Sunshine State News Blogs

Florida Cabinet members issued statements commemorating Memorial Day on Friday. 

“My wife Ann and I join Floridians this Memorial Day in honoring the men and women of the United States military who have given their lives to serve our country throughout our nation’s history," said Gov. Rick Scott. "It is because of their bravery and sacrifice that we are able to enjoy the freedoms of our great country and have the opportunity to achieve the American dream. We continue to pray for the members and families of the armed forces who are honorably serving today."

Attorney General Pam Bondi also remembered Memorial Day, saying:

“This Memorial Day, we honor the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for this great country. Because of their sacrifice, the United States of America remains a beacon of liberty and prosperity around the world. I am forever thankful for the courage and selflessness these great Americans exhibited defending our country. I’m also eternally grateful for those serving in our armed forces today, protecting our great nation and our freedom.”

“Memorial Day is a somber remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom as well as a celebration of the virtues and values that have led generation after generation to courageously serve with valor for the betterment of others," said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. “I am eternally grateful to the men and women who selflessly serve or have served in the United States armed forces. Your remarkable strength and unwavering commitment to this country is why the United States of America continues to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam took to his Facebook page to speak on the holiday.

"This weekend, while enjoying the time with friends and family, let's all be sure to honor the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice protecting our great nation," he wrote.  
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David Dunn-Rankin, Florida Press Association chair, and Bob Gabordi, Florida Society of News Editors president, announced in a written statement Friday details for the first forums for Florida’s 2014 gubernatorial candidates.

They will take place at the organization's annual meeting, more than a month ahead of the primaries, but -- as in previous gubernatorial election years -- presenting an opportunity for editors to hear all candidates address the issues and clarify their positions.

The July meeting is part of the annual convention of both organizations and will be July 10 and 11 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. It is open to members of both organizations for a registration fee, and members of the working press are welcome to attend the gubernatorial forums without charge. Risers will be provided for broadcast media.

The forums are open to any candidate meeting the established criteria (available at Gov. Rick Scott, former governor Charlie Crist and former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich have been invited to participate.

In an email to the Florida Press Association, the Scott campaign noted that “[the campaign] appreciates the invitation and will make decisions about debates and forums at an appropriate time.” Charlie Crist and Nan Rich have accepted the invitation.

The first forum will be at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, July 10. The rest of the afternoon will be filled with industry-oriented programs. The second forum will be at 8:45 a.m. Friday, July 11.

Terry Spencer, Associated Press editor for Florida, will serve as moderator, and a panel to include three editors and reporters from Florida newspapers will be decided at a later date. Each participating candidate will be given 10 minutes to make his or her opening remarks, and then the panel will have approximately 15 minutes to ask questions of the candidate. The candidates will then be given three minutes for their closing remarks.

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continues to stay active in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus.

Having endorsed Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst earlier in the month, Rubio is now running a new TV ad for her with his Reclaim America PAC as she continues her bid for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

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Even as his bill empowering the secretary of the VA to fire and demote problem employees is stalled in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continues to push his legislation and now he is getting the backing of Gov. Rick Scott.  

After the U.S. House voted overwhelmingly to pass companion legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., earlier in the week, Rubio attempted to get the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to move on his bill on Thursday. But U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chair of the committee, insisted the bill needed an in-depth hearing and deferred an immediate vote on it.

Rubio took to the floor of the Senate on Thursday to urge the chamber to pass his bill, noting the VA department is currently facing criticism for reports of secret waiting lists at VA medical facilities across the nation.

On Friday, Scott thanked Rubio and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who is co-sponsoring the bill.

“I would like to thank the efforts of Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson for their cooperation and leadership to support legislation holding VA employees accountable for the mismanagement of our VA hospitals,” Scott said. “It’s disappointing, however, that other members of the U.S. Senate blocked progress on this bill.

