Sunshine State News Blogs

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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Count U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., as skeptical over systemically important financial institution (SIFI) designations.

In a U.S. House Financial Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Ross asked Peter Wallison, a financial expert at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), about SIFI designations.

“I guess my question is, how can these organizations that are under review for SIFIs anticipate whether they are going to be designated as such when we really can’t get our hands around what significant means?” Ross asked. “As you point out, it’s very arbitrary.”

“It’s arbitrary; it’s not a standard; it’s not something that anyone can use to adjust -- no firm can use to adjust its activities; there is really no information that is conveyed by that term,” Wallison replied.

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From her perch on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., spoke out against Boko Haram, a Nigerian group kidnapping young girls. Frankel is co-sponsoring a measure condemning Boko Haram.

“What we have seen take place in Nigeria – the crimes perpetrated by Boko Haram – is simply unthinkable and appalling,” Frankel said in a speech on the House floor on Tuesday. “There are some crimes against humanity that cannot be tolerated, regardless of where they occur in the world. The violent kidnapping of over 250 girls for the sole reason that they were seeking an education, is one such crime.

“In the 21st century, we cannot let this kind of horror against children go unanswered,” Frankel added. “I thank President Obama for sending a multidisciplinary team to Nigeria – where they are working with the U.K., France, and Israel – to help resolve this crisis. I am proud to support this resolution condemning Boko Haram, and calling for continued U.S. support to return the girls safely to their families and bring the terrorists to justice.”

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The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to impose new sanctions on Venezuelan leaders on Tuesday, garnering applause from Floridians from both parties. The measure was co-sponsored by Florida’s two senators: Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio.

“Today we took an important step forward to punish human rights abusers in Nicolás Maduro’s regime. The Venezuelan people have suffered enough under the incompetence of Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro,” Rubio said after the vote. “And now that thousands of innocent Venezuelans have protested courageously and peacefully against the failure that is this Chavista government, we can’t allow the government’s repression, violence and murders to go unpunished.

“We have to severely punish the Maduro regime, and today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took a key step toward approving these sanctions,” Rubio added. “And I hope the full Senate will soon do the same.”

“I commend the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for moving forward on new sanctions for Venezuelan officials that have violated the human rights of students who are protesting peacefully for freedom,” Gov. Rick Scott said on Tuesday. “Now it’s time for the Obama administration to stop dragging their feet and send a clear message to the Maduro regime that they will face consequences if they continue to repress freedom fighters.”

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U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., urged the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance to reform Dodd-Frank.

According to Posey’s team:

Among its numerous controversial provisions and regulations, the Dodd-Frank Act gave the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), a depository regulator, expansive new “Orderly Liquidation Authority” to bail out large Wall Street institutions that Washington regulators deem too-big-to-fail. As written in Dodd-Frank, however, the FDIC could assess insurance companies and their customers for the new bailout fund, even though they are ineligible for a similar bailout and insurance policyholders already are protected by state-level backstops. State solvency funding for property and casualty, as well as life insurance already exists, so this Dodd-Frank provision amounts to double taxation.

Posey’s legislation explicitly excludes these life, auto and homeowners insurance policies from the FDIC’s Orderly Liquidation Authority, ensuring that federal regulators cannot assess insurance policyholders as a source of cash for bailing out a failed Wall Street firm. Both bills have bipartisan support and preserve the longstanding practice of regulating insurance at the state level.

Posey looked to end what he calls a “hidden tax” and explained his bill on Tuesday.

“The provisions slipped into the Dodd-Frank bill authorize federal regulators to essentially impose what amounts to a hidden ‘tax’ on your homeowners, auto or life insurance to contribute to a fund to bail out a large bank in New York that makes a bad bet,” said Posey. “That’s just wrong because it could undermine the solvency of these insurance policies, so I introduced bipartisan legislation to repeal the authority for this hidden tax and protect individuals from having to pay it.”

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Taking to the national airwaves, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., insisted President Barack Obama’s momentum is fading and he is increasingly appearing to be a lame duck. Appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News on Tuesday night, Rubio also criticized the administration’s handling of problems at VA medical centers across the nation.

“Do you believe President Obama is bored?” O’Reilly asked. “What is it that there is no urgency and that these things keep — scandals, whatever you want to call them — keep happening and the White House doesn't seem to know anything about it? What is that?”

"I would point to three things,” Rubio said. “I think that first, they have a systemic problem of governing. Again, I mean, this is a campaign that was very good at messaging, but they have no competence in terms of governing. So that’s the first part of it.

