Weekly Roundup: A Dem Drops Out and Jim Greer Drops Back In
Around the State
With the idea of a special session on self-defense laws having been quickly dispensed with last week and no education officials leaving, the capital began to drift back into its normal summer mode: little news and more chatter about the next election.
In this case, most of the elections are still more than a year away -- though voting in former Rep. Mike Fasano's Pasco County district will get underway in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the Democrats' first attempt at a statewide candidate in the 2014 campaign imploded under the weight of his formerly mismanaged finances.
Perhaps preparing for that challenge, Gov. Rick Scott vocally promoted a set of issues that would help him with the conservative wing of his party, with Treasure Coast residents and potentially with moderate voters who will decide whether he or Crist is living in the governor's mansion come the summer of 2015.
ALL'S NOT WELL THAT ENDS FOR BRASWELL:
If there was one sentence that Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant might like to take back from her time leading the FDP, it was probably one contained in an Aug. 15 press release about Allie Braswell's candidacy for chief financial officer.
"I am thrilled that Allie Braswell is running for Florida's CFO, because he's exactly the kind of leader we need in Tallahassee," she gushed.
Four days later, Braswell -- the head of the Central Florida Urban League -- was out of the race. His abrupt departure Monday followed reports in The Florida Times-Union that Braswell had filed for bankruptcy in Orlando in 2008, after having done so twice in South Carolina in the 1990s, though he said the second filing in South Carolina was related to the first.
"I have, at times, faced challenges in life that have not met with the outcomes I have desired," Braswell said. "I take full responsibility for my actions, and apologize to my supporters. ... Running statewide is a daunting challenge for any candidate; as a political outsider I have now learned that I underestimated how my campaign would affect those I care about most."
Republicans could hardly contain their glee, setting up a page to list eight things that lasted longer than Braswell's campaign -- Kim Kardashian's marriage topping the list -- complete with animated Web pictures and humor.
"To back a candidate in charge of Florida's finances without vetting that candidate's handling of his personal finances shows either a high level of incompetence or a new level of desperation for Allison Tant," said RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry.
Democrats, meanwhile, tried to quickly put the mess behind them.
"We advised Mr. Braswell to slow down so he could better prepare," party spokesman Joshua Karp said. "He was very eager to announce, and it's clear now he was unprepared for mounting this kind of campaign."
Democrats appeared to be having better luck in a special election for House District 36, the Pasco County seat that Fasano vacated to take the county tax collector position. The seat is the only one in GOP-friendly Pasco where Democrats outnumber Republicans in voter registration.
Amanda Murphy, a Raymond James vice president, announced that she would run for the seat as a Democrat in the Oct. 15 race. Democrats worked to unite behind Murphy while Republicans faced a three-way primary between Bill Gunter, James Mathieu and Jeromy Harding.
THE RETURN OF JIM GREER, ONCE AGAIN:
Despite serving an 18-month prison sentence for money laundering and theft, former RPOF Chairman Jim Greer can't seem to stay out of the news. On Monday, The News Service of Florida reported that Greer tried to get a gambling regulator fired in 2009, two days before the veteran state worker was to resign, according to court records.
At the time, Greer -- who was hand-picked for the RPOF post by Crist -- was party chairman and getting paid $7,500 a month by the owner of the Mardi Gras Casino in Broward County to be a consultant for entertainment and hospitality regulatory issues. Greer later pleaded guilty to the money laundering and theft charges in connection with a scheme in which he created a company and then steered party business to it.
But the latest revelations come from a case involving the quest for a quarter-horse permit near Homestead, which could open the door for more slot machines in South Florida.
The company Greer was working for was one of the “three loudest voices” opposing South Florida quarter-horse permits, according to Florida Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben.
McKibben in an Aug. 6 recommended order said the Department of Business and Professional Regulation didn’t do anything wrong by denying a permit to Fort Myers Real Estate Holdings, a company trying to get the permit for the venue in Florida City, near Homestead. The permit, if issued, would allow a card room and possibly slot machines.
