"Former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, who represented the Space Coast from 1994 to 2008, announced Friday that he will join a crowded field of Republicans seeking to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson."
"His entrance in the race comes as Rep. Connie Mack is solidifying his spot as the GOP frontrunner, having received the endorsement this week of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Mack has about $1 million in the bank. So does former Sen. George LeMieux. A third candidate, businessman Mike McCalister, trails in money and name recognition." "Former Rep. Dave Weldon joins crowded GOP Senate field". See also "Ex-Congressman Weldon joins crowded U.S. Senate race" and "Weldon makes late entry into Florida GOP race to unseat U.S. Sen. Nelson".
"Contracting process intertwined with politics"
"Every year, nearly $51 billion, or about 57 percent of the state budget, is spent on contracts and agreements for goods and services, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. He sought legislation in the 2012 session that would have shifted oversight of the contracting process to his office, forcing a political distance between the bulk of state contracts, which are under the governor's purview."
The bill died and instead Gov. Rick Scott anointed David Wilkins, secretary of the Department of Children and Families, his new contract-reviewer-in-chief. Wilkins, a 29-year executive at the giant management and technology services company Accenture, knows how private companies can outmaneuver the state because he's been there. He managed million-dollar contracts between his company, other states, the federal government and other nations."Florida's contracting process intertwined with politics".
"Florida is no worse than other states,'' Wilkins said. "It's different because it may have more volume than most."
He says he sees room for improvement all over the place and wants to streamline and consolidate deal-making to give the state more leverage and negotiate better deals. He also wants to find a way to weaken the power of vendors.
"We can't compete with the vendors' skills,'' Wilkins said, noting that some companies are able to hold onto a contract for up to 10 and 20 years and "agencies can be intimidated."
"Just because you bought something one way in the past doesn't mean you have to buy it that way again,'' Wilkins said. "That's where the administration has to step up and stand behind these guys.'' ...
But Wilkins concedes "you probably won't ever take politics out."
"It's those big mega-contracts you have to look at," he said, "and those are the ones that come with big lobbyists.''
While the state has strict rules for single-source contracts, requiring them to undergo an aggressive review process if they are valued at over $195,000, the Legislature has exempted itself from such scrutiny.
When Scott's outgoing chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, was chief of staff in the Senate, for example, he violated no rules when he steered two technology-related contracts to friends and former business associates. ...
One man who spent 12 years trying to reform the state's contracting system is now convinced change is impossible.
Out here in the fields
The Tampa Bay Times editors write that the "story of vulnerable and powerless workers exploited in Florida's agricultural fields is as old as the state itself."
Getting a handle on farmworker mistreatment is exceptionally difficult. Drug-addicted or undocumented workers don't make good witnesses. They're afraid to stand up when their wages are stolen or conditions of work are degraded. And migrant laborers can be impossible to pin down as they move with the crop harvesting seasons, making investigations into human trafficking that much harder."Floridians can no longer avert their eyes or plead ignorance. They should demand that the state redouble its enforcement efforts and insist upon more humane working conditions in the fields that produce the food on everyone's tables." "Growers, state, feds must stop abuse of farmworkers".
"One of her potential Republican rivals recently depicted U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a spiked collar, calling her 'Obama’s attack dog.' Another lost to the Democratic congresswoman by more than 22 percentage points just two years ago. Another was the butt of a joke on Comedy Central’s Daily Show when he tried to explain the anti-Muslim group he heads."
"Yet all see Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, as the polarizing Florida stand-in for President Barack Obama. That, along with the 2010 success of insurgent Tea Party candidates, fuels their hopes they’ll send her packing in November." "Democratic leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz targeted by Republican hopefuls".
"With FPL, customers are on the hook"
Randy Schultz: "Maybe the executives at Florida Power & Light got their training at JPMorgan Chase."
America's supposedly best-run mega-bank first acknowledged a massive trading loss that reeked of 2008 and the financial crisis. Then JPMorgan sounded like an airline company on a summer day of thunderstorms, when a 30-minute flight delay creeps into a two-hour delay. The loss that JPMorgan said was $2.3 billion is up to nearly $5 billion, and may go higher."Can consumers count on regulators to check FPL's math?".
Three years ago, FPL executives got approval from the Florida Public Service Commission to increase capacity at the company's nuclear power plants in St. Lucie and Miami-Dade counties. The estimated cost was $1.7 billion. Last fall, the estimate had risen to between $2.3 billion and $2.5 billion. Last week, FPL revealed that the latest estimate is more than $3 billion. It may go higher.
With JPMorgan, taxpayers can watch from the sidelines. The bank made $19 billion last year, and there's so sign yet that even this loss will make anyone think of a public bailout.
