Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

October 25, 2016

'Scandals. Corruption. Convictions': House-backed GOP super PAC debuts anti-Garcia ad


Democrat Joe Garcia gets a dramatic, black-and-white treatment in a new attack ad by a House Republican super PAC.

The ad, to begin airing Tuesday, refers to the convictions of Garcia's former chief of staff in a pair of campaign-related cases.

"Scandals. Corruption. Convictions," the ad says. "We can't let Joe Garcia run his scheme on us again."

Paying for the political commercial is Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC backed by the House GOP caucus. It's spending $1.4 million to try to help Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo hold on to the swing 26th district. The super PAC originally thought its campaign would cost $1.7 million, but the media buy was a bit less costly than expected.)

"Joe Garcia has spent more time answering for scandals, corruption, and convictions than standing up for Floridians," Congressional Leadership Fund spokeswoman Ruth Guerra said in a statement. "Floridians have had enough of Joe Garcia's schemes. That's why they've rejected him once, and they’ll do it again."

Garcia has repeatedly noted that he was never charged with any wrongdoing.

Tampa Democrat's lawsuit could disqualify State Rep. Dan Raulerson over filing error


TP_355437_OROU_PlantCity_2State Rep. Dan Raulerson should have an easy path to victory. The Tampa Republican lives in a heavily red district and his Democrat opponent has raised less than $5,000.

But a state circuit court judge in Tallahassee could upend all of that following a hearing Tuesday afternoon.

Raulerson's opponent, Jose Vazquez Figueroa, filed a lawsuit last month alleging that Raulerson tampered with a notary's signature on an official filing required to run for office. Vazquez says that on Raulerson's personal financial disclosure -- called a Form 6 -- White-Out was used to change the date of the notary's signature.

State law doesn't allow that. It says that if changes have to be made to notarized documents, they must be struck out by drawing a line through them.

It's a technicality, but Vazquez, who does not have a lawyer, argues it makes Raulerson's candidacy illegitimate because all qualifying papers have to be correctly filled out and notarized for a candidate to run. He has asked Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to invalidate Raulerson's candidacy.

If Dodson rules as Vazquez hopes, it would make Vazquez a state representative by default because there is no other candidate filed in the race for House District 58, which encompasses much of northeastern Hillsborough County, including Plant City and Temple Terrace.

A hearing is at 2 p.m. Tuesday, but it is not certain when Dodson would rule. He's under the gun on time, though, as mail and early voting have both begun in Hillsborough County with the final day of the election on Nov. 8.

As well as Raulerson, the lawsuit names Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Kristy Reid Bronson, bureau chief of the records for the Florida Division of Elections.

Previously, Vazquez made headlines by filing as a 2008 write-in candidate for the Florida House from a prison cell. In 2012, he ran against Raulerson for the District 58 House seat and lost, 57 percent to 43 percent.

Photo: Skip O'Rourke, Tampa Bay Times

Voters consider write-ins or 'none of the above' on Florida ballot

Disgusted with their choices for President, some Florida voters plan to protest by writing in another candidate (University of North Florida President John Delaney said he'll write in House Speaker Paul Ryan). Really? That's a wasted vote.

The only write-in votes for president that will count in Florida are for any of six qualified write-ins who filed candidacy papers: Andrew Basiago, Richard Duncan, Cherunda Fox, Zoltan Istvan Gyurko, Laurence Kotlikoff and Anthony Valdivia. Writing in anybody else, like Mickey Mouse, Bernie Sanders or Allen West -- is an exercise in futility. Your vote for president won't count. It's a meaningless protest.

Speaking of votes counting or not counting, several election supervisors (Deborah Clark in Pinellas, Brian Corley in Pasco and Susan Gill in Citrus) report getting phone calls from voters asking this question: If I skip the presidential race and leave it blank, will the rest of my ballot still count? The answer, of course, is yes. Any voter has the right to skip any race on the ballot.

Election officials are bracing for an un precedented amount of top-of-the-ticket "drop-off" or "roll-off" in this Florida election in which voters skip the presidential race. That would mean a lot of extra work for county canvassing boards, who are required by law to count every undervote in every race and report it to the state.

Voters consider write-ins or 'none of the above' on Florida ballot

Disgusted with their choices for President, some Florida voters plan to protest by writing in another candidate (University of North Florida President John Delaney said he'll write in House Speaker Paul Ryan). Really? That's a wasted vote.

The only write-in votes for president that will count in Florida are for any of six qualified write-ins who filed candidacy papers: Andrew Basiago, Richard Duncan, Cherunda Fox, Zoltan Istvan Gyurko, Laurence Kotlikoff and Anthony Valdivia. Writing in anybody else, like Mickey Mouse, Bernie Sanders or Allen West -- is an exercise in futility. Your vote for president won't count. It's a meaningless protest.