“The second part of it, I think, is any time an issue arises they are more concerned about what they are going to say, than what they are going to do,” Rubio added. “To them, it's an opportunity to message, as opposed to an opportunity to solve it.

“And here's the third problem,” Rubio continued. “Any time that criticism arises from Republicans, their first reaction is not to look at it and say, ‘Well let's see if there is some credibility here.’ Their first reaction is to label it or treat it as some sort of a partisan attack. For example, I have been in the Senate now three and a half years. A significant amount of my constituent case work are complaints about the VA. We’ve been hearing that and reporting that, as have other offices, for a while. And the initial reaction is always, ‘That's just partisan Republicans trying to embarrass us.’ So those three things, I think, really explain why these things keep happening.”

“Do you believe that the president is incapable of admitting a mistake?” O’Reilly asked. “I will point to Sebelius, who was in charge of the disastrous roll-out for Obamacare. And now, Shinseki. No doubt is he a patriot, but he is an incompetent administrator. I think that's beyond a reasonable doubt. So these people should have been replaced immediately when these bad things break. You know, like the Los Angeles Clippers owner. He’s out of there in two days. You know, when you have something like that, the leadership has to change. But it doesn't. Why do you think that is?”

“Well I think, again, part of it is this initial reaction to circle the wagons and say, you know, ‘We’re going to protect our people,” Rubio replied. “This is a partisan attack.’”

“But why?” O’Reilly followed up. “Why protect incompetent people?” 

“That's a good question,” Rubio said. “But let me give you an example of that. We have a bill that I have filed that allows the director to fire incompetent middle-level managers. The administration does not support that because they are more interested in protecting the sanctity of civil service, than they are in being able to hold people accountable. So even if you fired Shinseki, you’re still going to have a systemic problem in that agency. A very serious one now …”

“But at least you send a message as the leader,” O’Reilly countered.

“Right, but my point is, you still want to be able to fire the people that work there,” Rubio said.

“Right,” O’Reilly said. “But the president doesn't even send any messages. He doesn't seem to be that outraged about this stuff, and it's one after the other, after the other. All right.”

“Because, again, they always take these criticisms as a partisan thing when, in fact, this is a very valid and legitimate complaint that people have,” Rubio said. “A very serious crisis.”


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After Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said the testing company behind Florida's new assessment has a "pro-homosexual agenda," Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart weighed in on the comments, rejecting the notion that the testing organization aims to make public school students gay. 

Van Zant made the comments at an education conference in Orlando and said the American Institutes for Research test would "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can."

Florida's about to embark on a new journey in its testing process when it hops on board with AIR, which will develop the replacement test for the FCAT. 

But Stewart said while AIR works for many different clients, it's not influenced by the work it does for one client for another.

Some anti-Common Core groups have said repeatedly that the test promoted a gay agenda.

"Besides implementing the same deceptive plan discussed at the governor's summit in August, the state has chosen a company that has a significant history of promoting identification of the GLBT lifestyle for children as young as 7 years old," Florida Eagle Forum lobbyist Randy Osborne said in a Florida Stop Common Core Coalition letter.

The contents of the test, which will be administered next year, have not yet been released. 

Check out Van Zant's comments below:




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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., marked Cuban Independence Day on Tuesday, using the occasion to attack the communist regime led by the Castro brothers.

“It is fitting that as we finish commemorating the death of Jose Marti, we also acknowledge Cuba’s Independence Day and are reminded of the importance of advocating for liberty and justice on the enslaved island,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Tuesday. “Had the brave heroes who fought to free Cuba from Spain known that only six decades later, the Cuban people would still be fighting for freedom and subjected to the brutal control of a communist regime, they would have been horrified. This tyranny has suffocated the rights and dignity of Cubans for more than 50 years, with the Castro brothers maintaining control and violently suppressing all dissent. We must remain clear-eyed about the reality in today’s Cuba, where there is no freedom, and the 11 million inhabitants of the island languish under the Castros’ oppressive rule. On this day, we commemorate Cuba’s gaining its independence, but also do not forget the struggle for fundamental human rights and we must recommit ourselves to stand with the people of Cuba and help them fulfill democratic changes on the island.”

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On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott announced the opening of bay scallop season will move up three days from July 1 to June 28.

