Pam bondi Archives - Florida Politics

SalterMitchell launches ‘Fluent in Floridian’ podcast

There’s a new podcast on the block.

SalterMitchell is launching Fluent in Floridian, a new podcast featuring state leaders talking about issues important to the people of Florida and the people who visit the Sunshine State each year.

The podcast will tackle issues like economic development, environmental protection, transportation, tourism, politics and taxes. Released weekly, each episode features interviews with political leaders, influences and innovators from around the state.

“News is consumed so quickly now that it’s become hard to get to know our leaders and understand their motivations, so we’ve created a show that allows listeners to hear more than simply soundbites,” said Chris Cate, the podcast’s host and the senior public affairs director at SalterMitchell. “Fluent in Floridian is conversational, much like NPR’s Fresh Air, except we’re talking to Florida’s top leaders, innovators and influencers about their backgrounds and visions for our state.”

The podcast launched Tuesday, with SalterMitchell releasing episodes featuring interviews with Florida State University President John Thrasher, Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, and Sally Bradshaw, a longtime senior advisor to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Future episodes include interviews with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; FloridaPolitics.com Publisher Peter Schorsch; Florida Chamber of Commerce Chairman Syd Kitson; Attorney General Pam Bondi; ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon; and Craig Pittman, a Tampa Bay Times reporter and New York Times bestselling author.

Cate knows a thing or two about the inner workings of the capital city. He served as spokesman and speechwriter for former Gov. Charlie Crist, and as communications director for CFO Jeff Atwater and Secretaries of State Kurt Browning and Ken Detzner. He was also helped implement communications strategies for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Prior to joining SalterMitchell, he served as vice president of corporate communications for 180 Communications, where he led media relations efforts and conducted media training and social media etiquette around the country.

April Salter, the company’s president and COO, and Peter Mitchell, the company’s chairman and chief creative officer, serve as the show’s executive producers.

Episodes are available on www.FluentinFloridian.com, or you can subscribe on Apple podcasts or on your Android devices.

George Sheldon now taken to task by hometown paper

George Sheldon‘s hometown newspaper now has weighed in on the former Florida politico, putting in newsprint the latest ethics woes of the now-director of Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s Monday edition (online version here), with help from the Chicago Tribune’s estimable reporting of the last few weeks, documented Sheldon’s travails as head of Illinois’ DCFS.

The lede, by the nearly 20-year Democrat veteran Jeff Burlew: “George Sheldon, a well-known figure in Florida politics who took over Illinois’ troubled child welfare agency in 2015, is embroiled in ongoing state ethics probes and facing scrutiny over contracts given to past campaign donors and consultants.”

Sheldon, a Democrat who lost a challenge to incumbent GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2014, was secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families from 2008-2011 under then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

He also has served in the state House, as a deputy to Attorney General Bob Butterworth, and as acting assistant secretary for the federal Administration for Children and Families under President Barack Obama.

The upshot: Sheldon now is looking at a beating a retreat to Miami, to head the Our Kids nonprofit that provides child services in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Not that Sheldon—still listed as owning a home in Tallahassee that last sold for $409,000—talks much to the Florida media these days.

Sheldon, who was a reporter’s best friend during his AG campaign, now has taken to largely shunting press inquiries to right-hand man Neil Skene, a former St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) Tallahassee bureau chief. Skene joined Sheldon’s leadership team in Illinois.

“George’s leadership has won widespread, bipartisan support, including an outpouring from people in the General Assembly and the child-welfare system urging him to remain in Illinois and complete that work that is under way,” Skene told the Democrat, adding that Sheldon “saw no personal financial benefit from any of the Florida contracts.”

They include Gary Yordon, a political consultant and former Leon County commissioner, and Adam Corey, part-owner of Tallahassee’s Edison restaurant.

Yordon got “$35,000 to produce two television public service announcements about child drowning danger and safe infant sleeping practices,” the paper reported, and Corey “lobbied for a company, Presidio Networked Solutions, that was awarded more than $1 million in contracts with (Illinois’) DCFS.”

