The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Professor's murder stuns Tallahassee

Thirty-six hours before he was gunned down in his Tallahassee home, law professor Dan Markel was pondering the death penalty.

On that night, July 16, his thoughts drifted to the number of Death Row inmates whose sentences had been vacated in California. He posted an essay on the subject to his widely read legal blog before going to bed.

Around 11 a.m. on July 18, Markel, 41, was shot in the head. He died the following day.

Investigators say Markel was targeted by his shooter. He was killed in his garage, according to a police report released Friday. Markel’s black Honda Accord was being processed by the forensics unit, the keys still inside.

But police haven’t said much more about the crime, which happened in a quiet, upscale neighborhood known as Betton Hills. The mystery has rocked the legal community and spurred scores of blog posts and online tributes. …

Full Story

Crist flies to enviro press conference on plane of developer fined for pollution

Democrat Charlie Crist flew to an environmental press event Thursday on the private jet of a developer fined for pollution.

Almost as soon Crist stepped off the 2005 Cessna 560XL, Gov. Rick Scott's campaign had photographed its tail number and traced its ownership to developer James Finch, whose company Phoenix Construction was fined at least twice for violating environmental rules (more herehere and here).

Scott's campaign quickly informed reporters awaiting Crist at his press conference concerning climate change

Crist, not commenting about the irony of flying to an environmental press conference on the plane of someone busted for violating environmental rules, partly blamed his troubles on the remoteness and difficulty of traveling to Tallahassee. …

Full Story

Another Florida judge rules against gay marriage ban

By Steve Rothaus, Miami Herald

MIAMI — For the second time in eight days, a South Florida circuit judge has declared the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional and ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry.
Late Friday afternoon, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel ordered that six same-sex couples who sued Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for marriage licenses in January should be allowed to wed.

There will be no weddings yet: In her ruling, Zabel ordered an immediate stay until after the case is appealed.

"To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the ... classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law," Zabel wrote in her order, citing a 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a state ban on interracial marriage. …

Full Story

Climate wars continue as Crist meets with FSU scientist

Democrat Charlie Crist said he's already a "believer" in climate change but said he listened to a scientific presentation Friday partly to highlight the differences between him and Gov. Rick Scott.

The presentation took place during a press conference as Jeff Chanton, a Florida State University oceanography professor, showed slide after slide showing the impact of global warming on Florida and the world. Chanton was one of 10 scientists who last week sent a letter to Scott requesting a sit-down to discuss climate change since the governor has often said he's not a scientist when asked about global warming.

Scott's response was that he'd have someone from his administration meet with the scientists who sent him the letter. On Friday, Crist said he'd personally meet with them. And Scott's campaign later released a statement the governor would be "happy to meet with them."

Chanton said he hasn't personally been contacted by Scott, but the governor's campaign spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said an appointment would be set up.

The so-called climate wars has created an opportunity for Crist who said he not only wanted to "meet with Chanton to learn "but also to indicate there's a distinction between the two of us running for governor this year.

Full Story

Perry Thurston on why he's the one to beat Attorney General Pam Bondi

Attorney General Pam Bondi works for her party and its ideology, not the people, Democratic attorney general candidate Perry Thurston told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Friday.

Thurston, the House minority leader who is term-limited this year, said he would focus on consumer protection, expansion of individual rights, and government oversight -- in short, “an alternative to someone who caters to special interests and the right-wing agenda of the Republican Party.”

He said Bondi has a track record of blocking legislation that would actually benefit constituents, citing Bondi’s lawsuit challenging Obamacare and her opposition to restoring the civil rights of felons. And he said her positions against legalizing medical marijuana and same-sex marriage prove that she’s against the will of the people and against progress.

“There would have been a time when she would have defended the fact that I couldn’t get married to (some women) because we’re not of the same race,” he said. …

Full Story

SurveyUSA/NRDC climate-change poll lands amid gov's race

Nearly eight in 10 likely Florida voters want limits on power-plants’ carbon pollution and as many as 71 percent say they’re concerned about climate change, according to a new poll conducted for an environmental group during the hotly contested governor’s race.

