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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.


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.

‘Corruption County’ bill strengthens penalties for ethics violations

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

With Palm Beach “Corruption” County in mind, lawmakers are moving toward stiffening local ordinances combating ethics violations.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, is backing a bill that allow counties to increase the current penalties for violations of county ordinances imposing ethical standards and financial disclosure requirements from 60 days in jail to one year in jail and double the fine from $500 to $1,000 per occurance.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee signed off on Aronberg’s proposal (SB 1980) this afternoon with a 9-1 vote.

Aronberg sponsored the bill at the behest of the scandal-plagued Palm Beach County Commission, which recently established an ethics panel in the wake of a federal corruption probe that landed three former county commissioners in prison. Palm Beach County Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boynton Beach, is the House bill (HB 1301) sponsor.

Aronberg said the measure, which would apply to all counties if it becomes law, puts teeth into local ordinances.

“Living in Palm Beach County, I’m well aware this has become a priority for the voters in my district,” Aronberg, who is running in a statewide Democratic primary for attorney general against Senate colleague Dan Gelber. “Hopefully, this will help remove our reputation as ‘Corruption County.’”

Crist should appoint earthquake disaster czar, Haitian-born Rep. Bernard says

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam



Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are putting together a legislative task force to help streamline relief to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

The tri-county area is home to the greatest number of Haitian immigrants and has been ground-zero for state and federal Haitian aid efforts.

Newly elected state Rep. Mack Bernard, a West Palm Beach Democrat who was born in Port-au-Prince where the epicenter of the deadly earthquake struck last month, is heading up Palm Beach County’s delegation in the task force, which will include Reps. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, and Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, and up to 9 other South Florida lawmakers.

Bernard wants better communication from Gov. Charlie Crist, who he said telephoned him the night of the earthquake on Jan. 12 but hasn’t spoken with him since.

Bernard visited Haiti last week. His sister and her three children are now homeless as a result of the disaster, Bernard said.

Crist should appoint a “Haiti czar” to streamline efforts that could be an economic boon to financially-strapped Florida, Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, suggested.

Read the story here.

“It’s that lack of communication, especially from the governor’s office” that is creating frustration for representatives from the tri-county area, which has the state’s largest Haitian immigrant population and is now on the front line providing aid and resources to the ravaged nation, Bernard said.

Should class size limits be watered down?

Monday, February 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Legislative leaders-in-waiting Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford are heading up a GOP initiative to water down constitutional class size limits approved by voters.

Gaetz, R-Destin, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sponsored a constitutional amendment lawmakers are expected to put on the ballot this year that would undo some of the class size restrictions voters approved in 2002.

Floridians have already spent $16 billion to shrink class sizes but plummeting property tax collections – which pay for public schools – have sent lawmakers scrambling to foot the $22 billion-a-year tab for education.

Gaetz and Weatherford, who are expected to lead their chambers in 2012, will reveal details of their proposal at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, recently said that he supports undoing the class size restrictions, which have been been introduced gradually and which school officials say costs too much and doesn’t benefit student achievement.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat is also running for the U.S. Senate seat Crist seeks, was the force behind the class size amendment in 2002 while he was in the state Senate.

He isn’t backing down from the limits, which are set to go into full effect by the end of this year.

“Eight years later, Tallahassee officials have not relented in trying to water down hard-fought class size limits while refusing to tackle the special interest bidding that is alive and well in the state capital, ” said Kendrick Meek, who served as Chairman of Florida’s Coalition to Reduce Class Size in 2002.

“Florida families cannot be shortchanged. They simply ask that their children not be packed into overcrowded classrooms. Instead of focusing on misguided priorities, Florida needs a long-term perspective to secure a better future for our children. Implementing the class size limits without delay is critical so our teachers can teach in classrooms where our students can learn. Moreover, it is important to note that our state needs to invest now in its human capital in order to reverse the tide of joblessness for tomorrow’s workers,” Meek said in press release.

Do you think the constitutional limits on class sizes should be lowered?