Sheldon did tell the Tribune last week he “can’t not give serious consideration to Florida. It’s home, but I also feel an obligation to Illinois.” He said he expects to make a decision “in the coming weeks.”

Jacksonville Bold for 5.12.17 – Fantasia

Big political news of the week, maybe: State Rep. Jay Fant decides to run for Attorney General.

A bold move — given he’s running from Jacksonville (not a hotbed of votes), and that he’d downplayed his attorney experience up until now.

Fant went statewide Tuesday, talking to the press in Tallahassee, Tampa and Orlando, before heading home to Jacksonville to close the night.

Statewide, Fant preached the gospel of Pam Bondi: Hosannas galore for the Attorney General, even when it came to her handling Trump University.

The press was mostly respectful … though the tweet from Capitol reporter Troy Kinsey comparing Fant to evangelist Joel Osteen may have bordered on irreverence.

Then Fant came home to close the night out. Our source on hand said that no important NE Florida Republicans were there. No Lenny Curry. No state House colleagues. No City Councilors.

Curry, we understand, may just sit on his hands in this one. His political committee hasn’t put any money into Fant’s committee, “Pledge This Day,” which has $75,000 on hand.

Locals, we hear, are excited to have a candidate from NE Florida running statewide. But is Fant the right candidate from the area?

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis — a fundraising powerhouse — is considering the race. Heck, some say Sen. Rob Bradley should give it a go.

Fant’s hill to climb: all at once, and quickly, he has to get his money right, prove gravitas, and boost name ID — hard to do with only $75K banked.

Fant’s ‘Tia Talk’

Tia Mitchell talked to Fant for the Florida Times-Union. The quotes were interesting …

“Defending the Constitution and enforcing the rule of law is something that can keep me up at night and get me out of bed in the morning,” Fant said Monday.

“The Legislature has been a wonderful experience, but I’m more of someone who likes to administer public policy for an organization, as opposed to standing on the soapbox and screaming all the time, which is what we have to do in the Legislature,” Fant added.

Jay Fant’s the odd man out in the House. How will he do running statewide?

So Fant is interested in “enforcing the rule of law,” rather than making laws — an important point.

“Culturally, there seems to be a lot of pop culture bent against law enforcement, kind of neo-1960s dismissal of our law enforcement people,” he said. “I think that’s a harmful trend, and I hate to see people go after our guys and girls in the blue.”

Is this for real?

Fant connects with Raymond Johnson

Fant’s special announcement was less notable for the announcement — made to the donor class months ago — than for the event’s controversial hypeman: Raymond Johnson.

Of all the hypemen in the world, why did Jay Fant pick this guy?

Johnson is known for virulent anti-homosexual rhetoric, which has even been an embarrassment to fellow Republicans.

Fant’s campaign asserts that Johnson is “not a hire.” Fine. But why was he the point of contact for the launch for his campaign?

Al Lawson has ‘favorite son’ town hall in Gadsden County

U.S. Rep. Lawson may have a learning curve in “Dirty Duval.” But he is golden, a “favorite son” in Gadsden County, according to the Havana Herald.

Highlights? There was some new info from his town hall last week.

Al Lawson was received warmly in the western part of the district. Quelle surprise.

Georgia Rep. John Lewis has been mentoring freshman legislators, Lawson said.

“He is truly there to help us get a chance to congregate as freshmen,” he said.

Lawson also discussed food deserts and nutritional deprivation, noting that some school students are hurting so bad for a decent meal that “kids on Fridays put food in their backpacks because they might have no other food on weekends.”

As you can see below, hunger was also a theme in a Jacksonville appearance.

Lenny Curry committee makes it rain in April

April was a big month for Jacksonville Mayor Curry, as he was making the final sale of his pension reform to the Jacksonville City Council.

To that end, his political committee [“Build Something That Lasts”] spent big: $122,000.

The wins keep coming for Lenny Curry.

Of that money, $100,000 went to ad buys — which facilitated an effective television ad that drove people to call the Jacksonville City Council and show support.

The ad worked: pension reform passed without a no vote.

Curry secured $55,000 of donations in April, with Tom Petway, Michael Munz and John Rood giving.

