Trump’s selection of Chao as transportation secretary means detour for Mica

U.S. Rep. John Mica
U.S. Rep. John Mica

President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao as his transportation secretary is a detour for outgoing U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Winter Park Republican some Floridians saw as a likely contender for the post.

Chao 63, was labor secretary under President George W. Bush and the first Asian-American woman on a president’s Cabinet. She is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Trump’s announcement is expected to be made Tuesday afternoon.

Mica was defeated after 24 years in Congress this month by Democrat Stephanie Murphy. A brother, Dan Mica, formerly represented parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties in Congress.

Mica, chair of the House subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, and on another panel which oversees transportation spending, was available and talked up among Florida Republicans as a possible Trump appointee.

With pay raises likely a victim of tightening state budget, union says “enough is enough”

Will state workers get shut out again?
Will state workers get shut out again?

With prospects of a pay raise for Florida’s 113,00 state workers looking iffy at best, the public employees union told legislative leaders Monday that “enough is enough.”

“Every year, we are told that there is enough money to spend on giveaways to big businesses and enough pork to grease the wheels for re-election back home,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said in a statement.

“But when it comes to helping state workers putting food on the table there is suddenly a budget crisis that prevents it,” AFSCME said, days after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes,  laid out a stark picture for next year’s spending plan.

“Enough is enough,” the union said. “In a budget of $80 billion there is more than enough to invest in our state’s future by investing in those that will make it happen.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also acknowledges that state money is tightening. But his budget chief, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has already declared that his “highest personal priority” will be to approve some kind of state worker pay raise.

Latvala also is a supporter of including a pot of money in the state budget as business incentives, designed to lure companies to Florida. Corcoran is dead set against that, and killed the approach last year when Gov. Rick Scott wanted a $250 million incentive package.

The state’s full workforce has drawn only one pay hike in the last decade, increases in 2013 of $1,400 for workers making under $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more. The last straightforward, three percent pay raise came in 2006.

Even the increase three years ago, for many, only partially offset what they’d lost when in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature ordered state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their state pension fund.


Trump transition team still mum on Carson, Ross

The transition team of President-elect Donald Trump would not confirm reports that two men who live at least part-time in Palm Beach County, Dr. Ben Carson and Wilbur Ross, have been offered cabinet positions.

News reports have indicated that Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, has been offered the position of secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. After meeting with Carson on Tuesday, Trump himself tweeted: “I am seriously considering Dr. Ben Carson as the head of HUD. I’ve gotten to know him well – he’s a greatly talented person who loves people!”

Other reports have indicated Ross, a billionaire businessman who has a home not far from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach, is the president-elect’s choice for secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

During a conference call with reporters on Friday, Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller said the president-elect has no official news on the selection of either Carson or Ross.

“There has not yet been an announcement with regard to those men,” Miller said. “I would say that, until the president-elect makes an announcement, I would hold off on that.”

Trump is spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

Carson endorsed Trump after ending his own bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. He has given conflicting signals about his willingness to serve in Trump’s cabinet.

As Trump’s transition team began to announce cabinet nominees, Carson said he would not serve in the cabinet and would seek to help Trump as an outside-of-Washington, D.C. voice of reason.

After meeting with Trump on Tuesday, however, the retired neurosurgeon hinted during an interview on Fox News that he is interested in a role that would allow him to help inner cities.

“You know, our inner cities are in terrible shape, and they definitely need some real attention,” Carson said. “You know, there have been so many promises made over the last several decades, and nothing has been done, so it certainly is something that has been a long-term interest of mine, and I’ll be thinking and praying about it seriously over the holiday.”

Ross has become known as the “king of bankruptcy” because of his success in buying distressed companies at low costs, restructuring them and selling for large profits. Critics contend those restructurings have harmed some workers and encouraged non-compliance with safety regulations in the name of profits.

