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Near the land where dreams come true, CannaBiz Day to take place

Monday, May 12th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Steve DeAngelo, medical marijuana leader, will speak at CannaBiz Day in Orlando

With the Republican-led Legislature recently approving a measure legalizing a strain of medical marijuana in Florida, there is certainly something different in the political air.

Next month, the business-side of the marijuana industry will gather in Orlando for the state’s first CannaBiz Day — June 6.

Organizers said the event at the Royal Caribe Hotel, just down the road from DisneyWorld, will feature business owners, legal, real estate and finance professionals with real-world cannabis business experience. Also expected to attend are activists and policy makers involved in Florida’s marijuana movement.

Keynote speaker is Steve DeAngelo, who operates Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Cal. Harborside was a pioneer in treating children suffering from severe epilepsy with the non-euphoric marijuana oil now dubbed Charlotte’s Web, which Florida lawmakers have approved for epilepsy and cancer victims.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign the legislation into law.

Much of the one-day session, though, also will focus on the more sweeping medical marijuana initiative that is set to go on Florida’s November ballot as a constitutional amendment. That measure could broaden the use and cultivation of medical marijuana in the state.


Does GOP help Scott’s re-elect by adding new pages to playbook? (w/vid of session’s last night)

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 by John Kennedy

After years of budget-cutting and strict social policies, Florida’s ruling Republicans worked to soften some edges during the just-completed legislative session with steps that appear designed to bolster Gov. Rick Scott for a bruising re-election battle.

The $77.1 billion state budget approved by lawmakers late Friday is the largest in state history, filled with increased dollars for schools and environmental programs, and chocked with hometown spending on social services, museums, theaters and local government projects.

Full story here:

$100K contribution among roadblocks on path to Charlotte’s Web

Monday, April 28th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Senate approved legislation Monday authorizing the use of a marijuana strain for treating victims of severe epilepsy, with several families and children suffering from the illness looked on from the gallery.

The so-called Charlotte’s Web legislation has drawn the blessing of Republican leaders in the Legislature but still faces an uncertain outcome as lawmakers lurch toward a scheduled Friday adjournment.

Some Republican leaders see it as potentially dulling support for a November ballot measure that would go further and legalize medical marijuana.

But the measure has become troubled since major Republican donor Mel Sembler, an opponent of softening marijuana laws, opened a political spending committee called Drug Free Florida with a $100,000 donation last month.

Soon after, Gov. Rick Scott’s Surgeon General, John Armstrong, testified before a House committee raising concerns with the legislation.

Some senators Monday traced their personal histories with the legislation, saying they came around to backing the proposal (CS/SB 1030) only after meeting with the parents seeking help for children with Dravet Syndrome, a severe epilepsy which affects 125,000 Florida youngsters.

The Senate approved authorizing doctors to prescribe the marijuana strain on a 36-3 vote.

“This is it,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. “These folks are at the end of the line. We’re just trying to bring hope to these families.”

Tributes to Askew recall his legacy, tone of leadership

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy


Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, dead at 85

Tributes have been pouring in following the death early Thursday of former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, remembered for having brought what one termed “moral leadership” to the state during his years in office.

Askew, a Democrat who served from 1971 to 1979, was 85. He died in Tallahassee.

“Gov. Askew served our nation as a veteran, he served Florida’s families as an elected officeholder, and he served our children as an educator,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “He helped lead Florida to enormous growth and was a trailblazer for good government. His advocacy for Florida’s sunshine laws was a landmark moment for ethics and transparency in government, and that legacy continues to endure.”

Scott ordered flags at public buildings to be placed at half-staff Thursday in Askew’s honor.

Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant called Askew “a giant of Florida history, whose unparalleled accomplishments for the people of Florida set the example all Floridians elected to public office strive to meet. We will miss his wisdom, his friendship, and his leadership in difficult times.”

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat challenging Scott, said, “Gov. Askew opened up government to the people, allowing our state to be progressive on critical issues like civil rights, education, and ethics. He was a public servant, a teacher of students, and now a lesson of hope and progress forever sketched into the history of our beautiful state. “

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also said that Askew set a tone that still resonates for today’s state leaders.