The committee has roughly $230,000 cash on hand, and with Curry staying put in Jacksonville after withdrawing from the CFO search, he will have time to replenish the coffers.

Paul Renner delivers big for Flagler, St. Johns dune restoration

When Flagler County commissioners recently workshopped an update on recovery from Hurricane Matthew, concerns arose over money appropriated by the Legislature.

More specifically, what was not being appropriated.

“I’m hearing we might not even come close to the $10 million we were hoping for,” Commission Chair Nate McLaughlin told FlaglerLive.com.

However, Republican state Rep. Renner, whose district includes all of Flagler County, came to the rescue. By the end of the 2017 Session, Renner secured $13.3 million for emergency repairs in his district.

Paul Renner comes through with $13.3 million for emergency dune repairs in Flagler, St. Johns (Photo: Flagler Live)

But the money came with the catch, as far as Flagler is concerned: it would have to be shared between Flagler and St. Johns counties, leaving a certain uncertainty over how the Department of Environmental Protection will split the amount. The DEP oversees administering the money and of some of the beach-restoration work for Hurricane Matthew repairs, after the storm sheared off enormous chunks of beach sand and dunes in Flagler County.

“DEP will administer that based upon the county’s needs,” Renner said in an interview. “So, we believe that that in combination, with the possibility of some funds from the main beaches budget, will be adequate to cover the entirety of the local match in Flagler County.”

Laura Street Trio, Barnett Building in play

Good news for those wanting downtown development to continue on the upswing! The Florida Times-Union reports that Curry is committed to the renovation of the properties, and the city is willing to put in $9.8M in incentives to make that happen.

With pension put to bed, next is downtown dev.

“With a keen focus on increasing economic development throughout the city, building public-private partnerships, and ensuring a return on the city’s investments to taxpayers, my administration has been able to successfully negotiate a redevelopment agreement where others have stalled and failed,” Curry asserted.

“Any redevelopment project I present to City Council will reflect a return to taxpayers,” Curry added. “This one is no exception.”

City incentives are “part of $78 million worth of work to turn the buildings into a mix of apartments, hotel rooms, restaurants, rooftop bar, bank and bodega market,” the T-U report added.

All of this would be done within about three years.

School Board, Nikolai Vitti rail against HB 7069

Newsflash: the Duval County School Board and the state Legislature are sideways on education reform, with board members and outgoing Superintendent Vitti messaging hard against changes Monday before the legislature approved the bill, as WJXT reports.

On his way out, Nikolai Vitti is getting political. Interesting play while packing the moving van.

“Not only are we underfunded for infrastructure, but we will see less funding and an acceleration of funding to charter schools,” Vitti said. “This “reform” is — I call it reform because that’s what the Legislature is calling it — it’s not reform. It’s hijacking of the legislative process to favor charter schools. In other words, to favor the few over the many.”

The controversial bit of the bill: the “Schools of Hope” program, incentivizing charter schools taking on students from failing schools — and upsetting the funding formula.

Police Union 1, ‘F— the Police’ 0

In the wake of a springtime clash between anti-Trump protesters and Jacksonville police officers, a very public clash soon ensued on Facebook between Jacksonville Ethics Commission nominee Leslie Jean-Bart and Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona.

“F— the police”: a bridge too far for Jacksonville’s City Hall

That clash — which involved, among other things, Jean-Bart defending protesters using the inflammatory phrase “f — the police” by posting that “Also, F*** the Police is protected free speech. I’m not going to condemn it because there is no reason to do so” — has now reached the denouement.

And it appears Jean-Bart will not be moving toward the Ethics Commission anytime soon, with the City Council withdrawing the bill that would put her on.

The nomination was withdrawn at the request of its sponsor: Public Defender Charles Cofer.

In the words of Ice-T: “Freedom of speech … just watch what you say.”

Save the date: Florida Foundation for Liberty is hosting a fundraising reception for Rep. Renner Thursday, May 25. Reception begins 5:30 p.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr. #3500, in Jacksonville. RSVP to Katie Ballard at (954) 803-3942 or katie@kballardconsult.com.

