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Charlie Crist says ‘I’ll just go there,’ plays race card again in explaining party switch

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

Crist: GOP treatment of "the African-American president" was "a big reason" he left party.

Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist denied he left the GOP because he was trailing Marco Rubio in a 2010 Senate primary and said “a big reason” he bolted was the way some Republicans treated “the African-American president.”

Crist’s remarks in an interview with Fusion TV’s Jorge Ramos echo his claims to Stephen Colbert in February that his infamous Fort Myers stimulus hug of President Barack Obama angered GOP activists in part because Obama “was a Democrat, but not just a Democrat, an African-American.”

Then-Republican Crist was initially the frontrunner for the party’s 2010 Senate nomination, but fell far behind Rubio and left the party to become an independent in 2010. He became a Democrat in December 2012.

“You left the Republican Party because you were going to lose to Marco Rubio,” Ramos said.

Crist said he left because the party’s leadership “went off the cliff” and “I couldn’t be consistent with myself and my core beliefs, and stay with a party that was so unfriendly toward the African-American president, I’ll just go there.”

He referred again to “the African-American president” and said the way “some” in the party treated Obama was “a big reason” he left the GOP.

RNC spokesman Izzy Santa responded to Crist’s remarks in an e-mail to Fusion: “Being a flip-flopper is bad enough, but playing the race card to win over voters is pitiful.”

Crist book details GOP tilt to right, less explicit on Crist’s own attempts to ‘buff up’ his conservative cred

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 by George Bennett

Just in time for his 2014 Democratic campaign for governor, Charlie Crist‘s new book will hit stores next month and offer his explanation of his journey from longtime Republican elected official to indie Senate candidate to Barack Obama-embracing Democrat.

Crist’s main contention is that his moderate politics haven’t changed while the GOP has veered dangerously to the right. He offers plenty of examples — including the Terri Schiavo case, the fight over his 2009 pick of James Perry for the Florida Supreme Court and the rise of the tea party.

But Crist isn’t as detailed about his own efforts to woo GOP conservatives in 2009 and 2010 while pursuing the Republican nomination for a Senate seat.

“I did what I could to buff up my conservative cred…I can’t deny I might have shaded my feelings a little and emphasized the parts I knew the (conservative Republican primary) voters wanted to hear. Looking back at those days, I do cringe a little,” Crist writes of his final months in the GOP.

The book doesn’t go into much more detail than that, however. Crist’s “buff up” phase including calling for the repeal of Obamacare, opposing Sonia Sotomayor‘s nomination to the Supreme Court and airing a radio ad that criticized Obama on fiscal issues.

Subscribers to can read more by clicking here.

Publisher promises Crist memoir will be ‘frank,’ ‘very frank’ and ‘no-holds-barred’

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013 by George Bennett

Then-Republican Crist in 2009, about to participate in the Man Hug Heard 'Round The World with President Obama.

Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist will publish a memoir that his publisher says will include a “no-holds-barred” look at his partisan journey with a “frank indictment” of the GOP and “very frank” opinions of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Sarah Palin “and other top-tier Republicans.”

The title is The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. It’s slated for publication by Dutton in the winter of 2014 — about the time many expect Crist to be kicking a Democratic campaign for governor into high gear.

Lifelong Republican Crist was elected governor as the GOP nominee in 2006, was on John McCain‘s list of potential running mates in 2008 and launched a campaign for Senate in 2009 in which he styled himself as a conservative Republican. After falling behind Rubio in the Republican Senate primary, Crist became an independent in 2010 and got 29.7 percent as a no-party candidate in the general election. He campaigned and raised money with gusto for President Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2012, speaking at the Democratic National Convention and announcing in December that he would switch his voter registration to Democrat.

It’s a much-recounted story, and now Crist and co-author Ellis Henican will tell it in book form.

“For the first time, in The Party’s Over, he will offer a comprehensive account of why he believes Democrats have the right vision for the nation’s future,” says a Dutton press release. The publisher also promises “a no-holds-barred memoir of his journey from Republican to Democrat. He will name names and offer a frank indictment of the failings of the Republican Party.”

