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Palm Beach County Dems get high marks from lefties

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Five Palm Beach County Democrats earned “Champions of the Florida’s Middle Class” status from progressives for their votes during the 2013 legislative session that ended in May.

The scorecard is a counterpoint to business-backed Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce ratings in which, as expected, the Democrats received mostly failing marks.

Florida Watch Action, Progress Florida and America Votes identified 18 Florida lawmakers members – all Democrats – who voted with the left 100 percent of the time, according to a press released issues by the groups today.

The 18 include Palm Beach County Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Reps. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth; Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach; and Irv Slosberg, D-Delray Beach.

“These eighteen lawmakers deserve Floridians’ thanks for their unwavering support and leadership on the issues that matter most to middle class families,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, also made the progressives’ top 18 list; his Senate counterpart Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, did not.

Senate tie vote kills parent trigger for the second year

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 by Dara Kam

For the second year in a row, the Florida Senate killed a controversial “parent trigger” measure that would have given parents of students at failing schools a greater say in turning the schools around.

Six Republicans joined with the 14 Senate Democrats in the 20-20 tie vote after more than an hour of heated debate on the measure (HB 867).

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and former school superintendent, said parents already have the ability to make their voices heard.

“The issue is how do we get parents interested in the options already available to them. This bill will not help that,” Montford said. “I hope a year form now…we’ll spend this much time and energy trying to find a way to get our parents meaningfully involved.”

The bill voted down on Tuesday was a watered-down version of a similar measure that died on a tie vote in the Senate last year.

The proposal would have allowed parents to sign a petition supporting specific turnaround options for schools that received an “F” grade two years in a row. But the Senate amended the bill yesterday afternoon, giving the school board the final say the turnaround options. A companion bill approved by the House, similar to last year’s plan, would have given the state Bpard of Education to choose the options, which include turning the school over to a private management company or for-profit charter school.

The state’s teachers unions and PTA groups opposed the bill.

“The second time around is just as sweet as the first,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said his city turned an “F” school into a “B” school while was Lake Worth mayor.

“Never once…did we think we should…hand it over to a corporation to run,” he said. The school’s grade improved not by “turning it over to some corporation,” Clemens said. “It was by getting involved.”

But Sen. David Simmons, who sponsored the amendment giving the school board the ultimate decision in what happens to the failing school, said Democrats were arguing against a bill that didn’t exist.

The bill was changed to “eviscerate the argument” that the measure “was a Trojan horse where the corporate organizations are going to take over.,” Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said. “That’s just simply not true.”

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, argued that the bill is about “one word – trust,” saying “we ought to trust the parents, the parents who are directly involved in these schools.”

But Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican, objected that Florida already has more choices to turn around the failing schools and the bill does not create any new ones.

“Not one parent ever called me to support this bill. And if it’s the “Parent Empowerment Act” then why is the PTA lobbying so heavily against this bill? I don’t know who these parents are…Why are we doing this?
I don’t know. Who benefits? I don’t know.”

GOP Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Greg Evers, R-Baker; and Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, joined Detert in voting against the measure.

Visitors in the public gallery erupted in cheers after the tie vote, eliciting a stern rebuke from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

“If there are any more outbursts for or against any bill I will clear those galleries. You understand? Thank you,” Gaetz said.

Deal on campaign finance, ethics doubles contributions

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida House and Senate leaders have reached a deal on campaign finance and ethics reforms, Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala announced on the floor this morning.

The agreement doubles the current $500-per-election cycle campaign contribution limit for local and legislative candidates and hikes the limit to $3,000 for statewide candidates and Supreme Court justices up for merit retention.

The bill (HB 569) also does away with committees of continuous existence, or “CCEs,” and replaces them political committees that can accept unlimited contributions.

The ethics and campaign finance reforms are the top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who wanted the campaign changes, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

The Senate had balked at raising the contribution limits after Gov. Rick Scott, who spent more than $70 million of his own money financing his 2010 campaign for governor, indicated he did not support lifting the caps.

But Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said Wednesday his chamber agreed to the changes to get the House to pass the ethics proposal.

The new campaign limits put back caps in place before lawmakers imposed the lower amounts at the urging of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1992.

Latvala called the deal far better than the original House plan, which would have hiked the contribution limits to $10,000.

