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June 28, 2017

As ballots hit mailboxes, Miami House race hits TV airwaves

@martindvassolo @PatriciaMazzei

With mail-in ballots sent to voters Tuesday, two Republicans running for a special Miami House seat unveiled new TV ads aimed at reaching voters who have already been getting an onslaught of campaign fliers in their mailboxes.

In his ad, Daniel Perez accuses opponent Jose Mallea, who helped run U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's 2010 campaign, as disloyal for then working for Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign. Before working for Rubio, Mallea worked for Bush when Bush was governor.

Jose Mallea continued to try to tie himself to President Donald Trump's Cuba policy in the ad, released in English and Spanish. It echoes a robocall Mallea put out the day Trump announced his harder Cuba line in Miami two weeks ago.

"Jose Mallea supports Donald Trump and his policy on Cuba," says the ad, which also calls Mallea a "true conservative" who wants to "eliminate property taxes for our seniors and create better jobs." 

The 30-second TV spot comes after a series of Mallea fliers have tried to paint his opponent, Daniel Perez, as soft on Cuba because Perez and his fiancée took wedding engagement photos earlier this year in Havana.

"Daniel Perez lied to us!" one of the recent fliers reads, accusing Perez of being a Havana tourist.

Perez has dismissed the suggestion, saying he and his fiancée went to Cuba to visit family, though they did take down the engagement photos that once were online.

"That's a matter we already addressed," Perez's political consultant, David Custin, said Wednesday.

Perez's campaign also planned to debut a TV ad Wednesday, but it couldn't immediately provide video of the spot.

Continue reading "As ballots hit mailboxes, Miami House race hits TV airwaves" »

Good news for Bill Nelson? Floridians elect senators from the president's party just 29 percent of the time

Bill Nelson


Floridians have voted for senators that align with the incumbent president's party just 29 percent of the time since 1966, potentially good news for Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson ahead of the 2018 election since Republican Donald Trump occupies the White House. 

The senate election data was crunched by the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics, and it shows that the 10 Democratic senators defending seats in states won by Trump might have an easier time beating the GOP in 2018. On average, voters in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin elected a senator that aligned with the incumbent president's party just 38 percent of the time.

But Nelson has already bucked the trend twice. He won reelection in 2000 and 2012 when Democrats controlled the presidency. 

Nelson is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally. 

Nevada and Arizona, the two states occupied by potentially vulnerable Senate Republicans in 2018, voted for a senator from the president's party just 41 percent of the time since 1966.

Read more here. 

Joe Negron returns to West Palm Beach law firm

Florida Legislature (30)


Senate President Joe Negron is back at work in the private sector as of Wednesday, when he returned to a West Palm Beach law firm he previously worked for seven years ago.

Akerman LLP announced Negron’s return through a statement that touted Negron’s “30 years of experience in high stakes litigation, business law and complex commercial litigation.”

“Joe is widely-known by both the bench and the bar as a compelling advocate who skillfully represents businesses and directors in complex commercial disputes. He brings important investigative and trial experience to our clients,” Lawrence Rochefort, the head of Akerman’s Litigation Practice Group, said in the announcement. “His strong reputation and track record make him a powerful addition to our trial team.”

Negron, R-Stuart, previously worked for Akerman from 2005 to 2010. He had left the firm to join another West Palm Beach-based practice, Gunster.

It was from Gunster that Negron resigned in January out of an “abundance of caution to avoid even the possible appearance of” a conflict of interest with his legislative duties.

When asked Wednesday how that concern of a conflict of interest had been resolved, he told the Herald/Times his resignation in January “was a unique set of circumstances related to one particular issue, Senate Bill 10.”

SB 10 — one of Negron’s main priorities during the 2017, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law last month — calls for building a 78 billion gallon reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in an effort to improve Everglades restoration. One of Gunster’s major clients, U.S. Sugar Corp., opposed the land buy required for the additional water storage.

Like Gunster, Akerman represents high-profile clients with business before the Florida Legislature, and the firm also advertises “Florida legislative and executive lobbying“ as among its services.

Negron emphasized that Florida’s part-time Legislature is a “citizen legislature where people from all walks of life, business and industry serve the people.” 

“Like all elected officials, legislators continue to work in the communities they serve,” he said. “There are very clear guidelines and ethical rules that relate to all members of the Legislature, and I will certainly adhere to those.”

