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House Democrats declare war on GOP: S-l-o-w-l-y

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

House Democrats declared a tactical war Tuesday on ruling Republicans.

Outnumbered Democrats demanded that legislation be read in full — a retaliatory move stemming from the GOP’s refusal to support a Senate plan that would draw federal Medicaid dollars and expand health coverage for poor Floridians.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, huddled with members of his leadership team after word of the Democratic plot began circulating early Tuesday.  But he couldn’t stop it.

“There needs to be some clarity on the bills, so we need to read them in full,” Weatherford grimly told the House by early afternoon.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale made the rarely used motion that launched the slowdown. Weatherford, anticipating Thurston’s ploy, had House staff dust off an “auto-reader,” which was used to begin reading the lengthy legislation at slow speed.

The machine was last used several years ago, during a similar stand-off between then-House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach and former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate approved its health care proposal on a 38-1 vote. The proposal positions Florida to draw $51 billion in Medicaid dollars over the next decade for creating a Healthy Florida plan that would cover 1.1 million low-income Floridians.

In a mostly partyline vote, the House earlier voted down an amendment that reflected the Senate proposal. The House said it is wrong to rely on the federal dollars and has approved its own plan to use $237 million in state taxpayer dollars to cover 115,000 Floridians.

Democrats, the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott have dismissed the House proposal as mostly worthless.

But the House-Senate deadlock virtually assures that the session will end this week without any consensus on how to expand health coverage in Florida, where almost 4 million are uninsured.

The slowdown also threatens legislation. Reading lengthy bills by machine absorbs time — and Democrats seem willing to let the session expire without much more action.

Amid the slowdown, Thurston issued a statement.

“It’s unfortunate that we have had to take such unusual action today, but my Democratic colleagues and I believe that
a drastic situation requires drastic tactics. The 1.2 million people who can be provided medical coverage under proposed legislation may not be aware of what’s transpiring in Tallahassee. Today, I want them to know that the 44-member House Democratic Caucus stands in support of them.”

Weatherford later said, “It’s a little disappointing and frankly unbecoming for some members to want to slow down the process. We have a lot of work to do. The citizens of Florida sent us here to get work done.”

 

Groups file suit against governor over halt to redistricting changes

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Supporters of two voter-approved constitutional amendments changing the way Florida lawmakers draw Congressional and legislative districts filed a lawsuit today demanding that Gov. Rick Scott move forward with the federal approval needed to implement the changes.

Shortly after taking office, Scott put the brakes on predecessor Charlie Crist’s request to the U.S. Department of Justice for the “pre-clearance” required whenever Florida makes changes to its elections laws affecting voters’ rights.

Scott reappointed Kurt Browning as Florida’s secretary of state. Browning, originally appointed by Crist, left his post last year to lead the fight against the “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters in November that now bar lawmakers from drawing districts that favor political parties or incumbents.

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Robo Rudy makes calls for Bondi

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 by Andrew Abramson

Sarah Palin-backed Attorney General candidate Pam Bondi is receiving help from another national Republican in a tight race against Dan Gelber.

Beginning today, Florida voters will receive a recorded message from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, encouraging them to vote for Bondi, a Tampa area prosecutor.

Here’s a transcript of the message:

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Gelber’s campaign denounces fliers calling AG candidate “toxic to Jewish education”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 by Andrew Abramson

Dan Gelber’s campaign continues to denounce mailers being sent out to the South Florida Jewish community, saying that Gelber is “toxic to Jewish education.”

Gelber’s campaign director, Christian Ulvert, called the attacks from the Committee for Florida’s Education, Inc. “disgusting.” Gelber, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, is a Jewish state senator from Miami Beach.

“There is no doubt in anybody’s minds these are mailers closely aligned with Pam Bondi and her campaign,” Ulvert said.

A spokeswoman for Bondi, the Tampa-area Republican prosecutor running against Gelber for attorney general, said her campaign had nothing to do with the mailers.