“You’re not going to be able to take money out of politics,” he said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporate money to flood campaigns with cash means that “we are heading in the direction of unlimited money in politics,” Latvala, a veteran campaign consultant, said. “So the best we’re going to be able to do in the long run is provide the transparency to go with that, to have good reporting.”

The measure would also require more reporting of campaign finances, including daily reporting in the final week leading up to an election “where a lot of the monkey shines go on,” Latvala said.

The proposal would also allow candidates to “rollover” $20,000 after a campaign ends and hold onto that amount for up to two years.

Palm Beach County Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington cast the only “no” votes in the 37-2 tally.

“I couldn’t see myself going back to Palm Beach County and telling people that I voted to double the campaign contribution limits. I think that puts more money in the system and that’s the opposite direction that people want us to move in,” Clemens said.

And, he said, the allowing candidates to carry over $20,000 “puts challengers at a tremendous disadvantage.”

Lawmakers are expected to take final votes on both measures today and send them to Scott, meaning he would have just seven days to act on the bills. Scott has 15 days to act on bills received after the legislative session ends.

Delray Beach CRA audit sparks tensions between new mayor and Sen. Abruzzo

Thursday, April 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

An audit into the Delray Beach CRA’s spending has erupted into a face-off between new Mayor Cary Glickstein and state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington.

Abruzzo is chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, which unanimously ordered the review on Monday after a request from Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. The request for the audit comes in part over concerns about more than $300,000 spent on the Arts Garage.

At his first city commission meeting the following day since being elected after a bitter battle against incumbent Tom Carney, Glickstein lashed back at Abruzzo.

“I find the timing of this audit suspect and politically motivated,” Glickstein said Tuesday night.

He accused Abruzzo, a lobbyist for the law firm of Weiss, Handler & Cornwell, of a conflict of interest because, he said, the law firm also represents the city.

“Further I find it curious that notwithstanding a $65 million no-bid contract to a trash hauler which ran directly counter to our county director inspector general’s directive to bid the contract there was silence from Sen. Abruzzo but when spurious e-mails rife with innuendo are sent, Sen. Abruzzo jumps into action,” he went on. “Perhaps Sen. Abruzzo’s audit committee should expand its audit to include the waste management debacle if it’s genuinely interested in how Delray Beach conducts business.”

Glickstein told City Attorney Brian Shutt he wants details on the contract with the law firm before the next commission meeting.

And he ordered a public records request of both Clemens and Abruzzo “so we can determine…why Abruzzo and Clemens are now so interested in our CRA.”

The commission backed Glickstein on the request after City Attorney Brian Shutt told Glickstein he could not independently seek the records without the support of the commission.

Abruzzo fired back at Glickstein Wednesday night, saying his law firm does not lobby for the city but a separate entity, All Florida Solutions, created by the law firm’s partners does.

“I welcome all public records requests from Mayor Glickstein. Any legislator at any time can request an audit of a governmental entity for any reason,” Abruzzo said in a telephone interview. “The mayor’s comments about the Weiss, Handler & Cornwell law firm and my lobbying and lawmaking activity are wrong and inaccurate. I have never been a lobbyist for the city of Delray Beach. I am also prohibited by my job as a senator to lobby for any city to the state. In addition, the law firm Weiss, Handler & Cornwell for which I am employed is not the lobbyist for Delray Beach. I will not be deterred from doing my job by comments aimed at hurting me financially even if they are false. I would resign my private sector work and reduce my income before I would let it be used as pressure. Mayor Glickstein needs to learn about checking information before making comments. I would prefer to attribute it to his lack of experience in holding public office rather than negative, willful intent. I look forward to the completion of the audit.”

Bipartisan lovefest comes to an end over Senate elections reform

Monday, March 18th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala had hoped for a unanimous thumbs-up on a measure designed to fix Florida’s elections woes highlighted by long lines in November.

Instead, St. Petersburg Republican stormed out of the committee meeting room after a strict party-line vote, with all Democrats – including Vice Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood – voting “no.”

Democrats said their objections to the bill shouldn’t come as a surprise. They filed numerous amendments late last week and held a press conference two weeks ago highlighting their wish-list for the bill (SB 600).

The House passed its version of the bill (HB 7013) on the first day of the legislative session, with just one Republican voting against the measure.

Like the House plan, the Senate bill allows elections supervisors to choose from eight to 14 days of early voting, offer early voting from eight to 12 hours each day and expands the types of early voting sites.

