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July 22, 2017

Diaz de la Portilla loans himself $443K in special Miami Senate campaign

@PatriciaMazzei

Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, running against a far better-funded opponent, loaned himself $393,500 since June 9 to campaign for Senate District 40 ahead of Tuesday's special primary election, according to a campaign-finance report filed Friday. That brings the total amount Diaz de la Portilla has put into his campaign to $443,500.

Diaz de la Portilla told the Miami Herald in a text message he poured his money into the race "to fight against the $3 million nasty defamation campaign waged by my opponent with dirty special interest money."

"I will owe my victory this Tuesday to the hardworking men and women of District 40 and not to influence peddlers who have bought Jose Felix Diaz," he said of his chief rival, a sitting state representative. "Self funding gives me the freedom to fight for the people and answer only to them."

Diaz questioned the source of Diaz de la Portilla's money. Diaz de la Portilla, who works as a political consultant, reported in a May 30 financial disclosure form a net worth of about $618,000, with annual $98,000 income from his consulting firm, First Stone Management. He listed his sole ownership of the firm as an asset with a "fair market value" of $300,000.

He has a $386,000 mortgage on a home valued at about $603,000 that is under foreclosure -- a step Diaz de la Portilla has described as necessary to modify the mortgage after he and his ex-wife divorced.

"Alex's hypocrisy knows no bounds," Diaz said in a statement. "The only income he has comes from lobbying and running campaigns funded by special interests. The real story here is where did Alex get half a million dollars, all of a sudden, with less than a week to go before Election Day? HIs financial disclosure reports confirm that he doesn't have the money he is supposedly lending himself. The dark money he is spending on desperate attacks stinks far worse than his liberal tax-and-spend voting record."

Diaz de la Portilla dismissed questions about his finances, saying he keeps them "by the book."

"My assets have increased in the private sector and all my financial disclosures reflect that," he said. "My next financial disclosure, when due, will, as always, reflect my financial resources."

Diaz de la Portilla's report shows his most recent payment to himself was for $55,000 Thursday, after a $200,000 payment Tuesday.

Diaz de la Portilla also collected $30,250 from contributors from June 9 through Thursday, bringing his total to $52,750. 

Diaz leads all candidates in the race in fundraising, having collected $531,325 from June 9 through Thursday. That brings his total campaign money to $809,729. He has not loaned himself any money.

Diaz's list of contributors reads like a who's who of Miami business, healthcare and political interests, including from several car dealerships owned by billionaire civic activist Norman Braman. Diaz de la Portilla has portrayed himself throughout the campaign as a candidate willing to buck his party and Tallahassee bigwigs. 

Diaz, who voted for a controversial education bill during this year's session opposed by his GOP campaign rivals, also got contributions of $1,000 each from Charter Schools USA and Fernando and Ignacio Zulueta, the founders of Academica, another charter-school chain. And he received $250 from Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, and $1,000 from Carlos Migoya, the chief executive of the public Jackson Health System.

In addition, Diaz has been aided by his political committee, Rebuild Florida, which raised $420,500 in June and spent a whopping $1.3 million in July. Among its major contributions were $25,000 from a Florida Medical Association PAC, $25,000 from Publix, $25,000 from a Florida Hospital Association PAC and $25,000 from Coalition for Conservative Leadership, a group linked to Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, according to the PAC's website

The third Republican in the race, attorney Lorenzo Palomares, raised $14,4000, bringing his total to $23,400. He's loaned himself a total of $62,500. Diaz has spent $736,434.72, compared to Diaz de la Portilla's $331,886.41 and Palomares' $40,846.69.

Republicans have vastly outraised Democrats since the start of the race. Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo's fundraising total far eclipsed the one from her rival, former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan. Taddeo raked in $38,339.75 from June 9 through Thursday, bringing her total to $83,898. During the same period, Rivas Logan collected only $2,835, for a total of $13,260, including $2,500 Rivas Logan loaned herself early in the race. 

Among Taddeo's contributors were Chris Korge, a major Democratic fundraiser who gave her $1,000; former Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who gave $250, and the committee for Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip who's backed Taddeo since her first run for office in 2008 and gave $1,000.

Taddeo has spent a total of $59,618.15, compared to Rivas Logan's $10,790.39.

Taddeo's political committee, Fight Back Florida, has raised a total of $38,650.00. The largest contribution, on June 30, came from Diario Las Americas Multimedia, a Spanish-language newspaper. Publisher Nelson Mezerhane did not respond to emailed questions Friday about the contribution. The committee has spent $24,089.96.

Attorney Daniel Perez, for his part, raised $84,750, for a total of $168,200. He, too, got money from various business associations, including a Florida Bankers Association PAC and a Florida Medical Association PAC -- as well as $1,000 from Coral Gables healthcare executive Mike Fernandez and $1,000 from businessman Jorge Mas, who's considering buying the Miami Marlins baseball team.