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Bondi scooping up DC cash from Tim Kaine loser

Monday, October 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

With barely more than a week until Election Day, GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi took time out from campaigning in the Sunshine State for quick trip to Washington DC to rake in some dough for ad time.

Bondi flew into DC briefly for a fundraiser hosted by former Virginia attorney general Jerry Kilgore, Bondi spokeswoman Sandi Copes said in an e-mail.

Bondi surely hopes she fares better than Kilgore did in his last election.

The Republican resigned as Virginia’s attorney general in 2005 to run for governor of the then-red state.

But Kilgore lost to Democrat Tim Kaine, now the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The Gelber camp blasted Bondi, who’s never run for office before, for the fundraising trip, setting off a typical finger-pointing volley in the contentious race to succeed Attorney General Bill McCollum.
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AG wars: Bondi camp calls Gelber a liar

Friday, October 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi’s campaign consultant called out her Democrat opponent Dan Gelber for “a distortion of the truth” in his new television ad.

In the ad, Gelber accuses Bondi of promising to “side with corporate interests” if she is elected.

“Dan Gelber’s first television ad is a disappointing distortion of the truth and in keeping with a career politician’s ‘win at all costs’ attitude. He talks about corruption but has no problem corrupting the truth. He made an allegation that wasn’t true and offered no evidence, because there is none,” Bondi campaign consultant Brett Doster said in a statement.

The ad refers to remarks Bondi’s made on the campaign trail pledging to side with the Florida Chamber of Commerce in fighting the union-backed card check issue and statements she’s made saying that “the last thing we need is an Eliott Spitzer-type” AG.

Gelber interpreted that to mean she won’t go after white-collar criminals as Spitzer, known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” did before he went down in flames after being caught with prostitutes.

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Gelber hammers Bondi over big business ties in first TV ad

Friday, October 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Dan Gelber slammed his GOP attorney general opponent Pam Bondi in his first campaign ad, accusing the former Tampa prosecutor of being too close to her business backers to go after corruption.

Bondi, who has never run for office before, won the endorsement of the state’s two biggest (and influential) business groups – the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida – in the three-way GOP primary and in the general race.

Gelber, a state senator and former federal prosecutor, has made going after public corruption one of his top priorities in the campaign.

“While she protects insiders, I’ll take them on,”

Bondi highlights differences with Dem opponent Gelber in ‘Night and Day’ ad

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi and her Democrat opponent Dan Gelber both spent years as prosecutors, but they’re as different as night and day, the name of her new television ad.

Bondi, a political newcomer who spent two decades as a Tampa prosecutor, contrasts her positions on taxes and federal health care reforms in the new ad, running in select markets.

Bondi’s ad was created by GOP consultant Adam Goodman’s company, The Victory Group, and debuted in the West Palm Beach media market.

AG candidate Gelber joins chorus pushing for broader BP claims payments

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Add state Sen. Dan Gelber, the Democrat candidate for attorney general, to the list of pols criticizing BP claims czar Ken Feinberg for his handling of payments to Floridians harmed by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Gelber, a former federal prosecutor from Miami Beach, sent a letter to Feinberg asking him to include the costs of preparing claims to payments to individuals and businesses. Feinberg said he won’t pay for legal or accounting fees associated with the filings.

“Citizens of our state are rightfully frustrated. They see promises from BP actors in commercials suggesting the company is prepared to do the right thing. Yet on the ground, they see obfuscation, and a process that is filled with more chutes than ladders,” Gelber wrote.

Gelber also joined Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democrat candidate for governor; Gov. Charlie Crist, the independent candidate for U.S. Senate; and Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Republican who lost the primary bid for governor, in demanding that Feinberg pay damages to those located where oil never reached the shore. Feinberg’s consideration of proximity to the oil spill in paying claims has been a major issue of contention since he took over BP’s botched claims process on Aug. 23.

