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Murphy and other House Dems from Romney districts stick out in Benghazi, IRS votes

Monday, May 12th, 2014 by George Bennett

Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch (left) and Lois Frankel (center) voted with their party's leaders on Benghazi and Lois Lerner last week. Rep. Patrick Murphy (right), whose district voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, broke ranks with most Dems. (GARY CORONADO/THE PALM BEACH POST)

Only nine of the 435 districts in the House of Representatives sent a Democrat to Congress while being carried by Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 is one of those ticket-splitting districts. Voters there went 51.5 percent for Romney in 2012 while narrowly choosing Democrat Patrick Murphy over Republican Rep. Allen West.

When there’s a largely party-line vote in which a few Dems cross the aisle to join Republicans, there’s a good chance Murphy and the other Democrats from Romney districts will be among them. That was the case in last week’s votes to find former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress and to approve a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks were the latest examples.

Subscribers to can read more about it in this week’s Politics column.

Also in this week’s Politics column: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, offer different interpretations of the Benghazi vote; why an immigration reform activist who was a registered Democrat showed up at Gov. Rick Scott‘s campaign event in Greenacres.

Restore Justice leader looks to unseat Central Florida Democrat

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by John Kennedy

A Central Florida man who led an unsuccessful effort to unseat the last three Florida Supreme Court justices appointed by a Democratic governor announced Monday that he is running as a Republican for an Orlando-area House seat.

Jesse Phillips, a health care technology director, is challenging Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, who made history in 2012 when he and newly elected Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, became the first openly gay members of the Florida Legislature.

Phillips led Restore Justice 2012, which sought to defeat Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince in that year’s merit retention elections. Phillips’ campaign was supported by the Florida Republican Party, but the justices and their allies spent $5 million on a campaign that led to their easily winning new six-year terms.

Florida’s spending was third highest in the nation, according to the analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which studied election spending on courts.

The district Phillips is running in is one of Florida’s youngest, including eastern Orange County and containing the University of Central Florida, Valencia Community College East and Full Sail University.

“The time-tested principals of limited government and personal responsibility, while being in sharp contrast to the Democrats’ failed policies, will move Florida forward and improve the lives of its diverse citizens,” Phillips said.

The three justices targeted last fall were appointed by late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, with Quince named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Unseating them would have given Gov. Rick Scott a chance to appoint their successors, assuring that all seven Florida Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican governors.

Magar recovering from stroke

Monday, January 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Rep. MaryLynn Magar

Rep. MaryLynn Magar, a first-term Republican from Tequesta, is recovering from a mild stroke she suffered last week in Tallahassee, her office said Monday.

Magar, 50, was hospitalized early Wednesday and remained in a Tallahassee hospital until Saturday. She returned home and is expected to receive physical therapy for the next few weeks as she recovers.

Magar said she plans to be back at the Capitol on March 4 when the legislative session begins. She and her office plan to stay in touch with various committees and constituents until she is back in action.

In a statement, Magar said:

“I want to thank God for a loving family, a great team of health care professionals, and very supportive colleagues in the State House.

“As I begin this sprint toward recovery, I am already looking forward to my return to Tallahassee. No one wishes for this kind of injury, but God has a plan in all of life, and there is no doubt that I will be uniquely qualified to understand the struggles of those who deal with much larger disabilities than mine. Until then, I appreciate your prayers and support and look forward to seeing you in service very soon.”

About one-third of Magar’s district includes Palm Beach County, with the remainder spanning Martin County. She was elected in 2012 after defeating four Republican opponents in a primary, including former state Rep. Carl Domino of Jupiter.

Before her election, Magar was active in Martin County Republican politics for almost 20 years, and was backed by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Florida Right to Life in her 2012 campaign.

Pafford and NAACP blast Scott for voter purge

Monday, January 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy


The latest attempt by the Gov. Rick Scott administration to remove ineligible voters from the rolls drew heat Monday from the Florida NAACP and incoming House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

In a state where Democrats still hold a significant voter edge over ruling Republicans, the governor up for re-election this fall has been focused on the voter rolls since 2012. Earlier attempts to purge voter rolls have been met with lawsuits and opposition from election supervisors, but the governor ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August to renew the effort.