In 2011, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed an elections package (HB 1355) that shrank the number of early voting days from 14 to 8 and imposed new requirements along with stiff penalties for third-party registration groups. A federal court overturned the third-party voter registration portion of the law.

But Democrats said the early voting changes don’t go far enough to undo the damage created by HB 1355. Republican consultants and former GOP officials said that bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, was designed to suppress Democratic turnout in reaction to the 2008 election when minorities helped President Obama’s victory in Florida.

This year’s measure does not require that supervisors offer early voting on the Sunday before the election, a day national organizers have made “Souls to the Polls” to encourage minority voters to cast their ballots after church.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, also wanted to do away with a new provision in the law requiring voters who move from one county to another to cast provisional ballots if they don’t update their address before Election Day.

Other Democratic-backed amendments would have required at least one early voting site for every 47,000 residents, required supervisors to open an early voting site nearby one that has a wait time of more than an hour and required all counties to have the full 14 days of early voting.

All of the Democrats’ amendments either failed or were withdrawn, as Latvala grew increasingly more impatient.

Latvala said he would consider some of their changes at another time “in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation on this committee if we can get to that point on this bill.”

But they did not.

The provisional ballot changes were designed to “keep college students from voting,” Clemens, who served in the Florida House in 2011, said. College students helped boost Obama to victory in 2008.

“The genesis of this language was discriminatory. It remains discriminatory,” Clemens said.

That drew a rebuke from Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who implied that the Democrats’ amendments were contrary to the Senate’s protocol.

“Your comments takes away from deliberative body that we are. We tend to do things a bit different,” Gardiner said.

Later, Latvala said the Democrats blind-sided him with their amendments, filed Friday, and should have reached out to him last week.

“There were a couple of those that were in there today that i’d seen them and we could have worked on them, we could have probably put them in,” he said.

He called the Democratic opposition to the bill a political ploy.

“It’s hard for me to understand how every Democrat in the House could vote for the bill. We improved a couple of areas in the Senate bill in the issues they’re concerned about and the Democrats voted against it. It’s just politics pure and simple,” Latvala said.

But Clemens said it was “naive” to expect the Democrats to support the measure without the changes they held a press conference demanding just two weeks ago.

HB 1355 “took us from Point A to Point Z and now they want to go back to Point M and say that it’s enough,” Clemens said. “It’s just simply not. We’ve been very clear about the things we want to see in the bill. So it should be no surprise to anybody. For members of that committee to somehow believe that we were going to roll over when they didn’t meet any of the requests, it seems somewhat naïve to me.”

Senate committee to workshop Clemens’s elections bills on Tuesday

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will workshop two voting-related bills sponsored by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens on Tuesday.

One of Clemens’s proposals would automatically register voters when they get a driver’s license or state ID card (they could opt out if they choose). The second would restrict legislators to putting three constitutional amendments on the ballot at any one time.

They’ll be the first official pieces of legislation heard by the committee, tasked by Senate President Don Gaetz to figure out what went wrong with the 2012 election and propose legislative fixes.

Elections supervisors told the committee earlier this month that the number one problem – even in areas that didn’t have six hour waits like Palm Beach County – was the length of the ballot.

The GOP-controlled legislature placed 11 lengthy, and according to the supervisors confusing, constitutional questions on the 2012 ballot. Three of them passed, and the rest did not even get a majority approval from voters. Constitutional amendments require 60 percent approval by voters to pass.

Limiting the number of constitutional questions lawmakers can place on the ballot requires a change to the constitution, which means Clemens’s proposal would have to go before voters.

“The irony of this is yes, I filed a constitutional amendment to limit constitutitonal amendments,” Clemens said. “That’s the only way to accomplish it. I think it’s a legitimate constitutional issue as opposed to many of the items placed on the ballot in November which were purely political.”

Clemens files resolution that would create full-time legislature

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 by Dara Kam

For many Capitol insiders, the 60-day legislative sessions are more than long enough.

But state Sen. Jeff Clemens, a freshman who won a bitter primary against former state Rep. Mack Bernard, filed a resolution that would make the sessions last two years.

Under Clemens’s proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 512), the session would begin two weeks after the general election and last two years.

Clemens said lawmakers don’t have enough time to fully vet issues during the two-month session.

“The compressed nature of the legislature as we have it right now forces us to rush bills through without thinking them through and doesn’t allow enough time for us to delve into the budgetary process,” the Lake Worth Democrat said. “I think the voters suffer because of that.”