“I appreciate the leadership of Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller as sponsor of this legislation in the House, and the House leadership on both sides of the aisle for their leadership in passage of this bill,” Scott added. “U.S. senators should ensure our fighting men and women receive the medical care they earned and fought for. They should not have gone home from Washington to celebrate our freedoms and remember the sacrifice of our veterans over Memorial Day until they passed this critical legislation.”

For more on Rubio's and Miller's bill and how the VA is impacting the Florida gubernatorial race, keep an eye on Sunshine State News this weekend.

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., called out the United Nations for not imposing harsh sanctions in response to the Castro regime in Cuba sending military support to fellow communist state North Korea. The South Florida congresswoman called for President Barack Obama to get involved.

“Weak does not begin to describe the laughable ‘sanction’ that news reports have indicated the U.N. is planning on proposing for Cuba’s role in trafficking military equipment to North Korea,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Thursday. “Let's not forget that this is the largest intercepted shipment of weapons to North Korea since U.N. Security Council sanctions were implemented in 2006. This is yet another example of the Castro regime gaming the international community for its own political agenda.

"With this feckless proposal, the U.N. has again shown that it is becoming little more than a club for dictators who, if they violate the rules, face little to no sanction. Instead of a slap on the wrist, the Obama administration should submit a list of Cuban officials and enterprises involved in this illegal operation to be sanctioned by the United Nations. We must show we will not turn a blind eye to conduct that only serves to assist those who would do us harm. Otherwise, the U.S. should further sanction these entities ourselves.”

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, met with Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen on Thursday and urged him to continue to investigate the IRS targeting conservative and tea party groups.

“As chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, I’ve been fighting to hold the Internal Revenue Service accountable for more than a year,” Crenshaw said. “Their initial rule has been wrong for the nation from the start.

"I hope Commissioner Koskinen reviews the findings of the various ongoing investigations before proposing a revised rule. Moving forward, as head of the subcommittee that funds the IRS, I will continue to keep a close eye on the process to ensure that the First Amendment rights of Americans are protected.”

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued the following statement on Thursday regarding the death of prominent GOP fundraiser and civic leader Al Austin:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of Al Austin’s passing. His tireless efforts on behalf of our country, our community, in pursuit of educational excellence and the Republican Party will long be remembered. Our thoughts and prayers are with Beverly, his family, and those of us who were mentored by his leadership, humbled by his patriotism, and inspired by his philanthropic endeavors.”

Austin was attributed with bringing new business to the Tampa Bay area and is widely credited for helping bring the 2012 Republican National Convention to Tampa. 

Austin died of a heart attack in his sleep Wednesday evening. He was 85. 

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Former Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in on the controversy surrounding the VA hospitals on Thursday.

"I appreciate Secretary Eric Shinseki's service to his country, and while we don't know precisely what happened here, we do know that there must be accountability and confidence in leadership in order to get to the truth and provide veterans the medical care they've earned and deserve," said Crist. "That confidence is gone. I think it would be best if the secretary stepped down and allowed others to get the VA fixed once and for all."

Crist also took the opportunity to take aim at Rick Scott.

"Moreover, if I were governor, rather than using this moment as a political tool, I would take immediate action to employ any and all resources needed to make sure that our veterans here in Florida get the care that they need and deserve," he continued. "I'd start by calling the Legislature back in a special session to expand coverage to the more than 41,000 Florida veterans who fall into the health care gap and are not currently insured due to Rick Scott and the Legislature's failure. This isn't an issue of left versus right -- it's a crisis that requires leadership."
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Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry issued the following statement on the death of prominent GOP fundraiser and civic leader Al Austin:

"The news of Al Austin’s passing is unexpected and sad. Al was a great man who led an impressive life. His commitment to the Tampa Bay area and the Republican Party was unprecedented. My prayers are with his family during this time as we honor Al’s memory and the legacy he left behind.”

Austin is attributed with bringing new business to the Tampa Bay area and is widely credited for helping bring the 2012 Republican National Convention to Tampa. Austin died of a heart attack in his sleep Wednesday evening. He was 85. 
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A poll released on Thursday finds former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dominating the Democratic side while former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas leads the GOP pack in Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus.

