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Carlos Lopez-Cantera to head federal judicial nominating panel

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will be the next statewide chair of the panel that vets candidates for federal judges, according to a Thursday statement from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s office.

The purpose of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission is “to identify highly qualified individuals as finalists to become U.S. district judges in each of the three judicial districts in Florida,” the release said.

“Carlos is well-suited for this position and I am confident he is dedicated to this important process and will successfully lead the commission in identifying exceptional candidates to serve on the federal bench in Florida,” Rubio said.

“I look forward to reviewing the commission’s selections and working with Senator (Bill) Nelson and the president to ensure that these critical positions are filled.”

Added Lopez-Cantera: “I am committed to ensuring that the commission identifies for our senators’ consideration the most qualified applicants to serve as U.S. district judges.

“I am looking forward to working with all of the members of the commission to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, experience, character, and integrity.”  

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. CourtsFlorida now has seven U.S. District Court vacancies, the trial level of the courts.

Officially, district judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But individual senators have veto power over individual candidates, a tradition known as “senatorial courtesy.”

“The commission will send the names of the finalists to Senators Rubio and Nelson for their individual and independent review and, if neither senator objects, those names will be forwarded to the White House for the president’s consideration,” the release said.

Darryl Paulson: Should the Florida GOP feel blue?

Florida’s Republican Party has governed Florida for less than a third of the past 150 years. After the Civil War, a coalition of newly enfranchised blacks, a small number of native white Republicans and northern carpetbaggers dominated Florida politics from 1865 to around 1885.

After the blacks were stripped of their voting rights at the end of Reconstruction, the Republican Party ceased to be a political force. By 1900, more than 90 percent of black voters were dropped from the voter rolls due to barriers to black voters adopted by the state Legislature and through constitutional amendments. As a result of the removal of black voters, not a single black or Republican was left in the legislature.

Republican Party fortunes were so bad that when the party failed to run a candidate for governor in 1918, the Florida Supreme Court declared that “The law does not know such a political party as the Republican Party.

From the 1880s to the 1950s, Democrats completely controlled the political process in Florida. Only once in that 70-year period did a Republican presidential candidate carry the state of Florida. Almost 57 percent of Floridians voted for Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928 over Democrat Al Smith. Smith was the first Catholic candidate for the presidency, and Protestant voters in Florida were not ready to support a Catholic candidate.

Partisan change in Florida and the rest of the South was triggered by events at the 1948 Democratic National Convention. The convention adopted a strong civil rights plank which led to a walkout of most southern delegates and the formation of the States Rights or Dixiecrat Party headed by Governor Storm Thurmond of South Carolina.

The Southern states had agreed to support the national Democratic Party as long as the party did not interfere with racial policies and states’ rights. The bond was now broken. Beginning in 1952, the Republican Party won the electoral votes of three Southern states, including Florida. “Presidential Republicanism” was the wedge that began to open the door for the Republican Party in the South.

Republican strength in presidential elections would be followed by increasing Republican victories in Congressional elections. This would be followed by growing Republican numbers in the state legislatures and then in local elections.

From 1952 to 1992, Republicans won nine of the 11 Florida presidential elections. The only GOP losses were Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter in 1976. The Lyndon Johnson campaign successfully convinced voters that Goldwater would lead the country into a nuclear war, and Florida voters were concerned about Goldwater’s proposal to privatize Social Security. Carter was helped by coming from neighboring Georgia. Republican President Gerald Ford assumed the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew was forced to resign and then became president due to Nixon‘s Watergate resignation scandal. Scandal and a bad economy contributed to Ford’s narrow loss to Carter.

Republican dominance in Florida presidential elections changed beginning with the 1996 election. Bill Clinton, who narrowly lost Florida to George H. W. Bush in 1992, defeated Republican Bob Dole by 6 percent in 1996. Republicans would win only three of the six Florida presidential elections from 1996 to 2016, and one of their losses was by 537 votes to George W. Bush in 2000.

Going into the 2016 election, almost all political observers predicted a Hillary Clinton victory in Florida and nationally. Although getting 3 million more votes than Donald Trump, Trump carried 30 states and won 304 electoral votes, including Florida’s.

In state elections, Marco Rubio retained his U. S. Senate seat and Republicans only lost one U. S. House seat despite the redrawing of districts which many believed benefited the Democrats. Republicans also retained large majorities in both houses of the legislature.

Looking toward the future, Democrats have several things working in their favor. First, the election of Trump has been a great motivating factor for Democrats. Massive turnouts at congressional town halls attest to the fact that Democrats appear to be more motivated than Republicans.