Speaking of votes counting or not counting, several election supervisors (Deborah Clark in Pinellas, Brian Corley in Pasco and Susan Gill in Citrus) report getting phone calls from voters asking this question: If I skip the presidential race and leave it blank, will the rest of my ballot still count? The answer, of course, is yes. Any voter has the right to skip any race on the ballot.

Election officials are bracing for an unprecedented amount of top-of-the-ticket "drop-off" or "roll-off" in this Florida election in which voters skip the presidential race. That would mean a lot of extra work for county canvassing boards, who are required by law to count every undervote in every race and report it to the state.

October 24, 2016

David Rivera's latest television ad: Blame it all on Joe Garcia

Garcia Rivera adIn his latest ad attempting to discredit his Democratic opponent, David Rivera is now pinning the blame on his longtime foe, former  Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia, accusing him of "obsessive attacks against David Rivera." The ad inexplicably also offers up a subliminal message, showing a logo for Granma, the Cuban government paper.

Garcia defeated Rivera, who was hoping to be re-elected to Congress in 2012. Garcia then lost the seat to Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, in 2014. Curbelo and Garcia are now in a re-match.  

Rivera's ad is being run on Spanish language television and features his discredited claim against Robert Asencio, his Democratic opponent in the House District 118 race. Asencio, an army veteran and 26-year member of the Miami Dade Schools police department, is 'a criminal,'' the ad claims, referring to unsubstantiated and dropped complaint from the parent of a child who was disciplined on a school bus in 2003.

The school district has said Asencio did nothing wrong, and the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has withdrawn its endorsement of Rivera for "running a false and defamatory campaign against career public servant and distinguished police officer Robert Asencio." 

Here's the script from the misleading Rivera ad:

"Joe Garcia's allies continue their obsessive attacks against David Rivera. Now their pal Robert Asencio wants to imitate Garcia with his lies and false attacks against David Rivera. Maybe he does it because Asencio has a police record for physically abusing a boy and is now under federal investigation of other crimes.
"Go to the website "Asencio is a" and tell Robert Asencio to explain his crimes against children. Say no to Robert Asencio."  Download IMG_2284


Bondi returns to Trump campaign trail

via @learyreports

Attorney General Pam Bondi reunited with Donald Trump this evening in Tampa, ending weeks of absence from the campaign trail as she faced scrutiny over ties to Trump.

"Eight years is enough," Bondi repeatedy said from the stage as she listed offenses of the Obama era.

Bondi vanished from the campaign trail in early September as the $25,000 donation Trump gave to her political committee got fresh life in the news. Then came Trump's comments about women. Bondi earlier this month called Trump's comments "disgusting" but said she believes in forgiveness.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Tampa Bay Times

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative



Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images


Dispatches from the start of early voting in Miami-Dade and Broward

Election line
via @dchangmiami @HowardCohen @MoniqueOMadan

Early voting kicked off in South Florida on Monday with voters eager to cast ballots and encountering short to moderate lines, with only a few first-day glitches that turned what would have been a quick trip to the ballot box into a patience-testing back up.

With numerous local and statewide questions on the ballot, including five constitutional amendments and a seat in the U.S. Senate, many voters expressed a desire to perform their civic duty early — though they also espoused passionate views for and against the candidates at the top of the ticket: Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican contender Donald Trump.

Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, even made a Monday morning pit stop at the Miami-Dade elections department headquarters in Doral, where he greeted volunteers gathered outside.

“It’s a historic election,” said Linda Barrett, 63, a Hollywood resident who said she waited about 45 minutes at the Hollywood Branch Library in Broward to cast her ballot.

Wait times varied by the hour and location, though few voters reported waiting more than 30 minutes to vote.

More here.

'Con artists for Trump': Kaine bashes Rubio in Miami

@CresoniaHsieh @PatriciaMazzei

Tim Kaine, usually tasked with pillorying Donald Trump, zeroed in Monday on a different Republican target on the Florida ballot: Marco Rubio.

Kaine used a Miami campaign stop on the first day of early voting to cast Rubio as hypocritical for denouncing Trump during the GOP presidential primary while still endorsing him in the general election.

“He called Donald Trump ‘dangerous,’ and he called Donald Trump a ‘con artist,’ but he’s supporting Donald Trump. I mean, ‘Con Artists for Trump,’” Kaine said. “I don’t get it.”

He spoke at a rally held on the same Florida International University campus where Rubio has worked as a popular political science lecturer.