 “I requested the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission open the season early this year to benefit our communities who rely on our fisheries,” Scott said. “The bay scallop fishery is especially important to Florida’s Big Bend region and by opening the bay scallop season three days earlier, Floridians throughout this area will have more opportunities to enjoy our natural treasures and provide for their families.”

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The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration announced this week it will be sending $1.5 million to Tallahassee Community College’s (TCC) Wakulla Environmental Institute (WEI) to improve the campus.

“Not only does the state believe in the importance of environmental training through the WEI, but through this grant it is clear that the federal government does as well,” said Bob Ballard, the executive director of WEI.

“We are thrilled to receive this generous grant from the Department of Commerce,” said TCC President Jim Murdaugh. “These infrastructure improvements will greatly increase the ability of the institute to serve its important purpose in educating TCC students on environmental issues and preparing them for entry into the workforce.”

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Former heavyweight title contender and current congressional candidate Jameel McCline weighed in on Tuesday after reports emerged that new staffer Julie Reiser was arrested over the weekend in a domestic incident with her ex-husband, who she is battling in a child custody fight. McCline is running in the Democratic primary, challenging U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

“While we wait for the full facts to come to light, we ask that the press and public show compassion for innocent children caught up in the middle of this melodrama, and patience in letting the legal discovery process unfold before passing judgment,” the McCline campaign said on Tuesday. “Reiser, incorrectly labeled ‘campaign director’ in an early news report, joined the McCline for Congress team only a few weeks ago. An experienced marketing talent who initially focused on scheduling and promoting campaign events, she hadn’t yet received an official title, and wasn’t part of the leadership group at the heart of this historic campaign.”

McCline pointed to the five years he served after a gun running incident when he was 18.

“I, as an ex-felon who did five years' hard time paying for a crime I committed in desperation, know all too well what it means to land on the wrong side of the criminal justice system,” McCline said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to Julie, and to the children caught up in this ugly, all-too-common domestic dispute mess. Now, we have to let the legal process unfold, and let Julie Reiser have her ‘day in court.’ And now, we have to move forward on our mission, without missing a beat, to bring a new brand of reality politics, and real progressive achievement, to Florida CD 20, and to the United States House of Representatives.”

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Former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, took aim at former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., at the end of last week.

Paul, a three-time presidential candidate who now chairs the Liberty PAC, came out swinging at both of the possible 2016 presidential candidates in an email to supporters on Friday.

“The national media want nothing more than to write our liberty movement’s obituary,” Paul wrote. “They know the big government political establishment in both parties is doing everything it can to rid our national political landscape of anyone who dares to stand up for liberty, limited government, and the Constitution. That way they can get back to resurrecting the careers of statist political has-beens Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush ahead of the 2016 presidential primary contests.”

Paul insisted his cause was still alive and well, pointing toward congressional hopefuls he is backing in primaries across the country.

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With the Obama administration playing defense after reports emerged about VA medical centers using secret waiting lists, including in Phoenix where 40 veterans died as they waited for treatment, Republicans in Congress continue to demand answers.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., called for Congress to pass the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act” which he is co-sponsoring. The House is expected to pass the bill on Wednesday, which will make it easier for the VA secretary to demote poorly performing officials.

"The treatment of our veterans by the VA is an ongoing national disgrace,” DeSantis said on Tuesday. “I am pleased that the House is taking definitive action to institute accountability in the VA. If senior officials are not adequately performing their jobs, and letting our veterans down in the process, then they need to be removed from their positions. Those who have put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms deserve better than this.”

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With reports emerging last week that the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville is using a secret waiting list, the Agency for Health Care Administration (HCA) attempted to inspect the facility on Monday and was denied.

 “Yesterday, my staff visited the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center and was again denied access to review the VA hospital system’s processes,” said HCA Secretary Liz Dudek on Tuesday. “The VA has repeatedly denied the agency access to review processes and procedures, and has yet to acknowledge receipt of the agency’s Freedom of Information Act request that was filed 20 days ago. I am shocked at the VA’s lack of urgency and expected the VA to take this issue seriously given the repeated calls for action and transparency. It is time for the VA to stop hiding behind bureaucratic rhetoric and take the necessary steps to ensure our brave veterans receive the quality health care they deserve in a reasonable time frame.”

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The Republican Party of Florida released a new graph on Tuesday contrasting former governor Charlie Crist's with Gov. Rick Scott's record on jobs for Hispanics. 

The graph contends that under Crist, the number of Hispanics employed in the Sunshine State decreased by 157,000. Under Scott, the number of employed Hispanics has increased by 257,000.