In the Republican primary for House District 116, brewery owner Jose Mallea collected $97,600 from June 9 through Thursday, bringing his campaign total to $238,256, including $24,000 he loaned himself this month. Among his contributors were several business interests, including the political committee for Associated Industries of Florida, insurer Florida Blue and Publix. A former Jeb Bush aide who worked on his 2016 presidential campaign, Mallea also reported $100 from former Bush campaign manager Sally Bradshaw of Tallahassee.

Mallea has spent $244,001.40 so far in the race, compared to Perez's $162,531.77.

July 21, 2017

Scaramucci has traveled to Cuba to scout investment opportunities

Scara
via @ngameztorres

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.

Scaramucci, whose appointment on Monday led to the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is the founder of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital. He also is behind the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference that brings together business and government leaders. In 2016, the conference — for the first time —included a panel on Cuba in which the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio was one of the speakers.

At the offices of OnCuba in Havana, a digital media outlet owned by Cancio, Scaramucci was quoted in an interview published in May 2016 about his idea of ​​creating an “investment fund” for Cuba, adding that, “we are eager to exchange (ideas)... about the best ways in which we can contribute to the development of the country, the services and the quality of life of citizens.”

Scaramucci told OnCuba that he first traveled to the island in 2012.

“When I saw that the U.S. policy of rapprochement was heading to reconciliation and the ease of the embargo, I started to get in touch with people to get an idea of whether it was really possible to implement my projects here,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Scaramucci shared the interview on a May 4, 2016 post and wrote that during his visit to Cuba he "saw a very beautiful country. I am very hopeful for the future of Cuba and excited to welcome the Cubans to the SALT Conference!”

More here.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Trump wants more foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago

via @learyreports

President Donald Trump’s Florida businesses are again in search of inexpensive foreign workers, raising questions during a week the White House has themed “Made in America.”

U.S. Department of Labor records posted Thursday show Mar-a-Lago is seeking 35 waiters and waitresses20 cooks and 15 housekeepers, with work to begin in October and run through the middle of 2018.

Trump has also sought 6 cooks at Trump National Golf Club Jupiter.

Mar-a-Lago has obtained more than 800 foreign workers under the H-2B visa program since 2006. Trump has defended the practice, saying he can’t find other others, a claim local officials say is not true.

There are currently 2,643 qualified candidates in Palm Beach County for hospitality positions, said Tom Veenstra, a senior director at CareerSource Palm Beach County.

"The hospitality industry is Palm Beach County’s largest employer sector and we are expecting considerably higher demand for hospitality talent this fall/winter season compared to past years," he said. "The most recent unemployment rate for Palm Beach County is 4.3 percent – among the strongest job market levels in a decade. Tourism and hotel occupancy rates are at record levels. Employers are finding that the talent market is extremely competitive for many of these high-demand jobs."

During the presidential campaign, Marco Rubio attacked Trump over the practice.

“When you bring someone in on one of these visas they can't go work for anybody else," Rubio said during a debate in Detroit. "They either work for you or they have to go back home. You basically have them captive, so you don't have to worry about competing for higher wages with another hotel down the street. And, that's why you bring workers from abroad."

The use of temporary foreign workers also translates to savings on raises and benefits.

Trump countered that other hotels do the same thing. "Long-term employees, we don't do that, but short-term employees, we have no choice but to do it, and other hotels in that very, very hot area. It is a very hot area."

Rubio shot back: "There were Americans in that hot area."

The DNC said Friday: “After making hiring American workers a consistent theme of his campaign and administration, even anointing this week as ‘Made In America’ week –the latest news out of Mar-A-Lago makes it clear that Donald Trump puts his business interests above everything else, including hard-working American families and workers. Trump’s properties claim there ‘aren’t enough Americans to hire’ – seriously? Instead of basking in hypocrisy, the Trump properties should be examples for the business community and create good-paying American jobs.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio isn't backing new Dream Act for now

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan plan to protect Dreamers from deportation was released Thursday but lacks an influential supporter: Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’m not prepared to sign on to that legislation right now because I think there might be a better approach,” Rubio told the Tampa Bay Times.

The revised Dream Act released by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would protect some 800,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents. It would provide a path to citizenship.

So-called Dreamers have been shielded from deportation under an Obama-era program known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But lawsuits have challenged the program and the Trump administration has sent mixed signals.

“I think DACA is unconstitutional and ideally would be replaced by a law that addresses this issue in a way that takes into account the reality of the situation that we face,” Rubio said Wednesday.

Yet the former Gang of 8 member said he wants to prevent against “unintended consequences.”

“The concern with these laws is they are manipulated by networks, particularly in Central America, as they have been in the past when DACA was first signed where they were lying to people and saying to them that America has this new law that allows children to come. It was one of the drivers of the migratory crisis we faced (in 2014). We don’t want to see a repeat of that effort. “

Rubio said legislation would have to provide “appropriate resources,” which he defined as working with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to publicize what the law would do and not do. “We don’t want to somehow have this misconstrued by trafficking networks to encourage people to take a dangerous journey to the United States,” he said.