Kaine echoed President Barack Obama, who bashed Rubio last week at a Miami Gardens speech intended to boost Hillary Clinton and Rubio’s Senate rival, Patrick Murphy. Whether Clinton will adopt a similar approach when she campaigns Tuesday in Coconut Creek remains to be seen.

“When someone is unwilling to condemn the many things that ought to be condemned about Donald Trump’s divisive campaign, then you got to ask yourself whether they’re the right person to represent you and to represent your values,” Kaine told about 200 students gathered on a campus green.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Adam Putnam reaffirms his support for Trump over Clinton



The choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is not even in question for Adam Putnam, the Republican many expect to be a leading contender for governor in 2018.

Putnam, the state’s elected agriculture commissioner, told reporters on Monday that Trump was not his first, second or even third choice for the Republican nomination, but he won fair and square. 

Asked if he is going to still vote for Trump, Putnam answered: “Absent of some cataclysm, I believe that the change he’s going to bring to this nation, his underlying views and philosophies as it relates to the role of government and taxation in peoples’ lives, are preferable to Hillary Clinton’s.”

Putnam supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination, even campaigning with him in the early primary states. After Bush dropped out, Putnam got behind Marco Rubio. But once Trump secured the nomination, Putnam said he would vote for Trump because he was the GOP nomination.

But along the way, Putnam has openly criticized Trump for “running his mouth about the most ridiculous things.”

Putnam’s latest comments of support for Trump came during a press conference in Tallahassee to promote a new statewide anti-terrorism ad campaign designed to encourage people to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.

Everglades Foundation launches bus tour to gather 'an army of supporters' for its land-buy initiative

NoworNevergladesCan the Florida Everglades become a political weapon? The Everglades Foundation, a non-profit that is banned from campaigning, hopes to find out this week as it launches a 12-day bus tour to drum up public support for its No. 1 priority: the purchase of sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee to be used for water cleansing marshes.

With a shrink-wrapped bus emblazoned with the words NoworNeverglades, the organization is hoping to seize on the public's election-year focus and crisscross the state to win support for the post-election policy -- Everglades restoration, said Eric Eikenberg, director of the Everglades Foundation.

"It's that season and everybody is focused on the election,'' he said. "People are tired of toxic algae in the water and we are calling attention to the role clean water, and our water supply has on economics and tourism."

The foundation is urging people to sign the #NoworNeverglades Declaration in which people "affirm their support for added water storage in the [Everglades Agricultural Area] to help alleviate damaging discharges into coastal estuaries, increase the flow of clean fresh water to the Everglades and Florida Bay, and protect the drinking water supply for 6 million Floridians." 

The bus will begin its tour Wednesday at Gramps Restaurant in Miami's Wynwood district and the make its way north, through South and Central Florida. Events include stops at the University of Central Florida, Rollins College, Zoo Miami, the Naples Zoo, Bass Pro Shops the Audubon Assembly Conference and even the Halloween on the Mile event in Coral Gables.

The bus will be stopping at football games along the way -- from the University of South Florida's match with Navy on Friday to the Miami Dolphins v. Jets game on Nov. 6. The foundation will be collecting the names and social media contacts of its supporters as it prepares to enlist legislative support for the land buy in the March legislative session, Eikenberg said. 

"We want an army of people to weigh in on buying the land when the Legislature starts and decides whether to get the money in the budget,'' he said. "Everybody wants to protect the Everglades. The question is, how are they actually going to do it?" 

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as said he is going to make buying the land, using money already available through environmental preservation funds, a top priority. 

The sugar industry, however, has vigorously opposed the land buy as unnecessary and considers it an attempt to undercut the future of the industry in Florida. 

“Surely there are better ways to advocate for the environment than driving a fossil fuel-powered luxury bus 12 days across South Florida while spreading half-truths about how our water system operates and how to manage Lake Okeechobee discharges,'' said Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar spokesperson. 

"These activists would be better off meeting with the farmers in the EAA that have worked to reduce phosphorus by an average 55 percent over the last two decades and see the hard-working people of the Glades they are trying to ignore. They should also stop to consult with the water quality experts and scientists at the South Florida Water Management District, Department of Environmental Protection, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who have thoroughly discredited the ‘buy the land, send the water south’ bumper sticker science.”

Voting early in Miami-Dade or Broward? Here's a primer

via @ndahlberg

In this contentious election season, you may have thought this moment would never arrive: Early voting opens Monday across South Florida.