With FPL, however, customers are on the hook. Because of a law the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed in 2006, FPL gets to bill customers for work on nuclear plants before the power begins flowing. If the costs come in higher, customers pay more. With almost all other plants, utilities cannot assess customers until the plant actually begins operating.
Chamber may have to disclose donations
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "A federal judge in March took a positive step by overturning regulations that permit tax-exempt groups to hide their donors, and it is that decision that the appellate court refused to set aside this week."
This does not affect the so-called super political action committees, which exist for political purposes and already disclose their donors. It does affect tax-exempt groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative organizations such as Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity that air attack ads against President Barack Obama and other Democrats. Liberal tax-exempt groups also are affected but spend far less on election ads."Unveil donors behind attack ads".
If the ruling stands, the U.S. Chamber and other such groups will have to disclose all donations received since the beginning of 2011 if they air ads that refer to federal candidates, without advocating their election or defeat, and that run within 30 days before a primary and 60 days before the general election. The Chamber, which already has spent more than $3.4 million on these types of ads, is squawking. Other tax-exempt groups already are looking for another loophole to avoid disclosing their donors.
This is one campaign finance opinion that should stand. Voters can make more informed decisions about how to weigh the endless attack ads when they know who is paying for them.
Covering all the crosses
"In his forthcoming book, Rubio addresses another source of curiosity in his life: his unusual spiritual odyssey from Catholicism to Mormonism to the Baptist faith and back to Catholicism."
He has at various times in the past decade identified his denomination differently in the Florida Legislature clerk's handbook. He sees nothing odd about it. He and his mother and sister joined the Mormon church when they were living in Las Vegas in the late '70s. According to a family member quoted in Roig-Franzia's book, it was young Marco who convinced his family to return to the Catholicism."Rubios talk faith, family, politics".
"The truth is I have been a Catholic, and I am again — and I am, and I feel very strongly about the Catholic Church, but the bottom line is we found this (other) church that we liked," he explains about his decision to attend Christ Fellowship, a megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
He tries to attend Mass daily while in Washington. Jeanette was also raised Catholic but considers herself more of a devout Christian that a devout Catholic. The family attends two services on weekends, Mass on Sunday and Saturday evening services at Christ Fellowship. He only takes communion at Mass, he says.
Of Christ Fellowship, he says, "they're excellent teachers of the written word. They're excellent teachers of applicable — of how you apply the principles of Christianity and the powerful teachings of Christianity not just to your life but to eternity. We just liked the church. And my kids liked it and my wife liked it and our family liked it, and for a time, that's the only place I went to exclusively, but always felt called back to the Catholic Church and to the Catholic faith.
Entrepreneurs in action
"Historic Space Mission Aborted At Last Half-Second".
Unemployment falls in two-thirds of U.S. states
"The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of U.S. states last month, evidence that modest economic growth is boosting hiring in most areas of the country."
And in many states, unemployment has fallen well below the national average, which was 8.1 percent last month. The rate was under 7 percent in 22 states in April. That compares with only 13 states in April 2011."Unemployment rate falls in two-thirds of U.S. states".
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate dropped in 37 states in April, the most in three months. Unemployment rose in 5 states and was unchanged in eight.
Nationally, the unemployment rate has fallen a full percentage point since August. Employers have added a million jobs over the past five months, though the pace of hiring slowed in March and April.
Ignoring that Florida is riding the coattails of a national trend, Ricky Scott apparently thinks he had something to do with it. See "Florida unemployment rate falls to 8.7 percent in April" and "Florida Unemployment Hits Lowest Mark Since January 2009". More: "Unemployment rate drops to 8.7 percent, but state loses jobs in April".
"Rubio and his political vulnerabilities"
"For freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising GOP figure seen as a possible Mitt Romney running mate, there are questions about whether potential vulnerabilities in his personal and political background might hold him back."
The 40-year-old Florida lawmaker has close ties to a colleague accused of questionable financial dealings. He once was enmeshed in a controversy over the use of the state party's credit card for his personal expenses. Since emerging on the national political scene, he has faced increased personal scrutiny. There are conflicting details about his parents' immigration from Cuba and his recently disclosed ties to the Mormon faith."Rubio denies any interest in the No. 2 spot this year, but he's working hard to stay in the national spotlight. He recently gave a major foreign policy address in Washington."
The country is only just starting to get to know Rubio and his political vulnerabilities, though Florida residents know both well."Political vulnerabilities in Sen. Rubio's past".
Both Rubio's ties with U.S. Rep. David Rivera, a fellow GOP freshman who now is facing a federal probe into tax evasion, and the state party credit card matter surfaced during Rubio's 2010 Senate campaign. While they didn't have much effect, that doesn't mean they would get a pass on the national stage. ...
Rubio and Rivera met in 1992, during the campaign of former Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a fellow South Florida Cuban-American. The two rose through the ranks in the Statehouse with Rivera oftentimes playing bad cop to the more congenial Rubio.