Public Policy Polling (PPP), which has connections to Democrats, finds Huckabee, who won in Iowa back in 2008, leading with 20 percent followed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida takes third with 12 percent followed by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., with 10 percent. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey garners 9 percent, followed by two candidates from Wisconsin: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., with 8 percent and Gov. Scott Walker with 6 percent. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., takes 4 percent while former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., gets only 3 percent despite winning Iowa in 2012.

Clinton easily beats the Democratic competition, taking 59 percent, with Vice President Joe Biden in distant second with 12 percent and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, in third with 11 percent. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York take 3 percent apiece while other candidates take 2 percent or less. With Clinton out of the mix, Biden leads with 34 percent followed by Warren with 22 percent, Cuomo with 7 percent and Booker with 4 percent.

In potential general election match-up, Clinton beats Huckabee and Paul by 4 percent, Bush by 5 percent, Christie by 6 percent and Cruz by 7 percent.

The poll of 914 Iowa voters was taken from May 15-19 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent. The poll of 356 Iowa Democrats was taken over the same period and had a margin of error of +/- 5.2 percent. The poll of 303 Iowa Republicans was also taken at the same time and had a margin of error of +/- 5.6 percent.

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Alongside possible Republican presidential contender Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., continued his focus on Florida ports -- and attacking the Democrat he is most likely to face in November -- on Thursday.

Speaking at Port Tampa Bay, Scott doubled down on his calls to invest $1 billion for Florida ports over an 8-year period, including the 4 he has served in Tallahassee. During his time in office, Florida has sent more than $700 million to help the Sunshine State’s ports as they ready for the Panama Canal expansion.

“As we work to create even more jobs for the next generation, investing in our ports is key to our success,” Scott said on Thursday. “Our ports are our connection to global commerce and the world. If we want to become a destination for the world’s tourists and for the world’s jobs – we have to keep investing in our ports.

“While many states waited on Washington to help fund infrastructure needs, Florida never waited on the federal government to step in and help us be more competitive or successful,” Scott added. “In Florida, we have made investments in our seaports and expedited funding for major ports projects and I am proud we are committing to invest a total of $1 billion in Florida’s ports over our entire 8-year term in office.”

Following the Scott team’s lead earlier in the week, Christie came out swinging against former Gov. Charlie Crist on trade. Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott despite spending most of his political life in the GOP.

"Charlie Crist neglected Florida’s economy while he was governor and decided to make it worse by raising taxes, increasing debt and leaving a $3.6 billion deficit behind,” Christie said. “Crist also neglected Florida’s ports – a key part of this state’s economy – and it led to over 150,000 trade jobs being lost in Florida. Gov. Scott has done the opposite, making smart investments into ports, leading to the creation of over 120,000 trade jobs. I’m used to seeing career politicians like Charlie Crist in New Jersey – all talk and no action. But like me, Gov. Scott cleaned up his predecessor’s mess and Florida is much better off for it."

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., scored two wins on Thursday with his amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included in the bill which passed with 325 votes.

Ross launched two amendments, one ensuring military commissaries remain open and the other ensuring federal funds aren’t used for recreational facilities for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Ross noted back in 2012 that reports emerged of $750,000 being used to build a soccer field for prisoners there.

"America has some of the best and most courageous men and women in uniform," said Ross on Thursday. "They have offered to place their lives on the line for our freedom. They have earned their benefits -- whether it's tricare, cost-of-living adjustments, or whether it's commissaries. We can't throw around as a bargaining chip the benefits of those who have sacrificed everything."

"The people being held at Gitmo are terrorists who tried to harm Americans," Ross added. "Our country is in substantial debt. We should be spending this money on cancer research; not on making life more pleasant for terrorists held at our prisons."

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The mayor of Destin and the Destin Chamber of Commerce won't wait for the next round of discussions on casino gambling in the state Legislature. They want to do something right now to make sure it can't come to their city.

