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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.

New Senate prez poses ethics reforms

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz is exploring a sweeping ethics proposal that could do away with political committees used by legislative leaders, bar elected officials from getting second jobs outside their fields of expertise and strengthen conflict of interest disclosure for state senators.

The Niceville Republican said Tuesday he’s considering changes to campaign finance laws that might eliminate “committees of continuous existence” while increasing the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, now capped at $500.

Gaetz, who officially takes over his chamber after the November election, told reporters he hasn’t drafted a bill yet for the 2013 legislative session but wants to strengthen ethics laws not only for the legislature but for other elected officials, including school board members. Gaetz formerly served as the superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County.

Gaetz said he’s also considering putting public officials’ financial disclosures online in a way that’s easy for the public to find.

Read about Gaetz’s preliminary ideas about an ethics package after the jump.

Cannon shows his cards — sorta

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon says he has no immediate political ambition beyond leading the state House the next two years.

But he could have a future as a Texas hold ‘em poker player.

Cannon on Monday unveiled some dramatic House positions on the courts, pill mills, immigration and Medicaid — on the eve of the Legislature’s opening. He also delivered them using what has become a typical Cannon approach: deeply layered policy changes formed with seemingly little attention paid to those most affected.

As a rising House member, Cannon used a similar tactic in advancing measures affecting property taxes, Medicaid and offshore oil-drilling.  But unlike past years, Cannon floated his ideas out early Monday — instead of the waning hours of a legislative session. (more…)

Worst budget year and ideology drives GOP cuts

Sunday, March 6th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Facing the worst budget year in memory, new Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-packed Florida Legislature begin the 2011 session this week, pledging to slash spending and make good on campaign pledges that powered them last fall.

With the approach of the opening day Tuesday, unions, teachers and scores of groups in the cross hairs of budget cuts have been rallying against Scott and fellow Republican leaders who, in turn, are pulling support from tea party loyalists eager to shrink government.

Though it hasn’t commanded the national attention of Wisconsin and other partisan battlegrounds, purple state Florida is in for a bruising spring, with lawmakers looking to close a $3.6 billion budget hole and revive an economy flat-lined by an almost 12 percent jobless rate.

“Priority number one is the budget,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “Everything else is number two.”

But it’s not a simple numbers game.

Political ideology is shading most of the exchanges between Republicans in power and Democrats pushed to Florida’s fringe by the November elections.

Read full story here:



‘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.’”

Lawmaker has a beef with DOC ‘food loaf’

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Food loaf. It’s what inmates hope isn’t for dinner.

As if prison food isn’t bad enough already, naughty inmates are fed a mystery “meat” called “food loaf.”

What exactly the loaf is made up of and what prisoners do to warrant the punishing meal isn’t clear either.

“Food loaf” is also known as called “meal management loaf,” “nutri-loaf” or “behavioral loaf in prison circles. In some prisons the concoction is made up of all of the day’s food put into a blender with some oats thrown in and baked into a loaf.

It is given in some prisons to unruly inmates who throw their food trays at correctional officers and was served in the past to Florida inmates with no utensils.

Currently, inmates in Vermont are suing prison officials over the use of the food loaf and which some states have banned.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, asked Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Richard Prudhom at this morning’s Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations meeting morning to give her, in writing, the caloric value of the mystery package and the department policy on offenses that result in the loaf.

Prudhom said he will report back.

The state spends $2.33 a day for three meals and a snack on the 100,000 prisoners behind bars.

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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McCollum: Trial lawyers apology “too little, too late”

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Attorney General and GOP candidate for governor blasted trial lawyers for running a race-baiting ad in a special Jacksonville Senate election.

The controversial mailer depicted the Black Panthers, President Barack Obama, the Rev. Louis Farrakhan with the caption: “Is this the change YOU want to believe in? Violence and intimidation at the voting booth.”

Former House Speaker John Thrasher, a Republican, won the special election and now replaces the late Sen. Jim King.

Scott Carruthers, the head of the powerful trial bar group, admitted yesterday that his organization was behind the ad and apologized for it.

Not good enough, McCollum’s campaign said today in a statement.

“We expect lawyers to not only obey the law but to act in a manner consistent with both the judicial process and the treatment of every individual with respect. I am appalled that the Florida Justice Association engaged in this behavior and their apology is clearly a case of too little too late,” the statement reads.

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.


Senate Prez tells guv no dice on gambling compact

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Atwater: no quick vote on compact

Atwater: no quick vote on compact

Senate President Jeff Atwater put the brakes on an October special session to deal with a gambling compact Gov. Charlie Crist signed with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, sent Crist a list of questions about the compact – the second deal Crist inked with the tribe – today seeking “clarification.”

Atwater gave Crist until Oct. 9 to respond.

In an interview, Atwater also said he’d like the final compact to include provisions allowing the Palm Beach Kennel Club and other parimutuels around the state to add video slot machines or otherwise expand gambling if voters give the OK in local referenda. Such a measure was approved by legislators in the spring, but was not part of the recent compact Crist agreed to with the Seminoles.

Crist: wants early-October vote

Crist: wants early-October vote

Crist has said he wants lawmakers to meet in a special session in early October to approve the compact and to also consider offshore drilling.