“The takeaway from this poll is simple: People think carbon pollution is a problem, and they think our political leaders should take action and fight pollution,” said Susan Glickman, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which chartered the 1,005-likely voter poll by SurveyUSA.

The survey’s timing has both a policy and political dynamic:

* It gauges voter sentiment on a range of environmental issues, including opinions about a draft U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting carbon emissions, which the poll says 59 percent strongly favor.

* It’s an election year in which Republican Gov. Rick Scott faces former Gov. Charlie Crist, a believer in man-made climate change due to carbon emissions. A separate SurveyUSA poll this week indicated Crist leads by as much as 5 percentage points, but a Quinnipiac University survey at the same time found the race essentially tied. …

Full Story

Curt Clawson's 'intensely awkward' Capitol Hill debut

Curt Clawson celebrates along with a cheering crowd at his election party at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs, Fla., after officially winning the special election in the Congressional District 19 Republican primary in April.

AP photo

Curt Clawson celebrates along with a cheering crowd at his election party at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs, Fla., after officially winning the special election in the Congressional District 19 Republican primary in April.

Rookie Florida Rep. Curt Clawson made a major faux pas at a Foreign Affairs hearing on Thursday, mistaking two U.S. government officials for Indian government representatives.

Foreign Policy called it "intensely awkward." From the FP blog:

The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about "your country" and "your government," in reference to the state of India

"I'm familiar with your country; I love your country," the Florida Republican said. "Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I'm willing and enthusiastic about doing so."

Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if "their" government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India. …

Full Story

PolitiFact Florida: What Crist omits from attack ad on Scott about Bright Futures

Former Gov. Charlie Crist continued his attacks on Gov. Rick Scott's education funding record in a TV ad set at St. Petersburg High School, Crist's alma mater.

"This isn't just a doorway to a school. It was my doorway as a public school kid to opportunity. And I want to make sure every child has that same chance for a better life," Crist says in the ad. "But Rick Scott's education cuts are closing that door on Florida's kids, spending almost $200 less per student than when I was governor and cutting Bright Futures scholarships in half."

Did Scott cut Bright Futures scholarships in half? Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see our rating.

 

Full Story

Bondi calls on emergency medical workers to help fight human trafficking

Attorney General Pam Bondi is turning to emergency medical workers to help fight human trafficking in Florida, which is the third highest ranked state for the crime.

Emergency medical providers are at the "front line to help to identify possible victims of human trafficking," Beth Brunner, CEO of the Emergency Medicine Learning and Resource Center in Orlando, said in a press release.

But the emergency workers don't always recognize the signs, according to healthcare officials.

A study from the Family Violence Prevention Fund found that "28 percent of trafficking survivors said they came into contact with a healthcare provider during the trafficking situation, and were not recognized."

Bondi, joined by health officials, announced the plan to partner with emergency workers in Orlando.

"Medical treatment during an emergency may be one of the few opportunities that emergency medical personnel have a chance to help save a human trafficking victim," Bondi said in a statement.

Working with experts, the Attorney General's Office has compiled numerous indicators of sex and labor trafficking, examples of appropriate questions and recommended courses of action in suspected cases of trafficking. …

Full Story

Nan Rich visits Pinellas, calls on Charlie Crist to debate

Gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich spoke with Pinellas County Democratic Party supporters in a St. Petersburg hotel conference room Thursdsay night to remind them that she is the only lifelong Democrat running for the office.

She also called out her primary opponent, Charlie Crist, for not accepting any of her challenges to a public debate.

About 80 members and supporters of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee listened to her at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater hotel, just off Roosevelt Boulevard.

"Your record is the best indicator of what you will do," Rich said, referring to Crist's past as a Republican.