A request for additional information from Rubio’s office was not answered.

Rubio in 2012 was working on his own legislation affecting Dreamers but never produced a bill as conservative criticism mounted. Then President Obama stepped in with DACA.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott vetoed a higher ed bill. Now he wants universities to spend their money wisely.

FLA_Budget_MJO_01

@ByKristenMClark

When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a major higher education reform bill last month, it didn’t strip away millions of dollars for Florida’s public universities that was already approved separately in the state budget but linked to that proposed policy.

Because the policy didn’t become law, the universities aren’t as limited now in how they can spend the money.

Scott sent letters to each of the 12 public universities this week urging them to use the dollars — more than $120 million among the individual institutions — to “focus on graduation rates” and encourage post-graduation career opportunities.

Full details here.

Photo credit: Matias Ocner / Miami Herald

At key moment, Cuban-American lawmakers adopt Venezuela cause as their own

Venezuela Political Crisis

@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

For months, Cuban-American lawmakers have deployed familiar rhetoric to warn Washington colleagues of a democracy under threat in Latin America, where people are deprived of food and the ballot box, and where economic collapse could empower Russia uncomfortably close to home.

“This is a dysfunctional narco-state that is in a death spiral in terms of its ability to function,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“We are talking about a nearly failed state in our own hemisphere,” said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

“We will have a swift and firm response from our own administration,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

But the tough talk isn’t about Cuba. It’s about Venezuela.

The fight for a free Cuba — a fight carried in their bones, transcending all politics — has fueled Cuban-American lawmakers for decades in their campaign against Fidel and Raúl Castro. But President Donald Trump has already taken a tougher line toward Cuba, as the legislators wanted. So, the unfolding Venezuela crisis has become Cuban Americans’ new crusade.

“Just like it has been too long for the Cuban people, most people are coming to the understanding that this is part of the same movement, the same cancer that has been sickening the Cuban people and the Venezuelan people for decades now,” Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a Capitol Hill speech to Venezuelan activists and lawmakers Wednesday.

Cuban-American Republicans and Democrats agree President Nicolás Maduro must be stopped. Their united front could amplify their clout: As with Cuba, one of their own — Rubio — has proven to be the White House’s go-to legislator on Latin America.

Rubio, a Republican who’s spent years in Congress criticizing Maduro, says he’s been in regular touch with Trump and especially Vice President Mike Pence about how to sanction Venezuela if Maduro moves forward with a planned July 30 election. That vote would create a constituent assembly empowered to rewrite the nation’s constitution, effectively replacing a democratically elected legislature with Maduro loyalists.

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement Monday, released as Rubio made similar remarks on Twitter. “If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart back banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic measure once considered unthinkable against the No. 3 oil supplier to the U.S. But also in favor is a local Democrat, Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents thousands of Venezuelans.

The message: On Cuba, Rubio and company faced significant opposition, both on Capitol Hill and in Trump’s administration. On Venezuela, they don’t.

“There’s not a single senator that I’ve seen, and no House member that I’ve heard from, who still supports this regime,” Rubio told the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute in bilingual remarks Wednesday. “Once there were people who sometimes backed [former Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez, or said things about Chávez in the past. But that doesn’t exist anymore. No one here supports Maduro.”

Even Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat who worked with the late Chávez, frequently traveled to Venezuela during Chávez’s presidency and is the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chávez’s funeral, supports sanctions.

“We are compelled to take a stand on what’s right,” Meeks said. “Sanctions that are being considered are the right things to do.”

Behind the bipartisan push is a deeply held belief that Maduro is just another Fidel — and a sense that if Cuban Americans and their allies don’t defend Venezuela in Washington, no one will.

“We need to let the Venezuelan people know that they are not alone in this fight, that we stand together with them, that we will not rest until Venezuela is free from oppression and is once again a nation of democracy and the rule of law,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an impassioned speech Wednesday.

The position is certainly heart-felt, but politics aren’t entirely out of the picture: Venezuelans fleeing Chávez and now Maduro could emerge as a significant voting bloc in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state.

Read more here.

 

FPL nears legal settlement with Miami over Turkey Point transmission lines

Turkey Point

@NewsbySmiley

Florida Power and Light is on the verge of a legal settlement that would shake one of the biggest opponents of its planned Turkey Point nuclear power plant expansion.

Under an agreement set to go before Miami Commissioners Thursday, the city would drop legal challenges stemming back nearly a decade in exchange for five miles of underground transmission lines running along US 1. The city, which early this year successfully overturned state approval of plans to build two nuclear reactors at Turkey Point and run 89 miles of transmission lines along U.S. 1 and potentially into sensitive wetlands, would pay $27 million to bury the lines from FPL substations at Douglas Road to Southwest 15th Road.

That’s a significantly reduced rate compared to the $18 million-a-mile price previously quoted by FPL representatives. The deal also requires FPL to bury distributors lines for planned developments in several neighborhoods around the city and ensures Miami homeowners won’t wind up with utility poles as tall as 105 feet outside their windows.