UF Health North cuts ribbon on new inpatient hospital

UF Health North unveiled its new inpatient hospital, as UF Health leaders and community members took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

 

The second phase of UF Health North is another step closer to reality

The 92-bed tower is connected by walkways to the current medical office complex, the heart of the campus, which has been open since 2015. The new hospital consists of five floors, four for patients with all private rooms.

There is a 20-bed unit dedicated to labor and delivery and other women’s services, a 24-bed floor dedicated to the intensive care, two 24-bed floors devoted to general medical inpatients, and one floor of administrative services, a chapel, a cafeteria and more.

Night at the Zoo

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will be in a whole new light with Night at the Zoo events from 6:30-10 p.m. Live music, food trucks, cash bars, and visitors will have a chance to see animal exhibits until 8:30 p.m. on June 23, July 14, July 28 and August 11.

There will be animal encounters, keeper talks, bounce houses and more. Tickets for members are $5/adults and $3/children (3-12); nonmembers are $10/adult and $5/children (3-12). Child 2 and under: free (but still require a ticket) Tickets are available by pre-sale, online purchase only.

JAXPORT adds Hans-Mill Corporation

Hans-Mill Corporation, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of metal and plastic household products, is opening a state-of-the-art manufacturing center near the JAXPORT North Jacksonville marine terminals.

The 121,000-square-foot facility IS for manufacturing, assembling and distributing stainless steel trash cans and plastic household products sold at major retailers around the world.

Hans-Mill will use JAXPORT to import materials used in its manufacturing process from Asia, as well as for the import of finished goods for U.S. distribution. In addition, the company has been granted permission to operate within JAXPORT’s Foreign Trade Zone No. 64. The facility, which already serves as the company’s headquarters, stands for an $11 million investment in Northeast Florida, creating 23 new, direct jobs.

Shrimp Story

Some good news for fans of minor league baseball in Jacksonville, from First Coast News.

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are showing a 73 percent YOY increase in attendance — a validation of the once-controversial and once-derided change of the team’s name from the Suns.

Crustacean Nation has a posse, with new branding driving interest.

Purists balked. But with new promotions and a new look, baseball is juiced once again at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

That’s the biggest increase in turnstile traffic in minor league baseball. The second biggest has a local connection as well: the Columbia Fireflies. The South Carolina A club features Tim Tebow at the plate, and casual fans at the gate, with a 43 percent uptick year over year.

Armada remain undefeated thanks to late equalizer

The Jacksonville Armada FC recorded a late comeback to draw with the New York Cosmos Saturday night. In the 95th minute, Zach Steinberger nailed a clutch goal to give the Armada FC (2W-4D-0L) a 1-1 draw with the New York Cosmos (2W-3D-1L) after trailing from the 23rd minute onward.

Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that New York’s early goal came courtesy of Javi Marquez. Jacksonville goalkeeper Caleb Sewell-Patterson had a great game once again making key saves to keep the Armada within striking distance.

“That performance was the best performance I’ve ever seen from the Armada against the New York Cosmos, who are one of the best teams in the NASL over the past few years,” said head coach Mark Lowry. The Cosmos have won 3 of the last 4 NASL Championships.

A goal by #6 Marquez in the 24th minute has the New York Cosmos up by one (Photo: Facebook).

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Armada Midfielder Kevan George. “We’re a team. Our chemistry and grind from preseason is what brought us to this point. Are we surprised that we tied the game? No, we knew we had it in us. We just have to keep going and get wins.”

Jacksonville faces North Carolina FC in NASL play Saturday. The Armada will be looking to continue its undefeated run and jump back into first place with a win. Jacksonville has drawn four straight games.

Meanwhile, the Armada FC learned who they’d face in next week’s US Open Second Round. Miami United will be the opposition after a late winner sunk Boca Raton FC. Local playing legend Nacho scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute for Miami in a game where Boca Raton recorded the majority of chances, particularly in the second half. Miami’s goal against the run of play was impressive and showed the side could counterattack well, something Lowery and the Armada FC will have to account for in next week’s matchup.

The match will take place Tuesday, May 16, at Hialeah’s Ted Hendricks Stadium.

