Sunday, July 29, 2012

Today's Florida Political News and Punditry

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

Rubio claims "confusion between GOP American Express and his own MasterCard"

Rubio continues to fall upward. "The Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed a long lingering complaint against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday, clearing him of wrongdoing in questions surrounding his use of a state GOP-issued credit card."

[N]ewspapers reported that Rubio, former speaker of the Florida House, routinely charged personal expenses to his party-issued credit card between 2006 and 2008.

Rubio said he repaid personal expenses. Others raised questions, such as the nearly $4,000 he billed the Republican Party of Florida for a rental car in Miami and repairs to his family minivan, which he said was damaged by a valet at a political event.

Rubio acknowledged double-billing state taxpayers and the party for eight plane fares to Tallahassee, calling it a mistake and repaid the party.
"The ethics commission found no probable cause. But an investigator had harsh words for Rubio, saying the level of 'negligence' exhibited by Rubio's confusion between GOP American Express and his own MasterCard and failing to recognize the error on monthly statements was "disturbing." But he concluded that the facts do not rise to level of 'intentional wrongful act necessary to prove corrupt intent for successful prosecution.'". "Ethics panel dismisses 2010 claim about Rubio".

Florida housed contagious tuberculosis patients in cheap motel, housekeepers, motel guests unaware

Florida apparently converted a cheap hotel into a tuberculosis ward for contagious patients, but neglected to inform the help (who spoke only limited English) or guests at the hotel.

"[F]or at least two years, TB patients were routed by Duval County health officials to the Monterey Motel and told to stay put. Longtime motel resident Alfred Scott — who was treated for the lung disease more than 20 years ago — said he and other residents only were told of the TB patients when they saw people wearing masks coming and going on the motel walkways."

Patients remained at the motel until they no longer were contagious, state Department of Health spokeswoman Jessica Hammonds said.

The man-and-woman team responsible for cleaning rooms, who spoke only limited English, appeared confused when asked whether they had taken precautions. In fact, Kevin Davis, a former manager with the Duval County Health Department’s TB unit, questioned whether hotel managers had been briefed fully about TB transmission or precautions for staff.

For example, he said, a maid should wait to enter the room for about an hour after the resident has left. Shades should be opened because sunlight can help kill TB germs. Typically, physicians and other health care workers will don special air filtering masks while in enclosed places with TB patients.

However, [Department of Health spokeswoman Jessica] Hammonds said motel workers were briefed on infection control. The hotel’s owner, Raman Patel, said staff was instructed to wait before entering the rooms to clean, usually after the hotel resident had stepped outside for about 30 minutes, and to handle trash carefully.

In fact, Hammonds said, adequate ventilation and air conditioning were key reasons the Monterey was chosen. There’s no air-sharing system among rooms.
"State sends tuberculosis patients to $35-a-night motel" ("Alfred Scott, a five-year resident of the Monterey Motel in Jacksonville, has seen health officials in masks bringing people to and from the motel. 'I think the people at the motel needed to be told what was going on,' he said.")

Miami's failing infrastructure - Where's Mittens?

The Miami Herald editors, if unintentionally, make President Obama's point that, "businesses large and small rely on public infrastructure funded by taxpayer dollars". In the context of Miami's failing infrastructure, the editors write that "over the past two years broken sewer pipes have spewed 47 million gallons of stinky waste onto roads and homes and into Miami-Dade waterways all the way from farmlands in the southern tip of the county to the northern border with Broward, which also is facing major sewer system breakdowns."

With 7,500 miles of sewer lines built into Miami-Dade County’s antiquated system, which is a half-century old in some sections, and with 15 municipal water and/or sewer utilities and the county’s Water and Sewer Department responsible for the upgrades, there has been a lot of finger-pointing but little action to tackle this billion-dollar mess. Indeed, 20 years ago a Miami-Dade grand jury warned that “the Miami River and Biscayne Bay would experience the worst environmental catastrophes in modern history” if nothing got done.

Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is demanding action and the county is in negotiations with federal authorities to come up with a solid plan to fix the treatment plants and faulty pipes.

The last time EPA stepped in because of the county’s neglect was in 1996 when stormwater drainage problems were harming the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. The county has spent $600 million over that time, saving about 100 million gallons of water a day.

Yet the sewer part of the job keeps getting put off — at residents’ peril and with great economic risk to the area’s vibrant tourism industry. Instead of having a pro-active program that repairs aging pipes and upgrades wastewater stations, the county for years used excess money from the residents’ sewer fees to balance the county’s overall budget.
"Fix this stinky mess".

Romney getting desperate: Bondi in Veepstakes

"Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is the latest name to emerge from the pool of rumored contenders for the Republican vice presidential slot, but experts consider her a long shot."

Bondi was in New England today campaigning for presumed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is in the midst of an international tour.

The Business Insider website said that the Romney campaign said Bondi make three stops in New Hampshire, including a Women for Mitt Kickoff Breakfast in Concord, and campaign office openings in Bedford and Stratham.