Scott’s net worth up slightly to $83.8 million

Monday, July 1st, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s net worth ticked upward slightly last year to $83.8 million, according to his latest disclosure reported Monday by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Scott reported a $218 million net worth when he officially became a candidate for governor in 2010. But the latest filing, reflecting his assets and liabilities as of Dec. 31, reflects an increase of about $1 million over last year.

Scott’s $9.2 million gulf-front home in Naples gained some value last year. So, too, did his investments. Scott’s biggest single asset reported was $72.8 million held in a blind trust. He listed no financial liabilities or money owed.

The Republican governor spent $73 million of his own money in his 2010 campaign. But Scott has said he has no plans to dig into his own pocket again when he runs for re-election next year.

His Let’s Get to Work political fund-raising committee has already collected more than $8.6 million this year.

Scott, who is required by law to submit an annual report on his finances, reported that he had a net worth of nearly $83 million at the end of 2011. That’s down from the $103 million net worth he reported at the end of 2010.

Scott has refused to accept a salary while governor. But he does list as a primary source of income $3.1 million received last year from his blind trust.

Senate passes immigration reform bill; Rubio invokes parents and American exceptionalism in closing pitch

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 by George Bennett

The Senate has voted 68-to-32 to pass an immigration reform bill drawn up by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that included Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who in an emotional closing argument told the tale of his Cuban-born parents and their assimilation into America.

Rubio spoke of his mother’s sorrow at John F. Kennedy‘s assassination in 1963 and her pride at the moon landing in 1969 — events that took place before she and Rubio’s late father were naturalized as U.S. citizens.

“Well before they ever became citizens, in their hearts, they had already become Americans,” said Rubio, his voice cracking. “It reminds us sometimes that we focus so much on how immigrants could change America that we forget that America has always changed immigrants even more.”

The bill has drawn fierce opposition from many conservatives and tea party activists who helped Rubio get elected in 2010 and will be crucial if he pursues the presidency in 2016. Rubio echoed the American exceptionalism theme of his 2010 stump speech as well as the Sermon On The Mount/John Winthrop/Ronald Reagan city-on-a-hill metaphor that resonates on the right.

“From a collection of people from everywhere, we became one people — the most exceptional nation in all of human history. And even with all our challenges, we remain that shining city on a hill. We are still the hope of the world,” Rubio said.

Rubio said he supports the legislation “not just because I believe in immigrants, but because I believe in America even more.”

Read the complete text after the jump…


Brown says donations to old campaign site just ‘dirty politics’

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by Palm Beach Post Staff

By Allison Ross

Note: this post has been updated.

Two years after Palm Beach County School Board member Jenny Prior Brown got elected to her District 4 seat, some unexpected donors tried to make contributions.

Jenny Prior Brown.

Last night, an online portal that Brown used to use to have donors contribute online received four donations of between $20 and $25 each — and the list of donors is somewhat peculiar.

One donor is Robert Kanjian, a former school board member whose wife, Anne, ran unsuccessfully against Brown in 2010. The Kanjians (including their children) spoke up at this week’s school board meeting on behalf of South Olive Elementary Principal Hank Smith in regards to an ongoing dispute between Brown and Smith.

Meanwhile, South Olive Elementary parent April Milner, who has led efforts to support Smith in recent weeks, also gave Brown a contribution. As did Deborah Pope, mother of a South Olive student and an employee at Kanjian’s company, Title Matters, and Melissa Nash, who is also listed as an employee of Kanjian’s Building Solutions company on the company’s website.

Milner said she made her donation because she wanted to extend an “olive branch” to Brown. Milner said she has nothing personal against Brown, and only wants to ensure that Smith be left as principal of the West Palm Beach school.

Kanjian also said he wanted to show that his involvement in the issue at South Olive was not about politics. “Neither myself nor my wife will be a candidate for the school board in 2014. Nor will we accept the appointment in the event Mrs. Brown leaves office early,” Kanjian said.

When told the site was from her 2010 election bid and not for a bid for 2014, he said there was nothing on the site that said that. He added that he would love to, as a constituent, sit down and talk with Brown about what’s good and what can be improved about schools.

A call to Pope has not yet been returned. Nash, when reached by phone, said she was driving and would call back.