Negron said he’ll practice business law and commercial litigation at Akerman, a firm that he noted has a “national platform.” He said Wednesday was his first day of work and he’ll be based out of the West Palm Beach office.

At least one other influential lawmaker works for Akerman: Miami Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who is running in a special election this year to fill the District 40 Florida Senate left vacant when Republican Frank Artiles resigned this spring.

Photo credit: AP

Miami Democrat kicks off congressional campaign talking health care, climate change -- but not Trump



State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez picked the most Little Havana of scenes to kick off his campaign for Congress on Tuesday, gathering a small group of supporters outside Calle Ocho's Domino Park as he pitched himself as the candidate to tackle big issues -- and what's expected to be a hotly contested race.

"When I'm speaking with neighbors, families, residents, constituents -- they're talking to me about the fact that the residents of District 27 need access to affordable health care. And that starts with protecting the gains in the Affordable Care Act," he said, a day after the Senate postponed a vote on legislation to undo some of former President Barack Obama's signature law.

As he spoke, men shuffled dominoes on nearby tables. An old-school peanut salesman walked by ("¡Manícero!"). Tourists streamed out of double-decker buses.

Laying out his campaign platform in addition to healthcare, Rodríguez mentioned the economy and climate change, though he offered no specifics, even when pressed about what Obamacare tweaks, if any, he'd support.

He declined to call himself a "moderate" Democrat, though that's how he's voted in the Florida House and Senate -- and how he's likely to run in the Southeast Miami-Dade County district, which leans Democratic but is currently held by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring. Rodríguez praised the congresswoman's constituent services as a model to follow.

Several other Democrats are also seeking Ros-Lehtinen's seat. Rodríguez was the first big-name Democrat to jump into the race after Ros-Lehtinen's retirement announcement last month.

Not once did he name Democrats' likely bogeyman in next year's election: President Donald Trump.

Continue reading "Miami Democrat kicks off congressional campaign talking health care, climate change -- but not Trump" »

Tom Lee for CFO? Against Jimmy Patronis? Some pros and cons

When Gov. Rick Scott appeared in Tampa Monday with his newly-appointed chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, the crowd welcoming them included Republican Sen. Tom Lee, whose interest in a possible second candidacy for the Cabinet post has been well-known for a long time.

"I got a chance to congratulate him, which is something I thought I should do," Lee told the Times/Herald. "I'm happy for him. It's a real honor to be appointed by the governor. But as to all of the speculation, I'm going to defer to another day."

Lee's deference, and his unwillingness to step on Scott's big announcement, are understandable. But friends are urging him to take a close look at the CFO race because of his extensive knowledge of how the state spends money. There are compelling arguments for and against Lee running for the seat, even if Patronis decides to seek a four-year term.

Lee already has a healthy $1.9 million balance in his political committee, The Conservative, which provides a nice starting-off point. The former Senate president lost a 2006 CFO bid to Democrat Alex Sink, but he hails from the state's largest TV market of Tampa-St. Petersburg, where the well-organized candidacy of Republican Ashley Moody for attorney general could boost turnout. (Patronis is from the small Panama City market).

Lee had a frustrating session in the Senate and a statewide race may be more appealing. He has a handy pocketbook issue to remind voters of Patronis' pro-utility votes on the Public Service Commission.

On the other hand, Patronis wears the mantle of incumbency, would obviously have Scott's personal support and the help of the governor's Let's Get to Work machine, which is enough to give anyone pause. But Patronis starts out with essentially zero statewide name recognition.

Lee knows what it's like to be in a tough GOP primary for statewide office. It's brutal and it's very expensive. He had to spend about $2.5 million to get past the pesky former Rep. Randy Johnson before losing to Sink in November 2006, the same election that put Charlie Crist in the governor's mansion.

Rick Scott appoints Jonathan Zachem to lead business regulatory agency

From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jonathan Zachem as Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Tuesday. The department has been without a full-time leader since Ken Lawson left to become president and CEO of tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida in January.

Zachem had been DBPR's deputy secretary and previously served as chief attorney and then director of the agency's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

He also worked as in the prosecution services unit at the Florida Department of Health. Matilde Miller, who had been serving as interim secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulations since Lawson left, has also moved to Visit Florida, taking the role of vice president of compliance.

