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Turf war escalates as 2 Florida health care inspectors ‘escorted out’ of VA hospital, official says

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by George Bennett

Gov. Rick Scott speaking outside Riviera Beach VA hospital on Tuesday.

Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Sec. Liz Dudek accused the federal Department of Veterans Affairs of a “lack of transparency” today after she said two AHCA inspectors were denied access to records at the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach.

Responding to reports of veteran deaths and injuries caused by delays in diagnostic testing in the VA region that includes Florida, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday asked AHCA to inspect VA hospitals in the state. Dudek said AHCA sent two surveyors to the the hospital in Riviera Beach to conduct an onsite review.

“This morning, two surveyors went to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center at 10:15 a.m. and were escorted out around 11:15 after being declined the opportunity to review any records at that time,” a statement from Dudek said. “They were told an official response would be provided from the VA’s national office in Washington D.C.”

VA spokeswoman Mary Goodman said the agency will cooperate with AHCA, but could not do so today.

“VA is working with Governor Scott’s office to address his concerns. This was an unannounced inspection. Due to federal guidelines and the Privacy Act considerations, we cannot disclose patient information,” Goodman said.

The Riviera Beach visit was the only one AHCA attempted today.

“All of our inspections are unannounced so I cannot say whether there will be any other visits,” AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said.

CNN reported last year that delays in simple gastrointestinal procedures, such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy, were causing veterans to die from cancer that was detected too late. Last week, The Tampa Tribune reported that five of those deaths occurred between 2009 and 2011 in the VA region that includes Florida, southern Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson have criticized VA officials for not providing more specific information on where the deaths occurred. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced legislation in February making it easier for the VA secretary to fire any senior officials who are deemed responsible.

Dudek added her voice to the criticism today.

“Florida’s veterans who have so bravely fought to defend and protect our nation deserve quality health care, and I am disappointed in the federal government’s lack of transparency to this point. We look forward to hearing back from the VA very soon so we can continue the dialogue about how the Agency can review their processes so any shortcomings can be promptly identified and addressed,” Dudek said.

In wake of preventable veteran deaths, Rubio touts legislation to hold top VA officials accountable

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by George Bennett

Sen. Marco Rubio joined House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, today to tout legislation that would allow the Veterans Affairs secretary more authority to fire or demote senior VA employees based on performance.

The bill was introduced in February in response to reports of a persistent disability benefits backlog and preventable veteran deaths at VA medical centers across the country due to delays in basic diagnostic testing.

The issue has received renewed attention over the last week after the Tampa Tribune reported that VA officials wouldn’t reveal details on five veteran deaths in the region that includes Florida. Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson have pressed VA officials to provide more information.

Democratic dudgeon: Nelson, House members blast Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 by George Bennett

In this photo provided by Rep. Ted Deutch's office, the congressman criticizes the McCutcheon ruling while People For the American Way field director Diallo Brooks holds the electronic bullhorn outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down limits on the total amount of federal campaign contributions a donor can give, prompting criticism from Democrats.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and three Democratic members of Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation slammed the McCutcheon vs. FEC ruling. Donors still cannot give more than $5,200 to a federal candidate ($2,600 for a primary and $2,600 for a general election), but today’s ruling eliminates a federal law that capped overall donations to candidates at $48,600 and limited aggregate donations to political parties and committees at $74,600.

The Democratic dudgeon begins after the jump…


Democrat Crist to speak and sign books at Forum Club; appeared as Republican non-author in 2009

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 by George Bennett


Former Gov. Charlie Crist will speak and sign books at an April 14 Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch at the Kravis Center.

Crist has appeared at the Forum Club before, but this will be his first time as a Democrat. He’s the Democratic frontrunner for the nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November.

Crist spoke to the nonpartisan luncheon society in January 2009 as Florida’s Republican governor. Foreshadowing his eventual split with the GOP, Crist in that appearance expressed optimism about the Democratic stimulus package taking shape in Washington under recently inaugurated President Barack Obama.

Crist was also scheduled to speak to the club in 2010 as a no-party candidate for U.S. Senate in a debate with Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek. But Crist pulled out the day before because of a union picket of the Kravis Center. Meek also canceled.

Tickets for Crist’s speech are $35 for Forum Club members; $45 for guest tickets ordered by members; $45 for club applicant; and $60 for the general public. For tickets, call Forum Club Administrator Wendy Norris: (561) 881-9977. Mail checks to: P.O. Box 14877, North Palm Beach, FL 33408.

After the speech, Barnes & Noble will hold a book sale and signing of Crist’s book The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.