Brown’s campaign consultant, Rick Asnani, said the account that was attached to the online web portal was closed after the election, so the four donations were rejected and returned to the donor’s accounts.

“Her campaign has not taken any money,” Asnani said. He said the campaign had asked that the web portal be taken down after the election but it was accidentally left up. He said it is now dismantled.

State law states that candidates who are elected must, after 90 days, dispose of any funds remaining in their campaign accounts and not accept further contributions. They don’t have to close their accounts but, in order to begin accepting campaign contributions again, they must file new paperwork, said Chris Cate, communications director for the Florida Department of State.

Brown said she has filed nothing for a 2014 re-election bid and is “not in fundraising mode.”

“This is pure politics. That’s all this is,” Brown said. “They know this is an old account and they’re trying to create some new political controversy. But this is dirty politics. That’s all this is. They know full well that’s all this is.”

In a later statement, Brown added:

“Bob and Anne Kanjian knowingly and willfully engineered a personal and disgraceful attack upon my character and integrity as an elected official by concocting an entrapment scheme they knew was baseless and misleading.”

New education commish may set back Scott’s warming to teachers union

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s outreach to Florida teachers and his newfound support for public schools may have been dealt a setback Wednesday with the selection of a new state education commissioner Tony Bennett.

Bennett was ousted by voters as Indiana’s superintendent of public education last month after warring with teachers unions over school vouchers, charter schools and a new school grading system.

Since then, he addressed Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education national conference in Washington, D.C., where he echoed many of the same policies long attached to Florida’s former governor. Bennett was chosen Wednesday by the Florida Board of Education to become the state’s third education commissioner of Scott’s two-year tenure as governor.

“(Bennett) is a champion of the testing mania, unchecked expansion of charter schools and voucher programs and has proven to advance the Jeb Bush education agenda that has drawn fire from teachers, parents and experts in the field,” said Florida Education Association President Andy Ford.

“That’s the same approach that has led to a flawed and chaotic system in Florida that has frustrated parents and teachers alike,” Ford concluded.

Scott invited Ford and other union officials to the Governor’s Mansion for dinner in September. It was their first meeting and was viewed as a sign of thawing relations between the two sides, which had battled fiercely during the 2010 governor’s race and through Scott’s first year in office.

Scott has since been publicly avowing his support for classroom dollars and the quality of Florida teachers.

Scott said he expects Bennett to advance the administration’s new look at education.

“I look forward to working with him on our goals to increase education funding and advocate for the professional development of Florida teachers, which is critical for student success,” Scott said.


Gov. Rick Scott’s mother, Esther, dead at 84

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s mother, Esther, a fixture in his 2010 campaign for governor, has died at age 84.

Scott posted on his Twitter page Tuesday evening, “My Mom – one of the only constants in my life – has passed away. Ann and I are comforted by all the thoughts and prayers for our family.”

Esther Scott had been struggling with health issues. Scott traveled to Kansas City to be with her in late October after she was hospitalized with an infection and placed in the intensive care unit.

She divided her time between Kansas City and Florida. Esther Scott had been featured in television spots during the governor’s race two years ago, assuring viewers that her son, a first-time political candidate, was “a good boy.”

Scott earlier mentioned that his wife’s mother and father also have died in the past year.

Scott heads to ailing mom

Thursday, October 25th, 2012 by John Kennedy

campaigning in 2010   Gov. Rick Scott has scrapped most of his Thursday schedule and is heading to Kansas City to be with his ailing mother, Esther, who is fighting an infection and hospitalized in intensive care.

Scott on Twitter this morning asked for prayers for his mom, 84, who campaigned with him in 2010 and was featured in television spots assuring voters the first-time candidate was a ‘good boy.’ She divides her time between her home in Kansas City and Florida.

Shortly after unveiling sweeping proposals for college and K-12 education next year at a conference in Fort Myers, Scott interrupted his scheduled to fly west. He tweeted, “This year has been tough,” adding that his wife, Ann, lost her father in January that her mother died last month.

Obama supporters piling into Delray Beach Tennis Center for post-debate rally

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Obama rally in Delray

DELRAY BEACH — The 8,200-seat Delray Beach Tennis Center is filled to capacity as President Obama prepares for more than just a typical election rally.