Republican legislators voiced their support for Scott, saying he had made great strides to help boost employment for Hispanics in Florida.

“I want to thank Governor Scott for striving to get our families back to work," said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. "Governor Scott’s conservative, common sense policies have put over a quarter million Hispanics back to work and Florida's Hispanic unemployment rate is below the national average."

On top of their praise, they also criticized Crist for leaving a "mess" in Florida.

"It is scary to think about what would have happened if Charlie Crist had stayed for another four years after his first term," said Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud. "Governor Scott has worked day in and day out to clean up Charlie’s mess, resulting in more jobs and more opportunities for every Floridian.”
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Republicans from Florida continue to call for U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign as reports continue to emerge about VA medical centers using secret wait lists. While a VA facility in Phoenix used an altered list to show shorter wait times than what they actually had, 40 veterans died waiting medical attention.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., called for Shinseki to go. “Eric Shinseki served our nation with distinction -- but new leadership is necessary to address the VA's atrocious treatment of our veterans,” Buchanan insisted on Monday.

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U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., called on Congress to focus on human trafficking on Monday, urging the passing of several bills which will be voted on this week.

“Human trafficking is one of the greatest tragedies of our time,” Webster said on Monday. “Roughly 20 million children, women, and men are victimized around the world, including many within the United States. This week, the House of Representatives will consider legislation to protect our most vulnerable and shine a harsh spotlight on those who engage in such evil.

“In order to protect these victims, I have co-sponsored several bills, including the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act to protect minors in the foster system from being ensnared by exploiters, and the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act that will eliminate advertising avenues that promote human trafficking,” Webster continued. “Additional legislation encourages states to treat minors caught in sex trafficking as victims instead of criminals, implements grants programs that will deter human trafficking and support victims of trafficking, and promotes an international notification system of travel by convicted sex offenders.

“As a modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking is a horrendous act that deserves the harshest of punishment,” Webster said in conclusion. “This week, I am looking forward to voting for legislation that will support these victims, protect those who are most vulnerable among us, and will end this heinous crime.”

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In a political bombshell, former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings announced on Tuesday that she was ending her bid against Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. After giving U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., a close fight in 2012, Demings was seen as a rising star for Democrats and was expected to offer Jacobs a strong challenge.

“I am humbled by and grateful for the support I have received from every corner of our county,” Demings said in a statement on Tuesday. “After careful analysis I have determined that this is just not the right race at this time.”

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Gov. Rick Scott intends to focus on ports this week with trips to to JaxPort on the First Coast, Port Tampa Bay and Port Canaveral to talk about his plans to invest $1 billion in them. During Scott’s term as governor, the state has backed ports, which are preparing for the Panama Canal expansion, with $700 million.

“As we work to create even more jobs for the next generation, investing in our ports is key to our success,” Scott said on Tuesday. “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 eight-year term in office.”

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Federal, state and local officials headed to South Florida on Monday to celebrate the completion of the Port of Miami Tunnel, which will connect Miami International Airport and I-95 directly to Port Miami.

The project had been under construction for four years and came at a price tag of $915 million. The tunnel is the largest bored tunnel for soft ground in the country to date. 

Gov. Rick Scott was present at the celebration of the completion of the tunnel, which he said would "provide relief" to Miami-Dade families as well as visitors to the area. 

"As we work to create even more jobs for the next generation, investing in our ports is key to our success," said the governor. "Florida ports already generate more than 680,000 direct and indirect jobs and more than $96 billion in total economic value, and those opportunities are going to continue to multiply. We are here today to celebrate all of the opportunities the Port of Miami Tunnel will bring to the state.” 

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was pleased to see the final outcome of the project.

"The tunnels will improve the flow of traffic in our bustling downtown area and keep the port on its upward trajectory. I’m thankful Gov. Scott recognizes the value of PortMiami to the creation of jobs and the role it plays in creating opportunities for the future of Miami and all of South Florida.”
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The Republican Party of Florida released an infographic on Monday contrasting former Gov. Charlie Crist's record on creating jobs for Florida women.

View the graphic below:
RPOF Graphic
Female state legislators chimed in on the issue, with Republicans lambasting Crist while praising Scott.