Sink and the Florida Cabinet slammed Feinberg yesterday and Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, a member of a statewide task force looking into the economic damages caused by the disaster, gave Feinberg just a few weeks to speed up payments to businesses on the brink of bankruptcy in Northwest Florida.

GOP candidates’ refusal to participate leads to cancelation of Cabinet debates

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

With two of the three GOP Florida Cabinet candidates refusing to participate in a debate next month, organizers had no choice but to cancel the event.

Attorney general candidate Pam Bondi and Senate President Jeff Atwater, the Republican nominee for chief financial officer, would not agree to debate their Democratic opponents, Florida Press Association president Dean Ridings said today. The press association and Leadership Florida had planned to host the Oct. 5 event at the University of Florida.

GOP agriculture commissioner candidate Adam Putnam was the only Republican who signed up for the debate, Ridings said.

“Pam Bondi and Jeff Atwater would not confirm. We are pretty much at the deadline. And every indication was that they would not participate,” Ridings said. “It didn’t make sense just to do the one” debate, Ridings said.

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Attorney general debate scrubbed, Bondi won’t appear

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Organizers canceled an Oct. 5 debate at the University of Florida between attorney general candidates Dan Gelber and Pam Bondi because Bondi won’t appear.

GOP hopeful Bondi, a former prosecutor from Tampa who’s never run for office before, has a “scheduling conflict” preventing her from participating in the debate hosted by Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association, her campaign spokeswoman Sandi Copes said. Copes could not immediately say what Bondi had to do that trumped the debate.

State senator Gelber, a former federal prosecutor who also served as House Democratic Leader, earned a reputation as one of the legislature’s top arguers during feisty floor debates.

Aronberg, Gelber a state apart in last-minute push for attorney general

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Democratic candidates for attorney general spent the day in opposite parts of the state waving signs and knocking on doors in a last-ditch effort to win votes in Tuesday’s primary election.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg is spending the day in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. His opponent, Dan Gelber, is stumping in North Florida with stops in Tallahassee and Pensacola.

Gelber topped all of the attorney general candidates – including the three Republicans in a tight primary – in campaign contributions. He edged out opponent Aronberg, who led the raise in fundraising until this month, by just $11,000.

Like the Republican primary, the Aronberg and Gelber race is too close to call.

“With 43 percent undecided this is anyone’s game right now,” Aronberg said while going door-to-door in South Florida.

Gelber attorney general campaign bus tour, Dem-style

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Democratic state senator and attorney general hopeful Dan Gelber is kicking off a down-to-the wire bus tour beginning tomorrow in Miami.

Gelber, in a primary against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres that’s too close to call, will make stops in Delray Beach and Boca Raton tomorrow afternoon with PBC tax collector Anne Gannon, who formerly served alongside Gelber in the state House.

Meanwhile, AG wannabe Pam Bondi launched the Republican version of the attorney general primary bus tour today. She’s visiting GOP strongholds like The Villages after a last-minute fundraiser tonight in Jacksonville hosted by Steve Halverson, chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Ericka Alba, chairwoman of Associated Industries of Florida.

The fundraising deadline for the Tuesday’s primary election is midnight tonight, causing candidates like Bondi and Gelber to frantically dial for dollars and send e-mails seeking contributions.

Gelber didn’t have to launch a bus tour to get on Bondi’s radar screen, however.

At several speeches today, Bondi repeatedly referred to Gelber as the Democratic nominee who she’ll be facing off against in November.

“Looks like it’s going to be Dan Gelber in the general,” Bondi told supporters at the Florida Chamber of Commerce this morning. “The more we hear about Dan Gelber, the more we learn, the last thing we need is an Eliot Spitzer attorney general.”

Gelber’s sweep across the state includes stops in Tallahassee, Pensacola, the Tampa Bay area, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Gelber’s opponent, Sen. Dave Aronberg, is conducting his own RV tour this weekend in South Florida. He’ll make stops in Delray Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Coconut Grove on Saturday.

Gelber strikes back at Aronberg in attorney general race TV ad

Friday, August 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber gets defensive in his first television ad in the race against fellow senator Dave Aronberg in the Democratic attorney general primary.

