Thursday, February 27, 2014

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider "liking" us on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"Scott is running Florida like a business — doing business with his friends"

"Before the Legislature convenes in Tallahassee next Tuesday, Coral Gables healthcare tycoon Miguel B. 'Mike' Fernandez will host a Sunday afternoon BBQ with Gov. Rick Scott, his wife Ann, and key members of the governor’s campaign finance team."

Fernandez, dubbed 'Florida’s newest billionaire' last year by Florida Trend, was named finance co-chair for Scott’s campaign in January. In the announcement, the governor called Fernandez a 'close friend.'

But Fernandez, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, is more than Scott’s friend. He’s also a huge contributor to his re-election campaign and the owner or co-owner of fast-growing healthcare companies that under Scott’s administration have been awarded multiple, multi-year state contracts potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"In October 2012, reported that Fernandez was a silent partner in a $44.8 million contract awarded by Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) to manage mental health services in Broward."
The multi-year department contract went to the Broward Behavioral Health Coalition, a nonprofit led by former DCF boss and state attorney general Bob Butterworth, and its for-profit partner, Concordia Behavioral Health of Miami.

Fernandez was a major Concordia shareholder. His name was disclosed to top department officials, but was omitted from DCF records about the procurement.

Fernandez’s invisibility regarding the Broward procurement meant that no one took note of his $125,000 contribution to Let’s Get to Work, a fundraising organization set up with the governor’s support, on Jan. 25, 2012 while the procurement was pending.

Previously, during Scott’s 2010 campaign, Fernandez and his MBF Family Investments gave Let’s Get to Work $500,000.

Asked about those large contributions in 2012, Katy Sorenson, head of the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, said, “It sounds like maybe Gov. Scott is running Florida like a business — doing business with his friends.”

Fernandez’s money continues to gush the governor’s way.

On November 2, 2013, as the governor’s re-election campaign was stirring, Fernandez personally gave $1 million to Let’s Get to Work. No one else has written a check that large in support of Scott’s re-election.

Sunday’s get-together at Fernandez’s opulent Little River Plantation, not far from Tallahassee, is a by invitation-only event. The public is not invited.

“As an important member of Governor Rick Scott’s finance team, Mike Fernandez is opening his home to you. He is not a public person and believes we need to meet each other in person and in a social setting…Nothing formal (casual jeans and casual setting.) We will chat, have BBQ and see beautiful horses…We need to come together so we can deliver victory together,” the emailed invitation said.

"Medicaid contracts, a close friend, big money and Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign". See also "" and "".

"Year of the Vice"

Nancy Smith: "Legislature About to Convene 'Year of the Vice'".

"Tribune, Scripps team up"

"The Tampa Tribune and E.W. Scripps Co. announced Tuesday they will operate a joint news bureau in Tallahassee — combining two powerful brands that will serve readers in their local communities and throughout Florida." "Tribune, Scripps team up for politics coverage".

FEA Slams Testing of Disabled Kids

Allison Nielsen: "The Florida Education Association is making its voice heard against Florida's high-stakes testing, saying the assessment tests have 'disturbing consequences' for students with disabilities in Florida. On Wednesday, the teachers' union released a new video criticizing Florida's education accountability system and the requirement for all students to take either the FAA or FCAT test. According to the FEA, testing, not Florida's children, has become the focus for Florida’s education." "Teachers Union Slams Florida's 'High-Stakes Testing' for Disabled Students".

"Florida’s recovery is just ho-hum"

"With Florida’s gubernatorial candidates jostling over the state of the economy, a new report suggests the Great Recession rebound isn’t so stunning or complete."

The non-partisan Pew Charitable Trusts’ new analysis ranks the 50 states on where they fall on tax, spending, debt and economic issues.

The no-spin picture: Florida’s recovery is just ho-hum.

The state’s revenue-collection rebound remains far below the national average for states, it’s more reliant on federal funds, and its employment picture lags most states.

On a positive note: when it comes to savings, Florida is in the top-third – capable of funding state government for nearly 47 days off its $3.2 billion in reserves.