Scott blasts feds on veteran deaths, wants state to inspect VA hospitals

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by George Bennett

With Riviera Beach VA Hospital in background, Gov. Rick Scott is flanked by Air Force Brigadier Gen. Chip Diehl (left) and Col. Chris Hart

RIVIERA BEACH — Accusing the federal government of “outrageous” stonewalling on deaths at Veterans Affairs hospitals, Gov. Rick Scott this morning said he’s asking the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to inspect veterans hospitals in the state.

The Tampa Tribune reported that delays in diagnostic testing contributed to the deaths of 19 veterans nationwide, including five in the VA region that includes Florida. But the VA has not provided further details.

“The federal government’s not answering the questions: Where did these deaths happen? What facility? What caused it? What’s the process to improve it? We deserve those answers,” Scott said during a brief appearance with the Riviera Beach VA Hospital in the background. “It’s outrageous that the federal government is not giving us those answers.”

Scott’s office released a letter to AHCA Secretary Elizabeth Dudek asking her agency to inspect VA hospitals in the state and “publicly report these findings and ultimately drive the high-quality care Florida veterans deserve.”

Click here to read Scott’s letter.

‘Congressman who can count’? Blackjack player Schlesinger puts different spin on CPA Murphy slogan

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 by George Bennett

When Democrat Patrick Murphy ran for Congress in 2012 against Republican Rep. Allen West, he contrasted his experience as a Certified Public Accountant with West’s reputation for polarizing rhetoric.

“We need a few more people in Congress who can count, and a few less who divide,” Murphy said in one campaign ad.

Two years later, half a dozen Republicans are hoping to unseat freshman Rep. Murphy in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18. One of the Republican hopefuls is Alan Schlesinger, a former legislator and mayor in Connecticut who’s also a card counter at blackjack.

“Isn’t it about time we have a congressman who can count?” Schlesinger quipped last week.

Stories about Schlesinger’s gambling caused some problems for his 2006 campaign for Senate in Connecticut. Subscribers to can read Schlesinger’s explanation in this week’s Politics column.

Digital duel: Crist and Scott release new online ads while Scott has TV to himself

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 by George Bennett

Charlie Crist’s new digital ad (above) and Rick Scott’s latest online offering (below).

With Republican Gov. Rick Scott already spending $4 million on statewide TV buys, Democrat Charlie Crist countered today by spending “thousands of dollars” on a digital ad that attacks Scott and defends the federal health care law.

Scott released a new digital ad as well today, this one featuring a 20-year-old cancer patient who says Scott “supports people like me” by backing funding for cancer research. The Republican Party of Florida says the new Facebook ad is “part of a more than $350,000 buy to promote Governor Scott’s message” in addition to his spending on TV.


Sanctions backer Frankel tells broker to unload $4,276 in Russian holdings in her IRA

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by George Bennett

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, who joined colleagues on the House Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday in approving a sanctions bill against Russia for its Ukrainian aggression, said today she has asked her broker to get rid of holdings in six Russian companies that a Morgan Stanley account manager purchased for her Individual Retirement Account.

The Russian holdings of Frankel and five other members of Congress were noted by The Huffington Post Tuesday.

“I support, and voted for, the bipartisan sanctions against Russia for their aggressive actions against Ukraine,” Frankel said in a statement released today.

“My holdings were purchased by a Morgan Stanley Account Manager, for many clients, long before the current crisis and are among hundreds of stocks in said portfolio that are managed by that manager. The total value of these Russian-related positions have a total value of $4,276. I have requested my broker to liquidate those interests forthwith,” Frankel said.

Official event, political gaggle: Scott to rip Crist on tuition in Tampa

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by George Bennett

Gov. Rick Scott to visit Tampa for official event, political shot at Charlie Crist.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s official schedule for today includes a 2 p.m. “college affordability roundtable” at a high school in Tampa.

Scott’s re-election campaign this morning sent out advance notice that Scott will “swing at Charlie Crist on tuition hikes” at the high school. The campaign even offered a “sneak peek” at what the Republican governor will say about his likely Democratic rival, who was once a Republican governor himself.

So is the Tampa visit an official event or a political one?


Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz confirmed the college affordability roundtable is an official event.

Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said the scripted Crist-bashing will be separate.

“He will deliver those remarks at a gaggle afterward,” Blair said.

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp called it a “two-step: the taxpayers pay and Scott advances his re-election.”

David Beckham visit to Tallahassee triggers #selfie mania

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 by George Bennett

David Beckham with Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Ann Scott in the Capitol in Tallahassee today.

David Beckham is visiting Tallahassee today to seek state aid for a proposed stadium in Miami, prompting Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and others to get photos with the soccer legend.

Scott posted a photo of himself with Beckham on Twitter and tweeted another one with himself, wife Ann Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera with Beckham.