The country will be listening to Obama’s speech this morning as he gives his first remarks following his performance at last night’s presidential debate at Lynn University. Most pundits and viewers gave Obama the victory over GOP nominee Mitt Romney last night.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent, warmed up the president.

“Last night we saw what a commander-in-chief looks like,” Crist said.

Crist said he didn’t leave the Republican party “but it left me.”

“Romney would be a rubber stamp to the extreme agenda of the congressional (right),” Crist said. “He’s bowed down to the Republican extreme right-fringe and that’s just wrong. He’s being dishonest ’cause he knows the truth will cost him votes.”


FDLE clears Scott and team of wrongdoing for deleting emails

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and his gubernatorial transition team were cleared Wednesday of any wrongdoing for deleting emails from the weeks leading up to his swearing-in as Florida’s chief executive.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded an investigation requested by Scott last August after media reports disclosed that the deletions may have violated state public records law.

FDLE said its review found the data “was deleted as a result of an oversight…and not as a result of any malicious or criminal intent to destroy public records.”

The Legislature earlier this year passed a measure which clarified the widely held understanding that transition emails by the governor and other statewide officials are public record under Florida law.  Scott supported the legislation.

Scott’s office praised the FDLE findings Wednesday.

“In all, more than 4.5 gigabytes of electronic data representing more than 33,000 pages of transition emails and documents were recovered and turned over to FDLE,” the administration said.  “In addition to securing the email messages of senior staff, the governor also directed the transition team and FDLE to use electronic forensic search methods to recover lost emails and further required every member of the transition team, including volunteers, to turn over all documents related to transition business.

 ”By casting the widest possible net and using cutting-edge technology, the transition team, in cooperation with FDLE investigators, ultimately produced the most comprehensive collection of gubernatorial transition documents in Florida history,” the administration said. 

The FDLE report shows that a former Scott adviser, Susie Wiles, and Amy Brown, an employee of Harris Media, a marketing company used by the governor, were the central figures in closing out the email accounts used by the transition team in January 2011.

FDLE found that Wiles told Brown to shut down the accounts, which were used by 71 transition team members. FDLE was subsequently able to identify 44 transition team members in its investigation and interview 42 of them.

Brown followed the shut-down order — but Wiles said she thought data from the emails would be preserved on a backup server.

Sixteen of the transition team members had retained their emails and were able to provide them to FDLE, the agency said. But the rest are gone, FDLE said.



Florida tops in public corruption, changes needed, watchdog says

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With Florida leading the nation in federal public corruption convictions over the past decade, a watchdog group Wednesday urged the state Legislature to give more investigative power to the state’s Commission on Ethics.

Palm Beach County has contributed its share to the statistics, with four county commissioners convicted of corruption charges over a four year period ending in 2010. Integrity Florida, a research organization, said the first step should be for lawmakers to pay attention to the wish list of proposals the ethics panel is expected to approve June 15.

Among the recommendations — some a repeat from earlier years — is that the panel be authorized to begin its own investigations of possible wrongdoing, without waiting for a citizen complaint. Similar calls have been ignored in the past by lawmakers, but Integrity Florida leaders said next year could prove different.

“2013 will be the year we see ethics reforms finally happen in Florida,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, who co-authored the report on Florida with research director Ben Wilcox.

The report concluded that Florida had 781 public corruption convictions between 2000 and 2010, tops in the nation. California and Texas were close behind, with New York fourth. But Florida’s corruptions history also contributed to it having three cities listed this year among Forbes’ magazine’s ‘most miserable,’ with Miami #1, West Palm Beach #4 and Fort Lauderale #7.

Krassner said he has had three meetings with leading officials in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration on the issue. Tea party organizations and the Florida League of Women Voters also have joined the call for tougher ethics standards, he said.

Other proposals Integrity Florida is backing include creating a corruption hotline,  requiring more financial disclosure for public officials, and making it easiner to obtain ethics convictions in cases that go to court. Some of the provisions are included in what the Ethics Commission is expected to recommend to the Legislature later this month.