In a TV3-Pensacola interview, Mayor Mel Ponder said Wednesday, "Casino gambling wouldn't be a fit here ... One of the biggest things on my heart is to make sure we maintain the DNA of family in our city. And those things that impact family I believe impact really the culture and community of our city."

Several months ago, the Destin Chamber of Commerce led the way, coming out against gambling in the city, saying it would "damage Destin's brand."

Ponder knows some residents think gaming could take a tourist town to the next level. But he is convinced most people in Destin share his feelings. Though he's not sure yet what's legally possible, he and the City Council are talking to their lawyers seeing what can be done, because "it's time to start the discussion."

Said Ponder, "If we really don't want casinos in town, as a community then let's explore what options we really have. And if we don't that's fine. But if we do, let's go ahead and raise that standard now."

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Even as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s team demands a debate with him, Gov. Rick Scott struck back with a new website, counting the days since Crist refused to debate Democratic primary rival former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich. Scott’s team released a new site on Thursday and called for Crist to debate Rich, adding the governor will debate whoever wins the Democratic primary winner in the fall.


"The governor will debate the Democratic nominee in the fall,” said Melissa Sellers, Scott’s campaign manager. “Charlie Crist should stop playing games and stop hiding from Nan Rich. What is he scared of?"

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The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which passed the U.S. House earlier this week and is expected to pass the U.S. Senate in the days to come, allows the expansion of Port Everglades if the  Army Corps of Engineers gives the green light. To that end, Florida’s two U.S. senators -- Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio -- along with two South Florida Democratic congresswomen -- Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- met with Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday to talk about Port Everglades. The Corps of Engineers is expected to release its final report by January 2015.

“The Florida delegation stands together in making sure our ports, including Port Everglades, are equipped for the expansion of the Panama Canal,” said Rubio. “Today’s meeting was a positive step forward, and I will continue to monitor the work of the Army Corps until the project at Port Everglades is finalized and completed.”

“We need to get this project done for the bigger ships that will come from the Panama Canal expansion,” said Nelson. “That’s going to create jobs and stimulate the local economy.”

“Progress on this expansion means lots of jobs for South Florida,” said Frankel.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that the Army Corps is making progress on its feasibility study for the port expansion project, but remaining issues must quickly be resolved – further delay is simply unacceptable,” said Wasserman Schultz. “Port Everglades is a major economic engine for South Florida and the port must be well-positioned to meet the changing international transportation needs of the 21st century.”

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Charlie Crist's campaign team is putting pressure on Gov. Rick Scott to debate the former governor in July.

"For those keeping score, Rick Scott is willing to spend $11+ mil on TV smearing , but not willing to attend a moderated forum," tweeted Crist spokesman Kevin Cate.

Both Crist and Scott were invited to a gubernatorial forum hosted by the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors to be held at The Biltmore in Coral Gables in July. 

On Wednesday morning, Crist accepted his invitation. By Wednesday afternoon, Scott had declined. 

Scott's team said they have no interest in a debate with Crist since he hasn't even won the primary yet -- and asked Crist why he wouldn't debate Nan Rich.

"The governor will debate the Democratic nominee in the fall," said campaign manager Melissa Sellers. "Charlie Crist should stop playing games and stop hiding from Nan Rich. What is he scared of?"
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U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., the only Florida congressman sitting on the Ways and Means Committee, called for more government accountability on Wednesday -- and he says he is not getting it from the Obama administration.

“One of my most important jobs is holding government bureaucrats accountable for their actions and there sure have been a lot of questionable actions lately that demand accountability – the IRS targeting of conservative taxpayers, the VA's scandalous treatment of our veterans, Obamacare’s false promises, Benghazi, government surveillance of ordinary Americans … the list goes on,” Buchanan insisted. 

“I have consistently been a champion of reining in the size of our government, especially when that government treats citizens unfairly or with a heavy hand,” Buchanan added. “The IRS targeting of people because of their political beliefs is outrageous and unacceptable. How can the public have confidence in government when a top IRS official invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination? We can disagree over policies, but using the full weight of our government for political retribution is unconscionable.”