A second advantage for Democrats is that Republicans are in disarray. Republicans in the Florida House are battling their Republican counterparts in the Senate, and Republicans in both chambers are fighting Republican Governor Rick Scott. Growing factionalism within the party creates opportunities for the Democrats.

Third, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), once viewed as one of the premier party organizations in the country, has fallen on hard times. When Governor Scott’s hand-picked choice to lead the party, Leslie Dougher, was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott abandoned his role as party leader.

Scott urged donors not to give to the RPOF, but to contribute to his “Let’s Get to Work” political action committee. The RPOF now has about half of the revenues it had four years ago.

For Democrats, they face the same problem they have faced for the past 25 years:  disorganization. Numerous party leaders have come and gone, and the results from been dismal. Democrats have just elected a new party chair, Steven Bittel, and hired a new executive director, Sally Boynton Brown. Will they do any better than their predecessors?

2018 is an off-year election, and the party occupying the White House usually suffers large losses. 2018 will provide a good look at whether Florida Democrats have got their act together and will achieve better results than they have achieved in the past.

It is hard to imagine Democrats doing any worse.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Marco Rubio D.C. office to make several personnel changes, new hires

Marco Rubio is announcing several new promotions and staff hires in his Washington, D.C. office.

Lauren Reamy, a member of the Florida Senator’s staff since 2015, has been promoted to Legislative Director. Robert “Bobby” Zarate will lead Rubio’s foreign policy team after joining the staff as a Senior Foreign Policy adviser in December 2016, and Matt Wolking has been promoted to Senior Communications adviser and Press Secretary.

In addition to the promotions, Olivia Perez-Cubas is rejoining the Senate office as Communications Director after previously serving as Press Secretary on the Senate staff, and Wes Brooks is joining as a legislative assistant for energy, environment, agriculture and trade issues.

“I’m grateful for everything Sara Decker, Alex Burgos, and Jamie Fly helped us accomplish in my first term, and for all of their hard work. I wish them the very best in their new endeavors and know they will be very successful,” Rubio said. “I’m proud to welcome the new staff and look forward to the work our new team will be doing to help serve the people of Florida and pursue an important and meaningful legislative agenda in my second term.”

Biographies:

Lauren Reamy — Legislative Director

Reamy has served as Rubio’s deputy legislative director and professional staff member on the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, as well as advising the senator on energy, environment, agriculture and trade issues. Before that, she was director of government affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America, managing a portfolio that included international trade and economic issues. Earlier in her career, she served six years as a professional staff member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving under former Chair Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and former Ranking Members Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Reamy is a graduate of the University of Florida and a native of Davie, Florida.

Robert “Bobby” Zarate — Senior Foreign Policy adviser

Zarate previously served as national security adviser to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, leading the senator’s efforts to oversee the Menendez-Kirk-Lieberman Iran sanctions laws, and to persuade Congress to appropriate and authorize full funding for IRON DOME and other U.S.-Israel missile defense programs, and to advance the bipartisan Combating BDS Act of 2016. Before the Senate, he served as policy director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (2011-2014); legislative assistant for foreign affairs to U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska (2009-2011), successfully leading Fortenberry’s effort to enact the Help Haitian Adoptees Immediately to Integrate Act of 2010 (Help HAITI Act); legislative fellow on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade (2009); and research fellow at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (2006-2009). Zarate earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago.

Olivia Perez-Cubas — Communications Director

Olivia began her career as a news writer at WSVN, the FOX affiliate in Miami. She first joined Rubio’s Senate office communications team as an intern and quickly became a full-time staffer. She was tapped to move to Rubio’s presidential campaign on Day One, where she served as Media Director, booking Rubio and managing his press schedule. She was Press Secretary for the 2016 re-election campaign and spent much of her time traveling the state with Rubio. Olivia is rejoining the Senate office as Communications Director. She is a graduate of Florida State University and was born and raised in Miami, Florida.