And the 160 members of the House and Senate, whose annual legislative salaries is around $30,000, have full-time, outside jobs that may create conflicts when voting on legislation, Clemens said.

“It’s really a case of not being able to serve two masters at once,” he said. “The idea of a full-time legislature is really rooted in allowing legislators to make decisions based on what they think is best for the state and not have to have their individual employment or individual financial situations compromised by that.”

No word yet on what Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, thinks of Clemens’s proposal. But, after the GOP-controlled legislature was blamed for long voting lines during the 2012 presidential election because they put 11 lengthy constitutional questions on the ballot, Gaetz has said instructed his members to use restraint regarding constitutional changes.

“If you have a proposed constitutional amendment, it’d better solve a constitutional problem, not an issue du jour,” Gaetz said in November.

Clemens files automatic voter registration bill

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Freshman Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, filed a bill that would make the state responsible for registering eligible voters instead of leaving the onus on voters themselves.

Clemens’s proposal (SB 234) is one of a slew of bills filed by Democrats in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election where some voters, including some in Clemens’s home county of Palm Beach, waited in line up to eight hours to cast their ballots during early voting.

His proposal would require the state to automatically register eligible U.S. citizens when they reach age 18 using Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles driver’s license data.

“The original purpose of the voter registration system was to disenfranchise women and African-Americans,” Clemens said in a press release. “It’s time we ditched the archaic scheme and realize that every adult American citizen should be automatically registered. There simply is no good reason to make people jump through hoops.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez, the country’s leading civil rights prosecutor, also wants the country to join the majority of other democratic nations regarding voting by making the government – instead of the voter – responsible for signing up voters.

Clemens’s proposal gives adults the ability to opt out of getting registered, a twist on the current “Motor Voter” law that requires DHSMV workers to ask those applying for a driver’s license or state ID if they want to register to vote.
(more…)

UPDATE: Bernard concedes, Appeals court upholds Clemens victory in SD 27 primary

Friday, October 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: State Rep. Mack Bernard has conceded the Senate District 27 race to Democratic primary winner Jeff Clemens.
“I spoke to Sen. Jeff Clemens and congratulated him on a hard-fought race and I look forward to helping make sure we re-elect the president of the U.S. and make sure we get as many Democrats elected during this election,” Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, said.

Bernard said he won’t appeal an appellate court decision upholding Clemens’s 17-vote margin in the August primary.

“It’s time for us to move forward and to move on to the November election,” he said.

Clemens

State Rep. Jeff Clemens remains the winner in a Democratic primary for Senate District 27 after a three-judge panel unanimously upheld a lower court decision today. Clemens, D-Lake Worth, won the hotly contested battle by a slim 17-vote margin, prompting state Rep. Mack Bernard to sue.

Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, had asked the 1st District Court of Appeals to overturn Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling that agreed with the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board’s rejection of 40 absentee ballots. The signatures on the ballots did not match the voters’ signatures on file with elections officials, the board and Lewis decided.

The appellate judges rejected arguments by Bernard’s lawyer J.C. Planas that Lewis should have considered information other than the two signatures, including affidavits filed by 23 of the 40 voters. The court heard oral arguments in the case yesterday.

“The statute explicitly states that the circuit court may not review or consider any other evidence,” the judges wrote in a short opinion issued today.

Bernard, a West Palm Beach Democrat, can appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

Skeptical judges hear arguments in Bernard appeal of Senate District 27 election

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A three-judge panel appeared skeptical Thursday of state Rep. Mack Bernard’s appeal of a lower court decision affirming his Democratic opponent Jeff Clemens as the winner in a Palm Beach County state senate race.

Bernard appealed Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling that the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board was correct in rejecting 40 ballots in the District 27 race that Clemens won by 17 votes.

The canvassing board rejected the ballots because the signatures did not match the voters’ official signatures in the voter registration file, indicating they may have been fraudulent.

Representing Bernard, former state Rep. J.C. Planas argued during a hearing before the 1st District Court of Appeal on Thursday that Lewis should looked beyond just the signatures to determine whether the ballots were valid. Lewis rejected Planas’ request to introduce affidavits of the voters, many of whom are Haitian-American. Planas also said Thursday Lewis should have looked at the entire voter registration forms to determine whether the writing on the absentee ballots was made by the same person.