Detzner announced last month that the state was poised to move forward in coming weeks with a review based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.

Advocates on Monday said they have concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting elibility of many recent immigrants. NAACP officials said the move also looks designed to remove black voters from the rolls.

“It was a conspiracy then (in 2012) and it’s a conspiracy now,” said Dale Landry, a vice president with the Florida NAACP, saying the state wasted more than $100,000 on its initial attempt.

“We are doing the same thing. People need to get angry,” he added.

Pafford said the effort by the Scott administration seems “cyclical, running parallel to election cycles.”

Scott ordered Detzner to renew scrutiny of state voter rolls after the U.S. Supreme Court last summer overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act, freeing Florida and most southern states of federal oversight of their election laws.

Election Supervisors said the SAVE system is more reliable. Detzner also has said that any final decisions about a voter’s eligibility will rest with county supervisors, with anyone targeted for possible removal having plenty of opportunities to appeal a ruling.

Detzner spokeswoman Brittany Lesser said, ““Secretary Detzner worked with the Legislature last year to make effective changes to elections laws to give Florida’s eligible voters more access including increasing voting hours and expanding early voting locations. These changes will increase voter opportunities because his priority is for 100 percent of voters to vote and that zero percent fraud is found in elections. Integrity of the voter rolls must be upheld to ensure that elections are accurate, efficient and fair.”

Latvala renews crusade against legislators who lie about where they live

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Sen. Jack Latvala has renewed his crusade against what he says may be as many as 16 Florida lawmakers who don’t really live in the districts they represent.

Latvala, R-Clearwater, unveiled legislation Thursday that would require candidates for all public offices to declare a single “domicile” — with a laundry list of qualifiers that could be used to determine whether the candidate truly lives there.

“I believe that the people…expect us to live in the districts from which they elect us,” Latvala said.

Latvala has been focused on toughening the state’s residency requirement since Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, defeated his favored candidate, Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, last fall.

Sachs and her husband, condo lawyer Peter Sachs, own a home west of Boca Raton that is outside the boundaries of her Senate District 34.  As a candidate, Sachs said her actual residence was a 740-foot condo in Fort Lauderdale owned by a friend, a claim that drew more ethics and legal complaints since dismissed by the Florida Senate Rules Committee and Ethics Commission.

Sachs subsequently changed her voter registration to a two-bedroom, two-bath Delray Beach condo a few blocks from the ocean — but within District 34.

Latvala said it was “coincidental” that the half-dozen Florida lawmakers he cited as living outside their districts were all Democrats when he first began demanding a stricter standard.

On Thursday, he said that as many as 16 legislators — representing both major parties — may be claiming one address and actually living in another.

“There are people of both parties guilty of this,” Latvala said. “It’s a government trust issue.”

House sponsor is Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

Latvala, though, said the legislation being proposed may in the end not directly affect lawmakers. A joint House-Senate rule is expected to be unveiled before the session beginning in March that would incorporate many of the same qualifiers Latvala and Rodrigues seek.

Meanwhile, missing from the proposed legislation is any penalty for failing to meet the stricter standard. Latvala said that’s something that may still be added to the bill — presumably giving state attorneys some motive for pursuing residency complaints.

Republican leaders acknowledge some redistricting records destroyed

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

House and Senate Republican leaders, battling with Democrats and their allies over last year’s Senate and congressional redistricting, acknowledged in new court filings that some records that may now be sought could have been destroyed.

The courtroom clash was taken to a higher level last week when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers could be forced to testify about discussions and strategy that went into the recast political boundaries.

Democrats allege Republican leaders huddled with consultants and exchanged email in an illegal effort to keep the GOP in command of the state Legislature and congressional delegation.

But in documents filed Dec. 9 in the ongoing case in Leon County Circuit Court, attorneys for the Legislature argue that while they have already turned over 10,000 records, not everything Democrats may demand are still available.

The filing cited a House rule allowing that documents “no longer needed for any purpose . . .shall be disposed of systematically,” barring extraordinary circumstances. Legislative attorneys argued that Democrats and their allies failed to notify top lawmakers that they planned to challenge the congressional and Senate boundaries that went into effect last year.