“In Governor Askew, Florida has lost a leader who embodied what it means to be a true public servant,” Weatherford said. “Governor Askew leaves behind a legacy of public service that has set the standard for all individuals in elected office today. His tenure includes opening up government and creating new reporting standards for elected officials, which still serve Florida well.”

Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry added, “Gov. Askew was an outstanding public servant, upon whose shoulders others have stood to carry on his legacy of good and transparent government.

“He was a family man, an educator, a veteran of our armed forces, and a man of unmatched integrity. We mourn the passing of this great leader, but more importantly, celebrate his life and the way in which he committed it to public service,” Curry said.



At capital book-signing, Crist says veto pen would be mightier than GOP disdain

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Near the midpoint of a three-week tour, former Gov. Charlie Crist came to Tallahassee to sign copies of his new book Thursday for a few dozen fans about three miles from the state Capitol.

Maybe it was the location. But questions from reporters soon had the ex-Republican-turned-Democrat theorizing about how he would lead in a state Legislature dominated by the GOP and where many from his former party detest him.

Asked how he’d work with the Legislature, Crist responded:

“I think very effectively,” Crist said. “One of the very first things I did when I was elected governor before was reach out to the other party….You reach out. You cooperate. You keep the conversation going. It’s amazing what good things can happen.”

Crist also shrugged off the depth of the hard feelings among Republicans. If elected, the governor gets the wield the power of his veto pen and that can change everything, he said.

“Well, if we’re fortunate enough to win, those difficult feelings have a way of warming,” Crist said. “Because, if you win, then you have a pen. And that can warm their feelings.”

The Tallahassee Books-A-Million stop was Crist’s fourth on an nine-city tour that is scheduled to bring him to the Classic Bookshop in Palm Beach on Wednesday, promoting his new, ““The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.”

He’s also been on national TV talking about his conversion to the Democratic Party and emergence s the frontrunner in this fall’s governor’s race against Republican Rick Scott.

In Tallahassee and along his tour, bad feelings between Crist and Republicans aren’t hard to gauge. They are manifested in Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry, who showed up at the Thursday  evening book-signing, just as he has at all but one other of the stops.

“We just have to set the record straight,” Curry said. “He clearly will say or do anything this election cycle to get elected. But what’s notably absent from his message is job creation or what he would do for education. Charlie is the self-proclaimed happy warrior…but he’s attacking like a party chairman would attack.”

Crist did declare that “education is a very keen interest of mine.” But he sidestepped a question about the level of funding for charter schools — which acknowledging that he supported them when he was in the Legislature. He also said he wanted to know more about House Speaker Will Weatherford’s call for sharply expanding a corporate voucher program.

As a Republican, Crist used to support the Tax Credit Scholarship Program started by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“I’ll have to look at it, to be honest with you. They change things around pretty fast,” Crist said of his former Republican colleagues.

Scott’s re-election team taking shape

Friday, January 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign team took shape Friday, with the unveiling of a host of top positions.

Melissa Sellers, communications director in the governor’s office, is leaving that job Friday to become Scott’s campaign manager. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who was eyed as a possible running mate for Scott, will instead do double duty in the largely ceremonial role of campaign chairman.

Campaign finance co-chairs will be Mike Fernandez and Darlene Jordan. Fernandez runs MBF Healthcare Partners, a Coral Gables-based equity company and a major Scott donor. Jordan, a Palm Beach Preservation Foundation trustee, is a former Boston prosecutor who runs the financial firm,  Hellman, Jordan Management Co., with her husband, Jerry.

Fernandez and Jordan will be titular leaders of Scott’s effort to raise what he has promoted as a $100 million re-election campaign.

Among others named: Matt Moon, who will be switching from his communications director role with the Florida Republican Party to the same post with Scott Re-Elect. Taking his place in the Florida GOP will be Susan Hepworth, lately the party’s press secretary.

In another move from party to campaign, Tim Saler, lately a Florida GOP strategist, will become Sellers’ deputy manager in charge of media and voter outreach programs.