But the court documents and interviews with the players reveal a marked shift in the state’s handling of permits after Chuck Drago, Greer’s close friend and godfather of his oldest son, became secretary of the agency and after longtime DBPR Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Director Dave Roberts was ousted.
Within a week after Greer demanded that Roberts be fired, Drago ordered deputy secretary Scott Ross to terminate the regulator, Ross testified in the case.
Drago denies being asked by Greer to get rid of Roberts, targeted by South Florida tracks angry over the quarter-horse permits and other issues.
“Nobody asked me to have Dave Roberts leave. That never happened,” Drago said.
If nothing else, the case dredged up Greer, who could become an embarrassment for Crist if the former Republican governor runs again next year.
Greer's lawyer Damon Chase, in addressing the gambling issues, claimed Greer got his orders from Crist.
“Suffice it to say, Mr. Greer served at the pleasure of Charlie Crist during that time. Mr. Greer was steadfastly loyal to Charlie Crist and always followed instructions consistent with Mr. Crist’s agenda. Any involvement Mr. Greer would have had in this story would have been at Charlie Crist’s express direction,” Chase said in an e-mail.
Scott, meanwhile, spent his week in a flurry of activity that dealt with policy -- but could also bolster his run against Crist or whichever Democrat emerges from the party's primary.
Scott announced he would float $40 million next year to speed completion of a federal project intended to clean river water on the Treasure Coast, something quickly endorsed by Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.
The governor wrote that "inaction" by the federal government to maintain the Herbert Hoover dike system around Lake Okeechobee has resulted in a need to relieve stress on the system through water releases.
Residents have blamed the releases for bringing polluted water into river systems on both sides of the state.
Scott's proposal would help fund the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area Project along the St. Lucie River.
A day later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would reduce water releases from Lake Okeechobee in the coming days as the lake level has subsided amid drier conditions.
"While today is a good step forward, there’s much more to be done," Scott said in a news release following the announcement. "Any amount of water from the lake that’s dumped into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers impacts families in the area."
He also joined the Cabinet in lambasting potential privacy violations and identity theft under part of the federal Affordable Care Act that creates what are known as "navigators."
The health care law, often known as "Obamacare," is anathema to conservatives, particularly the tea-party activists who fueled Scott's rise in 2010 from little-known health care executive to governor.
Scott said the federal government needs to provide assurances that proper background checks will be in place in hiring the "navigators" and their assistants, who are expected to help people through the paperwork in signing up for health coverage.
"Federal safeguards that should be in place to protect our privacy are behind schedule and inadequate," Scott said. "It is unclear how the federal government will protect personal information from being stolen or otherwise misused."
But Leah Barber-Heinz, spokeswoman for Florida CHAIN, a patient-advocacy group, called the claims by Scott and the Cabinet members another "outrageous" attack on the federal program.
"They're trying to scare people away, trying to distract from the important work of implementation in Florida," Barber-Heinz said.
In a more moderate pitch, Scott announced Thursday that he was calling a three-day summit in Clearwater that will bring together political, business and education leaders. The summit is expected to address some of the highest-profile education issues in the state, including the state's standards for student learning, the tests those students take, the grades assigned to schools and how teachers are evaluated.
"Florida’s education accountability system has become a national model, but we are at a critical point in our history,” Scott said in a news release announcing the summit. “Our students need and deserve a quality education that emphasizes critical thinking and analysis. Our teachers and schools need our support as we continue to compete nationally and globally in preparing students for success in college, career and in life.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: Allie Braswell, the first Democratic candidate to enter a 2014 statewide race with the backing of the party, withdraws after reports emerged showing the chief financial officer hopeful had previously declared bankruptcy.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "One reason things aren’t changing fast enough is there's no anger, there's no outrage in this room. Unfortunately, the people that would be outraged and angered are dead." -- Pat McCabe, a foster parent and guardian ad litem, during a town-hall meeting about an epidemic of deaths in recent months that has rocked the state's child-welfare system.