The report is just the latest to temper the rosy picture of economic recovery Republican Gov. Rick Scott is touting heading into his re-election campaign next fall.

"Pew Report: Florida economic recovery isn't so rosy".

Hill in SoFla

"Clinton addressed the 6,000 or so students and guests at the University of Miami, but gave no hint about her future plans." "Hillary Clinton speaks at UM, remains mum about presidential aspirations".


Kevin Derby: "Republican primary candidates continued to maneuver for position on Wednesday in the special election for the congressional seat opened when former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., resigned from Congress after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. The special primary election will be held on April 22." "Republicans Try to Woo Conservatives in CD 19".

Tax money for sports stadiums

"The bill would create a competitive awards process in determining how public money should be allocated to sports stadiums." "Bill would create process to award tax money for sports stadiums".

Sternad finally gives up Rivera and Alliegro to Feds

"For the first time, a convicted congressional candidate has stated in federal records that former U.S. Rep. David Rivera was a part of the conspiracy to funnel illegal contributions to his campaign."

Justin Lamar Sternad said in three recent Federal Elections Commission filings that a total of $81,486.15 in illegal campaign contributions were coordinated or tied to “Ana Alliegro and/or David Rivera.” The revelations about the two come almost a year after Sternad’s March 15 guilty plea on counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy and making a false statement on an FEC report.

Sternad’s sentencing has been repeatedly delayed. He is cooperating with federal investigators who are trying to bring charges against Rivera and Alliegro.

“To those who think this case has gone away: You’re wrong,” said Enrique “Rick” Yabor, an attorney for Sternad, who last month amended three of his FEC reports to note the involvement of Alliegro and Rivera in his 2012 Democratic primary race for Congressional District 26, which stretches from from Key West to Calle Ocho in Miami-Dade County. . . .

During the campaign, Sternad — a political unknown with no experience and little money — was producing and mailing slick flyers that sophisticatedly targeted specific segments of the electorate in the district.

"If Rivera was involved in the conspiracy, it indicates he wanted to use Sternad as a straw candidate to defeat Garcia in the primary or at least wound him before the 2012 election. It didn’t work. Amid the scandal, Garcia walloped Rivera in the general election."
The alleged conspiracy began as early as May 25, 2012, with a $500 contribution.

“The contribution was given to me, in cash, by a third party from Ana Alliegro. I later discovered that Ana Alliegro was working with David Rivera,” Sternad wrote in an amended report that the FEC posted Jan. 30. . . .

When it came to the big payments to the mail house and printing companies that handled his mailers, Sternad also names “Ana Alliegro and/or David Rivera.”

"David Rivera named by Justin Lamar Sternad in illegal money scandal".

Runnin' gub'mint like a bidness

Bill Cotterell: "EFI says its promotional spending is legal, and paying dividends in new jobs but a watchdog group questions expenses like $38,000 on professional baseball games and a monthly $30,000 credit card bill for unknown expenditures." "Integrity Florida wants Enterprise Florida investigated".

Ambitious gambling proposal

Dara Kam: "The Florida Senate has released an ambitious gambling proposal that would authorize two Las Vegas-style casinos in South Florida, create a gambling commission and allow voters to decide if they want to control future gambling expansions."

The Senate Gaming Committee’s three-bill gambling package, released Monday afternoon, includes a 453-page measure that renumbers the state’s pari-mutuel laws and replaces the state’s Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering with the “Department of Gaming Control” overseen by a five-member Gaming Control Board. The members of the panel would be appointed by the governor and require Senate confirmation.

The proposal also would allow one “destination resort casino” each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties that could offer slots and blackjack along with roulette and craps. Casino operators would pay $125 million to apply for the licenses, with the money refunded to losing bidders. The casinos would pay annual $5 million license fees and games would be taxed at 35 percent, the same rate that “racinos” in Miami-Dade and Broward currently pay on slot machines.

The casinos would also have to pledge to spend at least $2 billion to develop each site, not including the purchase of the property, over five years.

"Senate rolls dice with gambling bill". See also "Senate bills would expand gambling while adding new regulations".