Rich said she has always maintained the same position on LGBT rights, child welfare and off-shore drilling. She also touted her own bad rating with the National Rifle Association.

Rich is running out of her home base in Broward County. She was elected to the state Senate in 2004 and previously served two terms in the Florida House of Representatives. She has vigorously crossed the state for the past two years, and her campaign workers say she has covered 160,000 miles and attended more than 325 campaign events. But she is little-known outside of south Florida. …

Full Story

St Pete Mayor endorses Perry Thurston for attorney General

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is scheduled to formally endorse state Rep. Perry Thurston in the Democratic primary for attorney general tomorrow. Kriseman served with Thurston in the legislature.The endorsement will take place at Democratic headquarters in St. Pete at 10 a.m., and the Thurston campaign said Kriseman is the first mayor representing a city of at least 200,000 to endorse in his primary against George Sheldon.

Full Story

Rubio wants to 'wind down' deferred action program for immigrant youth

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called Thursday for an end to President Barack Obama's deferred action program granting legal status to immigrant youth brought to the United States by their parents.

"The U.S. must also make clear that the Deferred Action program, or any law or policy for that matter, does not and will not apply to any recent arrivals," read a statement Rubio issued after a meeting with Central American presidents. "Furthermore, because the recent wave from Central America spiked after (Deferred Action) was announced, it is in our interest to wind down this program. If you are not currently in it, you should not be eligible for it. For President Obama to raise hopes it may actually be unilaterally expanded is irresponsible and threatens to make this problem even worse."

On the surface, it is not surprising as Rubio has joined Republican bashing of the president over the problem of migrant children showing up at the southern border. Except Rubio pursued the same idea that Obama executed in 2012, protecting hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" from the threat of deportation. …

Full Story

Is it 2010 all of a sudden?

In Florida’s bareknuckle governor’s race, it’s as if the 2010 campaign season never ended.

The Florida Democratic Party on Thursday announced a digital media effort to highlight a sealed deposition that damaged Rick Scott on the campaign trail four years ago.

At the same time, the Republican Party of Florida took to Twitter and mockingly marked Charlie Crist’s birthday by featuring a photo of the Democrat blowing out birthday candles with convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein — a relationship that haunted the then-governor in his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate bid.

The state GOP also filed elections complaints Thursday that accused Crist of using the recent tour promoting his book — which revolves around his 2010 race — to help circumvent campaign-finance laws. Earlier this week, a batch of election-year complaints against Crist and Scott were rejected as baseless.

The back-and-forth slugfest, which has led to $22 million in TV ads so far and a neck-and-neck race, promises only to intensify as each side tries to make the other guy look like a secretive crook.

Story here

Full Story

Another look at Q Poll's good news for Scott

Yesterday morning, when Quinnipiac University posted its press release about the governor's race poll, I copied and pasted it on the blog. The news print story went into more depth about the context of the poll, which revealed better trendlines for Gov. Rick Scott than Democrat Charlie Crist.

And as, I've said numerous times: It ain't the topline, it's the trend.

An excerpt:

• Strong leadership. By 54-38 percent, voters say Scott is a strong leader compared to Crist’s 49-43 percent. That’s close to the opposite of the April findings. Scott’s index has moved 11 percentage points in the governor’s favor, Crist’s index has moved 12 points to his detriment.

• Truthfulness. Crist took a notable hit in appearing honest and trustworthy. His -9 index (39-48 percent) is down from a +2 index in April. That’s a net 11-point shift. Scott’s index is about the same.

• Favorability. Only 40 percent have a favorable impression of Scott and 45 percent an unfavorable impression. But his -5 favorability index is an all-time high and a 2-point improvement since April. Crist’s 40-42 percentage favorability spread is an all-time low; a -2 index that represents a 9-point shift to his detriment. …

Full Story

Average net worth of Fla lawmakers at least $1.2-mil

From the News Service of Florida:

For most state lawmakers, 2013 was another good year financially, regardless of party.