For FPL, the draft settlement would shed the utility of an aggressive litigant, and leave South Miami, Pinecrest and Miami-Dade — jurisdictions where the majority of FPL’s transmission lines would be located — to continue the fight on their own.

To read the rest, click here.

Diaz de la Portilla loses Miami-Dade GOP seat before Senate primary

@PatriciaMazzei

The Miami-Dade County Republican Party kicked state Senate candidate Alex Diaz de la Portilla from his party seat Thursday, five days before he competes in a special GOP primary Tuesday.

Diaz de la Portilla lost his Republican Executive Committee seat after failing to attend four party meetings, Chairman Nelson Diaz said. Three absences are enough for disqualification under party rules.

"Everyone's treated the same," Diaz said Friday. 

A total of nine REC members got removed Thursday, as first reported by the Florida Politics blog. The list included state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah. But as a sitting lawmaker, Diaz Jr., no relation to Diaz, will remain an REC member -- just not representing one of 40 party districts.

Diaz de la Portilla, who represented REC District 20, missed four meetings and an organizational meeting in December, when members were sworn in and party officers were elected. That meeting wasn't counted against anyone as an absence, Diaz said. 

When members request excused absences, they're usually granted, Diaz added. But Diaz de la Portilla never did.

"I resigned from that post 4 months ago," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message to a Miami Herald reporter Friday. Asked for proof of his resignation, he didn't respond. Diaz said the REC had never received any such notice from Diaz de la Portilla.

Diaz de la Portilla accused Diaz of bias.

"Nelson Diaz is in violation of party rules that require that he remain neutral during the primary," Diaz de la Portilla said.

Diaz rejected the notion that booting Diaz de la Portilla from the party days before the election could make it look like the local GOP was favoring one of Diaz de la Portilla's opponents.

"We're not taking sides at all," Diaz said. "This is not the party's fault, that Alex failed to show up to any meeting in the last seven months."

Diaz de la Portilla is campaigning for Senate District 40, in a nasty primary against state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (no relation to the party chairman) and attorney Lorenzo Palomares.

This post has been updated.

Miami police rack up favorable opinions after high court decision on cuts to pay, pensions

Police ruling

@NewsbySmiley

Miami officials ought to reinstate pre-recession salaries and pension benefits for their 1,300-member police force after improperly imposing cuts on employees seven years ago during a financial crisis, according to a state hearing officer.

Joey Rix, wading once again into the long-running legal saga between the city of Miami and its police union over unilateral cuts made by city commissioners in 2010, recommended Thursday that Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission tell the city to rescind the forced changes to officers’ wages, healthcare and pensions.

He said the city, which lost a crucial case against the Fraternal Order of Police in March before the Florida Supreme Court, should return its police force to the pre-existing contract that elected leaders deemed too rich to continue in the face of what at the time was a massive budget hole.

Rix’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation. The Public Employees Relations Commission, a legal body tasked with handling government employee and union disputes, will make the more binding decision.

To read the rest, click here.

July 20, 2017

Florida insiders: Republican will win Miami Senate race

via @adamsmithtimes

Our latest Florida Insider Poll asked most of the smartest and most experienced politicos in Florida about the race to succeed former state Sen. Frank Artiles in Miami-area Florida Senate District 40. Among the more then 190* participants (56 percent of them Republicans, 38 percent Democrats), more than two thirds expect the GOP to hold onto that competitive seat.

"The problem for Democrats in the SD40 Special is that the electorate that will show up will be disproportionally older Cuban compared to normal midterms or presidential cycles," said on Democrat. "This is a group that still votes GOP down ballot and has no trouble splitting their ticket."

We did not not ask for predictions for who will be nominated. Former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares are running on the Republican side, and state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo on the Demoratic side.

From a Republican:  "Republicans would do best to nominate Diaz in order to keep Senate District 40.  Diaz de la Portilla would likely lose to Annette Taddeo.    Diaz already HAS beaten Rivas-Logan and would likely beat Taddeo as well.  The Democrats are already starting to attack Diaz which is a sign they have polled and know where this is going."

Another Democrat: "SD 40 isn't as Democratic as my Democratic friends think, and I don't see Taddeo beating Diaz.  Her best hope is DLP winning the primary.  Until they prove they can win these kind of seats, it is advantage GOP." 

We allow people to weigh in on our utterly unscientific Florida Insider Polls anonymously to encourage honest assessments from people. This month's Florida Insiders included:

Continue reading "Florida insiders: Republican will win Miami Senate race" »

Sen. Bill Nelson blasts Interior Department nominee over offshore drilling stance

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Bill Nelson sharply criticized Donald Trump's nominee for the number two position at the Interior Department on Thursday, saying in a speech on the Senate floor that he plans to oppose David Bernhardt due to his noncommittal position on an oil drilling moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Trump and Interior Department secretary Ryan Zinke announced a review on drilling in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico in April, a sign that the administration wants to loosen drilling restrictions. 

