted it and lost it for a solid decade, until he took up portraiture.

Can Donald Trump paint? And do we have to wait until 2027 to figure it out?

Florida’s unemployment rate holds steady at 5%

Florida’s unemployment rate held steady at 5 percent in February.

This marks the second month in a row the state’s unemployment rate has been at 5 percent, and mirrors the unemployment rate the state experienced in the first two months of 2016, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The state added 239,800 jobs private sector jobs year-over-year in February. According to the DEO, the professional and business services industry added the most jobs — 43,000, or 3.4 percent increase — during the one-year period.

“I am proud to announce that Florida’s private-sector businesses have created nearly 54,000 new jobs in 2017,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement Friday. “Over the past six years, we have been relentless in our efforts to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation because a job is the most important thing to a family.”

The agency reported trade, transportation, and utilities added 42,000 jobs, or a 2.5 percent increase; education and health services added 40,500 jobs, or a 3.3 percent increase; and the leisure and hospitality industry added 40,300 jobs, or a 3.5 percent increase, during the same one- year period.

The Orlando region continued to lead the state in year-over-year job gains, adding 50,900 jobs between February 2016 and February 2017. The Tampa Bay region added 36,100 jobs during the one-year period, followed by Jacksonville with 25,900 jobs.

Florida Speaker: Suspend prosecutor who nixes death penalty

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called on the governor to suspend a prosecutor for pledging to not seek the death penalty in any case while she is in office.

Corcoran said Thursday that Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala was “violating the constitution” because she is not even considering the death penalty. Capital punishment is authorized under the Florida Constitution. Corcoran added that if Florida lawmakers had the power to impeach Ayala, they would already be doing so.

Gov. Rick Scott removed Ayala from a high-profile police murder case last week after she announced her decision against the death penalty. Ayala argues Scott has overstepped his bounds and filed a motion in response, asking a judge to let her present her argument in court.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

If Aramis Ayala had been in Denver, people might have shrugged

In January, when she took office, new Denver District Attorney Beth McCann reaffirmed her campaign promise on an extraordinary policy: There would be no death penalty cases in her district under her watch.

The reaction?

Virtually nothing. No expressions of shock or outrage from other politicians, no calls for cases to be stripped from her, no calls for her firing, suspension or resignation.

“I think our community is a lot different from Orlando,” McCann said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.

Indeed, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala became something of a political pariah a week ago when she made a similar pronouncement for her Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, with most Republicans and a few Democrats blasting her and many calling for her ouster. And while Ayala is getting some support for Democrats for her right to decide how to prosecute her cases, she’s not finding much political support explicitly for her no-death penalty position.

Nationally, the latest annual tracking poll by Gallup, in late 2016, found that 60 percent of Americans support the death penalty and 37 percent oppose. That’s the closet gap since Richard Nixon‘s first term as president, but still a solid majority in support. A Pew tracking poll shows identical trend lines, though a much tighter gap in 2016 – 49 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. But again, death penalty wins.

Yet region by region, state by state, sometimes even district by district, there may be no across-the-board pattern, and nothing to suggest that the blowback Ayala is getting in Florida and Central Florida is at all common.

The last two district attorneys in San Francisco have disavowed and not used the death penalty. That’s a liberal political bastion; but now two district attorneys in Birmingham, Ala., have won election and entered office after personally disavowing the death penalty, though neither has ruled it out entirely for extraordinary cases.

One key difference between Ayala and McCann – both Democrats – is that McCann campaigned on a no death penalty promise. But it wasn’t that hard for her to do. Two of three candidates took that position. There hasn’t been an execution in Colorado in 12 years, and statewide there are only three people on death row. Her predecessor in Denver tried just one death penalty case in five years, and lost on the capital punishment counts.

Even Aurora, Colo., movie theater mass murderer James Holmes – tried in the neighboring Arapahoe County – was given life in prison without parole, after being convicted of murdering 12 people and attempting to murder 70 others.