 

Jose Felix Diaz officially jumping into race to replace Frank Artiles

Jose Felix Diaz is jumping into the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.

“I am filing for Florida Senate District 40. It is the area that I have represented for the past seven years and the place where I am raising my kids,” he said in a statement. “I plan to mount a strong campaign and I will work diligently to represent the best interests of my community.”

His departure from the Florida House had been expected; on Monday, he gave an emotional farewell speech on the House floor.

The 37-year-old Cuban-American told his colleagues he “was never supposed to be here, because my grandparents came to this country with nothing … but they persevered.

“As a kid I spoke funny, I didn’t believe in myself, and I let others define my expectations of myself,” he said. “But I persevered.

Diaz spoke directly to his two sons, Dominick and Christian, telling them not to be afraid to cry and to help the disadvantaged.

“I pray that you realize that helping others is everything,” Diaz added. “There are rich people, and there are poor people. Help the poor ones. Help the disadvantaged; help the sick. Don’t do it because someone is watching—do it because it will make a difference in their lives, not yours.”

A government law attorney at Akerman, Diaz was first elected to the Florida House in 2010. He is currently the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and has been the chamber’s point person on gambling legislation in recent years.

The 37-year-old Miami-Dade Republican expressed interest in filing Attorney General Pam Bondi’s seat if she took a job in the Trump administration, and even said he was thinking about was running for the seat in 2018.

He was  believed to be a top contender to become South Florida’s top federal prosecutor. In April, POLITICO Florida reported Diaz and John Couriel interviewed with the Justice Department and were recommended — along with attorney Jon Sale — for the Southern District of Florida U.S. Attorney post. All three men were recommended by Sen. Marco Rubio.

Richard Corcoran insists he’s not getting in the middle of Scientology vs. Clearwater Aquarium

Ever since he was able to put a leash on rapper Pitbull‘s contract with VISIT Florida, Richard Corcoran has been the patron saint of those hoping to ferret out egregious government spending.

Hospitals paying too much to their executives and lobbyists? Call Speaker Corcoran.

Lottery makes a deal with a vendor which encumbers future legislative bodies? Call Speaker Corcoran.

Tourist development councils spending money on frivolous activities? Call Speaker Corcoran.

By now, you get the point. If you think some shady spending is going on, it’s “Better Call Corcoran” time.

That said, for a moment there, it appeared like Corcoran was going to insert himself into a nasty local spending issue he would do better avoiding.

According to Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Corcoran is considering stepping into an ongoing battle between the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Church of Scientology.

Corcoran is eyeing a recent decision by the Pinellas County Commission to give $26 million in tourism development taxes to the aquarium. The money is being doled out over three years to help fund an expansion.

The issue has been a long stewing local fight as the Church of Scientology, which has a huge presence in Clearwater, lobbied commissioners hard to not give the green light to the funding.

The issue came to Corcoran’s attention after attorneys for the church circulated hundreds of pages of documents outlining what it says is a misuse of funds, a contention the aquarium has fought. The church sent the packet of documents to both local and state officials, including Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

As soon as Dixon’s story broke, this website cautioned the Speaker to avoid appearing as if it were coming down on the side of Scientology.

As a matter of fact, Dixon’s story broke the day after the Tampa Bay Times reported how the FBI conducted a criminal investigation of the Church of Scientology in 2009 and 2010 that focused on allegations of human trafficking. Although the investigation never led to charges being filed, the documents buttress a 2013 report by the Times detailing a sustained and methodical FBI investigation of the church, with agents traveling to several states, questioning dozens of former Scientologists, obtaining surveillance video of the church’s remote headquarters in the mountains east of Los Angeles, and even contemplating a raid on that facility.

Fortunately, the Speaker’s Office insists it is not taking sides in the Scientology vs. CMA scrum.

“This has nothing to do with Scientology,” said Fred Piccolo, Corcoran’s communications director. “This is about the stewardship of public dollars.”

Piccolo reiterated the comments he provided to POLITICO Florida.

“We’ve received information that raises some questions,” Piccolo said Wednesday. “The Speaker will be briefed after budget negotiations are complete and we will determine further action at that time.”