"I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities," Trump said in April.

Bernhardt told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing that he supports the Trump administration's review. His nomination passed out of committee by a vote of 14 to 9, with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Maine Independent Sen. Angus King voting with Republicans. 

"During his confirmation process, [Bernhardt] gave some very troubling answers to questions about the moratorium," Nelson said. "When it comes to the eastern Gulf, there is no good way to increase offshore production while balancing environmental concerns. … And, secondly, as I have explained time and time again, it makes no sense to drill in an area that is critically important to the United States military."  

In 2006, Nelson helped pass a ban on oil drilling 125 miles off of Florida's coast. That ban is set to expire in 2022 and a number of congressional Republicans and industry groups are in favor of ending the ban.

"The top brass in the Pentagon are asking that we extend this moratorium," Nelson said, adding that the moratorium allows for military training operations in the Gulf in addition to the environmental benefits. "So we should not put someone in charge at the Department of the Interior if he has an open objection to what is obviously needed for the national security and if he has such a demonstrated history of siding just with special interest, which would be a bad decision when it comes to the national security of this country." 

Nelson filed legislation earlier this year that would extend Florida's moratorium by five years.

The Senate will vote Monday on Bernhardt's nomination. Bernhardt is a longtime lobbyist on environmental issues in Washington who once sued the Interior Department. He also worked as legal counsel for the Interior Department under George W. Bush. 

"Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest," said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., in April. 


 

Fracking or oil drilling in Florida? Most candidates for Miami SD 40 either oppose it -- or avoid answering

Fracking AP (1)The future of natural gas fracking in Florida and the fate of offshore oil drilling off the coasts could one day come down to a vote in the Florida Senate.

Judging by the answers to a questionnaire released Thursday by an environmental advocacy group Food & Water Action, and reporting by the Miami Herald, the majority of candidates running for Senate District 40 either oppose the controversial activity or steer away from answering. The primary is Tuesday. 

The Democratic candidates in the race -- Ana Rivas Logan and Annette Taddeo, as well as the no-party-affiliated candidate Christian Schlaerth oppose fracking in South Florida and support a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf and the Atlantic.

On the Republican side, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz also opposes drilling off Florida's coast but believes it is a federal question and not one that can be influenced by the state. "We do not need to be drilling off our coasts,'' he said Friday. "It's an aesthetic blight." He added that in today's market "there's no point to drilling now."

Businessman Lorenzo Palomares opposes a moratorium on offshore drilling off the coast of Florida and also opposes a statewide ban on fracking, adding that he would only support a ban in the Everglades. 

Former Sen. Alex Díaz de la Portilla, refused to answer the questions and did not respond to a request for comment from the Miami Herald.

On the fracking issue, Diaz has voted in favor of legislation to prevent local governments from regulating fracking activities and the issue of hydraulic fracturing was not a hot topic when Diaz de la Portilla served in the state Senate.

As chair of the Senate's Energy and Utilities Committee in 2010, Diaz de la Portilla could not stray far from the utility industry's agenda. As chair of the House's Regulated Industries Committee, neither did Diaz -- although he told the Miami Herald editorial board last month that he has worked to impose term limits on regulators at the Public Service Commission whom he thinks have been too soft on the utility industry. (For example, he said he supports stronger energy efficiency standards which the PSC and utilities have "steered away from.") 

Back in 2008, a measure to open Florida waters to offshore oil drilling passed the state House but it was stopped in the Senate, when then-Senate President Jeff Atwater didn't want to advance it so Diaz de la Portilla was spared from taking a vote.

The issue could resurface again this year, however, environmentalists fear. They cite a push by the Trump administration to lease offshore drilling areas in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. The comment period is open for 45 days, ending on August 17th.

"Food & Water Action believes that drilling in Florida and off Florida's coast is too risky,'' the organization said in a press release Thursday. "The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a major wake up call to the risks posed by offshore oil drilling and the potential for fracking disasters. Florida’s elected officials must protect the environment, communities, and economy by banning both practices." 

Legislation to regulate or ban fracking in Florida is also expected to emerge again as a perennial issue. In the 2017 legislative session, two Republican legislators and half of the state Senate sponsored a bill to ban fracking but the measure never moved in either chamber.

In 2016, Diaz voted in favor of an industry-backed bill that would have allowed oil and gas companies to shield from the public the chemicals used in the fracking process and would have banned local governments from prohibiting the controversial activity.

At least 90 counties and cities have passed ordinances and resolutions in opposition to fracking in the state, including Miami Dade. 

In both the House and Senate, however, Republican leaders advanced a bill pushed by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states.

The bill, HB 1043 by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, would give the Florida Public Service Commission the authority to allow utilities that generate at least 65 percent of their electricity using natural gas to invest in oil and natural gas exploration, including fracking.  

House leadership ordered the bill to be heard by the House Subcommittee on Energy and Utilities. It was approved 9-5 and was next scheduled to go to Diaz's Commerce Committee for a hearing but, in an interview with the Miami Herald editorial board, Diaz took credit for killing it.