Matt Wolking — Senior Communications adviser and Press Secretary

Wolking has worked in Congress for more than five years, serving in communications roles for U.S. Representative Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, and Chair Trey Gowdy of South Carolina at the House Select Committee on Benghazi before joining Rubio’s staff. Earlier in his career, he was Executive Producer of Laura Ingraham’s nationally syndicated political talk radio show. A native of Kentucky and graduate of Patrick Henry College in Virginia, Wolking interned for Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential campaign and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Wes Brooks — legislative assistant

Born and raised in Miami, Brooks has handled Florida Congressman Brian Mast’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee portfolio as well as agriculture, Coast Guard, energy, environment, fisheries and water resources issues. He earned a Ph.D. in Ecological Science and a Certificate in Government and Politics from Rutgers University, where he authored 18 peer-reviewed scientific research papers on topics including invasive species, citizen science, science education, environmental economics and tropical dry forest restoration. Brooks also holds bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Political Science from Duke University. He was named an Emerging Public Policy Leader in 2011 by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and was selected as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Graduate STEM Fellow in 2013 before joining Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s staff in January 2014. Wes is also an alum of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Foreign Policy Fellowship and Cybersecurity Fellowship programs.

Marco Rubio: With ‘higher standard’ for lawmakers, Frank Artiles was right to resign

Marco Rubio has ‘no doubt’ state Sen. Frank Artiles‘ did the right thing by resigning from the Florida Legislature Friday in the wake of a racist and sexist outburst against two lawmakers.

Elected officials are rightfully “held to a different standard,” Rubio said.

“You hold a public trust, you are a representative of those districts, and you are going to be held to a different standard, and people should know that coming in,” the U.S. Senator from Miami told host Jim DeFede on “Facing South Florida.”

First reported in the Miami Herald, Rubio’s interview will broadcast in full Sunday on WFOR-CBS 4.

“No one forces anyone to run for office,” Rubio, a former state representative and House Speaker, added, “And no one forces you to run in the state Senate.”

“I know Perry Thurston. I know Audrey Gibson, actually very well,” Rubio said, about the two lawmakers involved in Artiles’ comments Monday evening at the Governors Club in Tallahassee.

“She served with me in the House. We’re good friends. And I’m sorry she found herself in that position, because I know that is not what she is in Tallahassee to do. She didn’t seek this out.”

Artiles comments were obviously “unfortunate” and “inappropriate,” Rubio said.

He explained: “My understanding is that he resigned, and, in the end, what people don’t realize is the legislative bodies, the Senate and the House, they are the judge of their own members’ qualifications. They can remove members from their seats. And it sounds like that is where the Senate was headed.”

That said, there was “no doubt” Artiles made the right choice, Rubio said.

“It had gotten in the way of, I think, the Senate being able to function in Tallahassee, and, ultimately, I think, gotten in the way of his ability to continue to serve effectively,” he added.

“You know, I think it happens, and when it happens it has to be dealt with,” Rubio said. “For the most part, people need to recognize that when you are in public office, the words you use, your behavior, is held to a different standard.”

With a “collegial body” like the Florida Senate, Rubio pointed out the need “to work with 39 other people in Tallahassee” to get things done.

“How you comport yourself with your colleagues has a direct impact on your effectiveness,” he said. “Obviously, the terminology that was used is inappropriate in any setting. I think people, for the most part, know that.”

When a person makes “horrible mistakes or decisions horrible things,” Rubio said they need to understand that “they’re not — you’re not going to be treated, nor should you be, like anybody in some other job.”

Elected officials “hold a public trust,” he said. “You are a representative of those districts, and you are going to be held to a different standard, and people should know that coming in.”

Personnel note: Alex Burgos departing Marco Rubio’s office, joining TechNet as VP

Alex Burgos, one of Sen. Marco Rubio’s longest serving aides, is leaving Rubio’s office to join the tech industry.

TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives, announced Wednesday that Burgos would serve as its vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications. The move was first reported by POLITICO Florida.

“As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill and federal campaigns at all levels, Alex brings a wealth of policy experience, deep relationships, and strategic vision to TechNet,” said Linda Moore, the president and CEO of TechNet in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alex to the TechNet team and believe his wide range of skills, experience, and insights will take our federal advocacy programs to new levels of success.”

Burgos joined Rubio’s team when the Miami Republican was first running for office, serving as his campaign’s communications director. He would go on to serve in the same role in Rubio’s U.S. Senate office. Prior to working for Rubio, the Miami native served as the senior communications manager for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a deputy press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“TechNet’s members include breakthrough startups and the most storied, life-changing technology companies on the planet, and I am excited to join the TechNet team to help keep America’s innovation economy growing and creating more good-paying jobs,” said Burgos in a statement. “Serving Senator Rubio and my home state of Florida has been the honor of a lifetime, and now I’m thrilled to partner with TechNet’s members to advance the policies that will spur the next chapter of America’s incredible innovation story.”

TechNet’s members include Apple, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Google, Lyft, and Microsoft. The organization bills itself as a “national bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives that promotes the growth of the innovation economy advocating a targeted policy agenda at the federal and 50-state level.”