“He remains fully committed to ensuring all tax dollars — including tourist taxes — are spent appropriately,” he said.

Part of the issue here, if you know the history of the funding for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, is that it is a pet project of Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala. 

In 2013, Latvala and other local lawmakers directed $5 million dollars the aquarium’s way to pay for production and marketing associated with filming “Dolphin Tale 2.”

In 2014, the aquarium received another dollop of state money. Dixon reports that there is another $1 million slated for the facility in next year’s budget.

Additionally, in 2013, Latvala tweaked the state’s Tourist Development Tax law to allow county bed tax dollars to be used for aquariums, opening the door for Clearwater Marine Aquarium to seek additional funds through the county.

Money from that fund is what Scientology is asking Corcoran to examine.

“It is the duty of the board to every citizen of Pinellas County to weigh this information before it embarks on [a] handout of this magnitude of taxpayer’s funds,” wrote Monique Yingling, a church attorney, in a seven-page letter that accompanied the documents, according to Dixon

An economic impact study conducted earlier this year concluded that the aquarium had pumped $2 billion into the local economy since 2011.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with the Speaker keeping close tabs on taxpayers’ money, especially since he has assured us he’s not playing favorites.

After all, Richard Corcoran would hate to be accused of picking winners and losers.

Tom Marino out, is Pam Bondi in?

Pennsylvania Republican Tom Marino

Congressman Tom Marino is no longer in the running to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That means the possibility of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi becoming be the nation’s next drug czar may still be in play.

Roll Call reports Thursday that the Pennsylvania Republican had been in the final steps of completing the paperwork necessary ahead of an official nomination. The job requires Senate confirmation.

A brief statement from Marino’s office only said he had withdrawn, citing a family illness. Chief of Staff Sarah Rogers would not comment on whether Marino failed a background check. Marino will remain in Congress.

Marino’s departure is reviving speculation that Bondi may still take a role in the Donald Trump administration.

Last month, a state prosecutor cleared Bondi and Trump of wrongdoing in connection with a $25,000 contribution to a political action committee supporting her 2014 re-election campaign.

 

Rick Scott declares opioid emergency in Florida

Rick Scott is declaring a public health emergency across Florida due to the epidemic of heroin and other opioids abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths wracking the Sunshine State.

While the governor signed an executive order Wednesday following action by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which declared a national opioid epidemic, it comes months after Democrats and a few others around the state urged him to declare an emergency.

Scott’s order will allow state officials to immediately draw down on more than $27 million in federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid State Targeted Response Grant, awarded to Florida April 21.

Scott’s office said that before that grant award, Florida could have faced months of delays in distributing the money to local communities.

Also, Scott’s executive order calls on Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip to issue a standing order for Naloxone, an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses. Naloxone can be used by first responders as an effective and immediate treatment for opioid overdoses.

Scott also directed the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to meet with communities in Palm Beach, Manatee, Duval and Orange counties to identify additional strategies.

“I know firsthand how heartbreaking substance abuse can be to a family because it impacted my own family growing up,” Scott stated in a news release. “The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help. Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic, and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our communities.”

In 2015 opioids were blamed for more than 3,900 deaths in Florida, according to Scott’s order.

And indications are it has become worse since.

On Tuesday, an Orange County heroin and opioid task force assembled by Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Sheriff Jerry Demings heard that treatment of patients with an opioid addition at Aspire, the county’s mental health and substance abuse contractor, has more than doubled since 2015. According to the Orlando Sentinel, it was fueled by a 450 percent increase in heroin addictions.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said the governor’s declarations would “help strengthen our continued efforts to combat the national opioid epidemic claiming lives in Florida by providing additional funding to secure prevention, treatment and recovery support services.”

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 6; Opioid Kabuki Theater opens today in West Palm Beach

This afternoon, The Rick Scott and Pam Bondi Opioid Listening Tour opens in West Palm Beach. Scott and Bondi won’t be there, but People with Big Titles and No Power will.

Scott, who used to run hospitals for a living, thinks that mosquitoes carrying Zika are a public health emergency, even as Floridians and medical tourists who VISIT Florida’s criminal enterprises masquerading as “sober homes” are dropping like flies.