Buchanan promised to “continue demanding answers until the truth is brought to light.”

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A Florida anti-Common Core group is coming out in support of statements made by Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, at an education conference where he said the company developing the replacement test for the FCAT aims to "attract every one of your children to become a(s) homosexual as they possibly can."

Florida Stop Common Core Coalition contends that the American Institutes for Research company goes into "full blown promotion" of homosexual practices and attempts to "normalize homosexual tendencies" beginning at a young age. 

The group links to a brief which asks families and religious congregations to "override beliefs and convictions" by saying they should be supportive of a child's LGBT lifestyle even though they might feel "uncomfortable." The brief also suggests families should "believe [their children] can have a happy future as an LGBT adult."

"Rep. Van Zant was completely correct in his statements that AIR is promoting the LGBT lifestyle in children, and they are doing the same within families and churches," said Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch and executive director of the FSCCC.

"AIR is taking $220 million from the citizens of Florida to develop what are supposed to be academic tests based on allegedly rigorous academic standards. However, given that AIR focuses heavily on controversial, nonacademic psychosocial issues and data mining; that the federal government and many groups admit that the Common Core standards teach psychosocial issues having nothing to do with English and math; and that the computer adaptive tests will be individualized and not available for parental review; parents have no guarantee that their children are protected from psychological or attitudinal profiling by AIR's tests," she continued. 

The group then called for Stewart's resignation.

The AIR test will be administered in Florida's schools beginning next year. 
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Gov. Rick Scott’s team pounced on former Gov. Charlie Crist for a comment he made at the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida on Wednesday.

“You recently said that anyone who continues to support the Cuban embargo has their head in the sand,” a member of the audience told Crist.

“No, I didn’t say that,” Crist insisted.

“No, you said ‘head-in-the-sand crowd.’ That was in February,” the audience member said. “So does President Obama, Sen. Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and other Democrats who support the embargo … have their head in the sand?”

“I’ll use my own words instead of yours,” Crist replied.

But Scott’s team had Crist on video calling supporters of the Cuban embargo "a part of the keep-your-head-in-the-sand crowd.” Crist made that comment in Fort Myers back in February.

Scott’s team used the opportunity to hit Crist as inconsistent and for not debating primary rival former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich.

“We now understand why Charlie Crist won’t debate Nan Rich – he’s too busy debating himself,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for Scott. “It’s one thing to insult Florida’s Cuban-American community; now he’s just lying about it.”

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As the other gubernatorial candidates accept and decline attending a candidate forum in Coral Gables hosted by the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors in early July, Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie said on Wednesday he would attend it if he’s invited.

“As the Libertarian candidate for governor, I am willing to debate Rick Scott, Charlie Crist, and Nan Rich at any time, with no preconditions,” Wyllie insisted. “I would be happy to participate in the July 10th event in Coral Gables; however, I have not yet received an invitation from either the FPA or FSNE.

“I find it amusing -- and somewhat pathetic -- that Gov. Scott and former Gov. Crist seem terrified to even appear in the same room with their opponents,” Wyllie added. “What does this say about their policies and records, when they lack the fortitude to stand up and publicly defend them?”

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With Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a woman who is 8 months pregnant, facing the death penalty in Sudan for marrying a Christian and leaving Islam to embrace her husband’s faith, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined senators from both parties in launching a measure to condemn her pending execution.

Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined U.S. Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., in bringing forth a measure on Wednesday condemning Ibrahim’s death sentence and urging Sudan to incorporate religious freedom in their constitution.

“I am disgusted and appalled by the inhumane verdict Ms. Ibrahim has received, simply for refusing to recant her Christian faith,” Rubio said. “This is yet another example of the kind of religious intolerance and persecution that has no place in any civilized, free society. No one should have to live in a world where they fear for their life simply because of religion.