What’s missing is unclear. But the filing suggests that emails, text messages and other communication between lawmakers are likely among the records that have been erased.

Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court already show that emails were exchanged among aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps. At the time, Gaetz and Weatherford were the redistricting chairmen of their respective chambers.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.

Weatherford, who like Gaetz is expected to be asked to give a videotaped deposition in the case, said the House did nothing wrong in its handling of redistricting documents.

“Any accusation that the Florida House of Representative thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false,” Weatherford said. “We not only complied with the letter and the spirit of the public record laws and longstanding House rules, but also went above and beyond those standards when it came to redistricting.

He added, “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents.  They should know better.”


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After tough retention fight, justices look to make it easier to collect cash

Monday, December 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Three Florida Supreme Court justices raised an unprecedented mountain of cash last year in beating back a bid to unseat them by tea party supporters and the state Republican Party.

Justices and their allies steadily ridiculed their opponents throughout the campaign for politicizing the court.

But this week, the court is poised to advance a provision which the same critics warn will inject even more politics into the judiciary, making it easier for justices to raise money and harness support for future campaigns.

“You could write a book about the hypocrisy of all this,” said Jesse Phillips, a Winter Park computer consultant who led Restore Justice 2012, the unsuccessful campaign to throw out Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis.

“We’re not the ones who raised big money. They did,” he added. “Now they’re looking to take away restrictions limiting them.”

The Supreme Court has proposed changing a judicial canon, or regulation, so that candidates on the same court who face opposition in a merit retention election could campaign together.

It’s designed to avoid the kind of awkward dance the three justices had to engage in last year – when they would try to avoid appearing together when even at the same event or fund-raiser.

Alex Villalobos, a former Miami state senator, now serves as president of Democracy At Stake, an organization formed to combat what leaders call “ongoing threats to the fairness and impartiality of the courts.”

He said justices know they are in a troubling “arms race” when it comes to fund-raising.

“You have to be prepared for a challenge,” Villalobos said. “You don’t know if it’s going to come or how. But it’s like if you put up a burglar alarm. You want to do it before your house is broken into.”

Full story here:



In November’s money race, Scott almost doubles Crist’s $3M

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Charlie Crist raised $3 million his first month as a candidate for governor, his campaign said Tuesday, the deadline for filing finance reports with the state’s Division of Elections.

Crist’s rival for the Democratic nomination, former Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, has already filed a report showing $31,230 collected for the month of November, bringing her total raised to $255,320, after being in the race more than a year-and-a-half.

Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican seeking re-election, pulled in almost $5.9 million in his Let’s Get to Work political committee in November. He’s raised almost $19.8 million this year. Scott on Tuesday also opened a conventional campaign account Tuesday for his re-election bid.


Murphy race will test Obamacare’s ‘burden on Democrats’

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 by George Bennett

Assuming the role of Pundit-in-Chief during a news conference today, President Barack Obama acknowledged the botched debut of the federal Affordable Care Act could be troublesome for Democrats.

“There is no doubt that our failure to roll out the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they’re running or not,” Obama said.

Republicans hope to prove Obama right in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional District 18, where freshman Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy campaigned last year as a supporter of Obamacare. He praised specific provisions of the law while also calling it “not perfect” and “a step in the right direction.”

In office, Murphy has voted against outright repeal of the law but has joined Republicans on some votes to delay implementation of the law’s individual and business mandates. Murphy has also signed on as one of only three Democratic co-sponsors to a bill by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich, that would allow people to keep their current health plans through the end of 2014.

Obama today announced an administrative fix that would allow insurers to continue offering plans that don’t meet Obamacare standards through the end of 2014.

Murphy today called Obama’s plan “the right thing to do,” but also said he’ll continue to support the Upton bill.

“Whether it’s a Republican or Democrat that’s got a solution, I’m on board for it. Whether it’s legislatively or through the administration….the bottom line is, we’ve got to get it right,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s aisle-crossing on some Obamacare votes doesn’t placate the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC this week released a clip of 2012 candidate Murphy voicing support for specific provisions of the law and calling the health care exchanges “the part that I especially like.”