No dice on that, either, Atwater said in a memo sent to the Senate and the media.

“As you all are aware, this issue involves a series of complex conversations with a variety of interests and impacts throughout our State. There are policy decisions to be considered that are not well served by undue haste. If, or when, the Senate takes up this issue it will be in a manner that allows for sufficient time to debate the facts and the merits of such policy,” Atwater wrote.

New TV ad blasting Thrasher

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Opponents of former House Speaker John Thrasher launched a new television ad yesterday blasting the lobbyist’s ties to trial lawyers.

Stop Tax Waste, a shadow political committee, accuses him of voting in favor of the trial bar and “against taxpayers.”

Thrasher is running in a GOP special election primary against former state Rep. Stan Jordan to replace the late Sen. Jim King, who died earlier this month after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The Senate District 8 primary will take place on Sept. 15. No Democrats have filed for Jacksonville seat in a GOP-heavy district that stretches from the Florida-Georgia border in Nassau County to Volusia County.

The latest ad is the second Stop Tax Waste launched against Thrasher, accusing him of being a spendthrift with taxpayer money by, among other things, a lavish redecoration of the Speaker’s office.

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.

Bush Pioneer hosts DC fundraiser for Rivera state senate campaign

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

riveraK Street powerhouse Juan Carlos Benitez is hosting a fundraiser for state Rep. David Rivera’s state senate campaign at the D.C. lobbyist’s home Friday evening.

Benitez was one of President George W. Bush’s “pioneers,” fundraisers who raked in at least $100,000 for Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.

Rivera, a Miami Republican who’s facing off in a GOP primary against fellow Miami Rep. Anitere Flores, has raised nearly $400,000 in campaign cash already, not including soft money or money in other campaign-related accounts.

Flores has less than half that amount, with about $170,000 so far.

The two are vying to replace Sen. Alex Villalobos, term-limited out of his Senate District 38 seat next year.

Sen. Jim King passes away

Sunday, July 26th, 2009 by Dara Kam

kingsSen. Jim King died today after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May.

King, a Jacksonville Republican, served as Senate president from 2002 to 2004 and spent more than two decades in the Florida Legislature.

King was responsible for creating the James & Esther King Biomedical Research Foundation, named after his parents.

Memorial services will be held at the St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, on Saturday, August 1, 2009, at 11:00 am and in Tallahassee at the State Capitol, House Chambers, on Tuesday, August 4, 2009, at 2:00 pm.

The King family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Jim King’s honor to either the James & Esther King Biomedical Research Foundation or the Community Hospice of Northeast Florida. Donations to the Research Foundation should be made out to The Florida Department of Health with “James & Esther King Biomedical Research Foundation” noted in the memo portion and mailed to the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Revenue Management, 4052 Bald Cyprus Way, B/ 20, Tallahassee, Fl 32399.

Donations to the Community Hospice should be made out to the Community Hospice Foundation, with “Jim King” noted in the memo portion and mailed to the Community Hospice Foundation, 4266 Sunbeam Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32257. has Negron on the move

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Negron (R): "This community is hurting."GOP Senate candidate Joe Negron is ramping up efforts to secure an Aug. 4 special election win in response to’s entry into the race to replace retiring Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

Negron sent an e-mail appeal to supporters today asking for cash to fight back against the organization which he said “has sent operatives” into District 28 to help turn out the vote for his Democratic opponent Bill Ramos.

“Thanks to your hard work and support, my campaign is doing very well and I am confident that we will win the race on August 4. However, I am not taking anything for granted, particularly in a special election with an expected low turn-out. I take seriously because I saw first hand how effective they were in helping President Obama win Florida in the 2008 Election,” Negron wrote.

Negron, a former House member from Stuart, is going to spend about $50,000 to collect the absentee ballots “from my supporters” and includes a letter from former Gov. Jeb Bush along with door-to-door canvassing and phone banks, according to the e-mail.

Negron’s collected nearly $387,000 so far and spent about $236,000.

Ramos, who made the ballot by collecting signatures instead of paying the qualifying fee, collected just over $24,000 and spent nearly $19,000 thus far.



The Jensen Beach mortgage broker today volunteered information about a 1989 guilty plea for theft when he was a young postal worker.

Jim King cancer returns, prognosis dire

Saturday, July 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

kingsSen. Jim King’s pancreatic cancer has spread and those close to the Jacksonville Republican fear his condition is grave.

Sarah Bascom and Gus Corbello, former King staffers who are speaking for the family, issued the following brief statement today that was distributed by Senate President Jeff Atwater’s office.

“Dear Friends:

While it seemed as though President King was cancer free, he has recently learned that the cancer that first began in his pancreas has now spread to other places in his body.

President King is continuing to fight with the passion and will that has made him our hero for so many years. We continue to ask for your encouragement and prayers, and on behalf of Jim, Linda and his family, we thank you for your love and support of our beloved Jim King.

Gus Corbella & Sarah Bascom”

King was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after the legislative session ended in May. He underwent surgery earlier this summer and a month ago King wrote on his web site that he was cancer-free.

King, a former Senate president, has served in the legislature for more than two decades.

Visit King’s website at

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.

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