McCann watched with interest everything Ayala said, and everything that has happened since. She found herself agreeing with all of Ayala’s reasonings, and “very troubled” by the political reactions, particularly when Gov. Rick Scott reassigned the case of alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd to another state attorney. But McCann also conceded it’s all outside her experience, and cautioned that Ayala will have to reconcile with local opinion.

“I think it’s the climate in our state. In Denver, politically, the death penalty is not very popular,” McCann said. “So it’s a very different situation.”

So how is it in Florida? Polling is all over the place. Polls by the Palm Beach Post and by Public Policy Polling both found majorities preferring life imprisonment without parole – Ayala’s position. But polls that have asked if people support the death penalty have shown majorities saying yes.

That leads Robert J. Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, a death penalty opposition group based at Harvard University, to argue that people do not support the death penalty as much as politicians – in any political party – think that people do.

The biggest indicator, Smith argues, is that the actual use of the death penalty has plummeted in the past two decades, nationally and in Florida, both in terms of sentences and executions. At least in practice, prosecutors, judges, and most importantly, juries, are just not that into it anymore, he suggested.

“In the 1990s, there were 315 death sentences in 1994 and 1996. Last year in America there were 30,” Smith said. “So you have a nation of 320 million people, there were 15,000 homicides, and you had 30 death sentences in the last year.”

Texas, once one of the execution leaders of the world, with upwards of 40 death sentences a year, saw just three death sentences handed down last year, Smith said. Neither Dallas nor Houston (Harris County) have had one in more than two years, he added.

In Ayala’s circuit, under her predecessors Jeff Ashton and Lawson Lamar, there was one death sentence in Orange County and none in Osceola County in the five-year period between 2012 and 2016, Smith said.

“I think you’re going to see that politics is going to change… going to catch up to that,” he said.

New prosecutor says old prosecutor shouldn’t get case back

A prosecutor who was given a case involving a police officer’s murder by Florida’s governor after the original prosecutor said her office would no longer seek the death penalty says the original prosecutor has no authority to ask for the case back.

Gov. Rick Scott gave the case against Markeith Loyd to State Attorney Brad King after State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she would no longer seek the death penalty. She now says Scott overstepped his authority.

King filed a motion Wednesday seeking the dismissal of Ayala’s request for a judge to hear arguments about why she shouldn’t have had the case taken from her.

Loyd is charged with first-degree murder in the killings of his ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott to lead South American trade mission arranged by State Dept.

Gov. Rick Scott will lead a delegation of representatives from small- to midsized Florida businesses on an export trade mission to Argentina in April.

The trip will be to boost business relations between the state and the South American nation, a spokesman with Enterprise Florida said Wednesday.

Scott’s visit will be from April 23-27 and will begin in Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital. It is being coordinated by the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, Florida’s fourth-largest global export destination with an estimated $3.3 billion worth of exports in 2015 alone.

“Florida is the gateway to Latin America and with more than 60,000 exporting businesses,” Scott said in a statement. “Enterprise Florida provides the platform for growing Florida companies to take their products to expanding markets worldwide. We look forward to expanding our trade relationship with Argentina and growing Florida’s business presence in Latin America.”

Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida’s senior vice president of international trade and development, will be accompanying Scott on the trip.

“This mission will increase opportunities for the small businesses traveling with us,” Mencia said in the statement. “Since the election of President Mauricio Macri, Argentina has rebuilt its relationship with the U.S. The Argentina market will offer excellent opportunities for Florida companies in the years to come, and this mission will allow them to connect with new partners and clients looking to purchase U.S. products and services.”

With a population of 41.5 million people and a gross domestic product of approximately $609 billion, Argentina offers excellent opportunities for Florida companies interested in increasing their footprint in the Southern Cone. The United States is Argentina’s third largest trading partner. U.S. goods and services trade with Argentina totaled an estimated $22.4 billion in 2015; making Argentina the U.S.’s 28th largest goods export market in 2015, according to the announcement on the Florida Enterprise website.

Florida companies seeking to participate can still register and access all mission networking events, airport transfers in the country when traveling on official mission flights, and ground transportation to mission events.

The deadline for Delegate registration is April 1. To register, contact Jorge Riano at jriano@enterpriseflorida.com.