But the commission that day also is scheduled to consider again writing-off thousands of dollars in penalties imposed against public officials who failed to file state-required financial disclosure forms. The commission prides itself on having a compliance rate of 99 percent for officials submitting their forms, but state law currently gives scofflaws an incentive for waiting out the commission.

A four-year time limit on the commission’s ability to collect led last summer to about $1 million in fines against 800 public officials being written off.

Most of the accused had served on professional boards, pension committees and other panels that generally make up the low minor leagues of state politics. But at least one served as a mayor and ran in 2010 for the state Senate: former North Miami Beach Mayor Joe Celestin. He owed $3,000 in fines accumulated in 2003 and 2005.

Also on the agenda June 14 is Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who owes $1,500 dating to when he served as a legislative aide in the early 2000s and apparently failed to file disclosures. Fresen didn’t return calls from the Post seeking comment.

Teachers’ union, state in skirmish over merit pay bill

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A preliminary round in a larger fight over legislation that rewrote how teachers are paid and retained across Florida was waged Wednesday — with the state’s largest teachers’ union seeking to block a proposed Education Department rule  on evaluating educators.

The Florida Education Association argued before Administrative Law Judge John Vanlaningham that the state agency has exceeded its authority with how it wants school districts to evaluate teachers for merit pay.

In the complaint, the FEA and two teachers, Karen Peek and Beth Weatherstone, say the proposed “unlawfully sets a few DOE bureaucrats up to interpret, interpolate, and extrapolate the meaning of the extensive jargon it includes.”

State education officials defend the proposal as “not arbitrary or capricious.” They also say the proposed rule is written in the common language of the education community. It does not violate the statute created by the 2011 legislation, SB 736, they add.

The measure eliminating longtern contracts for new hires and linking teacher salaries to student performance was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor, who had been opposed by the FEA in his 2010 campaign against Democrat Alex Sink, said the new law would help improve student and teacher performance, and help create jobs by making Florida more attractive to businesses.

Democrats condemned the legislation for tying teachers’ pay increases to how students do on standardized tests.

They warned it will require county school boards to divert dwindling school dollars to more testing in elective fields where such tests often are not currently administered.

Along with challenging the proposed rule for evaluating teachers, the FEA last September sued to have the new law thrown out as an unconstitutional restriction on the union’s right to collective bargaining.

The case possibly could go to trial this summer before Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer.


Scott signs $70 billion budget, with $142.7 million in vetoes

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday a $70 billion state budget, while vetoing $142.7 million in spending and warning universities against seeking 15 percent tuition hikes next fall.

The budget for the year beginning July 1 includes a $1 billion increase for Florida classrooms. Scott signed the budget at the ‘A’ -rated Cunningham Creek Elementary School in the St. Augustine-area to underscore his newfound commitment to public schools.

A year ago, Scott signed a budget which cut $1.3 billion from schools. But on Tuesday, Scott called education, “the lifeblood of our state.”

But Scott’s urging universities to rein-in spending may set him at odds with Florida’s 11 public universities, which face a $300 million reduction in state funding this year. Scott let stand a budget item that allows Florida’s 28 colleges to raise tuition by 5 percent this year, but suggested Tuesday that universities should go no higher.

The State University System’s Board of Governors will decide tuition rates in June.

The $142.7 million in vetoes is a sharp dropoff from last year, when Scott vetoed a record $615 million. A year ago, Scott clashed with lawmakers through most of the session. But this year, legislators aimed early on at the $1 billion boost for schools that he called for in releasing his budget recommendation in January.

“Over the last year I have traveled the state to hear from Floridians what issues they care about most,” Scott said Tuesday. “That’s why this budget should be known as an education budget. The two issues that Floridians care most about are jobs and education, and the two go hand-in-hand since a good education is critical to getting a good job.”

School officials say they welcome the $1  billion increase. But they acknowledge it doesn’t bring per-pupil funding back to levels of even two years ago. The state’s largest teachers’ union, which had supported Scott opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, in the 2010 governor’s race, was especially critical.

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said Scott and the Republican-led Legislature are still shorting schools, even with the new money.