Plenty of others around the Capitol did likewise…


Lopez-Cantera says ‘no basis’ for claim Scott staffers used Mexican accents

Monday, March 24th, 2014 by George Bennett

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said today there is “no basis” for a Miami Herald report that staffers for Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election campaign joked in a “cartoon-style Mexican accent” while heading to an event at a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables.

The incident was cited as one of the frustrations expressed by health care executive Mike Fernandez before resigning as Scott’s finance chairman last week. With Scott and Republicans trying to improve upon the GOP’s dismal standing with Hispanic voters, Democrats pounced on the report over the weekend.

Lopez-Cantera participated in a conference call with reporters this morning to tout a new $2 million statewide TV ad purchase by the pro-Scott “Let’s Get To Work” committee that hits likely Democratic rival Charlie Crist for supporting the Affordable Care Act. But the call ended after three reporters asked about Fernandez’ departure and the Mexican-accent controversy.

“Mr. Fernandez left to spend more time with his family,” Lopez-Cantera said in response to a query from “This is a diverse organization that we have here and I am confident that there’s no basis for any of that…This is a diverse organization and we don’t tolerate inappropriate comments and I don’t believe they even happened.”

When a second reporter raised the issue, Lopez-Cantera said: “There is no validity that we can find to any of those comments or what was written.”

When a third reporter asked, Lopez-Cantera said he was there to talk about the new ad and “I have already answered the questions on the other Herald thing.”

A moderator then announced the call was over.

Competing endorsement parades in race for Palm Beach County circuit judge

Monday, March 24th, 2014 by George Bennett

Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, County Mayor Priscilla Taylor, former County Commissioners Burt Aaronson and Karen Marcus, state Sen. Jeff Clemens and former State Attorney Barry Krischer are among the political figures taking sides in the race for an open circuit judgeship.

Judicial candidates can’t attend most partisan meetings, speak on issues that might come before them on the bench or solicit campaign contributions. So endorsements take on heightened importance. Attorneys Samantha Schosberg Feuer and Jaimie Goodman, two of the four candidates running for the seat of retiring Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown, have been lining up teams of supporters to appeal to voters and raise money.

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

Obamacare’s 4th anniversary: Wasserman Schultz praises ‘historic milestone,’ Rubio calls it ‘disaster’

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 by George Bennett

Today marks the fourth anniversary of President Barack Obama‘s signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law that continues to spark fierce political debate.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who’s also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, marked the occasion with a statement praising the law as “a major, historic milestone on the journey to build a more perfect Union.”

Said Wasserman Schultz: “The law has already benefited millions of Americans, and will continue to do so as enrollment increases, full benefits are realized, and the cost curve bends even further. There is no getting around these facts for the detractors and naysayers who are incapable of accepting Obamacare as the law of the land and instead continue to put politics before people.

Those “detractors and naysayers” include Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who also issued a statement marking Obamacare’s fourth anniversary.

Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, called the law a “disaster” and pledged to continue fighting to get it overturned.

“We cannot give up on our efforts, not just to completely repeal Obamacare, but to replace it with real market-based solutions that allow every single American to have the ability to buy affordable health insurance that meets their needs, and to buy it from any company in America that will sell it to them. We’re going to have a chance to achieve that soon. We cannot give up. ObamaCare is not something that’s set in stone. It can be repealed —and Americans increasingly want it to be repealed — and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

A average of polling data on the health care law shows 38.9 percent of Americans support it and 53.6 percent are opposed.

Obama to Democratic donors in Miami: ‘America is on our side…but in midterms we get clobbered’

Friday, March 21st, 2014 by George Bennett

President Barack Obama greets Sen. Bill Nelson in Orlando Thursday before heading to Miami for a pair of fundraisers. Grace Nelson and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer look on. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

With Democrats facing a tough political climate as the 2014 midterm elections approach, President Barack Obama offered some reassurance and warning Thursday to donors who paid $16,200 apiece to join him for dinner at former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning‘s house.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and other Democratic House members were among the crowd of about 75 at the event in the village of Pinecrest near Miami.

“Now, the good news is on every individual issue, America is on our side,” Obama said, according to a White House transcript released late Thursday night.

Obama mentioned the minimum wage, immigration reform and “whether or not it’s a good thing to invest in early childhood education” as examples of issues where the public agrees with Democrats, but didn’t cite his signature health care law and its double-digit negative ratings in many polls.

While arguing Democrats have an issue advantage, Obama acknowledged his party faces a challenging year.

“So the problem is not that the American people disagree with us on the issues,” Obama said. “The challenge is, is that our politics in Washington have become so toxic that people just lose faith and finally they just say, you know what, I’m not interested, I’m not going to bother, I’m not going to vote.”