With absentee voting already underway, Gelber, a Miami Beach lawyer and former federal prosecutor, highlights his years in the courtroom and accuses Aronberg of “political games” and “dishonest attacks” in a series of mailers in which Aronberg accuses Gelber of a potential conflict of interest. Aronberg’s made a big issue out of Gelber’s former law firm going to work for BP to defend the oil giant in any Florida lawsuits.

Aronberg calls Gelber request for attorney general debates ‘political stunt’ but says yes…if

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dave Aronberg agreed to his colleague Sen. Dan Gelber’s request for debates before the primary election…sort of.

Aronberg and Gelber are in a heated Democratic primary for attorney general, and Aronberg’s taken off the gloves and attacked his opponent for Gelber’s former law firm’s representation of BP.

Gelber says he resigned from Akerman Senterfitt, the state’s largest law firm that recently was retained by BP, days before Aronberg demanded it.

Gelber then sent Aronberg a letter asking for 11 debates before the Aug. 24 primary.

Aronberg responded today calling a request for that many debates – nearly three a week – a “political stunt” and dragging BP into the debate arena.

“The next Attorney General will probably spend the better part of this decade involved in litigation of the state versus BP, Halliburton and other parties who might share liability for this disaster. Therefore, as we work together to agree on our debate schedule, I want to insist that at least one of the debates be held there so the citizens of that region can hear our plans for fighting for them as their Attorney General,” Aronberg wrote in a letter to Gelber.

Aronberg also agreed to a debate outside of South Florida, home to both Democrats, in Tampa Bay or Orlando.

Gelber asks Crist for executive order to expand unemployment benefits

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist could grant long-term out-of-work Floridians relief with the stroke of his pen, according Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat running for attorney general.

Lawmakers ended the special session on oil drilling early, making it impossible for them to pass a bill that would have allowed jobless Floridians to take advantage of an unemployment benefits extension Congress is expected to authorize as early as tomorrow.

But Crist could do by executive order what GOP lawmakers refused to do earlier this year, Gelber said.

“On behalf of the voiceless, the hard working people of this state who are about to be cut off from benefits which they have rightfully earned and to which they are rightfully entitled, I urge the Governor to act in all due haste,” Gelber wrote in a letter to Crist.

Dems want special session to include unemployment benefits

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Two Palm Beach County lawmakers are pushing a measure to implement an expansion of unemployment compensation benefits Congress is expected to pass as early as today. The bill could bring about $270 million in unemployment benefits for about 200,000 long-term unemployed Floridians whose extended benefits dried up on June 5.

But there’s little chance GOP leaders will expand the special session on oil drilling that kicked off at noon and is already coming to a close in the House.

Gov. Charlie Crist called lawmakers into town to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide if offshore oil drilling in Florida should be banned.

The Senate wants to pass the measure but the House is expected to convene briefly and adjourn without even voting on it.

Congress appears to have settled its own impasse over unemployment benefits and is expected today to approve another expansion for the long-term unemployed.

But Floridians won’t be able to get the additional funds unless state lawmakers sign off.

Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boynton Beach, filed a bill that would extend the state’s June 5 expiration date for the long-term unemployed benefits and wrote a letter yesterday asking Crist to expand the session.

More than 35,000 Floridians a week are losing out on the extended benefits, Rader said.

“These are families who need this money because of the economic crisis in our state,” said Rader, who failed to convince lawmakers to pass a similar measure during the regular session to avoid having to come back during a special session to extend the deadline for the benefits.

Jobless workers spend $1.70 for each $1 in unemployment fund they receive, according to some estimates.

“It’s outrageous we would not act so that Floridians get the funds that they are entitled to,” said Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Gelber’s Democratic attorney general opponent, Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres, is also backing the measure. “It’s money for people who need it the most and who will spend it immediately.”

Rader acknowledged it is highly unlikely the session will be expanded but that “I am always hopeful that common sense and reason will prevail.”

