Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

1 more could be added to the Charlie Crist Jailhouse Brigade

Looks like another one of Charlie Crist's top money men may be headed for prison.

Lee County real estate broker Greg Eagle, the father of state Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, pleaded guilty to four counts of bank fraud, one count each of mail fraud and wire fraud. Greg Eagle faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison on each of the six counts, and a fine of up to $1 million. He will also be ordered to pay back money he ripped off his victims.

In 2006, Eagle put $1 million into a third-party political group, Floridians for a Better and Brighter Florida, before the September primary. The money later was transferred to another group that helped Crist secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

For those keeping track, Eagle is the latest elite Republican fundraiser arrested by law enforcement. In 2010, Fort Lauderdale lawyer and uber-fundraiser Scott Rothstein was sentenced to 50 years for running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. Hollywood ophthalmologist Alan Mendelsohn, another Crist benefactor, in 2011 was sentenced to four years in a public corruption and tax evasion case. And later this month former Crist pal and former state GOP Chairman Jim Greer will be sentenced for theft and money laundering charges.

We're not even counting Crist's billionaire former fraternity brother and generous political supporter Harry Sargeant, whose fuel contracts with the federal government are reportedly under investigation.

Roasting Scott

Gov. Rick Scott yukked it up last week for the first time at the Capitol Press Corps Skits, the "sometimes annual" roasting of all things Tallahassee.

A no-show his first two years, Scott and several of his aides walked in late as show emcee and AP writer Gary Fineout had taken the stage and was unloading the first of the evening's many jokes at Scott's expense.

Scott seemed to enjoy himself, and stood up in mock applause after a couple of jokes. More than 1,000 of the town's political class attended the 58th annual skits to raise money for the Barbara Frye Scholarship Fund.

Always a ribald affair, this year's skits were where memes went to die. Both Call Me Maybe and The Harlem Shake were go-to gags for members of the press and the Florida House. Videos showed the acting chops of Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.

Scott got most of the ribbing. In one skit, Bay News 9's Troy Kinsey played a poll-driven Scott morphing into former Gov. Crist.

News did break during the skits. In a video short, Republican bad boy and former Scott spokesman Brian Burgess (now a consultant with Meteoric Media Strategies) revealed what happened to Reagan the dog. It involves a shovel.

Pensions bill

On Thursday, the Senate's Community Affairs Committee heard SB 534, a bill that would subject the state's 492 municipal pensions to tougher actuarial scrutiny.

Boring stuff, right? Well, not for political junkies in Pinellas County.

You see, the bill's sponsor is Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. The bill already cleared one committee, by a 7-2 vote. Brandes has been a tireless champion of it, doing things like sitting in House committee meetings and tweeting his support for the sponsor of the companion bill.

But the bill didn't get a warm reception at its second Senate committee, especially from one member in particular — Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Latvala brought up concerns about the bill and even convinced one senator who voted for it last week, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, to hold off on his support.

Latvala told Brandes that he had questions about it.

"This really is not hazing," Latvala told Brandes.

He then shared his concerns about the bill's new reporting method for pensions, which would make them more in line with corporate bonds with more conservative rates of return.

Latvala said that could greatly exaggerate their liabilities and could shake investor confidence.

"Do you disagree that this could have a potentially adverse affect on local governments' bond ratings?" Latvala asked.

At another point, Latvala advised Brandes that he should compare the performance of pensions to at least 10 years.

"Don't you think when we make decisions up here we ought to use numbers that are more than a year at a time?" Latvala asked Brandes.

As Brandes continued to defend the bill, he was interrupted by the chair of the committee, Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey. Save it for next week. His bill had been delayed. He had a week to sit down with Bradley and Latvala to work out any issues.

What could be at play? When Brandes ran for Senate last year, Latvala backed his opponent, Jim Frishe. Then a state representative, Frishe backed Latvala in his bid for Senate president in 2016. Brandes said he was neutral, but won heavy financial backing from another senator vying for the presidency in 2016, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Paul No. 1, Rubio No. 2

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul won the annual CPAC straw poll, backed by a youthful, libertarian-leaning group of activists. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio came in a very close second.

Paul got 25 percent of the vote to Rubio's 23 percent, which pollster Tony Fabrizio said was a "virtual tie."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asked not to be on the ballot.

Former senator dies

Former state Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, had health issues in her final years in the Legislature, where she left in 2012 due to term limits. She was the rarest of politicians: She seemed to make everyone happy and had no apparent enemies.

"It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Florida State Senator Larcenia Bullard," Aaron T. McKinney, legislative assistant to Bullard's son and successor, Dwight Bullard, wrote in a Saturday email to Senate staff. She was 65.

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