House party time: Obama, Nan Rich visit same Miami Zip code later today

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by George Bennett

Alonzo Mourning (AP)

Things will be hopping in the village of Pinecrest near Miami later today when Democratic governor candidate Nan Rich visits a “Stand With Nan” house party and President Barack Obama swoops in to attend a $16,200-a-head fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning‘s house.

Rich’s event and the DCCC fundraiser are 1.2 miles apart.

Rich’s main rival for the Democratic nomination, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, is expected to join Obama during his visit today, though it’s unclear whether he’ll be at the DCCC event near Rich. Obama is also dropping in on a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at an undisclosed location in the Miami area.

“It’s well known that the President and Governor Crist are personal friends. He enjoys spending time with him – will today, and will in the future,” Crist spokesman Kevin Cate said.

Dr. Ben Carson, mentioned as possible GOP presidential candidate, isn’t a registered Republican

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 by George Bennett

Dr. Ben Carson, registered Palm Beach County voter

Dr. Ben Carson‘s conservative speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast with President Barack Obama on stage has led to suggestions from the right that he run for president in 2016.

With his appearances at conservative and Republican events (including last month’s Palm Beach County GOP Lincoln Day dinner), it’s widely assumed that the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon would be a GOP candidate if he decides to run.

That would require a party switch. Carson — who moved to West Palm Beach and registered to vote in Palm Beach County last year — is registered to vote with the obscure Independence Party of Florida, according to the county elections office.

Carson was slated to speak at an Area Agency on Aging fundraiser in West Palm Beach on Thursday, but the event has been postponed until the fall, agency CEO Jaime Estremera-Fitzgerald said.

Carson finished third in this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll with 9 percent — putting him ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and other nationally known Republicans. A “Dr. Ben Carson for President” Facebook page has more than 74,000 followers.

Obama to speak on economy in Orlando, raise money at Alonzo Mourning’s house in Miami

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by George Bennett

President Barack Obama will speak about the economy on Thursday afternoon at Valencia College in Orlando, then head to Miami for fundraisers that include a $16,200-a-head Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event at the home of former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, helped organize the DCCC fundraiser, which will also feature House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y.

The event’s $16,200 price tag includes a cocktail reception, photo opportunity and dinner.

Obama also visited Mourning’s house for a 2010 fundraiser for the DCCC and former Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton.

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, plans to attend the Thursday fundraiser but Reps. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, do not.

Candidate returns $1,000 contribution from board member who made sarcastic Hitler gesture

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by George Bennett

This gesture by Wellington planning board member Marcia Radosevich led to her resignation from the board and prompted Democratic county commission candidate Melissa McKinlay to refund a $1,000 contribution Radosevich gave in November.

Palm Beach County’s most famous municipal planning board member, Marcia Radosevich, gave $1,000 to Democratic county commission candidate Melissa McKinlay in November and hosted a fundraiser for McKinlay last month.


But after Radosevich sparked controversy by giving a sarcastic Hitler salute to a village staffer during a public meeting (click here for the video), McKinlay returned the $1,000 check and scrubbed a Facebook post that highlighted the fundraiser at Radosevich’s house.

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


Also in the Politics column: Round 3 of Kimberly Mitchell mayoral speculation in West Palm Beach, why Roberto Clemente was invoked at a recent county commission meeting and what Chelsea Clinton and Marco Rubio have in common this week.

2016 watch: Marco Rubio, Ben Carson speak in Palm Beach County next week

Friday, March 14th, 2014 by George Bennett

Sen. Marco Rubio in Miami last month.

Republican Sen. and 2016 White House speculation magnet Marco Rubio will speak at a Palm Beach Republican Club meeting on Wednesday.

Rubio isn’t the only subject of 2016 Republican presidential chatter who’ll be speaking in Palm Beach County next week. Dr. Ben Carson — the retired neurosurgeon who’s been a conservative favorite since delivering a 2013 National Prayer Breakfast speech with President Barack Obama on stage — will be the keynoter next Thursday at a fundraising lunch to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the nonprofit Area Agency on Aging.

The Rubio event at the Colony Hotel costs $50 for Palm Beach Republican Club members and $55 for others. More information is available here.

Tickets for the Area Agency on Aging luncheon at the Kravis Center start at $250 . More information is available here.

Chelsea Clinton headlines Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County event for $1,000+ donors

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 by George Bennett

Chelsea Clinton

Chelsea Clinton will speak at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach next week to raise money for the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.

The only daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now 34. She’s married to Marc Mezvinsky, the son of a former Pennsylvania congresswoman who was voted out of office in 1994 after casting a crucial vote for Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget.

According to the Jewish Federation’s website, tickets to the March 18 event require a minimum family gift of $1,000 to the Federation, plus $125 for tickets for those 36 and older and $85 for tickets for those 35 and younger.

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