In face of new state law, Miami-Dade toll board decides to cut costs

Dolphin expressway

via @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade’s toll board is cutting costs and shedding staff as it faces a new state law demanding both lower fees for motorists and that some toll revenue be spent on county transit projects.

The leader of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority said the cuts aren’t related to the legislation Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this week that seeks to impose a 5 percent cut in tolls charged to most motorists. The law allows toll boards to skip the rate decrease if a cut violates lending agreements, and the Miami-Dade authority contends it falls into that category.

But as the toll board faces a growing political backlash against tolls and elected leaders want toll revenue for Miami-Dade’s cash-strapped transit system, an agency famous for flowing in money is trimming costs.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. GUERRERO / El Nuevo Herald

Condo law reforms sought by Miami-Dade lawmakers signed into law


via @BrendaMedinar of El Nuevo Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has approved state condominium law reforms that seek to punish voter fraud and theft in condo associations, clarify the definition of conflicts of interest and promote transparency.

Amendments to chapter 718 of the state law will take effect on July 1.

“I am very happy that we have finally achieved some of what is needed to stop fraud and abuse toward condominium owners,” said Maritza Escobar, owner of a condo unit in Hialeah Gardens. “In the future we have to make more changes to stop the abuse from management companies and boards.”

The reforms were presented in Tallahassee as a signature bill by the bipartisan Dade Delegation during the legislative session that ended in May. It was sponsored by Rep. José Félix Díaz and Senators José Javier Rodríguez and René García, and unanimously approved by the state House and Senate.

“That [the governor] signed the law is a victory and one that does not always happen,” said Díaz, whose district encompasses the Fontainebleau neighborhood in west Miami-Dade.

Díaz, who is vying for a Senate seat, said the delegation’s action and community engagement were key to the reforms getting passed.

“There are so many people in this county who have so many problems and do not raise their voices,” he said. “This is an example of when the government responds to the advice and suggestions of the public.”

The bill came a year after the publication of the “Condo Nightmares” series by el Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23. The investigation highlighted cases of electoral fraud, forged signatures on ballots, conflicts of interests, misappropriation of funds and rigged bids.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. GUERRERO / El Nuevo Herald

Battle between Rick Scott and Aramis Ayala heads to Supreme Court

Fullcourt2017-HiResGov. Rick Scott and Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala square off Wednesday before the Florida Supreme Court in a high-profile case being watched nationally that could have implications for the 2018 elections.

Ayala demands that Scott show by what authority he stripped the elected Orange-Osceola state attorney of nearly two dozen felony cases after she said she would not seek the death penalty for an accused cop killer. Scott argues in court papers that under state law, he can reassign cases for any "good and sufficient reason (that) he determines that the ends of justice would be best served."

In her reply brief, Ayala claims that on four occasions, Scott rejected citizen requests to disqualify prosecutors from cases on the grounds that "each state attorney is an elected official charged with the duty to determine how to prosecute any crime committed within his jurisdiction" and that they "answer to the voters of their individual jurisdictions."

Ayala said in March she would not seek a death sentence in the case of Markeith Loyd, charged with killing his pregnant former girlfriend and an Orlando police officer, Lt. Debra Clayton, who tried to arrest him. The case sparked widespread outrage, and a group of Republican state legislators unsuccessfully petitioned Scott to remove Ayala from office.

The case centers on the question of whether the justice system is free from political influence, but the case also has political and racial overtones. Ayala, a Democrat, is the first African-American state attorney elected in Florida, a state where black defendants are disproportionately assigned the death penalty and where no white person has been executed for killing a black victim. Scott, a Republican, is a supporter of capital punishment who's expected to run for U.S. Senate next year.

Friend-of-the-court briefs were filed on opposite sides by Florida prosecutors, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, legislators in both parties, a coalition of former state and federal legal experts and former justices, and families of murder victims who support the death penalty.

This is the most prominent case to come before the Supreme Court in oral argument since Scott appointed C. Alan Lawson to the bench last December to succeed James Perry, an African-American and outspoken critic of the death penalty in numerous opinions. Lawson's presence, and Perry's departure, presents the potential to tip this case in Scott's favor.

June 27, 2017

Beware healthcare 'spin,' Kellyanne Conway says in Miami, doing her own spinning


On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

“I know that people like to spin tales,” she said at the Miami-Dade County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day fundraising dinner. “Do the homework. Read all of the information.”

She, however, was not always providing it.