During the legislative session, they shared a Tallahassee town house, which a bank began foreclosure proceedings on in 2010. Rubio and Rivera made only partial payments on that mortgage for five months in 2010; at that time, he held jobs as a consultant and professor. Rubio has said the missed payments were due to a dispute over the terms of the mortgage.
State officials closed a criminal probe into Rivera's personal financial dealings without filing charges but didn't clear him entirely. They cited Florida's brief statute of limitations and its lax campaign finance laws for not charging him with living off of his campaign funds and failing to disclose his income.
In the last year, Rubio has publicly kept some distance from Rivera and has said that his friend has some issues he must address on the campaign trail. Still, Rubio threw a small Washington fundraiser for Rivera last week. So far, Rubio hasn't faced blowback from his friendship with Rivera. ...
If Rubio were to end up on the GOP presidential ticket or mount his own national campaign in the coming years, he all but certainly would face questions about the scandal over the use of state GOP funds when he was the speaker of the Florida House.
The head of the party, Jim Greer, was forced to resign following revelations he and his second-in-command charged $1.5 million on party credit cards, much of it on luxurious hotels, fancy restaurants, chauffeured sedans and lavish entertaining. Greer's trial is set to start July 30, just ahead of the Republican convention, and many Republican observers anticipate he will detail unethical use of party money by other high-ranking GOP officials.
Rubio spent more than $100,000 on the party card between 2006 and 2008, paying off about $16,000 in personal expenses and claiming the rest as official party business. His records from 2005, when he was lobbying to become Florida House speaker, never were released. When asked about using the party card for personal expenses, Rubio has said he sometimes just pulled the wrong card out of his wallet and he has called it a "lesson learned."
He also has had to answer criticism for how he spent money donated to two political committees he formed - including payments to relatives. He has acknowledged the bookkeeping for at least one of the accounts was sloppy.
Then there's his family's background.
Rubio long claimed his parents fled Fidel Castro's rule. But it was recently disclosed that they arrived several years before Castro took power, although they quickly embraced the Cuban exile community as Castro turned toward communism. Rubio has said the dates he gave were based on his parents' recollections.
"Biggest spenders are also major vendors with the state"
Aaron Deslatte writes today about "the amount of cash Florida lobbyists are able to extract from corporations, interest groups and local governments seeking Capitol influence", explaining that "many of the biggest spenders are also major vendors with the state."
Take HNTB Corp., the Kansas City-based engineering firm hoping to capitalize on the "public-private partnerships" for toll roads in Florida – a key piece of Gov. Rick Scott's vision for transportation expansion. ..."Big spenders on lobbyists often work for government".
The company, which has regional offices in Lake Mary, was paid $64 million in taxpayer money last year and has collected $29.2 million through the first half of this fiscal year. And with that has come lobbying expenditures.
HNTB paid lobbyists $380,000 in 2012, the third-highest of total for any company, as closed-door negotiations over the Wekiva Parkway between Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando; Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority officials; and Central Florida local governments nearly derailed during session.
AT&T, the telephone giant trying to survive in a wireless world, remained the top spender, with $1.6 million paid to 36 different firms. AT&T has more than $10 million in contracts with various state agencies this year, but their objective in Tallahassee wasn't selling phone-plans. The company – with the help of Verizon Communications and other telecoms -- won passage of tax changes that could save them between $35 million to $300 million a year in communications-services taxes.
GEO Group, the Boca Raton private prison management company, is another that has received $45 million in taxpayer dollars this year and spent $305,000 on lobbyists in the first quarter. GEO was one of two prison companies pushing to privatize South Florida prisons. The issue capsized in the Senate – but with Scott, House Republicans and incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, on board, it is sure to re-surface next year.
Speaking of issues that will resurface, there's Malaysian-based Gentling, a new fish that has been a godsend to the lobbying crowd, throwing down $760,000 to 16 different firms as it tried in vain to win passage of a "destination casino" bill that would have allowed it to transform bayfront Miami into a Sunshine State version of Vegas.
Puerto Rican voters
"Florida's Puerto Ricans urged to register, vote".
"Key tasks remain for RNC"
"With the Republican National Convention 100 days away, the Tampa Bay Host Committee celebrates tonight with an invitation-only party at the Harborview Center in Clearwater. ... The location of the Secret Service's security perimeter is arguably the biggest logistical decision of the convention. Traffic, protests, downtown business and life on Harbour Island — it affects them all." "With 100 days to go, key tasks remain for RNC". See also "Key facts about the Republican National Convention in Tampa" and "When it's time to speak at the Tampa RNC, who will get to grab a mic?".