Said NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill: “He had an opportunity to vote for the repeal of Obamacare and voted against repeal, which kept this the law of the land.”

Dems blister Scott on first day of huddles with elections chiefs

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Democrats marked the opening of discussions between state officials and county elections supervisors Thursday by condemning Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Republicans for what they call their latest attempt at voter suppression.

“They are going to use every tool at their disposal,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who is chair of the Democratic National Committee. “It’s another example of how Rick Scott and his Republican friends can’t win elections on their merits.”

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was scheduled to meet Thursday in Panama City with elections supervisors from the Panhandle as part of the agency’s revived effort to remove noncitizens and other ineligible voters from the state’s elections rolls. The state has called the review, Project Integrity.

Detzner has scheduled roundtables with county supervisors today through Oct. 9 to draw input on how to proceed. The Oct. 9 hearing is expected to draw supervisors from South Florida and is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center.

Democrats, though, say the administration’s pre-election year push unfairly targets minority voters who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Wasserman Schultz pointed out that President Obama carried 71 percent of the Hispanic vote and 95 percent of the black vote in Florida in last year’s election.

Minority and voting rights groups earlier this month called on Scott to drop the review of voter rolls, saying the database the state intends to use is flawed.

Scott plans to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — list to conduct the review. Several county election supervisors already have raised concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting eligibility of many recent immigrants.

Relying on another database, Scott last year attempted to remove noncitizens, initially disclosing a pool of 182,000 names of potential noncitizens later reduced to a list of 2,600. Those named were sent to election supervisors, who found many were in fact eligible voters.

In the end, the list of possible noncitizen voters shrank to 198. Elections officials found that about 40 had voted illegally.

A Public Policy Polling survey released this week showed Scott drawing his lowest approval ratings in Florida from Hispanic and black voters. The poll showed expected Florida Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, leading Scott by a 12-point margin if they faced off next year.

Crist draws overwhelming support from black voters and tops Scott by 12 percentage points among Hispanic voters, the poll showed.

Ethics Commission drops another complaint against Sachs

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, for failing to include a $278,000 home she owns in The Villages on financial disclosure forms filed over a six-year period has been dismissed, the Florida Commission on Ethics said Wednesday.

The commission, meeting last week, ruled that Sachs has gone back and amended the forms filed between 2006 and 2011 and the “public interest would not be served by further proceedings.”

The complaint was filed by Kenya Nelson of Delray Beach, who could not be immediately reached for comment.


Justices to decide whether lawmakers must talk about redistricting

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s ruling Republican legislators should be required to testify about whether they violated state law by secretly getting advice from party consultants before drawing new political boundaries, the Supreme Court was told Monday.

Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that there is no “legislative privilege” which shields lawmakers from giving depositions in lawsuits looking to overturn at least portions of the state’s congressional and state Senate maps approved during last year’s redistricting.

“We have great pride in being an open government state,” D’Alemberte told reporters after an almost hourlong argument before the high court. “If you now can’t get to what the Legislature did…what does that do to the core of our principles about open government. I see this as important on several different levels.”

But Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice now representing the Legislature in the case, said that Florida, like all states across the country, protect lawmakers from being forced to testify about the subjective thought process that went into passing legislation.

While Republican leaders have surrendered more than 30,000 documents as public records in the lawsuits underway, the court should not now demand that legislators testify about their actions, Cantero said.

“No court in the country has ever ordered that a legislator testify about the legislative process,” Cantero said following arguments. “If the court were to order depositions in this case, they’d be the first court in this country to do so. We just want (justices) to do what every other state has done.”


Former Brevard lawmaker, an ex-lawman, arrested for bribery

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Mitch Needelman, a former Brevard County Clerk of the Courts and a longtime state legislator, was arrested Thursday on bribery charges, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Needelman, 60, is a former Florida Marine Patrol officer, who served a decade as a Republican in the state House, representing the Melbourne area. The FDLE said that while clerk, Needelman entered into a $8.53 million contract with a company, BlueWare with the agreement that a portion of that money would be funneled back into his reelection campaign.