He said FPL was attempting to explore for natural gas in other states "on the backs of our voters." He said the company "can go to the secondary market like everybody else" to obtain fuel for its power plants. He also said he opposes the attempt by utilities to get regulators like the Public Service Commission and the Legislature to allow them to "socialize the risk and privatize the profits" of providing electricity in Florida.

Photo credit: Associated Press

UPDATE: This post was updated July 21 to reflect an interview with Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. 

FLDOE releases guidance on 'Schools of Hope,' new school improvement rules

02BALLET BUS_CPJ (1)

@ByKristenMClark

Nine low-performing traditional public schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties can apply for extra funding this school year under the controversial new “Schools of Hope” program that lawmakers narrowly approved this spring.

The Florida Department of Education released a preliminary list of eligible schools in guidance sent to the state’s 67 school districts this week, advising superintendents of how they must address their failing schools under the terms of House Bill 7069, which took effect July 1.

One option available to 93 newly failing schools statewide — which serve about 64,500 students — is to vie for “Schools of Hope” dollars: up to $2,000 per student that could be spent on wraparound services, such as after-school programs and community partnerships.

The schools will have less than a month to make their pitch and only 25 of the 93 schools will get the extra money in 2017-18, due to a cap Republican legislators put in the new law.

Full story here.

The fate of Florida's Supreme Court could rest on a day of the week and the case of Thomas Tappy

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colThe future of the Florida Supreme Court could all come down to Monday or Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott argued Wednesday in a late-afternoon response to a challenge by a group of left-leaning voting groups, that he alone has the power to appoint the next three justice of the state's high court because their terms expire on a Monday, while his expires on a Tuesday.

In a 38-page response to a lawsuit filed in June by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, Scott's lawyers argue that his term technically ends at the moment his successor takes the oath of office -- on the first Tuesday in January 2019 -- and the power to appoint the successors to Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince  continues until that very moment.

The justices, however -- who are scheduled to retire because they have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 -- face six-year terms that expire "at the end of the first Monday in January," the governor argues.

Because Monday ends before Tuesday, Scott's lawyers argue, the lawsuit should be dismissed and the governor should be allowed to proceed with the appointment of the three justices.

If that were to happen, Scott would leave an indelible mark on the state's highest court by having named at least four of the seven justices. It is a prospect that liberal and progressive groups fear could shift the balance of power on the bench for the next decade.

But the voting rights groups disagree. They say the justices' term expires on the same Tuesday he leaves office in 2019 and instead and want the court to avoid a potential "constitutional crisis" and affirm that Scott does not have the authority to appoint the justices.

Scott, a two-term Republican, said during a December press conference that: "I'll appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term.”

But the voting-rights groups warn that if Scott attempts to choose the successors before the deadline, it will draw lawsuits and set the court system into chaos. 

The petition cites previous court opinions to conclude "that the outgoing governor does not get to appoint successor justices or judges on the way out of office."

But the governor's lawyers cited a 1955 case, Tappy v. State, in which outgoing Gov. Charley Johns appointed Thomas Tappy to be a county court judge but incoming Gov. Leroy Collins rejected him and, after he took the oath of office at noon on a Tuesday, Collins appointed someone else to fill the court vacancy. The court sided with Johns.

Scott's lawyers also argue that the lawsuit by the voting-rights groups is inappropriate because they court can't rule on something that happened yet based on a "hypothetical set of facts."

"The petition should be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds because its allegations of a pending 'constitutional crisis' depend upon a series of factual assumptions that may never ripen into a justiciable controversy,'' they argue.

The voting-rights groups provide "no factual basis for its assumptions regarding the future plans of any currently serving justice or appellate judge,'' the governor argues.

"More than half of the justices to depart this court over the last two decades did so before their final day of constitutional eligibility,'' his response claims.

Ironically, the only people who might know what the future plans of the three justices are the justices themselves -- who will decide the case.

Photo: Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee by Scott Keeler of the Tampa Bay Times. 

Why do Florida prisons deprive inmates of toilet paper?

Tomoka inmate shirt DRThe four wings of Florida's Tomoka Correctional Institution’s E cell block is home to some of the prison’s most menacing inmates. They have arrived there because of administrative and disciplinary problems but, in addition to restricting them to confined, two-man cells, the prison also deprives them of society's most basic necessities.

Toilet paper.

In prison after prison over seven months, Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, reported that toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pillows, sheets, shirts and soap were often withheld from inmates, especially those in confinement.

Richardson, who has been on a one-man mission to hold the state’s troubled prison agency accountable, first observed the toilet paper troubles during a Jan. 19 visit to Baker Correctional Institution in northern Florida. After finding dozens of inmates without toilet paper, toothbrushes and other supplies, he asked the prison warden to open the storage unit just feet away from the inmate dorms, and deliver hygiene products with him to more than 50 inmates.

“It is behavior that is intended to dehumanize them — treating them like an animal,’’ Richardson said.