“At the same time the governor and lawmakers doled out more tax giveaways for corporations, more money for unaccountable voucher schools and more support and autonomy to for-profit charter schools, our public schools are given a budget nowhere close to adequate and light years away from a true investment in our children,” Ford said.

Palm Beach County didn’t have too many favored projects in the budget. But Scott vetoed most Tuesday, including $250,000 to reimburse local law enforcement agencies and others for security costs related to a presidential debate this fall at Boca Raton’s Lynn University; $50,000 toward developing a master plan for the Glades’ Torry Island; and $1 million for water treatment work in the Glades area.

But Scott allowed $500,000 in state funds to go toward roadwork on Riviera Beach’s 13th Street, which local officials said was needed to help link the Port of Palm Beach with nearby industrial sites.


Just in time for new race, Rader cleared of complaint from 2010 campaign

Friday, March 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Just in time for another election cycle, former Rep. Kevin Rader had a complaint filed against him dismissed Friday by the state Commission on Ethics.

Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, was accused in 2010 of failing to disclose his partial ownership of an underwriters’ group on his state financial disclosure forms. Rader, at the time a state Senate candidate, said he owned Advanced Insurance Underwriters through another firm, Rader Insurance Inc., which he did disclose on the forms.

State ethics investigators found probable cause that Rader should have revealed his connection to Advanced Insurance. The matter emerged when Victoria Thiel, a tea party activist, filed the complaint a month before the November 2010 election Rader lost to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

But Rader fought the charge. His attorney, Mark Herron, filed a legal challenge with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, arguing that ethics investigators misapplied the state’s disclosure law. As part of Friday’s finding, that case also will be dropped.

“In the heat of a campaign, people sometimes will file complaints without merit,” Rader said. “I’m extremely happy this has been dismissed and the commission took no action.”

Rader last month announced that he would challenge Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, in this summer’s Democratic primary.

But with Senate district boundaries still not set, Rader also acknowledged he is considering running in a proposed district in the Lake Worth-West Palm Beach area that has a majority black and Hispanic voting age population. Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed candidate papers this week to run in that district. Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also is weighing a campaign for the seat.

“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen, because know one knows what these districts are going to look like,” Rader said.

After the first redrawn Senate boundaries were rejected as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court, the Legislature has completed its second attempt at map-making. The redrawn plan now must win approval from justices.

Florida political committees among nation’s top spenders, report shows

Thursday, March 15th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Political committees that helped drive the election of Florida Gov. Rick Scott two years ago were among the biggest independent spenders in the nation, according to a report Thursday by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Scott’s own Let’s Get to Work committee, heavily financed by his wife, Ann‘s, cash, spent $17.5 million in 2010, second only to the Republican Governors’ Association’s $26.5 million that cycle. While Let’s Get to Work confined its spending to Florida, the RGA cash was scattered across key battlegrounds.

Two other Florida committees also were included in the institute’s national top 10 of spenders.

Both formerly opposed Scott with fierce television spots and mailers.  But once Scott defeated rival Bill McCollum in state’s GOP primary that year, the cash and attack ads from these committees were aimed at Democratic rival Alex Sink.

The Florida First Initiative spent $6 million in 2010. The committee, led by Alachua County Republican Chairman Stafford Jones, ran television spots accusing Scott of profiting from the “largest Medicare fraud in American history,” before becoming friendly toward the GOP nominee.

During the free-swinging Republican primary, the Florida First Initiative had received $1.1 million from the Florida Liberty Fund, a committee associated with House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. That money helped sustain the scorched-earth campaign against Scott — who ultimately spent more than $70 million of his own cash to win the governor’s race.

Like the Florida First Initiative, the Cannon-allied Liberty Fund adjusted its aim after the primary, raising money from Florida corporations now intent on defeating Sink.

The third Florida big-spending committee cited in the institute’s findings, the Freedom First Committee, was tied to Senate President Mike Haridopolos and raised $3.6 million in 2010.  It, too, was a Scott enemy, turned ally.

These kinds of shadowy committees have mushroomed in recent years and their spending has climbed double that of conventional campaign donations, the institute reported. Independent spending on candidates increased 69 percent from 2006 through 2010, while the amount of campaign contributions rose by 25 percent, the study found..