"Women across the state need to know that Florida’s female unemployment rate nearly tripled while Charlie Crist was governor, going from well below to well above the national average," said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. "In comparison, in just three years under Gov. Scott, women have gotten back to work at a faster rate than the rest of the nation. Gov. Scott is focused on building our economy and creating jobs and the contrast between him and Charlie Crist could not be more clear.”

Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, agreed with Stargel.

"While Charlie Crist continues to try to further his political career, thanks to Gov. Scott more women across Florida are actually building their careers," she said. "Under Gov. Scott’s watch, over 300,000 more women have jobs and are able to provide for their families; under Charlie Crist, 244,000 women lost their jobs. It is amazing to me that anyone, man or woman, would want to once again experience the economic disaster that was Charlie Crist’s term as governor."
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Rep. Katie Edwards summed it up for thousands of Democrats Saturday when she told Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel, any idea that supporting Nan Rich is helping the re-election of Republican Rick Scott is "nonsense."

Edwards, a Plantation Democrat elected to the House in 2012, was attending the opening of Rich's campaign office in Weston when she made her point clear.

“I am proud to stand with Nan and to send a message, to send a message that those of us who support Nan have by no means sold our souls to the other side, or are working on the re-election of Rick Scott."

She told reporter Man, "I call upon all of you to debunk that myth coming out of Tallahassee."

In the interview reported in Monday's newspaper, she said one reason major Democratic donors have written Rich off is "that kind of commentary" from the Crist camp. “I think it’s the bullying and the retaliation,” she said.

“I find it very offensive for these folks for trying to [paint us as] anything but principled Democrats.”

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Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is backing a primary challenger to state Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami Shores. On Monday, Bullard endorsed Michael Hepburn who is challenging Campbell.

“Michael Hepburn has demonstrated a clear commitment toward making his community better,” said Bullard. “He is energetic and hard-working. He has the skills to effectively represent our constituents and he has what it takes to become a leader in the Florida House.”

“It’s hard to think of a better person to have the support of,” said Hepburn. “State Sen. Bullard understands how important it is for us to create a pathway to success for all of our children, because he stands on the front lines and fights for us every day, he is a difference maker.”

Campbell has been facing ethics questions during her current term. She is also an opponent of abortion and has pitted herself against the Democratic leadership on the issue.

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After news emerged that three officials were suspended from the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville due to a secret waiting list of 200 patients waiting for treatment, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Similar stories on other VA medical centers using secret waiting lists have emerged across the nation, including in Phoenix where 40 veterans died as they waited for treatment.

Nugent released the following statement on Friday:

“Like a lot of people, I think I’m struggling to find the right words to describe just how bad this situation really is with the VA. ‘Appalling’ and ‘disgraceful’ don’t really seem to capture it. We already know from Arizona and elsewhere that the very individuals we entrust to take care of the nation’s veterans have been purposefully hiding those veterans’ requests for help in a drawer so that nobody will know how bad the VA’s responsiveness and efficiency are.

“This is a serious breach of trust, first and foremost for the veterans who have been denied care, but I think for all veterans and for the entire country. So in Gainesville, the possibility that a mental health professional at the VA would potentially make a veteran who had requested assistance wait is a serious concern.

“It’s unclear at this point exactly what’s happened in Gainesville, but what is clear is that the VA has lost its credibility. I don’t feel like I can trust them when they say that everything is fine and the accountability is there. The only thing at this point that’s going to restore that trust, in my opinion, is a change in leadership and sustained demonstration of results. Frankly, at this point, I believe the strongest leadership that Secretary Shinseki could show in this regard is to resign. It’s simply gone too far.

“I want employees at the VA nationwide to understand that this is not a witch hunt to come after anybody. But if you know of wrongdoing, this is your time to come forward. Understanding fully how aggressive the Obama administration has been in going after whistleblowers, you have my personal commitment that as a member of Congress I will not stand for any retaliation against you. What matters here is restoring the service to veterans and also the breach of trust. If whistleblowers stay quiet, the situation won’t get fixed and our veterans will suffer because of it. Because of that anybody who knows of wrongdoing and doesn’t speak up is complicit in the mistreatment of veterans. And that is unacceptable to me and to the American people.

“In general, I also want every veteran out there to know that if you are not getting the responsiveness from the VA that you deserve, please call your member of Congress. Part of the job is holding the system accountable on behalf of all veterans, but a crucial part is also going to bat in individual cases. If one of the vets had come to me saying their requests for a medical appointment hadn’t been answered for six months, I would have dropped everything to get it fixed. These men and women have done too much for this country to be ignored like this. Period.”

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