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 Crist v. Scott contest, fund-raising so far is no contest

Monday, December 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

A key money-raiser from Charlie Crist’s Republican days tipped his hat last week after a political committee backing Crist’s Democratic bid for governor topped $1.2 million in contributions in its first month.

“I think Charlie’s done very, very well in a short period of time,” Tallahassee lobbyist and Republican fundraiser Brian Ballard said of Crist.

“I think the realities are, though, that he is up against probably the best fundraiser in Florida history in Rick Scott,” Ballard added.

Indeed, while the Charlie Crist For Florida committee had an impressive November debut, the committee supporting Republican Gov. Scott’s re-election, called Let’s Get To Work, collected more than $5.8 million during the month.

Scott spent $73 million of his family’s money to get elected in 2010, but he’s been raising money from others this time around. The nearly $25 million that Let’s Get To Work has raised since Scott took office does not include any money from Scott or his wife’s trust fund, which were the main suppliers of his 2010 cash.

Scott’s November haul came from more than 400 contributors. The Crist committee had 45 donors in its first month.

Full story here:


Ex-GOP boss’s lawyer is slapped by Florida Bar

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Damon Chase, a prominent Central Florida lawyer who represented former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, has been ordered to be reprimanded by the Florida Bar Board of Governors for failing to supervise an associate and also sending a potentially threatening email to a client.

Chase, of Lake Mary, also is required to attend the Bar’s Ethics School and send letters apologizing to the clients he apparently offended by his behavior in a complicated real estate case in 2010.

One of the letters will go to the sister of a client who, during  a meeting, asked him to stop reviewing email. He responded, “F— you,” according to the Florida Bar.

In its findings, made public Wednesday, the Bar concluded that Chase, “recognizes that his conduct has damaged the public’s perception of lawyers. (He also) has fully accepted responsibility for the misconduct and is not blaming others for what occurred. He has learned from this experience and has taken steps to ensure that he does not engage in similar misconduct in the future, such as educating himself as it relates to stress management and dealing with difficult personalities.”

Chase is an outspoken lawyer who dragged himself up from a youth marked by criminal arrests and generally bad conduct. He was an aggressive advocate for Greer, who is now serving an 18-month prison term for stealing $125,000 from the Florida Republican Party while serving as its chairman.

Greer was hand-picked to be party boss by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott next year. Greer pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering.

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.”


Dems launch digital blast of Scott

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Democratic Party has launched a low-budget, online campaign against Gov. Rick Scott — slapping at his performance and policies in newspaper web ads and on social media sites.

The centerpiece of the effort is a website, that blisters Scott for cuts in public education, rising university tuition, immigration and alleged cronyism at Citizens Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer.

“It’s a way for us to reach millions of grassroots activists across the state,”  said Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux in a conference call Thursday with reporters. “It gets the real word out about Rick Scott.”

The summer-before-election-year effort has a partisan parallel.  The Florida Republican Party’s relentless, ‘This Day in Crist-ory’ effort features daily e-mails which highlight the then-and-now policy stances of Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor turned Democrat who is now seen as an almost certain Scott re-election rival.

Republicans also have a website to ridicule Crist:



Florida GOP urges Dems to #FreeNanRich

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Republican Party has stepped-up its pot-stirring in the Democratic Party kerfuffle over gubernatorial contender Nan Rich being denied a speaking spot at the upcoming Jefferson-Jackson dinner.

State GOP Chairman Lenny Curry sent letters Thursday to 13,000 South Florida Democrats urging them to mount a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #FreeNanRich.

Curry accused his Democratic counterpart, Allison Tant, of bowing to the wishes of big contributors who are uneasy with the liberal bent of the former state senator from Weston.

Curry also said that Tant is looking to head-off a potential Democratic primary challenge to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat gaining behind-the-scenes support from many party leaders.

Tant and her advisers have said she denied Rich’s request for five-minutes to speak from the podium at next month’s dinner because she is trying to streamline the event’s agenda. The Jefferson-Jackson gala is scheduled to take place at Hollywood’s Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa.