Conway said the Senate bill, called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” would offer “an increase in Medicaid spending every year, with a slowing of the growth of the expansion” promoted by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

In its report released Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the lower rate of spending on Medicaid would result in a $772-billion reduction by 2026, about a 26 percent cut over a decade that would leave thousands of people without health insurance. Medicaid, which is run by states but funded by states and the federal government, provides care to the disabled and the needy. 

In all, the CBO projected some 22 million people with individual, employer or government insurance would lose coverage by 2026.

More than tout the Senate bill, Conway criticized the existing ACA, saying the “19th and 20th Obamacare exchanges failed — there’s only four left.” That appeared to be a reference to the 19th healthcare cooperative in the country folding, leaving four nationwide. But co-ops are not exchanges; exchanges are the ACA-created insurance marketplaces.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

All stories lead to Florida: A fake Trump Time magazine cover hangs in Doral resort

From the Washington Post:

The framed copy of Time Magazine was hung up in at least five of President Trump’s clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” the big headline said. Above the Time nameplate, there was another headline in all caps: “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS . . . EVEN TV!”

This cover — dated March 1, 2009 — looks like an impressive memento from Trump’s pre-presidential career. To club members eating lunch, or golfers waiting for a pro-shop purchase, it seemed to be a signal that Trump had always been a man who mattered. Even when he was just a reality-TV star, Trump was the kind of star who got a cover story in Time.

But that wasn’t true.

The Time cover is a fake.

There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time Magazine. And there was no issue at all in 2009 that had Trump on the cover.

In fact,the cover on display at Trump’s clubs, observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes. Its red border is skinnier than that of a genuine Time cover, and, unlike the real thing, there is no thin white border next to the red. The Trump cover’s secondary headlines are stacked on the right side — on a real Time cover, they would go across the top.

And it has two exclamation points. Time headlines don’t yell.

More here.

Rubio and Scott crisscross the Capitol as Obamacare repeal bill stalls in Senate

Marco Rubio 2


Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.” 

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to... encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell said they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning health care staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed.

“Look, legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell said. “But we are going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we have discussed over and over and over again. And we are optimistic we are going to get to a result that’s better than the status quo.”

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump and former health care executive, packed his day in the capital with meetings and television appearances, with the goal of stressing to Republican senators that the bill to repeal Obamacare must not penalize states like Florida that chose not to expand Medicaid.

“We're not treated the same way as a state like New York,” Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York.

“Our federal tax rates aren’t lower, so why should we get paid less?”

But Florida gets paid less because it declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state left as much as $66 billion in federal dollars on the table over 10 years after it decided not to expand Medicaid. Scott countered that expanding Medicaid would cost Florida $1.9 billion a year, but the actual cost to the state would have been closer to $500 million and wouldn’t kick in for a few years.

Read more here.

Fact-checking a falsehood about noncitizens voting



President Donald Trump’s unfounded allegations that millions voted illegally in 2016 is back in the news, with his supporters pointing to a new analysis that claims millions of undocumented immigrants voted in 2008.

Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt talked about it on the morning show recently.

“5.7 million — that’s how many illegal immigrants might have voted” in 2008, she said. Her comments referenced an article in the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper.

Trump has made repeated claims about massive voter fraud and election rigging, which we’ve debunked again and again and again and again and again and again and again (and we’ve debunked a claim by his spokesman Sean Spicer).

The claim made on “Fox and Friends” is based on an extrapolation of a controversial study that relied on a very small number of responses. Researchers involved in the underlying survey of voters have cautioned against using their data to reach conclusions about noncitizen voters.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Miami Herald photo of voters at the Coral Gables library in March 2016.

Democratic congressional candidate bashes Pelosi



During a constituent breakfast Tuesday, Democratic congressional candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez criticized the leadership of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party’s “political industrial complex.”

Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami Beach commissioner running to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in District 27, addressed her qualms inside the Puerto Sagua Restaurant in Miami Beach.

“When the newly elected people get to Washington D.C., Nancy Pelosi says to them, ‘So, you think you’re gonna do something in Congress? Well, the first thing you have to worry about is getting reelected. So get over to the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and start calling'” donors, Rosen Gonzalez said sharply.

“Excuse me?” she continued, to some laughter. “That’s all it’s about. All it’s about is money, money, money, money. And if you don’t like that, then...they don’t consider you viable.”

Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami-Dade College instructor, would need to work alongside Pelosi if she wins. But she said she hopes her candidacy inspires others to “elect candidates who are not going to be beholden to one person.”

Pelosi has faced recent criticism and even calls to resign from her post following the loss of Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s special election. Conservative ads painted Ossoff as Pelosi’s puppet.

Rosen Gonzalez’s appearance was organized as part of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club and moderated by former Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower.

During the hourlong talk, Rosen Gonzalez also criticized Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, arguing “everyone deserves access to healthcare,” and proposed reforms to the pharmaceutical and health-insurance industries.

During a question-and-answer segment, she was asked about her thoughts on police reform.

Last month, the Miami Herald published an email Rosen Gonzalez sent to the city manager, in which she wrote, “We need to give the cops back their bullets, remove their body cams, give them their dignity and let them work all the off hours stuff they want.”

She later apologized for the email, writing in a letter to the editor that the words she chose “do not reflect how I truly feel” and that she voted in favor of equipping Beach officers with body cameras.

“I knew I was gonna get this question. I think I’m gonna get it the rest of my political career, so I’m just gonna have to figure out the best way to answer it,” she said Tuesday. “Body cameras are new, so we have to figure out what the policies are and maybe they’re gonna have to be lenient. And if a police officer says a four-letter word, they don’t get punished or get marks on their record. What I was trying to do was just ask some questions, so that i could figure out how to improve the policies surrounding that.”

Photo: Matias J. Ocner, The Miami Herald

Rick Scott declines to say if he thinks Marco Rubio should vote for the health care bill as written



Florida Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate wrestles with a bill that would repeal parts of Obamacare. He's meeting with top Republicans Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But Scott, a Republican and ally of Donald Trump, demurred when asked if Sen. Marco Rubio should vote for the bill as written. Scott will meet with Rubio later on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There's constant conversations and it's changing, so you can't say where it is right now," Scott said. "Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers." 

Rubio hasn't given any indication that he plans to block the bill's path to the Senate floor, although he's brought three staffers from Tallahassee to Washington to review the bill. 

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Senate President Joe Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott said a big priority for him is to make sure that states who didn't expand Medicaid, like Florida, receive the same per capita funding for Medicaid as a state that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. 

"We're not treated the same way as a state like New York," Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York. 

"Our federal tax rates aren't lower so why should we get paid less?"

Senate leadership is urging a vote on the health care bill this week, saying that a further delay will make it harder for a majority to support the bill. But a  

"Whoever is paying for it, the Obamacare costs have skyrocketed, people can't afford their health care, employers can't afford their health care and the government can't afford their health care.  

Four Republican senators, including moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada along with conservatives Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said they will not allow the legislation to proceed in its current form. The GOP enjoys a four seat majority in the Senate, meaning three Republican dissenters can kill the bill. 

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could be a tough road to make it through the House. A group of conservative lawmakers dubbed the Freedom Caucus are expected to oppose the Senate bill in its current form. 

"I don't have a vote," Scott said. "But it's very important to repeal and replace Obamacare." 


Graham, Gillum and King push for rejection and alternatives to Senate health care bill

Graham petitionsAs Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida Republicans scramble in D.C. today to try to understand the impact of the proposed Senate healthcare bill on the state, three Democratic candidates for governor offered their own feedback Tuesday. 

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham delivered a three-foot stack of petitions to the Tallahassee office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, signed by 4,000 people, urging him to reject the proposal because it will hurt more Floridians than it will help.

"This bill is heartless,'' Graham said, urging Rubio to transcend the partisanship surrounding the issue and reject it for Florida. "He doesn't represent the Republican Party. he doesn't represent Donald J. Trump. He represents the people of Florida and that's why he should vote against this bill."

She was joined by Dr. Louis St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatrician, who feared that the Medicaid cuts and restructuring in the Senate bill will leave thousands of children in the state without care.

"Don't forget, 52 percent of live births in Florida are paid for by Medicaid,'' he said. "We are not talking about an insignificant number of kids. Over one-third of Florida's children are on Medicaid and pulling the rug out from under that many kids and that many families will be devastating to not only the child but the rest of us in society who have to pay for their health care costs."

Graham said she was "very concerned" about the block grants proposed in the Senate health care bill because they are "not good for Florida" because she has no confidence that Republicans in Washington or Tallahassee will use them "in the best interests of the people of Florida." 