In Florida, the spate of spending by these committees prompted one, short-term candidate for governor in 2010, to decry it as “legal money laundering.”

Lawton “Bud” Chiles, III, son of the late Democratic governor, who ran briefly as an no-party candidate, wanted political spending committees dubbed 527s to be required to disclose their $500-plus donors on every television ad or mailer they distribute, or when they give money to another group to use for or against a candidate.

Florida law currently requires 527s, named for the IRS code section that governs them, to report their contributions and spending on a website within five days of the activity.

But Chiles and many elections experts say most voters are unlikely to spend time tracking donations to groups with such names as Floridians for a Better Tomorrow, Floridians for Strong Leadership, or even Citizens for Transparency in Government – all 527s that he cited in his condemnation of the spending.

Black Dems trying to change Sunday pre-election voting restriction

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Chris Smith will try to change Florida’s election law to re-open early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, one of the controversial provisions included in the state’s disputed election law passed last year.

Smith and other black lawmakers interrupts a “souls to the polls” movement instituted a decade ago when Florida began early voting. As many of 30 percent of black voters in some communities cast their ballots after attending church on Sunday, Smith, R-Fort Lauderdale, said.

“Last year’s law forbid us from doing that,” Smith told reporters, including a CNN crew, Friday morning. He said he plans to introduce an amendment that would allow but not require elections supervisors to hold the Sunday voting again on the floor this morning but has not heard from Senate GOP leaders whether they will sign off on the change to the elections bill (SB 1596).

The sweeping election reform passed last year – now being challenged in court – was aimed at reducing election fraud, Republican lawmakers insist.

But Smith said that does not explain the ban on Sunday voting.

“If fraud is going to happen, it is not suddenly going to happen on that Sunday,” he said.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a lawyer and civil rights activist, said she believes the law was intentionally designed to make it harder for blacks to vote in the general election this year to keep President Obama from being reelected after minority voters and college students helped sweep Obama into the White House four years ago. Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed restrictive elections laws last year.

“It’s my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African Americans in this country because it’s playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional,” Joyner, D-Tampa, said.

A Tallahassee federal judge this week held a hearing in a lawsuit filed against the state by voting rights groups challenging the state’s new laws regarding third-party voter registration. The new law caused the League of Women Voters to stop registering voters for the first time in decades.

Al Lawson to make another bid for Congress

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Veteran Tallahassee legislator Al Lawson, a Democrat, intends to run for Congress again, this time with the help of the GOP.

“Big Al” said he is going to make another stab at the Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a tea party Republican who ousted long-time Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd in 2010.

After being termed out of the Senate in 2010, Lawson lost in a brutal primary by about 2,000 votes to Boyd, who held the seat for 16 years before losing to Southerland.

But the maps drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature, slated to be voted out of the Senate this week and sent on their way to Attorney General Pam Bondi and ultimately the courts for review, may give Lawson (and other Democrats) a leg up against the incumbent from Panama City.

Five GOP-leaning counties that helped Southerland get to Washington – Okaloosa, Walton, Dixie, Lafayette and Suwannee – will no longer be in the District 2 North Florida seat if the maps withstand Department of Justice scrutiny and expected legal challenges.

Lawson said one of the reasons he’s running again is because he didn’t like what Southerland said after Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot last summer. Southerland suggested his $174,000-a-year Congressional salary wasn’t worth the safety risks and the time away from his family and funeral home business.

“Throughout my political career, I’ve always fought hard for workers, for economic development and jobs for this district. And this Southerland complained about his $174,000 salary that was taking away from his business,” Lawson, who served in the Florida House and Senate for nearly three decades, said in a telephone interview. Lawson said he intends to formally file to run for the seat next week.

“He seems to be more concerned about the tea party than concerned about his distict where you have high unemployment, and people need somebody to fight for them in Congress. I have a 28-year history of doing that and it’s something the people need,” Lawson said. “I just need to retire him. And let him go back to the funeral home business.”