  • No (71%, 52 Votes)
  • Yes (29%, 21 Votes)

Total Voters: 73

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UPDATED: Murzin, United Way “Downtown GetDown” showdown

Monday, September 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Rep. Dave Murzin, a Panhandle Republican who’s in a hot GOP primary against Rep. Greg Evers for state Senate, is holding a fundraiser coinciding with the popular “Downtown GetDowns” on Tallahassee Friday night.

The street parties take place each Friday night before a Florida State University home football game.

But an invitation to the Murzin fundraiser at the Florida Hotel and Restaurant Association in the heart of downtown in the capital city provoked United Way of the Big Bend President Ken Armstrong into calling for a time-out.


House Majority Office supports end to Mexican horse slaughter

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

flgophouseThe House Majority Office sent out a tongue-in-cheek e-mail today trying to steer fans to its new Facebook page.

Earlier this week, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner invited fans to do a Facebook search for “Florida House Majority Office” to check out his new site and join up.

But a search turned up a variety of Facebook groups – including “Stop Horse Slaughter and Murder in Mexico!” – none of which was the Majority Office’s.

“Thanks in part to Dara Kam of the Palm Beach Post, many of you know that a glitch in the Facebook search box leads folks to pages other than our own. For the record, the House Majority Office is fully supportive of stopping horse slaughter and murder in Mexico, and is proud that we have done our part to raise awareness of the issue. But our intention was to send you to our new Facebook page, not one on Mexican equines,” House Majority Office Staff Director Todd Reid wrote in an e-mail.

Reid said his staff have tried to get Facebook to fix the glitch, but in the meantime wanted to advertise a direct link to the site:

Thrasher fights back against attack ads with a dozen fundraisers

Friday, August 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Former House Speaker John Thrasher has at least a dozen fundraisers scheduled before the Sept. 15 special election GOP primary to replace the late Sen. Jim King.

The Florida Dental Association, the Florida Medical Association are among those hosting the Florida fundraisers for the Senate District 8 candidate.

Thrasher, a prominent lobbyist, is under attack by “Stop Tax Waste,” a political group that launched an Internet site lambasting Thrasher for his spending while Speaker, including a lavish revamp of the his office and the House chambers.

“Stop Tax Waste” also launched a television ad this week blasting the Jacksonville Republican for being a Tallahassee insider and again accusing him of wasting taxpayer money.

Thrasher accused trial lawyers of being behind the attack ads, but the “Stop Tax Waste” folks deny the association.

The attack ads coincide with former state Rep. Stan Jordan’s entree into the race. Jordan now serves on the Duval County School Board.

Deutch to House GOP: Hey, that election reform proposal is mine!

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

s030Sen. Ted Deutch is glad his GOP counterparts in the House agree with a proposal the Boca Raton Democrat came up with two years ago that went nowhere.

Deutch tried but failed to pass a bill that would update state election laws to exempt Internet ads linking to campaign web sites from requiring disclaimers about who is paying for the ad and the candidate’s approval.

House Majority Leader Adam Hasner’s office sent out a press release today touting similar legislation filed by state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, calling it a “commonsense solution.”

“In the new media economy, technology advances faster than our laws can adapt. We need to ensure that Florida’s laws keep pace with the technological changes that modern campaigns are now embracing to reach voters,” Hasner, R-Boca Raton wrote.

Deutch later issued a press release saying he would file similar legislation again and reminding the public, and especially the GOP, that the bright idea was his back in 2008.

“Unfortunately, the bill, which had no House sponsor, was never heard in the Senate,” the release reads.

Crist sets special elections for Taylor House seat

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam



A special primary election is slated for Aug. 25 to fill outgoing state House Rep. Priscilla Taylor’s District 84 seat.

Gov. Charlie Crist set the special primary date and a general special election for Sept. 22 to replace the West Palm beach Democrat, whom he appointed to replace Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene.

Democrats Mack Bernard and Hank Harper, a former state representative, have already filed to fill Taylor’s seat next year, when term limits would have forced Taylor out of office.

Cities file lawsuit over controversial growth management bill

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A coalition of cities filed a lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Crist and the leaders of the House and Senate over a controversial growth management bill.

The suit charges that SB 360, which eliminates the requirement that roads must be built before development can occur, creates an “unfunded mandate” by forcing local governments to foot the bill for infrastructure like roads.