And, Planas argued, Lewis should have examined the ballots the canvassing board accepted as well as the ones they rejected to ensure that they were consistent.

But the three judges appeared unconvinced, saying that a new Florida law passed last year severely restricted Lewis’s ability to examine anything other than the signatures on the ballots and the signature in the voter registration file. The law was intended to limit protracted legal challenges over absentee ballots in elections.

“It’s almost like you’re asking us to rewrite the statute,” Judge Nikki Ann Clark said shortly after oral arguments began.
(more…)

Mack Bernard files challenge, says 49 voters didn’t have ballots counted in 17-vote loss to Jeff Clemens

Friday, August 31st, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Bernard

Mack Bernard has filed a lawsuit in court that seeks to overturn Jeff Clemens’ 17-vote win in the State Senate 27 race.  The lawsuit was not immediately available.

Richard Giorgio, a campaign consultant for Bernard, said there are 40 absentee ballots that were not counted because the supervisor’s office determined that the signatures on the absentee ballot envelope did not match the signature on file. Giorgio said the campaign has sworn affidavits from these voters that it was in fact their signature.

“We’re going to present some evidence to the judge that those ballots should be counted and they are in fact valid and legitimate,” Giorgio said. “The signatures are of the voters that completed them, and there is no reason for them not to be counted.”

Giorgio also said there are nine voters who filled out provisional ballots correctly, but that the ballots were thrown out because the poll worker failed to list the voters’ party registration. (more…)

Mack Bernard likely to challenge 17-vote loss in court

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Mack Bernard, coming off an oh-so-close 17-vote loss to Jeff Clemens in this month’s State Senate 27 race, will likely challenge the result in court.

Juan-Carlos Planas, a former Republican state legislator and an attorney representing Bernard, said a challenge will likely be filed today or Thursday.

“You want to get it right, especially when people’s votes are on the line,” Planas said.

Planas said he could “neither confirm nor deny” sources who said Bernard has been getting affidavits from absentee ballot voters whose ballots were challenged. It could be enough to overcome Clemens’ 17 vote advantage. Planas said it will all be included in the challenge.

By state law, a campaign only has two grounds for challenge — either votes that should have been counted were not counted, or votes that shouldn’t have been counted were counted.

Bernard has until Tuesday to file a challenge, but Planas said he would like to have the challenge filed this week.

The likelihood of a challenge is angering the state’s Democratic establishment. Clemens and Bernard are both Democratic state representatives, but without a Republican in the race, much of the Republican and business community support went to Bernard.

Clemens did not immediately return a call for comment. Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Clemens’ campaign, said, “Republicans spent close to half a million dollars meddling in this Democratic state senate primary, and it looks like they’re still pushing for the results to be contested. … Democrats are urging Mack Bernard to start looking toward the future as to how he can best serve Florida going forward.”

Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said in an e-mail, “The votes in this race have been counted, re-counted and then counted again by hand. The election has been certified and we again congratulate Senator-elect Jeff Clemens on this hard fought victory. This was a close election, but one in which the process worked thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Palm Beach County SOE. It is time we turned our focus and attention to November 6.”

Clemens initially won the race by 34 votes out of more than 24,000 votes cast. A recount then showed Clemens with a 17-vote win.

The winner of the primary will not technically win the seat until November. Clemens (or Bernard, if he wins in court) will face a write-in candidate in November.

Bernard camp takes day off, no decision yet on challenge

Sunday, August 19th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

A day after an emotional recount showed a 17-vote loss to Jeff Clemens in the State Senate District 27 race, Mack Bernard’s campaign took Sunday off and has not yet decided whether it will challenge the result.

“Everybody was just wiped out,” said Richard Giorgio, a consultant for Bernard. “We’re taking the day off today.”

Giorgio said he expects the state to certify the election results Monday or Tuesday, and at that point Bernard will have 10 days to challenge the outcome.

“If you file a challenge, you’ve got to claim either one of two things: votes that should have been counted weren’t counted, or votes that were counted should not have been counted,” Giorgio said.

When asked whether the campaign believes one of those two scenarios exists, Giorgio said, “that’s something for lawyers to figure out.”

Clemens-Bernard count postponed again until 4:30 p.m.

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Both Mack Bernard and Jeff Clemens were on hand this morning to see the final results of Tuesday’s State Senate vote. And they’ll have to wait even longer.