UPDATE: Dems cry foul over sneaky Senate abortion amendment

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Senate approved the abortion amendment by a 22-17 vote.

Florida GOP Senate leader Andy Gardiner tacked a controversial anti-abortion amendment onto a health care bill on the floor this morning, an identical measure that died on a 20-20 vote two years ago.

The proposal would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound in the first trimester, already required for pregnant women in the second trimester. The women would also have to look at the ultrasound unless she has proof that she has been raped or is a domestic violence victim.

The decidedly more conservative Senate will likely approve the contentious amendment this time around.

Moderate Republican Jim King, who voted on the winning “no” side, passed away last summer and was replaced by conservative John Thrasher.

Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who also helped kill the bill, is now in Congress.

And Republicans have easily shot down a number of amendments offered by Democrats trying to water down the Gardiner proposal, indicating the bill would pass.

But they may not take a full vote on the measure (HB 1143) today, and the House would have to approve the changes for it to pass and head to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sen. Dan Gelber, who was in the House two years ago, objected that no committee had fully vetted the proposal before it arose today on the floor.

Gelber, who is running for attorney general, gave a heated argument against the amendment after offering several of his own that failed.

“You are go to put in Florida law a provision that requires a victim of a rape to actually tell someone she was raped, to get proof of the rape before she can be excused by the state of Florida from getting an ultrasound. How wrong is that,” said Gelber, D-Miami Beach. “Shame on the state of Florida.”

UPDATE: House passes ‘Corruption County’ priority ethics bill, Senate committee OKs tougher approach

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved (SB 902) a tougher measure than the House’s version.

The Florida House approved a measure that would allow counties and cities to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.

Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.

The House approved the bill (HB 1301) – one of Palm Beach County’s top priorities this session – by a 111-1 vote today, but the Senate is taking a different approach.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is about to combine the ethics proposal with two measures that would impose much harsher penalties on corrupt officials pushed by Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

Both anti-corruption proposals are being blended with a measure (SB 902) that would increase the legislature’s oversight over state agencies’ contracting, a priority for powerful Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, chairman of the committee.

One of the harsher measures would make it a crime for any public official to knowingly withhold information about a financial interest in something on they vote or cause to take place. It would would also require disclosure of financial interests that could benefit a family member.

Another would enhance penalties for crimes, such as official misconduct, that public officials commit in their official capacity.

The two stricter measures are sponsored by Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in corruption cases. The PBC-backed proposal is sponsored by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. The two colleagues are running against each other in a Democratic primary for attorney general.

McAuliffe said the changes in the law would make it possible for the state rather than federal officials to prosecute officials like the three former Palm Beach County commissioners and two city commissioners who went to prison on federal corruption charges.

Palm Beach County officials said those bills aren’t a priority and aren’t working to make sure those bills (SB 1076, 734) pass.

Senate committee grills PSC appointees as governor watches

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam
Gov. Charlie Crist waits to ask a state Senate panel to approve his appointees to the Public Service Commission. Michael C. Bender/The Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist waits to ask a state Senate panel to approve his appointees to the Public Service Commission. Michael C. Bender/The Palm Beach Post

Gov. Charlie Crist cooled his heels for more than an hour as the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee grilled his two Public Service Commission appointees, Steve Stevens and David Klement, but left before the committee took a final vote.

Crist left shortly before 11 a.m. (Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp took his place) to attend a bill signing after being kept on ice by committee chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla who took up two other bills before getting to the appointment confirmations.

The full Senate must approve the appointments once the committee signs off on them, if they do.

“Both of these men are men of great integrity,” Crist told the committee before the interrogations began. “That’s why I chose to appoint them from the pool that was given to me from you. I believe the Public Service Commission is a great panel. It can do very good work., and I know that these two men are dedicated to doing this. That’s all I wanted to say.”

But that wasn’t enough for Sen. Chris Smith, a black Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale who has raised concern in the past about the lack of diversity on the panel.

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