The story then speculates why Bondi would be a good running mate, including her gender, her coming from a battleground state and her strong opposition to the president's health care law.

In addition, recently placed Bondi on the top of a list of state officials to watch.

Experts who spoke with News Channel 8 said Bondi would likely not be Rommey's pick, but her trip is a sign she could play a large role in the campaign and the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Political analyst Susan McManus says Bondi's campaigning is a way to add excitement to campaign events when Romney is unable to attend.
"Bondi as VP? Speculation rising, but experts say no".

"Advancing Scott's plan to ... put friends in high places"

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board reminds us that, "even as Florida was leading the nation in mortgage fraud, Tom Grady thought it wise to close half the state's regional offices charged with investigating the mortgage business."

As head of the Office of Financial Regulation, Grady, a millionaire securities lawyer, took a bulldozer to the place, slashing office resources and personnel, including fraud investigators, and ousting a veteran administrator to put a crony of the governor's in his place. He also spent lavishly on his own travel. Though he's out of office now, Grady's poor management affected the state's ability to police wrongdoing in the financial sector, which may have been the point all along.
"Grady was handpicked by Gov. Rick Scott, a neighbor in Naples, to take over as commissioner of OFR, the state agency that oversees and investigates mortgage brokers, banks and securities firms. He shares Scott's government-cutting, antiregulation ethos, and during his short tenure moved aggressively to pare back the office's physical presence throughout the state."
Florida is known as a hotbed of mortgage and financial fraud. Fort Lauderdale is home to so many scammers it's known as "Fraud Lauderdale." But Grady, a former conservative Republican legislator, led the effort to chop more $3.5 million from the agency by eliminating 81 positions including investigators and closing regional offices in Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Fort Lauderdale.

Grady, who is back in private practice, insists that the lost resources won't affect financial investigations. That would be more believable if during the six months Grady ran OFR he'd been more professional and less political. But Grady's actions suggest he saw his job as advancing Scott's plan to shrink government's size and influence and put friends in high places.
"Florida's fraud watchdog muzzled".

Was his credit card for the plane rental declined?

"An airport official says a small plane carrying U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and his wife made an emergency landing in Albuquerque." "Plane carrying Rubio makes emergency landing in N.M.".

To replace Ronda

"The race to replace Ronda Storms in the state Senate is turning out to be just as interesting — and polarizing — as Storms herself." "Fight to replace Storms heats up in District 24".

"A rising tide of independence"

"One of every four voters registered to vote in Palm Beach County is neither red nor blue." "Florida voter registrations: a rising tide of independence".

All they got: Country clubbers or Teabaggers?

"Adams-Mica primary cast as fight for soul of GOP".

Public wants firefighters to risk their lives ... but don't have their backs

"U.S. loves cops and firefighters - but not their pensions".

Changes in the state’s gun laws unlikely

Lloyd Dunkelberger: "Florida lawmakers are not likely to make any dramatic changes in the state’s gun laws in the wake of the Colorado movie theater massacre that left 12 dead and dozens wounded earlier this month." "Capital Comment: Gun law overhaul unlikely in Florida".

"One of the most coveted groups in this year's election: Jewish voters"

"The presidential candidates are far from South Florida, but their campaigns this weekend are all about one of the most coveted groups in this year's election: Jewish voters in Broward and Palm Beach counties." "Obama, Romney camps working to woo Jewish vote this weekend". See also "Republicans seek new support among Jewish voters" and "South Florida Jewish vote a key for Obama".

The best he can do?

Mack’s rivals "are chafing at his rope-a-dope approach."

But Mack counters with endorsements from the GOP’s glitterati, including Romney, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, many in the state’s Republican congressional delegation and even the tea party-aligned Freedomworks PAC.

Like any front-runner with a formidable pedigree, Mack is a big target – some of it self-drawn.

He’s married to U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican and widow of singer-songwriter, Sonny Bono, which raises some hackles among social conservatives while contributing to heat that Mack draws for not spending enough time in his Southwest Florida district.

He had a privileged youth, which included an arrest outside a Jacksonville bar a few months after his Dad went to the Senate, a barroom brawl three years later with Atlanta Braves ballplayer Ron Gant and an ugly 2006 divorce from his first wife, Ann.
"GOP rivals chafe at Mack’s low-key, no-debate U.S. Senate campaign".

Rubio campaigns in Vegas

"This will be an old home weekend for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of South Florida, who return[ed] to his former hometown of Las Vegas on Saturday to campaign for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Rubio, 41, widely considered a vice presidential prospect, spent some of his formative years in Las Vegas, where he briefly converted to Mormonism and formed his political identity as a conservative Republican." "Rubio returns to Vegas school to stump for Romney".

Interest groups go local

"Optometrists in Miami-Dade are going all in to influence who will be Manatee County’s next supervisor of elections." "Interest groups influencing even local races".