The warden at Baker Correctional “was embarrassed,’’ he said, as they walked from cell to cell delivering the tissue paper rolls. He complained to headquarters and “they were apologetic and put out an all-points bulletin that this was wrong.”

But the problem continued. During his fourth visit on to Tomoka Correctional near Daytona Beach on Saturday, Richardson said the situation was “deplorable.’’

“E1-219 no toilet paper, no pillow. Out of TP since 8am Friday,’’ he wrote in notes he sent to state prison officials Saturday, which he forwarded to the Miami Herald. “E1-218, out of TP since last night...E1-210, no pillow case; roaches and rats a big problem in the cell block...E1-214, no pillow, no soap.”

His notes detailed his findings of 37 cells. He found one inmate so sick he was throwing up and his roommate had been deprived of his inhaler for more than a month. Another inmate had an “open, weeping wound” and for days had no treatment. Windows in many of the dorms that have no air conditioning wouldn’t crank open for proper ventilation. Several inmates wore shirts and pants that were threadbare, torn or barely hanging on.

Until now, Richardson said he had not gone public about his findings about the hygiene products, hoping his reports and complaints to the FDC would change behavior.

“I’m not seeking publicity for myself. I'm seeking change,’’ he said Wednesday. “I wanted to work with them and see if they could get their problem under control and change behavior without being publicly shamed.”

It didn't work. Read more here. 

July 19, 2017

Miami Beach commission candidate taking heat for involvement with World OutGames

IMG_gongora_5_1_7DATIC62_L301324610

@joeflech

Miami Beach commission candidate Michael Góngora has had trouble remembering how long he served on the board of the ill-fated World OutGames Miami, an LGBTQ-themed sports and cultural event that canceled most of its athletic competitions at the last minute because of serious financial shortcomings.

In June, he told the Miami Herald he had resigned from the board in 2015. Turns out he was off by about a year.

A video from May 2016 showing Góngora identifying himself as an OutGames board member has surfaced in a new political attack ad by his opponent, Adrian Gonzalez, owner of South Beach Cuban eatery David’s Café.

This week, Gonzalez launched a web campaign criticizing Góngora for his connection to the OutGames, an event he helped recruit to the Beach. Gonzalez created a Facebook page and website blasting Góngora.

“What did Góngora know and when did he know about the OutGames?” reads a large headline on the site.

Góngora, a former Beach commissioner who lost a 2013 bid for mayor, said in June that he had not been on OutGames’ board of directors since 2015. But in a May 2016 YouTube video posted by the official OutGames account, Góngora promotes the games and identifies himself as a board member.

“Michael Góngora brought the OutGames to Miami Beach, served on the OutGames board, appeared in their promotional material and when it turned into a disaster for the city left the residents holding the bag,” said Gonzalez in an email blast Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Góngora told the Herald he had made a mistake remembering the date of his resignation.

“The only mistake from when I answered the question previously is that the resignation apparently was not until September 2016,” he wrote in an email. “I apologize for this discrepancy in my memory as I thought it was sooner. The State of Florida corporate listing still should have been updated and apparently was not.”

He provided the Herald his resignation, which he sent to OutGames organizers in an email on Sept. 16, 2016.

“I am thrilled to have been part of World OutGames since we first flew to Antwerp, Belgium to compete for the opportunity to present the games and continue to remain a supporter,” he wrote in his resignation. “Unfortunately, as you know, I was unsuccessful in my recent bid for State Senate. As a result, I am back at work and having to re-focus on my legal career and limit my public service for the time being. As such, I regretfully am resigning as a board member but welcome the opportunity to remain a friend and supporter of the games.”

Apart from apologizing for his memory, Góngora boasted about his fundraising lead and cited an online poll on a blog that has him ahead of Gonzalez. He also said that Gonzalez’s Facebook page attacking him is a violation of state campaigning laws because it does not have a disclaimer explaining that it is a paid political advertisement.

On Wednesday, Gonzalez responded by pointing out Góngora never sounded alarms when he served on the OutGames board. Góngora previously said the board never received financial updates or had decision-making power.

“His only defense is that the Facebook page laying out the facts against him needs a disclaimer,” Gonzalez said. “That will be fixed but it would sure be nice if he had used that attention to detail to help prevent the OutGames debacle from costing the taxpayers over $200,000.”

The OutGames fiasco cost Beach taxpayers $200,000 in public money contributed to the event, and it disappointed athletes who had come to Miami from all over the world to compete. The debacle has prompted an investigation by Miami Beach police into what happened. City auditors are also reviewing the OutGames’ finances.

A third candidate, attorney Zachary Eisner, is running for the same seat commission seat as Góngora and Gonzalez.

Regalado doubles down on sea-rise projects as cost estimates approach $1 billion

Regalado

@NewsbySmiley

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has released his final proposal to fund scores of pricey government projects through a new property tax, increasing his previous request by $25 million and doubling down on money for pumps, sea walls and other measures to brace the city against rising seas — a plight administrators now believe could cost taxpayers close to $1 billion.