The county’s canvassing board finished counting absentee ballots last night but postponed their count of provisional ballots until 10 a.m. this morning. But after counting about 25 provisional ballots today, the board had to postpone the count until 4:30 p.m.

Because of a change in the voting law last year, voters who move from one county to another and haven’t changed their address with the supervisor’s office prior to voting now have to fill out a provisional ballot. Previously, a voter already registered in the state could change their address when voting and fill out a standard ballot.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said her office will spend the next few hours contacting elections’ offices in 11 counties to ensure that voters who filled out provisional ballots did not also vote in the county they were previously registered in. Bucher said she’s not sure if there are just 11 ballots left to count or if one or more of the counties had multiple voters cast a provisional ballot in Palm Beach County on Tuesday.

The canvassing board counted about 25 ballots Wednesday morning, but Bucher did not provide updated figures. As of Wednesday morning, Clemens is up just 35 votes on fellow state representative Bernard out of more than 24,000 votes (50.07 percent to 49.93 percent).

While Bernard spent hours last night at the Palm Beach County tabulation center in Riviera Beach, Clemens celebrated what he thought was a victory and later sent some of his consultants to the vote count.

On Wednesday, both Clemens and Bernard were on hand to watch  the final vote. Bucher said a recount is expected this weekend, which is required when a race is within half a percentage point.

“I don’t think much is going to change today,” Clemens said. “I’m just glad I’m still up.”

Both sides had lawyers on hand in case there is a legal challenge.

“My attorney and I have not a chance to assess the situation,” Bernard said. “The first thing is to make sure every vote is counted.”

 

Bernard-Clemens race likely heading to a recount

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

RIVIERA BEACH — Hours after Jeff Clemens celebrated what he thought was a victory, his State Senate race is likely heading to a recount.

With all of the absentee votes counted and only provisional ballots to go, Clemens is up just 35 votes on Bernard out of more than 24,000 (50.07 percent to 49.93 percent). Both sides say it looks like a recount, which is required when a race is within half a percentage point.

Richard Giorgio, political consultant for Bernard, said his campaign made a huge absentee ballot push in the finals days, which appears to have made a difference. The final two days of absentee ballots were counted in the last hour.

Bernard is at the county’s tabulation center, while Clemens sent consultants.

Giorgio said he thinks a recount would benefit Bernard because it might pick up errors.

“We had a lot of first time voters, and many had never used this ballot style before,” Giorgio said.

Cesar Fernandez, consultant for Clemens, said he doesn’t think a recount would necessarily benefit either side.

“We just have to be patient,” Fernandez said.

Mack Bernard: The night is young

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Bernard (right) with political consultant Giorgio

RIVIERA BEACH — While Jeff Clemens has already been spotted on Twitter celebrating a victory, his State Senate opponent Mack Bernard says the race is not over.

Clemens is up on Bernard 50.65 to 49.35 percent with all 272 of the precincts counted. But there are still absentee and provisional ballots to be counted. Out of more than 23,000 votes, Clemens is up 304 votes.

Bernard is waiting in the county’s tabulation center in Riviera Beach as the canvassing board looks at remaining ballots. Several of Clemens’ consultants are also at the tabulation center, but Clemens is not expected to show up in person.

“There are a lot of absentees out there and a lot of provisional ballots. The night is young,” Bernard said. “All day we’ve been telling everyone that this race will be decided by 300 votes and it’s right down to that 300 vote margin.”

Bernard also said there are a number of Haitians voting for the first time who might have gone to the wrong precinct and had to fill out a provisional ballot.

Right now, Clemens is up by 0.7 percent. If the margin drops to 0.5 percent, there will be an automatic recount. Richard Giorgio, Bernard’s political consultant, said he believes the margin could drop low enough to force a recount.

Clemens challenges mailer saying he supported ocean discharge in Lake Worth

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 by whoward

Jeff Clemens, a District 27 candidate for state Senate, issued a press release Wednesday challenging a campaign mailer that says he supported Lake Worth’s 2007 plan to discharge briny concentrate from a reverse-osmosis water plant while serving as the city’s mayor.

The flier shows a brownish substance spewing from a discharge pipe behind a photo of Clemens. It says Clemens, then mayor of Lake Worth, supported the utility’s plan to allow the discharge into the ocean off Lake Worth Beach, which opponents argued would harm coral reefs.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Clemens calls the flier “libelous.” His campaign manager, Cesar Fernandez, said he is consulting with lawyers about a possible lawsuit.