“This legislation strives to encourage religious freedom within Sudan by ensuring that the new constitution includes protections for such fundamental rights, which would be a significant step toward a more democratic future for the people of Sudan,” added Rubio. “I also commend Ms. Ibrahim’s courage in refusing to renounce her Christianity, and I encourage her to remain steadfast. The world condemns her verdict and will stand by her in her moment of need.”

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U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., weighed in on Wednesday to President Barack Obama’s response to the problems plaguing the Veterans Affairs Department. Obama met with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on Wednesday and vowed to punish department officials if they altered data on wait lists for VA medical centers -- but Miller, the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, said more needs to be done.

“I couldn’t have been more disappointed with President Obama’s remarks,” Miller said. “VA is in the middle of the biggest health-care scandal in its history. At least 26 VA facilities are under investigation, and by the department’s own count, at least 23 veterans are dead due to recent delays in VA care. Immediate action is required, but the president is urging patience. As allegations of secret wait lists and manipulation of appointment wait times continue to surface at VA medical centers across the country, we simply can't afford to wait for the results of another IG investigation or VA's internal review when veterans may be at risk. In order for the public to regain confidence in VA’s health care system, President Obama must direct Sec. Shinseki to take emergency steps to ensure veterans who may have fallen victim to these schemes get the medical treatment they need. Additionally, President Obama must direct Shinseki to ensure VA officials in Washington are working to safeguard evidence of possible wrongdoing at local VA facilities so VA employees who may have allowed patients to fall through the cracks will be properly held to account.”

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President Barack Obama met with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on Wednesday and vowed to punish department officials if they altered data on wait lists for VA medical centers -- but that’s not enough for one Florida congressman.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., waded into the issue on Wednesday, insisting Obama was doing little to help solve the problem.

“The VA Health Care System is experiencing a historic crisis and yet our president suggests the solution to this crisis can be found in business-as-usual bureaucracy,” Jolly said. “The president did nothing today to ensure we, as a nation, immediately address the systemic problems in portions of our veterans health care system, nor the threat to human life that has been created by bureaucratic incompetence within the administration. The president spoke rhetorically about unacceptable wait times for veterans to get needed health care but did nothing to address the American people’s wait time for this administration to solve this problem now. It has been 23 days since allegations of death arose and today we heard no urgency from the president.

“What the president announced today was more bureaucracy, more investigations, more studying of the issue, and ultimately a continuation of business as usual within the VA until the president and secretary choose, on their timeline, when to actually take decisive action,” Jolly continued. “He spoke of holding personnel accountable, but he never once spoke of terminations of the personnel responsible for the loss of human life, nor whether alleged negligence within the department has criminal implications. The president is out of touch with every American on this issue.”

Jolly pointed to a bill from U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., which is expected to pass this afternoon. Miller’s bill would make it easier for the secretary to fire or demote VA officials.

“This afternoon the House will pass a bill that I have co-sponsored to give the administration authority to expedite the removal of anyone who presided over this mismanagement and negligence within the VA,” Jolly said. “I hope the president’s administration quickly uses this authority and then swiftly enacts the necessary institutional changes within the VA. The president should personally attend to this matter each day until sufficient institutional changes are made to ensure this never happens again. The president’s comments today do little to suggest he will actually do so.”

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Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he won't be attending a July gubernatorial forum hosted by the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors. 

Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist had been invited to the forum, which will be held at The Biltmore in Coral Gables. Crist accepted the invitation Wednesday.

Scott's team said they have no interest in a debate with Crist since he hasn't won the primary yet. 

In an email to the Times-Herald, Scott's campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, said: "The governor will debate the Democratic nominee in the fall. Charlie Crist should stop playing games and stop hiding from Nan Rich. What is he scared of?"

Crist has said repeatedly that he will not debate Rich and will instead focus on Scott, much to the criticism of Republicans across the state. 

Nan Rich said in April she had accepted an invitation to the event, which will be held July 10-11 in Coral Gables. The former state senator was scheduled to speak on July 11, with Crist and Scott slated to speak on the previous day.