Martin Dyckman: Aramis Ayala’s principled stance on death penalty not out of step with history

Make room in Florida’s small hall of heroes. If John B. Orr Jr., were alive, he would be welcoming Aramis Ayala.

When in 1956, while everyone else in Tallahassee was losing their heads over school segregation, Orr was the only legislator who dared to vote against a scheme to perpetuate it. Speaking on the House floor, which he didn’t have to do, he said segregation was morally wrong. He lost his seat but kept his honor.

Ayala, the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, is in the gun sights of Gov. Rick Scott, the attorney general the police, the Legislature, and most other prosecutors for announcing that she will not seek the death penalty in any case. As bad luck had it, the first to arrive on her watch was that of an accused cop-killer.

Not satisfied that Scott reassigned the case to another state attorney, the mobs are gathering, if only figuratively. They’re howling for Scott to suspend her. A Republican already has declared he will oppose her in 2020. He said would hire a former assistant prosecutor her predecessor had fired after he wrote on Facebook, following the Pulse massacre, that all Orlando nightclubs are “zoos, utter cesspools of debauchery.” It will be a nasty campaign.

Although Ayala’s courage is commendable, her judgment is questionable. The voters had no clue. As reasoned and right as it is, her stance on capital punishment should not have come as a postelection surprise.

The subject failed to surface in her expensive campaign last year against a Democratic incumbent and she had no opposition in November except for a write-in candidate who accomplished nothing but closing the primary—the actual election—to Republicans and independents. (Perhaps, the Legislature will finally get around to eliminating that glitch.)

The late Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer made no secret of her dislike for the death penalty, but she recognized that the law was the law and was prepared to impose it in cases that seemed appropriate. She sentenced Oba Chandler, who was executed for the savage drowning of an Ohio woman and her two daughters. Harry Anstead, a retired chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, who is one of Ayala’s defenders, opposed it also but concurred in upholding it in “dozens, if not hundreds” of cases, he told me. Governor LeRoy Collins tried to abolish the penalty but signed 29 death warrants, believing it to be his duty. However, he also commuted death sentences 10 times. Bob Graham was the last governor who did, three decades ago.

Perhaps Ayala was beguiled by a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling last year, which reflected that only 35 percent of the Florida public favored execution over other punishments and that more than half preferred life without parole, the existing alternative to execution. More than 3 in 4 said they would vote for candidates of their party despite disagreeing on that issue, and only 2 percent said it was the one that most mattered to them.

Those questions, though, were asked in the abstract—not in the context of a notorious case like that of Markeith Loyd, who’s accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and one of the officers who was hunting for him. As Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell wrote in criticizing her, Ayala “rang a proverbial dinner bell for publicity-hungry politicians all over Florida.”

Maxwell opposes the death penalty, by the way, and laments that “some people can’t look beyond their emotional reactions to see capital punishment’s systemic flaws as well.”

Only emotion, not proof, supports capital punishment as a deterrent to crime. The process is markedly more expensive than life-sentencing. It is inconsistent, arbitrary, and dangerously prone to convict and sometimes execute the innocent. It does nothing well but help coerce guilty pleas and turn some defendants into state witnesses against others. That’s why the prosecutors love it so.

They practice the same discretion that opponents say Ayala abused. It is the most consequential reason for racial disparities and other inequities in the criminal justice system. If a prosecutor doesn’t seek the death penalty for a well-connected defendant, there is no appeal. If he consistently reduces the charges for whites but throws the book at minorities, there’s no appealing that either.

The co-defendant who cops out may not be as culpable as the ones he helps send to death row, just simply smarter.

There was a notably notorious example in the 1990 execution of Jesse Tafero, the last person to die in Florida’s electric chair. (His head caught fire, influencing the Legislature to opt for lethal injection). Walter Rhodes, a co-defendant, was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder, even though two law enforcement officers had been slain. Nothing but his testimony placed the gun in Tafero’s hand. According to an Innocence Project report, Rhodes recanted his testimony on three occasions before switching back to his original story.