"Governor making his fifth overseas trip"
"Rick Scott travels Sunday to Spain with a 70-person delegation of Florida business leaders and officials, with the 'let's get to work' governor making his fifth overseas trip as the state's chief executive. Scott's office drew a distinction Friday between Spain and missions led last year to Israel, Canada, Panama and Brazil. Instead of a pack of Florida corporate execs looking to sell their wares to foreign markets, this week's trip is designed to spur Spanish investment in Florida."
Accompanying him are executives from Florida Power & Light, sugar giant Florida Crystals, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Miami's Dosal Tobacco Corp., and the law firms Holland & Knight and Gray/Robinson, which represent dozens of firms with business before state government."Luring investment in Florida aim of Gov. Rick Scott's trip to Spain next week".
Palm Beach County-based Florida Crystals, for example, is a central player in Scott's push to advance Everglades restoration and a heavy contributor to the Scott's 2010 election campaign.
"When hate is what you’re selling, always go low"
The Miami Herald's Carl Hiaasen: "Joe Ricketts has decided not to spend $10 million on hate. Good call.
Ricketts is a billionaire, having founded TD Ameritrade, a company that promotes online stock trading by ordinary folks. You’ve seen the commercials on television."The challenge, it said, is 'to inflame their questions on his character and competency, while allowing themselves to still somewhat 'like' the man . . .' Yet the scheme was far more ambitious than traditional doubt-sowing. The goal was to portray Obama as a radical black man with radical views of America as extolled by a cranky old minister."
Up until a few days ago, a circle of well-known Republican strategists had been coaching Ricketts to use his wealth to make America hate President Obama.
They’d seen the polls showing that the president is generally well-liked, even by many voters who don’t approve of his economic policies. In the most recent Gallup survey, Obama likeability rating was 60 percent. Some Republicans believe that Mitt Romney, whose likeability ratings are dismal (only 31 percent), has no chance of victory unless Obama’s image is dragged down.
However, unlike Romney, the Ricketts assault team had no misgivings about playing the race card. According to the New York Times, a game plan recently presented to the Ricketts family rather glumly conceded that voters “still aren’t ready to hate this president.”
The question is why Republicans would attempt something as risky as using the disavowed commentary of a black preacher to attack Obama. Why spend $10 million of a fat cat’s money on an advertising barrage that’s bound to dredge up the worst kinds of reactions?"Fat cat urged to bankroll anti-Obama hatefest".
Unless that was its purpose — not to implant racial fears so much as to fire up the bigots who are already out there, and make sure they go to the polls. Romney isn’t a racist, but some in his party clearly believe he can’t win without a heavy turnout of people who cannot stomach the notion of a black guy in the White House.
Those are the votes that the banner planes were after. When hate is what you’re selling, always go low.
Sales tax collections running ahead of forecasts
Lloyd Dunkelberger: "The latest report from the state Department of Revenue showed sales tax collections — the main financial engine for state government — have been running ahead of forecasts. In April, the state took in $1.93 billion in sales taxes, some $53 million above the original estimate. For the fiscal year, sales tax collections are running ahead of the estimate by about $162 million through April." "State revenue growth steady despite uncertainty".
Hillary favored by double digits over Jebbie, 30 points over Scott
Anthony Man points out that "Florida voters like Hillary Clinton. The secretary of state, unsuccessful 2008 presidential candidate, and former first lady enjoys a nearly 3 to 1 favorable to unfavorable rating among the state's voters."
At 68 percent, her favorability was the highest among seven politicians in the May poll by Suffolk University/WSVN-Ch. 7. A quarter of the state's voters had an unfavorable view of Clinton"Florida voters like Hillary and Jeb, but not Rick Scott".
No. 2 is former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose scores were 56 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable.
What's their secret? "They're not running for anything," said Kevin Hill of Weston, a political scientist at Florida International University. Both have been polarizing figures, but Hill and Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami said that was years ago.
Last place went to Gov. Rick Scott, who was viewed favorably by just 37 percent of voters and unfavorably by 45 percent.
Both President Barack Obama (50 percent favorable to 45 percent unfavorable) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (42 percent to 45 percent) are floating around the middle.
Reforms die, as ALF "residents dying at rate of one a month from abuse and neglect"
"As state leaders launch two new efforts to improve troubled assisted living facilities, advocates blast lawmakers for killing previous reforms that could have saved lives."
Lawmakers have come under fire in recent months for failing to heed the warnings of a Miami-Dade grand jury, the governor’s task force and a legislative investigation — all of which blasted ALF regulators for refusing to shutter and discipline homes that repeatedly break state law."New ALF reform effort stirs same doubts".
The investigations followed a series of stories in The Miami Herald that showed residents were dying at the rate of one a month from abuse and neglect.
In addition to the task force, the state Department of Elder Affairs announced this week it has started a committee that will look to create new rules for running the roughly 2,850 homes.
But just like the work group, the committee has also drawn criticism that it has too many industry leaders, and too few people representing the residents.