How they’ll pay the entire bill won’t be decided now, or maybe for decades. But commissioners and voters could soon be asked to approve a significant amount of seed money.

With time running out to get the general obligation bond on the November ballot, Regalado on Wednesday sent commissioners a $300 million wish list heavy on flooding and stormwater projects.

Culled from a $1.3 billion menu of projects released two weeks ago, Regalado and City Manager Daniel Alfonso are asking commissioners and voters to embrace $192 million in spending on sea-rise mitigation and flood prevention, $58 million for parks and cultural facilities, $23 million on road improvements, $20 million for affordable housing, and $7 million to fund a new fire station at 4101 NW Seventh Ave.

The mayor will ask commissioners to vote July 27 to endorse taking on the new debt, which would be funded through property taxes and issued as old debt comes off the books.

“I do think it’s a very well-thought project [list], but we’ll see what the commission does,” said Regalado, who has made the bond proposal the chief priority of an ambitious agenda during the waning months of his final term as mayor. “We did our part.”

To read the rest, click here.

Rubio gets Capitol security detail

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio was seen Wednesday with a security detail, though the reason is unknown.

Rubio's office referred questions to the Capitol Police. A police spokeswoman said, "We do not comment on how we carry out our protective responsibilities for Congress."

The detail was noticed by an Associated Press reporter.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Diaz de la Portilla debuts 1st TV ad, 6 days before Miami Senate election

@PatriciaMazzei

Alex Diaz de la Portilla began campaigning on television Wednesday, launching a Spanish-language ad that touts him as the reliable, experienced Republican in next week's special state Senate primary.

"My trajectory speaks for itself," Diaz de la Portilla, a former senator, says into the camera, characterizing his voting record as one of cutting taxes, protecting seniors and fighting for more jobs and better education. Then he appears with his brothers, former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and former Rep. Renier Diaz de la Portilla, and their families.

"You already know me and my whole family," Alex Diaz de la Portilla says. "We're Republicans with conservative values."

Diaz de la Portilla is going on the air six days before the election. Thousands of mail ballots have already been cast. In-person early voting opened Saturday.

Diaz de la Portilla's chief opponent, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, has been on TV for weeks. Diaz de la Portilla refers to a single opponent in his ad, but a third candidate, attorney Lorenzo Palomares, is also running (though not advertising on TV).

Miami Beach commissioner running for Congress accepts money from developers, lobbyists and city contractors

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@joeflech

Miami Beach commissioner and congressional candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, popular for being a vocal critic of the large influence of developers and lobbyists in the seaside city, doesn't seem to mind taking those folks' money for her campaign to fill Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's open District 27 congressional seat.

Rosen Gonzalez, one of several Democrats looking to flip the seat, told the Miami Herald last week that her campaign contributors "reflect a diverse group of people who believe in me, especially Miami Beach, where I currently serve." Her campaign reports raising $184,411 in the second quarter of 2017.

Indeed, the donor list includes many Beach residents and business people, but it also lists some powerful lobbyists, prominent developers and businesses that have contracts with City Hall. These donors are not prohibited from contributing to her congressional campaign, but they would not be allowed to give to any candidate for City Commission, due to Miami Beach's ethics regulations tailored to prevent the appearance of pay-to-play politics.

Rosen Gonzalez has branded herself as a populist voice in City Hall who opposes over-development, particularly if it could displace cost-burdened renters in a city that has seen steep rent increases in recent years — a significant issue for members of the Beach's tourism workforce who cannot afford to live on the island.

Among her contributors is Adam Walker, who runs a real estate company that last year purchased a large portfolio of Art Deco apartment buildings in South Beach and stated the buildings would be renovated and rents would be raised by 35 to 50 percent. Rosen Gonzalez's campaign received $5,400 from Walker, which is the maximum amount one can give to a federal campaign. Another manage from Walker's company, Boardwalk properties, gave the same amount.

On Wednesday, Rosen Gonzalez told the Herald her position has not changed on development and complimented Boardwalk for its work in South Beach.

"I took a tour with Boardwalk Properties and I am really impressed with their renovations," she said. "They take buildings in the historic districts and upgrade them. This is the kind of development we want in the city of Miami Beach, upgrading and changing infrastructure in existing structures without building more or increasing density."

She also received maximum contributions from two executives of a construction company working on major drainage improvements in one the Beach's most flood-prone neighborhoods and $2,700 from a company that has a city contract to rent out umbrellas and chairs on the beach.

Rosen Gonzalez defended her campaign finances.

"The people who have the most interests in Miami Beach have watched me work hard as a commissioner and are supportive of my congressional run," she said. "They know me best, and they know I am qualified for Congress. They recognize my skills, and my voting record speaks for itself."

She declared her candidacy in April, before Ros-Lehtinen announced her intention to retire at the end of her term in 2018. Other Democrats in the running include state Rep. David Richardson, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell has formed an exploratory committee that has already raised six figures.