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum suggested the answer is a statewide constitutional amendment declaring healthcare a right. 

"It's time for Florida to finally enshrine healthcare as a right for all,'' he said a statement. "There is a public trust for the government to care for its citizens, and our state can no longer be ambiguous about that moral obligation. When healthcare is under attack in Washington, we're going to lean into the challenge of healthcare in the Sunshine State and live our values."

Gillum's communications director Geoff Burgan said that if elected, Gillum will "push the Legislature to put this on the ballot in 2019, and if they fail to do so he'll campaign for it as well."

"There's an added onus on the Legislature to make sure that health care is actually affordable and accessible,'' he said. "This is a long conversation about health care and it's being brought to the forefront."

He said that Gillum supports the idea because "Floridians have a right to make their voices heard, and he's committed to raising the funds necessary to do that,'' Burgan said. "We'll also be submitting it to the [Constitution Revision Commission.]"

Graham dismissed the constitutional amendment as a practical way to effect change. "I think healthcare is a right but I want to make sure the way we go about it as doable." 

Democrat candidate Chris King called the Senate healthcare proposal unacceptable   and Tuesday condemned the Medicaid cuts and the treatment of older Floridians. If the Senate plan becomes law, he has pledged not to seek waivers allow health insurers to discriminate against people with existing conditions or to exclude coverage of contraceptive care, said King spokesman Hari Sevugan.     

Graham blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to take Medicaid expansion while he is now complaining that the state is not getting enough Medicaid money. She said that has resulted in the Affordable Care Act not working as well as it was intended. Graham supported changes to the Affordable Care Act as a member of Congress and said Congress should continue to pursue fixes, not repeal.

"Congress has not done its job,'' she said. "Why? It's the politics. I will never let politics get in the way of doing what's right for the people of Florida." 

NOTE: This post has been updated. 

Man 'fed up' with Republicans threatens Miami lawmaker on Facebook, gets arrested

Steve Stfelizvia @ChuckRabin

Two weeks after a U.S. congressman and four others were shot during a baseball practice in a Washington suburb by a man with a history of lashing out at Republicans, a Florida lawmaker decided he wasn’t taking any chances.

So Sunday, after someone threatened his life on his Facebook page, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, informed police.

And on Monday, Northwest Miami-Dade resident Steve St. Felix, 34, was arrested and charged with written threats with intent to do bodily injury. Police said St. Felix was “fed up” with the Republican Party — and that he hadn’t taken his meds when he posted the threat.It’s unclear what condition the medications were treating.

The threat — “I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting” — was quickly removed from Diaz’s Facebook page, police said. It appeared to refer to the Republican Executive Committee, the name of the local Miami-Dade County GOP.

St. Felix’s listed address is clear across the county from where Diaz lives.

Diaz, 37, is running for a contested state Senate seat. The primary is July 25.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami-Dade Corrections Department

House GOP-backed PAC pledges anti-Pelosi campaign in Curbelo's Miami district

Congress Democrats

Get ready, voters in Florida's 26th congressional district: A rash of anti-Nancy Pelosi advertising is coming in the 2018 election.

Congressional Leadership Fund, a political committee backed by the House Republican caucus, pledged Tuesday to devote serious cash next year to running against Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

The group says it's polled 11 competitive congressional districts -- including FL-26 -- over the past 60 days and found Pelosi is disliked. Her leadership came under political fire last week after Democrat Jon Ossoff lost a special election in Georgia. A defiant Pelosi, a Democratic fundraising machine, made clear she's sticking around.

According to Congressional Leadership Fund, 45 percent of poll respondents in FL-26, which is represented by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, view her unfavorably, compared to 37 percent who view her favorably.

"During the 2018 cycle, CLF will spend millions of dollars highlighting Nancy Pelosi's toxic agenda and reminding voters across the country that Democratic candidates are nothing more than rubber stamps for her out-of-touch, liberal policies," Congressional Leadership Fund Executive Director Corry Bliss wrote.

Curbelo, who has yet to draw a Democratic challenger, has been repeatedly jabbed recently by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for his support for the House healthcare bill. Another Miami Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, also backed it.

"Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart already made their bed and now they have to lie in it," DCCC Spokesman Cole Leiter said in a statement Monday.