Lawson could face another veteran state lawmaker in what may be a crowded primary. Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican who switched to become an independent, wants to run as a Democrat for the seat. But she can’t because of a provision included in an election law (controversial for other reasons) approved by lawmakers last year and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in June. That provision bars candidates from switching parties one year before the qualifying period for the general election begins, meaning the candidate must be registered in the party for nearly 18 months before the 2012 November election. Argenziano, who served in both the state House and Senate and also as the chairwoman of the Florida Public Service Commission, is challenging that part of the election law in court.

State Rep. Leonard Bembry, a Greenville Democrat and Boyd look-alike, also intends to run for the seat.

Gov. Scott: Latinos like Romney family values

Sunday, January 29th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Once the anti-establishment candidate, Gov. Rick Scott is full of praise – without officially endorsing – Mitt Romney, who’s garnered the support of some of the Sunshine State’s top GOP insiders.

Scott has defended Romney’s business background and today told CNN‘s Candy Crowley that Hispanic voters prefer the former Massachusetts governor because of his family values.

Scott’s comments come as Romney and Newt Gingrich sweep the state hoping to nail down the all-or-nothing convention delegate prize on Tuesday’s primary, with a lot of the focus on the state’s Latino voters crucial to the GOP primary.

This morning on CNN’s State of the Union, Crowley asked Scott about a recent poll show Romney outstripping Newt Gingrich among Hispanic voters by 49-23 percent.

“Look, the Latino vote cares about family. I mean, if you look at Gov. Romney’s family, he’s been very successful. He’s built a great family, very committed to his wife,” Scott said. “He’s somebody that’s been successful in life. So I think if they look at his background, it’s what they want. They care about their families. They care about, you know, somebody that’s been successful in business. That’s what they care about. So I think that’s part of what his attraction to the Latino vote.”

Gingrich’s campaign recently yanked a Spanish-language ad accusing Romney of being “anti-immigrant” after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio blasted scolded the former speaker of the House over the ad.

And Romney scored one of his best lines on the thorny immigration issue during Thursday night’s debate in Jacksonville after Gingrich said Romney’s immigration stance would result in rounding up grandmothers who’ve lived for years in the country illegally.

“Our problem isn’t 11 million grandmothers,” Romney said. “Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have.”

With recent polls showing Romney surging in the polls on Florida, Scott told Crowley “it sure looks like Gov. Romney’s going to win” and again said the candidates should be discussing their jobs plans instead of trading barbs.

Scott lauded Romney’s business background but did not say whose jobs plan he prefers.

“They all have plans,” he said.

Senate prez Haridopolos on GOP primary: ‘Feels good to be right’

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

With all eyes on Florida in the GOP presidential race, Senate President Mike Haridopolos might have been justified saying “I told you so” about the Sunshine State’s early Republican primary next week.

The legislature moved Florida’s primary date up from its originally scheduled date to Jan. 31 over the objections of state and national GOP leaders. Haridopolos and others wanted to elevate the state’s role in determining the eventual nominee.

With Newt Gingrich surging in the polls after unexpectedly trouncing Mitt Romney in South Carolina, Florida could be “the lynchpin to one person winning” the race, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said.

“Every once in a while it feels good to be right,” Haridopolos, a Romney backer, said this morning. “It was a risk, don’t get me wrong. But we thought it was a good risk. Clearly the eyes of the nation if not the eyes of the world are on this…I think it’s a good thing.”

And national coverage of the candidates stumping around sunny, mild-climed Florida may help solve some of the state’s budget problems as well, Haridopolos said.d

“This is like free advertising for our state and it wasn’t Visit Florida that had to pay the tab,” Haridopolos said.

Watching candidates “in their shirt sleeves” in sunny Florida may prompt Northerners to consider relocating their businesses to or visiting Florida, Haridopolos, a former New Yorker, said.

“So I think it’s been a jackpot,” Haridopolos said. “And I think we’re in the place where we deserve to be.”

Florida is the bellweather state in the general election and deserves to be so in the primaries, Haridopolos said, after the lesser-known candidates have been weeded out in Iowa and New Hampshire.

I love these kind of competitions – except when I’m in races. I like the ones where no one runs against me. It’s a lot more successful,” the former U.S. Senate candidate joked. “But to be serious. I think it’s good. I think this will elevate our candidate.”

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