If nominated, both Carson, 65, and Ross, who turns 79 on Tuesday, would require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Miller said Trump will not meet with any other potential members of his administration until Monday, when he will meet with eight potential nominees: Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive of a real estate investment firm; Paul Atkins, former commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; Kathleen White, former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.; Dave Steward, chairman and co-founder of a technology firm; E. Scott Pruitt, attorney general for the state of Oklahoma; David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and John Allison, founder of an asset management firm.

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Trump pick of charter school advocate DeVos draws high-energy response from Jeb!

President-elect Donald Trump, Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos  (Detroit News photo)
President-elect Donald Trump, Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos (Detroit News photo)

Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as education secretary drew praise Wednesday from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who, along with his family, had stiff-armed the president-elect during his campaign for the White House.

“She has a long and distinguished history championing the right of all parents to choose schools that best ensure their children’s success,” said Bush who as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, shares DeVos’ passion for charter schools and steering more taxpayer dollars to private schools.

DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman, is a member of the Amway-founding family that owns the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

“Her allegiance is to families, particularly those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder, not to an outdated public education model that has failed them from one generation to the next,” Bush said.

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee amid flowers, ceremony, and just a touch of “evil”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran
House Speaker Richard Corcoran

The Legislature’s organization session Tuesday was mostly a friendly affair, with families looking on as lawmakers were sworn-in and talk of tackling a state budget and policy matters still seemed somewhere on the horizon.

But new House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, wasted little time in declaring the state’s teachers union “evil.”

“The teachers union is fixated on halting innovation and competition,” said Corcoran, who condemned the union for its lawsuit looking to overturn the state’s tax-credit scholarship program launched under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“This flies in the face of research. It defies common sense. It is downright evil,” Corcoran told the House in his opening remarks as speaker.

Under the tax credit scholarship program, companies get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit off state income, insurance premium, alcoholic beverage, excise and other taxes for their contributions to private school scholarships.

The voucher program started modestly in 2001 under Bush — financed by tax credits of $50 million in its first year. But the Republican-led Legislature has allowed the amount of available dollars to swell through the years to the current $559.1 million level.

The Florida Education Association and a handful of allies — the Florida PTA and School Boards Association have withdrawn from the lawsuit– argue the tax credits hurt public schools by diverting dollars to private schools.

While lower courts have ruled the FEA doesn’t have legal standing to challenge, the union is now asking the Florida Supreme Court to take up the case.

Corcoran, a huge fan of charter schools and the tax-credit scholarship program, has added his voice to a chorus of organizations which benefit from these dollars to drop the lawsuit.

House Democratic leaders swung back, defending the politically allied FEA. But Corcoran’s gauntlet throwdown seems to set a tone for when lawmakers return for the first round of committee hearings next month.

“Instead of demonizing our teachers, we should be celebrating the incredible work they do and focusing how can we best provide a quality public education, as the Florida Constitution requires, to every child,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa and others said in a written response to Corcoran.


Florida CHAIN loses grant, lays-off staff, including former House Democratic leader Mark Pafford

Mark Pafford
Mark Pafford

Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization, said Monday that it has lost a major grant tied to Medicaid expansion and is laying-off its five staff members, including former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

Pafford last year took the $85,000-a-year post as CEO of Florida CHAIN. Term-limited this fall, Pafford turned over leadership of House Democrats on Monday to Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa. Jody Young, a spokesman for Florida CHAIN, said the17-year-old organization plans to continue its work, using volunteer staff.

CHAIN is active in advocating for children’s health, Medicare and Medicaid coverage and health care for immigrants.

Young said a $375,000 grant from Community Catalyst, a Boston-based non-profit, has been rescinded and will likely be steered to health initiatives in other states, or to states more inclined than Florida to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature have opposed Medicaid expansion, which a majority of states have done under the Affordable Care Act. But with President-elect Donald Trump calling for repeal of the ACA, an approach Scott also has endorsed, the future of such initiatives are clouded.

“That’s been our mission, to try to get the state to expand,” Young said. “But I’m sure there are other states where this might look more possible than Florida.”