Curry said in his letter, “While Senator Rich and I might not see eye to eye politically, she has a long history of leadership in public service and deserves five minutes of speaking time as the only announced gubernatorial candidate in your party.”


Redistricting redux: Florida justices asked to let voters’ challenge continue

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court was asked Thursday to let a lawsuit proceed in circuit court on whether Republican legislative leaders violated new redistricting standards by sharing critical data and proposed maps with political consultants.

But a lawyer for the state House and Senate said the challenge by voters groups including the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and National Council of  La Raza, should be dismissed.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, representing the Legislature, said the state constitution allows only the Supreme Court to rule on the state’s redistricting plan — and validated the once-a-decade rewrite last year.

Cantero said that allowing the voters’ group challenge to proceed “opens up the possibility for serial redistricting litigation.”

Justice Charles Canady agreed.

“There can be a succession of claims and this can go on and on and on,” Canady warned. “We can be litigation the redistricting plan for the next decade.”

But Justice Barbara Pariente said that the voter-approved Fair District amendments to the constitution, which prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents, have complicated the existing constitutional standards for redistricting.

The “intent” of legislators is a factor courts must consider. That’s not likely possible to determine in the narrow time-frame given the Supreme Court for review of redistricting plans, she said.

“It may be a little messy until we get the law straightened out,” Pariente said.

The voters’ groups want a lower court to determine whether the Senate and congressional maps are invalid, because Republican leaders violated the Fair Districts standards. Court documents in that case filed in Leon County Circuit Court 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.



Florida GOP slaps Pafford for budget vote

Monday, May 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

With Gov. Rick Scott stopping at a Palm Beach County school Monday to tout teacher pay raises, the Florida Republican Party launched an internet strike on Democratic Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, one of 11 lawmakers voting against the state’s proposed $74.5 billion budget.

‘Why Did Pafford vote against Governor’s budget that’s a win for public schools,’ was one of the headlines in a Florida GOP release that interlaced newspaper stories on the teacher pay raise with stinging words for Pafford.

Pafford was accused of being part of a ‘(Dis) appreciation week for teachers.’

“They apparently didn’t listen to my debate,” Pafford said Monday of the GOP criticism.

Pafford said he voted ‘no’ on the budget because it failed to adequately serve poor Floridians, the elderly and disabled. Mostly, he centered his opposition on the Legislature’s failure to expand health insurance to low-income residents, a battle that consumed much of the session and ended in a stalemate between the House and Senate.

“The budget is not plugged into the reality that exists outside this chamber,” Pafford said Friday on the House floor.

The GOP blast on Pafford came shortly after Scott toured Wynnebrook Elementary School in West Palm Beach, among a handful of school stops the governor plans to make this week. The budget includes $480 million that could give teachers a $2,500 pay raises by next June.



Kinder, gentler GOP in FL?

Saturday, January 5th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Republicans want to get back to basics after losing the presidential race, four congressional seats and super-majorities in both the state House and the state Senate in November.

And, mirroring national Republicans’ post-election introspection, Florida GOP leaders say they need to change their tone to broaden their appeal.

“It’s got to reinvent itself,” said Tom Slade, said of the Republican Party of Florida, which he chaired for three consecutive terms until 2000 and ushered in an era of GOP dominance.
Elected officials, state party staff and consultants repeatedly point back to Republican icon Ronald Reagan even as they look forward to instituting high-tech methods to spread the message of a softer, gentler GOP.

For some — including Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry — that means moving away from hot-button social issues such as abortion and refocusing on the principles of lower taxes and smaller government that earned broad support in a state where voters are almost evenly split between the parties.

“The Republican Party I grew up in is the party of Reagan. That was, ‘it’s morning in America, the shining city on the hill.’ It’s about optimism and it’s about hope. And for whatever reason, we have allowed folks that maybe aren’t even our party to poison the well. And somehow we’ve gotten this reputation that we’re ‘the party of ‘no,’ and that’s just not true,” Curry said. “That’s just not the party that I fell in love with.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Weatherford rounds out leadership team

Monday, October 22nd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford continued Monday to round out his leadership team, naming some close allies to top spots in the chamber he’ll soon command following the Nov. 6 elections.

 Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, named Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill as Rules Committee chairman, a role that gives the six-year lawmaker major influence over what legislation makes it to the House floor.

Schenck had been Health and Human Services Committee chairman the past two years, and helped shape the Legislature’s move to revamp Medicaid into mostly a managed-care program, a change still awaiting federal approval.

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, was named speaker pro tempore; and Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who is in line to succeed Weatherford, was appointed majority leader. Coley and Dorworth will play a significant role in guiding the House Republican caucus.

Weatherford has already named Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, as appropriations chairman.

Bogdanoff, Sachs set to meet with voters Saturday

Friday, October 12th, 2012 by Ana Valdes

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) and Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Boca Raton), who are both vying for a senate seat in District 34 on Election Day, will be in Palm Beach County on Saturday to rally voters in the newly-drawn Palm Beach-Broward district.

Bogdanoff will be bicycling through coastal communities starting at 7:30 a.m. at El Prado Park in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Bogdanoff will finish at Boston’s on the Beach in Delray Beach. Throughout the tour, which Bogdanoff is calling Ellyn’s Bicycle Classic, the senator is expected to make stops in Boca Raton and Highland Beach.

Meanwhile, Sachs will be canvassing in Boca Raton Saturday morning. The senator is meeting firefighters at Panera on Military Trail in Boca Raton, according to campaign officials.

The District 34 race between Sachs and Bogdanoff is the only Senate district in Florida where two incumbents are running against each other. It’s also a race both Republicans and Democrats consider key for the future of their parties.

Sachs and Bogdanoff are both facing a largely new set of voters.

Forty-nine percent of constituents in the new district are from Bogdanoff’s old district, and 39 percent are from Sachs’ former district. But the new district is also mostly Democratic, where 58 percent voted for Barack Obama in 2008, possibly putting Bogdanoff at a disadvantage.

New TV spot defends Florida justices

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012 by John Kennedy

An organization supporting three Florida Supreme Court justices facing merit retention this fall began running a TV spot Tuesday blasting the “politicians in Tallahassee” for looking to overhaul the court.

The ad, by Defend Justice from Politics, a political spending committee, is airing a spot in West Palm Beach, Miami and Tampa markets that condemn the push to defeat the last three justices appointed by a Democratic governor. The spot calls it a “political power grab.”

Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince are facing what is shaping up as the most vigorous merit retention fight in Florida history.

A small tea party group, Restore Justice 2012 began criticizing justices last year over decisions that blocked measures pushed by the Republican-led Legislature, but the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity also recently weighed in with an ad attacking the court.

When the Florida Republican Party’s executive board voted last month to oppose the justices, that seemed to crank up the merit retention contest to a new level.

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he has no problem with the GOP’s decision, although he steered clear of expressing any opinion about the justices being targeted. Another prominent Republican, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, though, said he was uneasy with the party stepping into the non-partisan retention fight.

Atwater said, “it wouldn’t have been certainly a direction that I would have recommended.”

 “We as a party hold certain principles and we look for policies and candidates who are going to shape those with the expectation that justices are going to just constitutionally use good judgment and rule,” Atwater said.

Here’s Defend Justices’ TV spot:

TV spots blasting Florida Supreme Court to air today

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Television spots blasting the Florida Supreme Court over the federal Affordable Care Act are scheduled to begin running today in West Palm Beach and other markets, paid for by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative grassroots group founded by the Koch brothers.

Slade O’Brien, Florida state director of the organization, said the ads don’t directly call for voters to oust Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince or Fred Lewis, who are up for merit retention on Nov. 6. Instead, O’Brien said the “intent is to call attention to judicial activism and legislating from the bench.”

The Florida Republican Party said last week that its leaders have agreed to oppose the three justices seeking new six-year terms. Another organization, Restore Justice 2012, has been active most of the year to unseat the three justices, the last appointments of late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, although Quince was named jointly with incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

The AFP spots are the first TV ads aired in the campaign. The three justices have raised just over $1 million, combined, to defend themselves.

In its ad, AFP targets the Florida Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that upheld a lower court which stripped from the ballot a measure intended to block the federal health care overhaul from taking effect in the state.