Burgos first day at TechNet is April 25.

Donald Trump boasts of hiring only the best, but picks haunt him

President Donald Trump likes to boast that he hires only the best people. But his personnel choices keep coming back to haunt him.

One of the people Trump hired for the White House was working as a foreign agent while advising him during the election. His campaign chairman caught the Justice Department’s attention for similarly surreptitious work. And a third campaign adviser was reportedly surveilled by the FBI as part of an investigation into whether or not he was a Russian spy.

The tales of Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page — none of whom still work for Trump — have created a steady drip of allegations that have clouded Trump’s early presidency and raised persistent questions about his judgment.

At worst, Trump’s personnel picks appear to have left his campaign — and perhaps his White House — vulnerable to the influence of foreign powers. At best, they expose the long-term implications of his understaffed and inexperienced campaign organization and undermine his promises to surround himself with top-notch talent.

“Vetting new hires is standard procedure for presidential campaigns for exactly this reason,” said Alex Conant, who advised Sen. Marco Rubio‘s 2016 presidential campaign. “Every employee is also a potential liability on a presidential campaign.”

During the campaign, Trump said he hired “top, top people” and would fill his administration “with only the best and most serious people.”

Yet Manafort, Flynn and Page have indeed become political liabilities for Trump that he can’t shake in the White House. All three are being scrutinized as part of the FBI and congressional investigations into whether Trump associates helped Russia meddle in the 2016 election. The president has denied any nefarious ties to Russia and says he has no knowledge that his advisers were working with Moscow during the election.

The president’s culpability appears greatest with Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who traveled with Trump frequently during the campaign and was tapped as national security adviser after the election. Flynn had been lobbying for a company with ties to Turkey during the 2016 election and even wrote an editorial on behalf of his client that was published on Election Day.

“No one expects them to do the equivalent of an FBI background check, but a simple Google search could have solved a lot of these problems,” Dan Pfeiffer, who served as senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said of Trump’s team.

After Trump’s victory, Flynn’s lawyers alerted the transition team that he may have to register as a lobbying for a foreign entity, according to a person with knowledge of those discussions. The White House hired him anyway. After the inauguration, Flynn’s lawyers told the White House counsel’s office that the national security adviser would indeed have to move forward with that filing.

Flynn was fired in February after the White House said he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Lobbying for foreign interests is legal and lucrative. Both Republican and Democratic operatives offer their services to overseas clients. But the Justice Department requires Americans working on behalf of foreign interests to register, disclosing the nature of their work, the foreigners they dealt with and the amount of money they made.

Willful failure to register for foreign lobbying work can carry up to a five-year prison sentence, but the Justice Department rarely brings criminal charges and instead urges violators to register.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for former Trump campaign chairman Manafort said that he, too, under pressure from the Justice Department, would formally file for prior foreign lobbying. Manafort’s work for political interests in Ukraine occurred before he was hired as Trump’s campaign chairman, spokesman Jason Maloni said, though the U.S. government raised questions about his activities after he was hired by Trump.

Manafort was pushed out of Trump’s campaign in August after The Associated Press reported that his consulting firm had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party without disclosing that work to the U.S. government.

The White House did not respond to questions Wednesday about when Trump learned about Manafort’s foreign lobbying work and his discussions with the U.S. government about registering as a foreign agent.

The questions surrounding Page are perhaps the most serious. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department obtained a highly secretive warrant to monitor his communications because there was reason to believe he was working as a Russian spy.

In March, Trump personally announced Page as part of a newly minted foreign policy advisory team. But as questions began swirling about Page’s ties to Russia, the campaign started moving away from the little-known investment banker. Trump has since said he has no relationship with him.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Justice Department only obtained the warrant after the campaign distanced itself from Page.

In an interview Thursday with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Page described his affiliation with the Trump campaign as having served as “an informal member of a committee which was put together — a team of individuals who were looking at various foreign policy issues.”

Chris Ashby, a Republican elections lawyer, said that while it’s easy to blame Trump for missing red flags about his campaign advisers, it’s not always possible to dig up details that potential hires aren’t willing to disclose on their own.

“In the ideal world, you could rely on paid background checks, but you’d have to have the money and the time,” Ashby said. “The farther down the ranks you go and certainly when you reach the ranks of unpaid advisers, that becomes impractical.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott’s approval rating ticks up to 57% in new poll

Gov. Rick Scott’s approval rating is ticking up, something that could prove critical as the Naples Republican ponders a 2018 U.S. Senate bid.