When Scott and Bondi’s designated listeners roll into town, they’ll be greeted by citizens and taxpayers bearing photographs of loved ones lost to heroin and its kindred killer drugs. Grieving parents, grandparents and siblings take this epidemic very personally, and they are very sick of public officials who don’t.

“We need urgency. We are tired of talking. We need action…particularly from the Department of Health and the surgeon general,” protest organizer Maureen Mulroy Kielian told The Palm Beach Post.

That’s not happening. As Surgeon General Celeste Philip said last week in her Senate confirmations hearings, it is the Department of Children & Families that will be “taking the lead” in handling this steaming souffle of hot potatoes.

Opioid overdoses claimed 600 lives in Palm Beach County last year. The statewide death toll in 2015 was 2500. If that isn’t a surgeon general issue, what is?

 

Rick Scott, Pam Bondi answer Aramis Ayala’s suit: she’s not practicing discretion

Gov. Rick Scott together with Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a 60-page response to Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s charge that he overstepped his authority in reassigning her cases, contending Ayala has asked him to reassign other cases, and that her argument of “prosecutorial discretion” is actually one seeking no discretion.

Scott’s response, filed late Wednesday with the Florida Supreme Court, also contends that the weight of history and past court decisions all are on his side, and the ramifications of Ayala’s claims would upset a great deal of Florida legal and government precedent and practice.

“If accepted, those claims will have vast, long-lasting, and likely unforeseeable implications for the administration of criminal justice in this State,” Scott’s response concludes. “Even if the Petition’s claims did not fail as a matter of law, this Court should decline the invitation to render an authoritative judgment on these weighty issues on the basis of conclusory and disputed factual allegations.”

The battle is over Ayala’s determination to not pursue death penalty prosecutions in her 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties. It’s also over Scott’s executive response to that March 16 declaration, his executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King of Ocala.

Scott argued he issued the orders against Ayala’s will as a Florida governor has the legal authority to do so of “good and sufficient reason,” as he “determines that the ends of justice would be best served.”

In her writ for quo warrento filed with the Supreme Court on April 11, Ayala charged that as an elected state attorney she has exclusive prosecutorial discretion to decide how to prosecute criminal cases and that Scott did not have the authority to overrule her decisions simply because he disagrees with them.

Numerous outside legal, Civil Rights, prosecutorial, and other groups and individuals have filed amicus briefs – friends of the court – taking sides and laying out additional arguments, indicating what Scott acknowledged in his answer, that the the case has vast, long-lasting and likely unforeseeable implications for justice in Florida.

Ayala’s attorney Roy Austin Jr. replied with the following statement:

“Gov. Scott’s response shows that he continues to overstate his power under Florida law. As one example of his baseless arguments, he criticizes State Attorney Ayala after he specifically ordered her office to turn over all matters related to Markeith Loyd.

“What Gov. Scott has done is an illegal and unprecedented power grab that threatens the independence and integrity of Florida’s judicial system, and we look forward to responding to this filing by May 8.”

Scott’s response makes five arguments:

– Case reassignments by the governor have been common going back to at least 1905, and including all the time since Ayala maintains key Constitution Amendments and law changes favored her. In fact, Scott noted, Ayala herself has requested six reassignments and Scott complied and reassigned four of those for her – all to King, her suggestion.

“Indeed, this Court has ruled that the Governor’s reassignment power is “essential to the orderly conduct of the government and the execution of the laws of this State,” the governor’s brief argues.

– Scott argues that his orders ensure prosecutorial discretion where there was none, not the other way around. He said Ayala’s declaration was essentially that she would not practice case-by-case discretion, while King is free to do so.

King, Scott argues, “is conducting a case-specific review of each matter. State Attorney King retains full discretion not to seek the death penalty in each case and has already determined (based on a preliminary review) that the death penalty may not be appropriate in some of the 23 assigned cases.”

– Scott argues that the case is not about Ayala’s right to not pursue death penalties regardless of circumstances, but any state attorney’s inclination to not pursue anything in particular he or she might not want to pursue, a far too broad prospect for the court to allow.