We talk more about Pelosi in our weekly McClatchy politics podcast, "Beyond the Bubble":

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

The Trump whisperer: Marco Rubio has the president’s ear on Latin America

Trump Cuba (1)


Donald Trump has a distaste for the State Department and its legions of diplomats tasked with crafting the nation’s foreign policy.

So when it comes to Latin America, the CEO-turned-president is listening to a man he derided on the campaign trail a year ago: Marco Rubio.

It was Rubio who set up a White House meeting with Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez. After the meeting, Trump tweeted his support for Lopez, a public rebuke of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

It was Rubio who helped draft a changed Cuba policy in recent weeks, culminating in Trump’s first presidential visit to Miami to fulfill a campaign promise to the conservative Cubans who helped him win the White House.

And Rubio is well-positioned to take advantage of a vacuum of leadership in the State Department and communicate directly with a president who dislikes diplomacy-as-usual on Latin American foreign policy, according to interviews with former Rubio foreign policy staffers and State Department officials.

“They’ve asked for my input on basically every issue in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and … we’ve been engaged with them and they’ve been very open,” Rubio said. “In some ways, the fact that they didn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what to do has created the space for that debate to occur.”

There’s plenty of space.

Six months into his administration, Donald Trump has yet to appoint dozens of high-level State Department employees, including the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the top diplomat in charge of Latin America.

And the president bucked the advice of some of his own senior officials and a slew of congressional Republicans in favor of Rubio to finish the Cuba deal.

Rubio “found a way to say, ‘You don’t want to listen to the experts, listen to me,’ ” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties and is opposed to Trump’s policy changes. “He found a really successful way to tell Trump, don’t listen to your own bureaucracy.”

Not that Trump needs an excuse to eschew the federal bureaucracy, which will be massively downsized if the White House gets its way.

Trump wants to cut the State Department’s budget by 30 percent, repeatedly rails against foreign aid and openly disagreed with his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, during a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“It is a genuine problem not to have people that are diplomats, trained people that really are very loyal and dedicated American citizens who want to represent their country,” said former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, a Democrat who served under Bill Clinton. “I’ve just been traveling abroad, and our embassies don’t have enough people.”

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Gov. Scott signs school funding, economic development bills


From the News Service of Florida:

Gov. Rick Scott signed 29 bills late Monday, including measures boosting spending on education, tourism marketing and economic development.

By signing the bills, and vetoing five more, Scott essentially closed the books on this year’s regular and special legislative sessions.

The bills Scott approved included perhaps one of the hardest-fought wins of his time as governor: a measure (HB 1A) that provided $76 million for the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida; established an $85 million fund to pay for infrastructure improvements and job training to help draw businesses; and set aside $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike along Lake Okeechobee.

That legislation was approved in this month’s special session after the House refused to approve direct business incentives that Scott prefers and gave far less for Visit Florida than he had requested during the regular session, which ended in May.

“With this legislation, we can promote public infrastructure projects and job-training projects to continue to grow jobs for families in every community of our state,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. “We know that for Florida to be competitive in domestic and international markets, we need as many tools as possible to attract growing businesses to our state.”

Scott also signed another bill from the special session (HB 3A) boosting per-student spending in the state’s main formula for funding public education by $100. The budget for public schools had originally only increased spending by $24 a student, leading to charges from critics that it was too stingy and prompting a rare veto by Scott.

The governor hailed the increase Monday.

“Our students are the future of our state, and I’m incredibly proud to sign legislation today to ensure they have every opportunity for success,” he said.

During the special session, some Democrats had complained that the increase wouldn’t offset what they said would be the negative impact of HB 7069, a controversial and wide-ranging education bill Scott approved shortly after the special session as part of a rumored deal with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.

“It’s an increase — but at what cost?” asked Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat who pointed out that funding for education is still short of pre-recession levels when inflation is factored in. “The state has recovered, but education funding has not.”

Scott also signed several other education bills Monday, including a measure (HB 15) expanding eligibility for a program that helps pay for educational services for students with disabilities and boosting the size of voucher-like tax credit scholarships that help parents pay for private school tuition.

In addition, the governor approved HB 989, which overhauls the state’s policy on instructional materials to allow any county resident — not just parents — to challenge materials used at schools.

In all, Scott signed 230 of the bills that lawmakers approved during this year’s regular legislative session while vetoing 11. He signed all four bills that passed during the special session.

Photo credit: AP