One court said that there had been gunpowder residue on Rhodes’s hands but not on Tafero’s. Co-defendant Sonia Jacobs‘s conviction and death sentence were eventually overturned on grounds that would have spared Tafero, but too late.

Michael Radelet, a Florida death penalty expert who now teaches at the University of Colorado has a list of 14 other death-sentenced people whose co-defendants got life or less. Appeals removed most from death row, but two are still there.

Ayala is exactly right in assessing that the death penalty “is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice.” It’s not in the best interest of the families of victims, either, as it postpones, for decades or more, the closure they deserve.

“Punishment,” she said, “is most effective when it happens consistently and swiftly. Neither describes the death penalty in this state.”

Orange, the larger county in her circuit, has a noxious reputation for the politics of death. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, as of January 2013, it had more prisoners on death row than 99.2 percent of all U.S. counties and was among the 2 percent of counties responsible for more than half the executions. As elsewhere in Florida, however, death sentences have been declining there along with the crime rate and with the public’s growing perception that life without parole is a suitably harsh alternative.

The last to join death row from Orange was in 2012.

Ayala is not out of step with recent history and, I believe, destiny. It’s her harassers who are.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Jamie Grant picks up challenger in HD 64

Jamie Grant

A Hillsborough County school teacher announced this week that she will challenge incumbent Republican Rep. Jamie Grant for the District 64 seat in the Florida House.

Jessica Harrington originally planned to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in 2018, but said she decided to change course after a trip to Tallahassee.

“I realized that no one really knows me… nationally, but a lot of people know me locally,” she said.

Harrington believes public schools are underfunded and overcrowded, which she blames on funding cuts early in Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure.

“If you fund (schools) properly, they’ll be amazing,” Harrington said. “I’m the one working a second job… spending money out of my small paycheck to fund my classroom.”

The teacher also supports Medicaid expansion in Florida and believes transgender students should have the right to use the bathroom of their choosing, regardless of birth gender.

 

New poll shows Floridians thinking lawmakers going too slow in implementing medical marijuana initiative

As the Florida Legislature continues to debate the implementation of a popular medical marijuana initiative, voters believe the state is moving too slow in doing so, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The survey by nationally-recognized pollster Tony Fabrizio of Fabrizio, Lee & Associates found that 44 percent of Floridians believe the implementation of Amendment 2 is going too slowly, compared to 30 percent who think the state is moving at the right clip. Just 9 percent think it is going too fast.

Those who voted for Amendment 2 are even more likely to feel the state is taking too long, with 57% saying it is going too slowly compared to only 30% who think the state is moving at the right speed.

Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature get poor marks on their efforts to implement the bill. A total of 34 percent support how Scott is acting on the issue, with 41 percent opposing. Amongst the Legislature, 37 percent support them and 40 percent oppose.

“We hope the Legislature will respect the wisdom of the people and fight the bait-and-switch game recreational proponents are playing,” said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Smart Medicine for Florida. “Passage and implementation of Amendment 2 should never be about recreational use or putting pot shops on every corner.”

There was intense criticism from the public when the state Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use held public hearings on the issue earlier this year.

Regarding the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that will be accessible, those polled say that they believe the measure would limit the number of dispensaries, by a 54 percent to 30 percent margin. The poll does not specify any number of dispensaries.

There are currently campaign efforts to get a constitutional amendment before the voters next year to legalize marijuana outright, but the poll shows that measure is nowhere close to getting the 60 percent margin required for passage. 48 percent oppose the legalization of pot for everyone, and 46 percent support it. Amongst Amendment 2 supporters, the measure gets strong support, with 6o percent in support and 34 percent opposing.

The poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates was conducted February 28, 2017 through March 2, 2017, and polled 800 Floridians who self-identified as having voted in the 2016 General Election.  The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence interval is plus or minus 3.46 percent.

Philip Levine comes to Tampa but insists he’s still not a sure thing to run for Governor

Despite the fact that he was speaking to a Tampa Bay-area Democratic Executive Committee on Monday night, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine wants you to know that he is not a candidate for Governor in 2018. Not yet, anyway.