 Annette James, campaign manager for Clemens’ opponent, Mack Bernard, said Bernard had not seen the ads, did not approve them and could not comment.

“These mailers were not sent from, nor approved by, the Mack Bernard campaign,” James said.

The mailer accusing Clemens of being weak on the environment was paid for by the Committee for Effective Representation. The committee is controlled by Associated Industries of Florida, the big-busness group that is supporting Bernard in the race for the new Senate District 27 that covers much of east-central Palm Beach County.

In a May 2007 article published in The Palm Beach Post, Clemens is quoted as saying he would not support the water plant’s ocean discharge if it would harm the reef.

“I don’t want to look back 20 years from now and see that we killed the reef,” Clemens was quoted as saying.

“These attacks are just flat out lies,” Clemens said in a statement. “I voted to protect the coral reefs, and we closed the outfall while I was mayor of Lake Worth.”

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection denied the city’s permit for the ocean discharge of the reverse osmois concentrate. Clemens and the commissionvoted against hiring a lobbyist to push for approval of the permit.

The city has since built a reverse-osmosis water plant, which uses a deep injection well instead of an ocean outfall to dispose of its byproduct.

Competing endorsements in Palm Beach County senate races

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County legislative candidates nailed down several endorsements recently, including support from polar opposites in the Senate District 27 primary contest between Democratic state Reps. Jeff Clemens and Mack Bernard.

The all-Palm Beach County senate district race is shaping up to be a business vs. labor union battle, not an unusual platform for many campaigns. Except this race is between two Democrats, who rarely receive glowing endorsements from business-backed lobbies (except in Democratic primaries.)

Two of the state’s biggest labor unions – the AFL-CIO and SEIU – are backing state Rep. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, Clemens’ campaign announced today. The AFL-CIO also endorsed Clemens in his run for the House seat he now holds.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, nailed down an endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce today. Bernard already has the endorsement of one of Florida’s other top business lobbies – Associated Industries of Florida. The newly drawn District 27 seat stretches generally west of the turnpike in Palm Beach County.

The Chamber also endorsed state Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington. Abruzzo will face off against the winner of a GOP primary between Melanie Peterson and Geoff Sommers.

Avoiding what might have been a brutal primary against Abruzzo, Sachs is running for the new Democratic-leaning District 34, a Palm Beach-Broward seat, against Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale.

Teachers unions back Clemens in Democratic state Senate primary

Friday, June 8th, 2012 by George Bennett

Union political clout may be on the wane with the general electorate, as this week’s Wisconsin recall results attest.

But within the confines of a Democratic primary, scoring the endorsement of the Florida Education Association and Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association is still a big deal. Those teachers unions have weighed in for state Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, over state Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, in their primary for a heavily Democratic state Senate seat.

“Representative Jeff Clemens has been one of the strongest supporters of public education in the Florida House,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “Jeff has a strong record of defending public education. His commitment to our students and public schools is crystal clear.”

Clemens and Mack are running for the Disrict 27 seat, which includes overwhelmingly Democratic minority precincts and condo communities. Dems hold more than a 2-to-1 registration edge over Republicans in the district. With an hour to go before today’s noon qualifying deadline, no GOP candidate has filed for the seat.

Wexler joins Deutch in endorsing Rader in contested Democratic state Senate primary

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 by George Bennett

Wexler

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler has joined his successor, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, in endorsing Democrat Kevin Rader over two other Dems for the new District 27 state Senate seat.

Rader, a former state House member from Delray Beach, is running against current Democratic state Reps. Mack Bernard and Jeff Clemens for the Riviera Beach-to-Boynton Beach Senate district.

About one-third of the district’s voters are black and many of them are represented in the House by Bernard, who is black. Many of the district’s coastal precincts are now represented in the House by Clemens.

The district also includes the Democrat-leaning condos of Century Village, Cypress Lakes and Golden Lakes, which have been represented in Congress by Wexler and now Deutch. The condos were part of an old Senate district where Rader won a 2010 primary but lost in the general election to Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Rader, who had been challenging Democratic state Sen. Maria Sachs in a Palm Beach-Broward district, jumped into the District 27 race this week.

Says Wexler in a statement released today: “I am proud to endorse Kevin Rader and look forward to actively helping him win this election. Kevin is the Democrat we need in the State Senate!”

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