The FPA has said it hopes Scott will reconsider. 
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The United Faculty of Florida, Florida State University Chapter, an affiliate of the state AFL-CIO, released a statement on Wednesday expressing its opposition to FSU’s presidential search. Earlier this week, Florida Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who was long rumored for the position, was nominated to be president though other candidates remain in the mix.

The statement reads as follows:

The United Faculty of Florida, Florida State University Chapter has followed the work of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee whenever and wherever possible. Our representatives have attended every public meeting and have provided input and feedback in all possible forums. Our organization and the faculty members we represent remain committed to this university and hope that this search process will bring us the leadership we need to join the ranks of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning here in the United States, if not the world. However, we have serious concerns over the process thus far and believe that fundamental changes need to be made moving forward.

As this process began, there were numerous accounts in the media indicating that this search was merely for appearances’ sake and that FSU's new president had already been selected behind closed doors. We trusted the rebuttals of those involved with the search, we believed the assertions that the search would be open, fair, and include faculty input, and we operated accordingly, providing input at any opportunity we had. We now believe that there is ample evidence indicating that this process is not being conducted fairly, is not open and transparent, and is ignoring the needs of the faculty, students and taxpayers. Here are some examples.

The national advertisement for the position, posted in one of the most visible and highly regarded higher education publications, includes “loyalty” to Florida State University as a criterion. How would an academic leader with no prior relationship with FSU meet this criterion? Such an expectation would discourage many highly-qualified candidates from applying for the position. Furthermore, none of the published criteria in the advertisement mention “strong academic credentials” even though faculty members have consistently stated that this is the most important attribute for the leader of our university, and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee had agreed to add that wording to the position description. Also, the advertisement did not list a deadline for applications even though everyone involved acknowledged that the most qualified candidates tend to wait until the deadline to apply in a state with open government laws.

Further, the public comment period at the last search committee meeting was not publicized and consequently few faculty members were able to contribute. The chair of the committee has refused to include public comment at the Wednesday, May 21st meeting. The timing is also suspect; rather than waiting until August and September when faculty and students will be available to participate in the process, the search seems rushed so that it can be completed during the quiet summer months, and each step of the process has been undermined by last-minute announcements.                                       (more)

These are just a couple of examples that give credibility to those initial media reports that the outcome of this search has been predetermined. Therefore, UFF-FSU today declares that we have lost confidence in the current search and call on the board of trustees and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee to make several fundamental changes moving forward.

First, we believe that the current search firm must be replaced. It has exhibited a serious lack of regard for the opinions and input of our faculty and appears to be pursuing an agenda different than that of an open and honest search for the best candidates. Second, we believe that the current search committee must be expanded to include more faculty members. Finally, we believe that a clear timeline must be established and adhered to, one that includes benchmarks for public disclosure and participation.

We may not be the only stakeholders in the process, but we are among the most important, and our voices must be heard rather than muted. We want the best for Florida State University and we want to have confidence that this process is being conducted fairly, not simply as cover for a predetermined political arrangement. We believe the changes we are calling for can help achieve that goal.

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Washington Economics Group (WEG) released a study on Wednesday which shows All Aboard Florida’s plan to link Miami and Orlando by high-speed rail will add almost $3.5 billion to Florida’s economy, add $2 billion in labor income and generate $600 million in tax revenue. The study also shows All Aboard Florida will create more than 10,000 jobs during its first two years of operation.

“As two mutually reinforcing businesses – passenger rail and transit-oriented development – with direct benefits from each made possible through private investment, All Aboard Florida leads to a cycle of additional investment and economic opportunity, ” said Mike Reininger, the president and chief development officer of All Aboard Florida, on Wednesday.