Still, those with an "R" affixed to their names are doing better, in general, when it comes to the bottom line thanks mostly to stronger housing and stock markets.

Updated financial-disclosure reports for 2013 were due July 1. And from the reports posted online as of Thursday, the average net worth in the Senate is just under $3.77 million, while the average net-worth figure is a little more than $1.4 million in the House.

The totals run from a high of $26 million for outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz to a negative $127,138 for Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who remains underwater on a pair of home loans.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican with two years remaining in the Senate, was a co-founder of VITAS Healthcare Corp. He actually saw his net worth slip slightly in 2013, by about $140,000, from the prior year.

"The decline in my net worth is forcing me to make economies," Gaetz quipped in an email response. "I'm afraid I will have to cancel some newspaper subscriptions."

Of the 156 lawmakers who served during both the 2012 and 2013 sessions and whose reports were available, 119 recorded increases in net worth, 35 went down and two posted no change.

The reports represent an individual's net worth on Dec. 31, 2013. While the reports were due July 1, lawmakers have until Sept. 2 to file them before facing fines.

As of Dec. 31, 2012, the average for all 40 senators stood at $3.34 million. The average for the 120 House members was $1.27 million.

A little more than $30,000 in income for each legislator comes from their state salaries.

Senate Republicans on average are worth $4.3 million per the latest reports, while their House GOP counterparts chime in at an average of $1.7 million. Democrats in the Senate averaged $2.77 million, while in the House the average stands at $865,224.

The averages are all up from a year earlier.Dan Krassner, executive director of the watchdog group Integrity Florida, said lawmakers should be praised for major ethics reforms in 2013 that require the financial-disclosure reports to be posted online. However, the information still fails to provide a full picture of individual lawmakers' wealth, he said.

"Many lawmakers receive significant income from special interests who lobby the Legislature," Krassner said in an email. "The Legislature has created disclosure loopholes so conflicts of interest are easily hidden or just made legal."

Among the problems with the reports, according to Integrity Florida, are that the self-reported numbers are never audited, assets can be easily hidden under a spouse's name and lawmakers don't have to reveal if firms they own or work for have business before the Legislature or state government. Also, Integrity Florida contends that with the requirement that numbers be based on a single day rather than the full-year lawmakers can "secretly engage in major transactions throughout the year undetected."

Of the 40 Senators, 18 are millionaires, one more than during the prior year.

Tampa Democrat Arthenia Joyner, a longtime attorney, joined the seven-figure crowd, with her net worth growing from $908,422 to $1,009,588.

In the House, 35 of the 120 members are members of the millionaires club, the same number as the previous year though the list of millionaires does not include all the same representatives.

Not among those seven-figure lawmakers is outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who reported his net worth declined from $288,075 to $285,259.

Weatherford, who reported his leadership post paid $39,585 last year, also drew $16,000 from the Dallas-based Breckenridge Enterprises and $102,785 from Red Eagle Group, a company that contracts with Simpson Environmental Services, which is headed by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
Simpson, worth $18.1 million, is the second-wealthiest senator.

Weatherford is slated to be replaced this fall as House speaker by Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. Crisafulli, a real estate broker from a prominent citrus family, posted a net worth of $453,989. A year earlier, Crisafulli's net worth was at $375,127.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who is vice president of external affairs at Orlando Health, is slated to replace Gaetz as Senate president this fall. Gardiner came in with a net worth of $751,353 in 2013, up from $585,023 in 2011 to $681,653 in 2012.

Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican who co-founded the Towncare Dental Partnership firm now located throughout Central and South Florida, topped the House in terms of net worth, at $14.2 million.

Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat and attorney with more than $300,000 in liabilities mostly involving home loans, is the only senator to record himself as financially underwater. Soto listed his net worth at a negative $6,663, an improvement from a negative $32,351 a year earlier.

In the House, 12 members --- two fewer than a year earlier --- owe more than they're worth, mostly due to outstanding home, student and auto loans.

Full Story