BlueWare won the lucrative contract to digitize Brevard County court records even though the company didn’t have the equipment to scan the documents, FDLE said. Needelman’s one-time business partner, William Matthew Dupree, a lobbyist, also was charged in the scheme.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Rose Harr, BlueWare’s chief executive officer.

“The investigation shows Needelman, Dupree and Harr swindled Brevard County taxpayers  out of millions of dollars,” said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.  “Although not the final chapter, today’s arrests should present a degree of satisfaction to Brevard County taxpayers.”

Needelman lost his re-election bid in last summer’s primary for court clerk. Before leaving office, Needelman obtained a $5.6 million loan through the clerk’s office that was steered to BlueWare — cash Brevard taxpayers are now obligated to repay, FDLE said.

While the alleged bribery was underway, BlueWare also was poised to rake in more cash from the state, according to the watchdog group Integrity Florida.

Enterprise Florida, the state’s development arm, offered BlueWare $760,000 tax refund last year and a separate $550,000 from the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund on the promise the company would create 190 new jobs.

Enterprise Florida, however, said Thursday that no state money has gone to BlueWare because the job-creating milestones had not been met.

Russia reset: In Boca Raton, Obama declared ‘the Cold War’s been over for 20 years’

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 by George Bennett

President Barack Obama‘s cancellation of next month’s Moscow summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin confirms a souring of relations between the superpowers on issues ranging from Syria to arms control to the temporary asylum that Russia recently granted American national security secrets-leaker Edward Snowden.

For those (including PostOnPolitics) who view the sweep of history through a Palm Beach County lens, it also brings to mind the memorable exchange on Russia in last year’s foreign policy debate between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney at Lynn University in Boca Raton.

Said Obama: “Gov. Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that Al Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaida; you said Russia, and the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years. But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”

Murphy to hold his first town hall meeting via phone on Thursday

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 by George Bennett

Freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, will hold a town hall-style teleconference with constituents on Thursday at 6 p.m.

Automated phone calls will go out to thousands of residents of Murphy’s Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 inviting them to participate in the teleconference. Constituents can also sign up to participate by clicking here before noon on Thursday.

It’s Murphy’s first town hall-type meeting with constituents since taking office. Former Rep. Allen West, the Republican who narrowly lost to Murphy last November, held two in-person town halls each month with constituents.

West’s events routinely packed hundreds into meeting halls. Proponents of the teleconference format say it allows a member of Congress to reach thousands of constituents.

Said Murphy spokeswoman Erin Moffet Hale: “This is his first telephone town hall and while he has not held any events labeled a ‘town hall’ to date, he has participated in almost 200 public events that are more personal in nature, allowing for better constituent outreach and communication than a large ‘town hall’ event would foster.”

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.”

Democrat Rich pledges to repeal same-sex marriage ban

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich sent out a fund-raising appeal Tuesday pledging to erase Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.

Rich, who badly trails potential Democratic rivals Charlie Crist and Alex Sink in polls, targets Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s defense of the marriage ban in a blast email to supporters.

“The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision before Gov. Scott announced he supports continuing Florida’s ban of same-sex marriage,” Rich said. “Well…I do not.

“As governor, I will work to pass a new constitutional amendment that will allow Florida to join the rapidly growing ranks of marriage equality states,” she said.

Equal Marriage Florida last week began work on gathering the more than 680,000 petition signatures needed for a proposed constitutional amendment erasing the gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.

The effort was launched just days before U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for California to become the 13th state in the nation where same-sex couples can legally marry.

Florida’s iniative faces enormous odds in even making it to the ballot. But if it did share space with the governor’s race on the November 2014 ballot, the proposed constitutional amendment is seen by many experts as likely driving Democratic turnout.

Another gay advocacy organization, Equality Florida, has warned against moving too quickly with a ballot proposal. Instead, Equality Florida has begun seeking same-sex couples willing to lend their name to a legal effort challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2008 ban.

Crist, the former Republican governor now a Democrat emerging as the front-runner to challenge Scott, lin May endorsed gay marriage – despite signing the 2006 petition for a constitutional ban and reaffirming his opposition in 2008.