The lawsuit was filed in Leon County by Jamie Cole, the lawyer who won a lawsuit against the legislature last year over a property tax amendment. The Florida Supreme Court tossed the legislature’s proposed amendment, spurring a special session that resulted in “Amendment 1,” which voters approved.

Read today’s lawsuit here.

Former child molester victims resort to constitutional change out of desperation

Monday, July 6th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A West Palm Beach lawyer who was repeatedly raped by a neighbor when he was 7 years old and the mother of a man who committed suicide 20 years after he was sexually molested by his Boca Raton karate teacher are desperate.

After five years, they’ve given up trying to get legislators to do away with the statute of limitations on civil and criminal punishment for child molesters that are now protected by time in Florida state law.

Their chief opponent, they say? The Catholic Church.

Now West Palm Beach Lawyer Michael Dolce is trying to get voters to do what lawmakers would not. He’s launched a petition drive to get a ballot initiative on next year’s November ballot.

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Lantana resident Patti Robinson, whose only child Jeff Smith killed himself on Christmas morning in 2001, is tapping her grief to help Dolce get the law changed.

“I felt this would be the best way that I could memorialize him so we would maybe save somebody else from having to go through the pain and suffering he did,” Robinson said.

Read the full story here.

Crist on swine flu, DNA database, TK, etc.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in on a variety of topics this morning after signing several law enforcement-related bills at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles this morning.

Sheltered from the blazing heat by tents, slews of department employees dressed in bright red shirts turned out to hear Crist speak and pose for pictures with the governor, who is also running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Among the bills Crist signed today was one that will expand the state’s DNA database. Law enforcement officials, now limited to taking DNA samples from those convicted of crimes, will now be able to take DNA from anyone who is arrested.

But Crist defended the bill (SB 2276) which civil liberties advocates argue is too far-reaching and have threatened to challenge in court.

“I think it’ll be alright or I wouldn’t have signed the bill. I think that we need to protect first and make sure that our people are safe. I think that this legislation will help us to do that even better,” he said.

Read what else Crist told reporters at a gaggle after the bill-signing after the jump. (more…)

Crist likely to veto insurance bill

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist said today he will likely veto an insurance deregulation bill that consumer advocates charge will lead to rate increases.

Crist said he will probably not sign HB 1171 that would give carte blanche to insurers with more than $200 million in surplus to raise rates.

“The odds are not. But I haven’t made a final decision,” he said.

Department of Insurance Regulation chief Kevin McCarty urged Crist to veto the bill in a letter sent last month and last week saying that it would unfairly benefit large insurers and destabilize the insurance market.

It would also give a leg up to State Farm, the insurer that is canceling its Florida homeowners policies because McCarty rejected its rate increase requests, McCarty said.

State Farm was overexposed in Florida and would likely have canceled the policies regardless of how much they were allowed to charge, McCarty said.

“In fact, State Farm and other companies may actually use excessive rates to effectively non-renew policyholders under the ruse of consumer choice,” McCarty wrote.

Baxley out as Christian Coalition ED, likely to endorse Rubio

Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Former House Rep. Dennis Baxley is leaving his post as executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

Baxley, an Ocala undertaker, led the group’s anti-gambling efforts during the legislative session as lawmakers revised a compact with the Seminoles.

Baxley said he’s resigning after 18 months so he can go to work on political campaigns and endorse candidates which the coalition does not do.

“I love working the issues but it’s campaign season. I’m getting restless,” he said.

Baxley wouldn’t identify which candidates he supports but that “you can bet they’re going to be some of the more conservatives.”

Could it be that Baxley will back former House Speaker Marco Rubio, the Miami Republican challenging Gov. Charlie Crist in a GOP primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez?

“I do love that guy,” Baxley, laughing, said of Rubio.

Argenio to drop out of primary against Negron for Pruitt Senate seat

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Art Argenio is dropping out of an anticipated brutal GOP primary battle against Joe Negron to replace retiring state Sen. Ken Pruitt, according to a source close to the campaigns.

Argenio is expected to make the announcement at a 3 p.m. press conference at St. Lucie County GOP headquarters.