“The All Aboard Florida passenger rail system is of significant importance to the state of Florida’s economic development and to all of the regions serviced by the multimodal mass transportation of All Aboard Florida operations,” said Dr. Tony Villamil of WEG. “The benefits accrued to the state and to the counties serviced along the corridor go beyond the quantifications of economic impact by encouraging further business development and providing support to key Florida industries such as travel and hospitality, while also improving the mobility of the labor force.”

The study can be read here.

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On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Shinseki, who is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, is under fire as reports have surfaced that VA medical facilities have relied on secret wait lists.

Scott appeared on WJXT in Jacksonville and was asked where the buck stops and who was responsible for the VA medical facility problems.

“It stops at the secretary,” Scott said. “It stops with the president. I’m a veteran. I have a lot of friends that are veterans. My father was in the 82nd Airborne. This is personal. They served their time, they should get great care. What we’re seeing is: there are deaths and we know there are injuries. The assistant secretary said, ‘we don’t know if there is a correlation between harm and death.’ Give me a break. Shinseki needs to resign. We need to have new leadership.”

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Former Gov. Charlie Crist accepted an invitation from the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors to appear at a gubernatorial forum in July, according to an email from the Crist campaign.

The forum will be held July 10 at The Biltmore in Coral Gables.

Gov. Rick Scott has yet to accept his invitation to the event, but former state Sen. Nan Rich confirmed her attendance in April.

“Florida voters deserve to hear directly from the candidates, at the same time on the same stage,” Rich said. “I’m happy to present my record, my core principles, and my vision for the future. I hope Charlie Crist is, as well.”

According to the email from the Crist campaign, the camp has been informed by organizers that this is the time and date for both Crist and Scott only. It's uncertain if or when Nan Rich will debate the former governor at the forum.
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With Gov. Rick Scott calling for more ports investment in JaxPort on Wednesday, leaders from the First Coast are giving the governor’s plans the thumbs-up. Last year, Scott backed improvements to Blount Island Terminal on the north side of the St. Johns River which will add 4,650 jobs to the First Coast and retain 12,000 current jobs.

“On behalf of JaxPort and the families in this community, I thank Gov. Scott for realizing the potential that Jacksonville and the state of Florida have to be global leaders in trade and logistics,” said Joe York, the chairman of the board of JaxPort, on Wednesday. “Throughout his term, Gov. Scott has made critical investments into JaxPort supporting thousands of jobs for local families. The $1 billion commitment over 8 years he announced today is solid proof of his commitment to further improve Florida’s economy and get more families and businesses back to work. I am proud to officially endorse Gov. Scott for re-election and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, one of the leading ports advocates in the Legislature, also praised Scott’s proposal.

“Gov. Scott has remained true to his commitment by creating jobs and encouraging economic development through Florida’s seaports and international trade,” Ray said. “Since taking office, Gov. Scott has ensured the historic progress of improvements to our state’s infrastructure by investing in and expediting port projects. Gov. Scott’s direct influence is providing countless opportunities for Florida to become a leader in shipping and logistics throughout the United States and around the world. We risk losing our market share and job-creation opportunities without another 4 years of Gov. Scott’s leadership.”

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Speaking at JaxPort on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott announced plans to spend $1 billion over 8 years, including the 4 he has served in Tallahassee, to improve Florida’s ports.

“As we work to create even more jobs for the next generation, investing in our ports is key to our success,” Scott said. “Our ports are our connection to global commerce and the world. If we want to become a destination for the world’s tourists and for the world’s jobs – we have to keep investing in our ports.

“While many states waited on Washington to help fund infrastructure needs, Florida never waited on the federal government to step in and help us be more competitive or successful,” Scott added. “In Florida, we have made investments in our seaports and expedited funding for major ports projects and I am proud we are committing to invest a total of $1 billion in Florida’s ports over our entire 8-year term in office.”

Scott’s plans include continuing support for port infrastructure even as ports across the Sunshine State ready for the Panama Canal expansion, including finishing the Miami deep dredge on schedule. Scott’s plan also calls for backing the Intermodal Logistics Center (ILC) support program, increased marketing and a renewed commitment to manufacturing.

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