A new survey from Morning Consult showed Scott has a 57 percent approval rating. That’s up 8 points from similar rankings released in September, which showed Scott had a 49 percent approval rating.

Scott’s disapproval rating dropped to 36 percent in the most recent Morning Consult survey, while 7 percent of Floridians surveyed said they didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion. In the September survey, 42 percent of Floridians disapproved of Scott and 9 percent said they didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion.

The survey of 8,793 Florida voters was conducted from January to March. It was part of a nationwide survey that evaluated the job performance of the nation’s senators and governors.

The Morning Consult survey shows Scott with a higher approval rating than two recent surveys of Florida voters.

In March, the Florida Chamber of Commerce released a survey that showed Scott’s approval rating at 50 percent. When broken down by political party, the Florida Chamber poll found 76 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents gave Scott good marks, while 77 percent of Democrats said they didn’t approve of the way he was doing his job.

A few weeks later, the Florida Hospital Association released a survey that showed Scott’s approval rating was at 45 percent, while his disapproval rating was at 41 percent.

Still, the Morning Consult survey could bode well for Scott, who is widely believed to be considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018. According to the survey, Scott’s approval rating among Florida voters is slightly higher than Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

The survey found Nelson’s approval rating is 53 percent. That’s up ever-so-slightly from September rankings, which showed Nelson had a 52 percent approval rating.

Nelson’s disapproval rating is 26 percent; up 2 points from September when it clocked in at 24 percent. The survey found 21 percent either didn’t know who Nelson was or didn’t have an opinion of the state’s senior senator.

Several early polls have shown Nelson leading Scott in hypothetical 2018 match-ups. The Chamber poll showed Nelson leading Scott 48 percent to 42 percent; while the Florida Hospital Association poll showed a much closer race, with Nelson leading 46 percent to 44 percent.

According to the Morning Consult survey, Sen. Marco Rubio’s approval rating is at 52 percent, a 10-point increase from the September survey.

Rick Scott: ‘About time’ for Syria strike

Taking an unusual step of weighing in on a foreign military incursion, Florida Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Friday morning supporting Thursday night’s U.S. military airstrikes on Syria.

“President Trump took the right action and acted decisively. The Assad regime is responsible for the horrendous killings of innocent men, women and children. These chemical attacks against innocent Syrian people are sickening, and it’s about time someone stood up for them. I appreciate our brave military heroes who conducted this mission,” Scott said.

The next decision by this president that Scott opposes will be the first.

U.S. military action, meanwhile, is something almost all Florida Republicans can support.

Yet, Scott’s statement stopped short of the measures, advanced by Sen. Marco Rubio in one of his many media appearances since Thursday night’s airstrikes.

“We need to now move forward through a combination of diplomacy and, quite frankly, the support of groups on ground, particularly non-jihadist Sunni groups, to create alternatives to the Assad regime,” Rubio said Friday morning.

Marco Rubio says next step in Syria is negotiating regime change

Sen. Marco Rubio says the next step in Syria should be to work with Sunni governments to discuss “an alternative” government in Syria.

Rubio is a Florida Republican and onetime rival of President Donald Trump. The conservative tells NBC’s “Today” show that Trump should reach out to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Turkey, to discuss ways to get Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and create a new regime. Assad has not responded to diplomatic pressure in the past, but Rubio says the military strikes could change that.

He says, “We need to now move forward through a combination of diplomacy and, quite frankly, the support of groups on ground, particularly non-jihadist Sunni groups, to create alternatives to the Assad regime.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Marco Rubio working ‘behind-the-scenes’ to shape Donald Trump Cuba policy

After calling for a review of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the Donald Trump administration is considering several options, with no clear favorite as of yet.

However, the Miami Herald reports that Sen. Marco Rubio spoke with Trump “three times about Cuba.”

“We’ve been walking through all these issues with the president and his team, figuring out the right steps to take and when,” said the Florida senator to El Nuevo Herald.

Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, continued: “I am confident that President Trump will treat Cuba like the dictatorship it is and that our policy going forward will reflect the fact that it is not in the national interest of the United States for us to be doing business with the Cuban military.”

According to a spokesperson, Rubio and his staff have worked “behind the scenes” on Cuba policy.

Cuba’s state-run Granma newspaper recently criticized Rubio for his increasingly vocal attitude toward U.S. policy for Latin America, particularly his calls for the Organization of American States to condemn Venezuela’s human rights record.

But the Herald notes that the Granma article “carefully avoided insulting Trump.” And the Raúl Castro government has been quiet about the Trump administration, waiting for the results of the review of U.S. policies toward the island.

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