The pair, who both formerly served in the state House, clashed in a bitter special election primary in 1999 (won by Argenio) and another tough primary in 2000 (won by Negron). Democrat Bill Ramos has also opened a campaign and frequent-filing Democrat Stan Smilan has expressed interest.

Argenio would not confirm or deny reports that he will withdraw from the race but deferred to this afternoon’s media availability.

“We’ll be answering all questions then,” Argenio said.

A special June 30 primary and Aug. 4 general election have been scheduled to fill Pruitt’s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach County seat.

Biz group gives Adam Hasner thumbs up

Friday, May 22nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

hasnerscooter1House Majority Leader Adam Hasner got a shout-out from the association representing small businesses for his support of their agenda during the legislative session.

Hasner, a Delray Beach lawyer, led the charge on issues near and dear to the National Federation of Independent Businesses/Florida, including changes to the state’s workers comp laws.

He also was instrumental in killing an effort to get $444 million in federal stimulus dollars by broadening who is eligible for unemployment compensation.

But he was unable to drum up enough support for another of the association’s top priorities – a constitutional amendment to guarantee secret-ballot elections when workers vote to unionize.

He did shepherd it through the House, where an intense debate took place.

After the vote, Democrats requested that the debate be printed in the House journal, the official record of the chamber. Republicans voted the measure down.

The measure died in the Senate.

Crist lukewarm on growth management bill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist defended a growth management bill that critics object would promote urban sprawl, saying it’s not as bad as some other proposals lawmakers were pushing.

The measure (SB 360) would do away with the state’s growth management laws requiring concurrency (that adequate roads be in place before construction is allowed) and requiring that large projects on mega land parcels undergo a rigorous review called a “development of regional impact.”

Crist said he doesn’t believe the developer-friendly measure will cause urban sprawl but acknowledged environmentalists’ complaints about the bill.

“I think there are some who are concerned about the impacts it may have and there are others who are very concerned about the economy and how it might help it,” Crist said.

Relaxing the growth management laws “might make it easier for the permitting process to be a little more efficient,” Crist said.

Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham, who opposed an earlier version of the bill, met with Crist yesterday on the issue.

“I don’t think he thinks it’s perfect. I think that’s safe to say. But I think that he believes it’s a lot better than some of the other measures that were moving toward our desk and fortunately the legislature took care of things before the end of session,” Crist said.

Crist’s press office sent out a release saying the governor would sign the bill today with others dealing with economic incentives.

But the bill was later removed from the list of bill signings. His press office said it was mistakenly included.

Panhandle GOP lawmaker calls Marion Hammer a liar

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer is meeting with Gov. Charlie Crist this afternoon to ask him to veto a $6 million raid on the trust fund that pays for processing of concealed weapons permits.

Hammer said she requested the visit with the governor as soon as the legislation, included in the budget awaiting Crist’s signature, passed.

Hammer, a former president of the NRA, sent out an alert to NRA supporters and members of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, which she also represents, asking them to contact Crist about the veto.

Hammer is demanding the veto because the trust fund raid, part of nearly $600 million lawmakers took from trust funds to help plug a $6 billion budget hole, comes from fees paid by permit seekers.

At least one GOP lawmaker is taking the politically dangerous tack of alienating Hammer and powerful NRA.

Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican running for the state Senate, refuted Hammer’s position about the trust fund raid in a constituent newsletter sent voters in Senate District 2 where he is running.

“I have heard about during my visits throughout the district is the purported ‘sneak attack’ on gun owners by taking funds from the concealed weapons permit trust fund. Unfortunately, the complete story was not told,” Murzin wrote.

Lawmakers included a 40 percent increase in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ funding to process the permits, Murzin wrote.

House Dems fundraiser: please don’t show up!

Monday, May 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Leave your party togs at home and forget about the cheap wine and finger foods.

A few House Democrats have a different party idea to get contributions than a run-of-the-mill fundraiser: do nothing.

They’re calling the fundraiser a “non-event.”

Reps. Ron Saunders of Key West, Leonard Bembry of Greenville and Debbie Boyd of Newberry sent out a “non-event re-election fundraiser” announcement seeking contributions to their campaigns.

No date, no time, no place. Just make checks payable to one of the campaigns and call it a day.

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