Scott dodges question, Crist pounces

Kevin Derby: "Even with two special congressional elections currently taking place in Florida, this week the leading gubernatorial candidates -- by exchanging attacks -- offered voters a reminder that they’re in November's political main event. The latest clash in the candidate battle began early Wednesday when Gov. Rick Scott dodged a question from Chuck Todd of MSNBC asking if he would sign an anti-LGBT bill like the one before Jan Brewer in Arizona. Later in the day Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist was quick to criticize Scott for not taking a stand on the issue." "Arizona Just the Latest Keeping Florida Gubernatorial Candidates in National Spotlight".

But see: "Gov. Rick Scott said he would veto Florida bills similar to the one vetoed Wednesday in Arizona. Gov. Rick Scott deflects questions on Arizona law, then says he would veto it".

Another Rick Scott "Full Flop"


Scott fought the health care law before he became governor, and after the law passed, he continued to fight it. After the Supreme Court upheld the law, Scott said definitively that he opposed the Medicaid expansion.

But several months later, in February 2013, Scott announced that he supported Medicaid expansion. He qualified that position by saying he wanted to try it for three years, so Florida could then judge how it was working. But he didn’t push the Legislature to approve it, and legislators ultimately rejected the expansion.

In 2013, Scott completely reversed his stance on Medicaid expansion. So we rate this a Full Flop.

"PolitiFact: Rick Scott opposed Medicaid expansion before he supported it".

Alex Sink's strategy

"Congressional candidate Alex Sink's strategy: Focus on senior voters".

Related: "Early voters may hold key in U.S. House District 13 election" and "By the numbers, Congressional District 13 debate is all about talking points".

"Strangeness of Florida politics"

Steve Bousquet: "Rick Scott, barely qualified to run for governor in 2010 because he had been in the state only a brief time longer than the seven years required by the Florida Constitution."

Then "Rick who?" spent more than $70 million of his own money to get elected, almost daily having to dodge questions about the record fine paid by his former hospital company for Medicare fraud.

Now, more than three years later, he's prepared to spend up to $100 million for re-election as polls show a majority of voters don't want to give him a second term.

When Scott, the stranger, used his checkbook in 2010 to bludgeon GOP rival Bill McCollum and the entire party establishment, it was evident that loyalties had not been built up . . . .

"And for fresh evidence of flux, fluidity and uncertainty, look no further than Florida Democrats as they now embrace as their savior a politician who used to be a "Ronald Reagan Republican" and then a 'Jeb Bush Republican' before changing parties and claiming he no longer wants any part of its extremism."
Across Florida, voters can already be heard grumbling that they don't like either of these likely choices for governor in 2014.

To some voters, both are fundamentally flawed men.

"Steve Bousquet: Rick Scott, Charlie Crist typify strangeness of Florida politics".

Enough already

The Tampa Bay Times: "Schools don't need more meddling".

Murphy to face two time loser

"As Ellen Andel heads to the sidelines, Carl Domino becomes the front-runner to take on Patrick Murphy."

Despite [or perhaps because of] the support of Allen West, Andel simply didn’t click. West hosted a fundraiser for Andel but she had less than $5,550 in the bank at the end of December. Murphy, on the other hand, had more than $1.75 million. After throwing in loads of his own cash, more than $279,500 by the end of December, Domino had more than $274,000 in the bank. None of the other Republican candidates were even close. Alan Schlesinger sunk $50,000 of his own money into his campaign and had around $27,400 in the bank at the end of December. Calvin Turnquest chipped in $10,100 to his campaign and had $10,125 on-hand. Conservative groups are expected to spend heavily against Murphy, but clearly the Democratic incumbent has a solid advantage here. No wonder Republicans were pining for Adam Hasner to move into the district to run against Murphy.

Domino’s not exactly the strongest of front-runners since he’s coming off two straight primary losses. In 2010, Domino lost to Ellyn Bogdanoff in a state Senate primary. Two years later, Domino tried to come back to the Florida House but lost to MaryLynn Magar in the Republican primary.

"Carl Domino's the GOP Front-runner to Challenge Murphy".