Ethics complaint filed against Sachs over residency

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sen. Maria Sachs has been hit with an ethics complaint accusing her of lying about where she lives.

Matthew Feiler, a Tamarac resident, filed the complaintcomplaint on Thursday, accusing Sachs, who was elected to the Broward-Palm Beach District 34 seat in November after a brutal election against Republican former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, of falsifying public documents and violating state law requiring that lawmakers live in the districts they represent.

Sachs, whose district office is in Delray Beach, claims she lives in a Fort Lauderdale condo owned by lobbyist pal Judy Stern. But the complaint alleges she actually lives at a $1.5 million estate in Boca Raton owned by the former prosecutor and her husband Peter.

The complaint was filed after a WPLG Miami “Local 10″ investigation by Bob Norman. Private investigators videotaped Sachs arriving at her Boca home and leaving in the morning. The conservative website “Media Trackers” first questioned Sachs’s living arrangements in April.

The dispute about Sach’s living arrangements came up during hearings on Stern’s daughter Barbra’s appointment by Gov. Rick Scott to the state Elections Commission. Barbra Stern is part-owner of the condo Sachs claims is her home.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee signed off on Barbra Stern’s appointment, but only after Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, questioned Stern of Fort Lauderdale — about her ownership interest in the unit. Stern at the time said her mother paid the bills on the unit, that she hadn’t visited the condo for years and she had no idea who lived there.

The Sachs-Bogdanoff battle was one of the most expensive – and ugliest- state Senate races last year. Republicans had hoped to keep Bogdanoff in the Senate in the newly-drawn district, but Sachs’s victory helped Democrats gain two seats in the chamber.

Wednesday’s complaint is Sachs’ latest ethics challenge. The commission found probable cause earlier this month that Sachs failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condo along with her state legislative income on three years’ worth of financial disclosures. The panel decided not to punish her because she amended the forms.

SCOTUS ruling overturning Florida justices carries echo of ballot fight

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday overturning Florida justices in favor of a Central Florida landowner was hailed by conservatives, some of whom helped push an unsuccesful drive last fall to recast the state’s high court.

Americans for Prosperity, which helped fuel the Restore Justice 2012 effort that attempted to unseat Florida Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis were among those endorsing Tuesday’s 5-4 decision in Washington.

The 2011 Florida Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, although opponents of the three justices facing merit retention last fall cast it as an example of the trio’s activism. In social media postings, Restore Justice 2012 warned that the seven-member court had “not respected your property rights.”

Federal justices, though, sided with the family of the late Coy Koontz, saying they could continue their two-decade dispute with the St. Johns Water Management District over a 15-acre tract of Orange County land. Water management officials declared much of the property wetlands and stopped development, also ordering Koontz to pay money to protect wetlands elsewhere.

Koontz refused and sued and a trial court said he should receive $327,500 for being unable to use his property. But the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 overturned that ruling, saying the regulatory action was within its authority.

But on Tuesday, the five more conservative justices on the court sided with Koontz. The four liberal and moderate justices sided with the role of goverment in land-use regulations.

The legal issue was whether the agency’s action constituted a “taking” subject to compensation, under the so-called takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner giving up the use of some property absent a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use. He said this applied even if the permit were denied, and the demand was for money.


Documents show more map exchanges between GOP and consultants

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Documents released Thursday in a wide-ranging lawsuit over last year’s redistricting effort raise more questions about communication between Florida Republicans and party consultants over proposed maps, possibly in violation of the state constitution.

In a deposition given last month, campaign consultant Marc Reichelderfer acknowledged having received draft versions of proposed congressional redistricting plans from Kirk Pepper, a top aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Reichelderfer received seven proposed maps in a Dropbox account, two weeks before they were made public.

In his deposition, Reichelderfer was asked, “You got them for a reason, isn’t that right?”

The consultant responded, “I assume it was for a reason.”

Asked if it was to determine how the maps performed, politically, Reichelderfer said, “I could have done that, yes, sir.”

Democratic-allied voter groups want congressional and legislative maps thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

The Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and individual voters organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.


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