The court ruled the proposed constitutional amendment was flawed because it promised guaranteed access to health care services without waiting lists, would protect doctor-patient relationships, and prohibit mandates that don’t work.

Opponents said the ballot summary deceived the public since the amendment did not directly address those issues, but was written solely to draw voter support against the federal law advanced by President Obama.

An effort to place the full text of the amendment before voters that year also was rejected. The Leon County Circuit judge who made the initial ruling, James Shelfer, said that to do so would amount to “legislating from the bench.”

A rewritten version of the proposal is now set to go before voters in November as Amendment 1.

Americans for Prosperity is a grass-roots activist organization founded by Charles Koch and part-time Palm Beacher David Koch.

The brothers, who run Koch Industries, an oil services company, back a host of conservative causes. Each has a net worth of $31 billion, which last week placed them fourth on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest Americans.

AFP on the national stage has run TV ads against Obama and provided phone banks, rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts central to the Republican Party’s takeover of the U.S. House in the 2010 elections.

The organization has fought climate change legislation and the Affordable Care Act, and push for limite

Fla GOP defends campaigning against justices

Monday, September 24th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Florida Republican Party’s entry into a campaign to unseat three state Supreme Court justices drew fresh outrage Monday from supporters who said it endangers an independent judiciary.

“I think the Republican Party should be concentrating on those races in the House and Senate,” said Alex Villalobos, a former Republican state senator from Miami. “To now divert money from those races into a total non-political, non-partisan race, is getting away from what they should be concentrating…No party has any business getting involved in this.”

The Florida GOP announced Friday that its executive board had voted to oppose the merit retention of Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince on Nov. 6.

A conservative group, Restore Justice 2012, has condemned the three justices as a liberal-leaning bloc on the seven-member court, which has stymied a variety of initiatives advanced by the Republican-ruled legislature in recent years.

But defenders of the justices said Florida voters created the merit retention system in 1976 to get politics out of the Supreme Court.

“Before we had that, we had terrible scandals involved” with the court, said Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, legislator and Florida State University law school dean and president. “What’s happening now is the Republican Party is trying to break something that was fixed.”

D’Alemberte, who served in the Legislature as a Democrat, said he would be “infuriated if the Democratic Party entered this. They’d have no business entering this.”

Curry, the GOP chairman, said no money that flows into the party for legislative races will be diverted to merit retention campaign. He also took issue with critics who say the move opens the door to outside special interest spending in the campaign.

Instead, Curry said the push to have the party work against the justices seeking six-year terms came from “the grassroots of the party.”

“This is coming right from the base of this party,” Curry said. “The more these (critics) push back, the more they’re likely to ignite the base.”

In merit retention, voters get to decide “yes” or “no” whether a justice should receive another six-year term. No justice has been voted off the court since it was introduced.

But some rulings by the Florida court in school voucher, abortion and ballot initiatives sought by the Republican-ruled Legislature have spawned anger from the political right. The three justices targeted were appointed by late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, with Quince named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

A study by the Brennan Center and the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that $38.4 million was spent on high court elections nationwide in 2009-10. Political parties and special interest groups, many of them backed by businesses or social activists, accounted for 30 percent of the spending.

The three justices have raised more than $1 million, combined, for their campaigns — with virtually all the cash coming from lawyers and law firms. The Florida Bar earlier this year also launched a $300,000 campaign to educate voters about the merit retention system for electing justices and appelate judges.

The Bar insisted the unprecedented effort had nothing to do with this year’s challenge to the high court justices. Instead, Bar leaders said polls show 90 percent of voters don’t understand merit retention.

While supporters of the justices say they worry about being overwhelmed by hard-hitting campaign ads, dollars haven’t flowed yet  to the opposition campaign.

Restore Justice has received almost all of its contributions from a South Florida doctor, Allan Jacob, who contributed $59,250, according to the group’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

State records show Restore Justice also has filed in Florida as an “electioneering communications organization,” which can influence races by running ads and mailings. The so-called ECO raised $1,075 between Aug. 13 and Sept. 14.


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