“I’m very undecided. I’m going around the state talking about what I think is important and listening,” he began in addressing the Hillsborough County DEC at the Letter Carriers Hall in Tampa. “One thing I know is you’re the customer, and if you listen to the customer, you’ll understand what you need to do and what’s necessary.”

If that sounds like something a businessman would say, Levine would probably take that as a compliment. He made a fortune as a cruise ship magnate before opting to utilize his political science degree from the University of Michigan to run for Mayor of Miami Beach in 2013, where he’s since become a leader on combating climate change.

“The Democratic Party has historically been the party of working men and women,” he said. “I think it’s important that we learn from our past. Let’s start having candidates who have actually worked,” he said to sustained cheers. He said it could be a bartender, busboy, teacher or technician, but he said that people should for office who have some real life work experience.

Levine began his twenty-minute address by talking about his upbringing, and how he ultimately decided to run for office.

“Some people get swept into office, I got floated into office in Miami Beach,” he said about his decision early on in his mayoralty to do something about sea level rise. Levine got down to work on the issue immediately, and ended up raising stormwater taxes to the tune of $400 million on valves, pumps and raised roads from the public. That effort landed Levine national recognition in places like Vanity Fair and the New York Times, as well as a documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio called Before the Flood.”

“I play the Mayor of Miami Beach. It was a tough role,” Levine joked.

Levine also spent time talking about reforming his police department, which he said lacked leadership before he took over. He said he changed the culture when he hired Dan Oakes, the former police chief in Ann Arbor and Aurora, Colorado.

“When you run for office and you tell the police you’re going to make all kinds of changes, you’re not very popular,” he said. “Needless to say, I didn’t get any endorsements there.”

The other milestone that Levine has done to distinguish him statewide is challenge Governor Rick Scott by passing the first minimum living wage to $13.31 last year, becoming the first city in the state to do so. He said while Democrats are embracing the concept of raising the minimum/living wage, he says it’s actually a conservative principal. “You can’t live on $8.10 an hour. So who’s paying for these people to live? The taxpayers, with social services.”

Levine was in all in for Hillary Clinton , and boasted about being the rare Democrat to appear regularly on Fox News last year as a surrogate. In doing so, he was able to speak to all voters, which he inferred Democrats need to do more of.

“It’s important for us to be represented on Fox,” he said, “we have to reach out, it has to be all inclusive in order to win elections.”

Levine commented on the Enterprise Florida/Visit Florida issue dominating the news cycle in Tallahassee so far in the legislative session. In emphasizing his business worldview, he said it should be renamed “Entrepreneur Florida.”

“Why isn’t NASA the new Silicon Valley of our state?” he asked. He also said that every Florida student should be able to attend college, “Whether they can afford it or not,” without explaining how that plan might be paid for.

He also mourned the loss of film incentives to lure Hollywood productions to the Sunshine State, bemoaning the fact that Georgia now hosts so many film and television productions. “Why would you want to kick out an industry that somehow brings great jobs?”

“I think they’re going to fund Governor Scott’s next campaign,” he joked, saying that state leaders there are grateful for the state leadership’s failure to replenish that incentive program.

Levine took questions after his speech. He told one citizen that even though he possesses a concealed weapons permit, he believes assault weapons should be banned, earning applause.

He said his one of his biggest pet peeves out of Tallahassee is how the Legislature likes to wrestle local control away from city and county governments.

He was a little shakier when asked to weigh in on Rick Scott’s decision to remove Orlando/Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s from the Markeith Loyd case in Orlando, after she announced last week she would not pursue the death penalty against the alleged cop killer.

Levine said he wasn’t an attorney, but thought maybe the governor overstepped his boundaries. But then he went on to say that Scott was taking his marching orders from the Trump administration, and then referred to Trump’s mass firing of 46 U.S. Attorneys earlier this month. He then somehow segued into saying that it was a crazy time, and that it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat, “we’re all Americans,” eliciting applause, though it was sort of a crazy ending to the question.

Levine’s appearance in Tampa shows that the unofficial campaign for 2018 has begun. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was in Tampa on Saturday, and attorney John Morgan is scheduled to address a Tiger Bay event in the city later this month.

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