“It will also apply to prosecutors who disagree with other kinds of criminal laws and penalties—including, for example, hate-crimes enhancements, laws that ban the open carrying of firearms, and campaign-finance regulations,” the brief argues. “Nor can Ayala’s theory of ‘absolute’ and preclusive discretion be confined to prosecutors who adopt across-the-board policies of NEVER enforcing certain statutes. Some locally elected prosecutors may commit to ALWAYS pursuing certain charges or severe sentencing enhancements [such as mandatory minimum sentences] whenever possible and regardless of circumstances.”

– Scott argues that regardless of whether Ayala has a right to refuse certain prosecutions, it does not negate the governor’s right to reassign cases anytime he feels it’s appropriate for the ends of justice to be served.

– And fifth, Scott argues that, all of that aside, Ayala’s request is extraordinary and she has not met the burden of proof to ask the court to consider such major changes in Florida’s prosecutorial and governmental traditions.

“Ayala cannot properly ask this Court to render an authoritative judgment immediately and conclusively accepting such sweeping and far-reaching departures from existing law where, as here, that judgment would necessarily depend upon the acceptance of the emergency petition’s conclusory and heavily disputed factual allegations,” the brief argues.

Christian Ulvert says he is ‘seriously considering’ run for SD 40 seat

Democratic political consultant Christian Ulvert says is seriously considering a run the Senate District 40 seat left vacant with the resignation of Frank Artiles.

“I’ve had a greater calling to serve in public office just because of the issues and the work that I do,” Ulvert told FloridaPolitics Thursday morning, just before he was scheduled to get on a plane to attend a family wedding out of state.

Ulvert says since Artiles announced he was stepping down last Friday, there’s been a chain of events of friends, colleagues and his husband asking him why doesn’t he step up and run for the seat.

It would be a new role for the man recently named one of the best political campaign professionals under 40.

The 35-year-old Miami-Dade native has been working most recently with Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is still in the ‘testing the waters’ phase of a potential run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Ulvert served as political director for the Florida Democratic Party from 2013 until last fall, and is the founder and president of EDGE Communications, a political consulting firm.

Prior to his launch as a political and media consultant, Ulvert served the Florida House of Representatives Democratic Caucus as communications director and policy advisor to House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber during his two-year leadership term, and worked with Gelber during his campaign against Pam Bondi for Attorney General in 2010.

Ulvert said that if he is to run, he would center his campaign on three main issues – public education, health care and affordable housing. “Those are three things that I’ve faced personally and I can present a strong narrative to and talk to voters and really empathize and bring authenticity to the message because I’m living it,” he says. “I have lived it.”

If he pulls the trigger, Ulvert certainly won’t be the only Democrat to enter the race. House District 114’s Daisy Baez is also reportedly considering a run, and may rely on Florida Democratic Party staffer Dan Newman to launch candidacy, although Newman told FP that he will not be leaving the party.

Ulvert says he’ll contemplate his decision over the weekend, then meet with Democratic officials in Tallahassee next week (he says he’s already conferred with Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon).  “The most important thing is to have a Democrat represent the district,” he says.

Governor Rick Scott has yet to announce a special election to fill the Senate District 40 seat, a majority Hispanic district that covers part of inland Miami-Dade County. Scott could announce a primary for the election as soon as June with the general election taking place in August.

Or he could go another route. Local elections in Hialeah, Miami and Miami Beach, the three largest municipalities in Miami-Dade, are taking place this August and September. Though none of those cities are in SD 40, it could make some sense to hold the primary and general at the same time as those cities. However, with the Legislature meeting in January of next year, committee meetings would be starting in the fall, well in advance of a November election.

Although Artiles defeated Democrat Dwight Bullard by ten percentage points last fall, it’s also a district that voted plus-10 in favor of Barack Obama in 2012 and carries a slight edge for Democrats in voter registrations.

Artiles stepped down from his seat last Friday morning, less than 72 hours after the Miami Herald first reported that he invoked the N-word to two black colleagues of the Legislature in a private conversation earlier in the week. The resignation came after the Herald then began asking questions later in the week about why his political committee had hired a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as consultants.

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