“Change” election means little difference for Democrats in Tallahassee

With lawmakers set to reconvene Tuesday for a one-day organization session, Democrats remain mired in deep minority status in the state House and Senate.

Budget cuts are on the table for the coming year, along with possibly major changes in education and health care policy.

But Democrats, who dominate the Palm Beach County delegation in Tallahassee, can’t do much to affect policies advanced by ruling Republicans, including Senate President-designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes a piece of north county.

“Our voice is all we really have,” said House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa.

Full story:

Destination D.C.? Resumes flooding inboxes of Trump’s Florida gatekeepers

Some of these gatekeepers may even be headed to Washington themselves.

“The sky’s the limit for Pam Bondi,” Trump campaign chairman Joe Gruters said of Florida’s attorney general, who is now also a member of the President-elect’s transition team.

Trump’s pick Friday of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general may have lowered the altitude somewhat for Bondi. But Florida’s two-term attorney general, set to leave office in 2018, is widely seen as destined for a prominent post in the new administration.

Joining the part-time Palm Beacher headed for the White House could be another resident of the island, billionaire Wilbur Ross, viewed as a possible Commerce Department secretary. Ross, 78, is an investor who has restructured companies in the steel, coal and textiles industry.

Ross, like Trump, also lives in New York, where he raised money for the candidate last summer in The Hamptons. He also served as an economic adviser to the president-elect’s campaign.

With Trump needing to fill about 4,100 jobs relatively quickly — from Cabinet posts to White House schedulers – a number of Floridians are seen as likely contenders, given the state’s political importance and the president-elect’s ties to Palm Beach, where he bought the landmark Mar-A-Lago estate 31 years ago.

Full story here:

Scott after meeting with Trump: “Excited we’re going to see big change”

Gov. Rick Scott's visit with President-elect Donald Trump in New York included a selfie he posted on Twitter.
Gov. Rick Scott’s visit with President-elect Donald Trump in New York included a selfie he posted on Twitter.

Gov. Rick Scott told CNN Thursday night that he’s “very excited we’re going to see big change,” once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

Scott appeared on OutFront with Erin Burnett following his afternoon meeting at New York’s Trump Tower, where he sat down for 45 minutes with Trump and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who is taking over as White House chief-of-staff.

“I’m excited,” Scott said. “Now I have somebody who’s going to help me with jobs. If I have a problem with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), transportation, I can call somebody. And get a solution.”

Scott, who this week addressed the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando and renewed his call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, downplayed Trump’s apparent willingness to keep portions of President Obama’s signature legislation.

“The pre-existing condition, everybody understands that, allowing people to stay on their parents’ policies, that makes some sense,” Scott said. “But the real cost is the exchanges, the mandates, the taxes. Those are the real things that’s got to be changed.”

Scott also repeated he has no interest in serving in the Trump administration.

“I want to finish this job,” Scott said.

TV spending in Florida Senate races second in nation; Slosberg spent most in state

Spending in Florida Senate races ranked second in the nation.
Spending in Florida Senate races ranked second in the nation.

Television ad spending in Florida Senate races ranked second among the nation’s legislative contests, with Boca Raton Democrat Irv Slosberg spending the most of any candidate in the state, a new report shows.

The Center for Public Integrity’s review of TV spending in the last campaign shows that $17.9 million was spent on more than 29,000 spots in Florida Senate contests. All 40 seats were up for grabs this year, but far fewer attracted big spending.

The Florida numbers were second only to the $26.2 million spent airing TV ads for Illinois state House seats.

Slosberg, a House member defeated in the August primary after challenging incumbent Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, spent $817,290 on TV, according to CPI’s analysis. That was almost double the second-place individual spending of $477,470 by trial lawyer Michael Steinger of Palm Beach Gardens, who lost to newly elected Sen. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach.

In Florida, the biggest TV spending was done by party-related committees.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee poured $7.1 million into more than 10,000 TV ads; almost double the $3.8 million spent by the Florida Democratic Party to help its candidates.

Florida Republicans now command 25 of the Senate’s 40 seats, down one from where they were before the elections.