For those who remember the arduous early voting lines during the 2012 presidential election, here’s one comforting fact: South Floridians will have the longest window to vote allowed by the state. This year, in-person early voting has been expanded — there are more polling sites and the number of days and hours have lengthened — to better accommodate the crowds that presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could lure to the polls.

Miami-Dade and Broward are two of just nine counties — of the state’s 67 — that will offer the state’s allowable maximum of 168 hours of early voting over 14 days. In the last presidential election, Miami-Dade offered 96 hours over eight days. (The seven other counties offering 168 hours of early voting: Palm Beach, Pinellas, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Charlotte and Duval. Together, the nine counties cover nearly half of Florida’s approximately 12.66 million registered voters.)

Still, don’t wait until the last early voting day, Sunday, Nov. 6, in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and Saturday, Nov. 5, in Monroe County.

Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White said presidential election turnout has typically been 67 to 72 percent but elections supervisors across the state are bracing for higher turnouts this year.

More here.

Photo credit: Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

Broward finds no more ballots missing marijuana question



As the counting of ballots started in Broward on Monday, election officials and backers of the statewide amendment had verified no additional ballots were missing the medical marijuana question.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes allowed reporters and United for Care, a political committee backing Amendment 2, to observe the first 40 minutes of workers opening up the ballots at the elections warehouse in Lauderhill . They started with the Oakland Park ballots since the two verified reports of ballots missing the medical marijuana question came from that city.

After watching county officials examine the Oakland Park ballots, United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said that he had some additional confidence that the vast majority of voters in Broward received a complete ballot containing the medical marijuana question.

Keep reading here.

Miami Herald photo by José A. Iglesias


Tim Kaine coming to Sarasota, Tallahassee on Friday



As part of a swing through Florida this week as in-person early voting begins, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine plans to hold public events in both Sarasota and Tallahassee on Friday afternoon.

During the campaign stops, Kaine will discuss his and Hillary Clinton's economic plan, according to a release from the Clinton campaign.

Specific times and locations for the two events haven't been announced. Members of the public interested in attending these events can RSVP for the Tallahassee event here and the Sarasota event here.

The last time Kaine was in Tallahassee he visited a local business incubator and encouraged voter registration at Florida A&M University.

Photo credit: Joe Rondone / Tallahassee Democrat

Pro-Murphy super PAC launches ad targeting Murphy's current constituents



Boosted by a recent influx of cash of an unknown amount and origin, an independent super PAC that supports Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is launching a TV ad that will air in Murphy's backyard between now and Election Day.

"Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" announced the ad Monday morning, which touts newspaper editorial endorsements Murphy has received from the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel and Sun Sentinel. Each editorial included harsh criticism for Republican incumbent Marco Rubio, which the ad also emphasizes.

In response to the ad, Rubio campaign spokeswoman Olivia Perez-Cubas said Murphy has "nothing to show" for his four years in Congress and argued the senator "has a strong record of fighting for Florida's families."

The super PAC says it's spending $800,000 to run the ad for the next two weeks on West Palm Beach stations -- a TV market that serves Murphy's moderate congressional district in northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

That area should hypothetically be safe territory for the Jupiter congressman since Palm Beach County is heavily Democratic and more-moderate Treasure Coast voters helped elect Murphy to Congress for the past two cycles.

Ashley Walker, spokeswoman for "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class," told the Herald/Times: "Patrick Murphy has a strong record of independence in this district in terms of doing what's right for his constituents, and this ad reinforces that message."

As of Sept. 30, "Floridians for a Strong Middle Class" didn't even have $800,000 in the bank to spend, but Walker said "obviously some contributions have come in" since then.

Heading into October, the super PAC reported having $764,000 in cash on hand in its third-quarter disclosure report. Walker said the recent donations will be disclosed in the committee's pre-general election report, which is due later this week.

Between July and September, the super PAC reported raising about $1 million between July and September -- a haul that included a $250,000 check from Murphy's father, Tom Murphy Jr. (Tom Murphy had also previously given $500,000 to the committee earlier in the campaign.)

Image credit: Floridians for a Strong Middle Class / YouTube

*This post has been updated with comment from Rubio's campaign.

Miami Beach mayor's got a bus for fellow mayors to campaign for Clinton

Unnamed (1)

Here's Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's latest contribution to the Hillary Clinton campaign: a bus.

Decked in Clinton's blue and white colors, the bus reads, "Mayors for Hillary." Underneath that, it says, "Clinton 'Souls to the Polls' Train."

The bus, organized by Levine and paid for by the Florida Democratic Party, has been rolling around Florida since last Wednesday, stopping at canvassing, phone-banking and other get-out-the-vote events. On Monday, it's in Miami-Dade County, hitting early voting sites and a Florida International University rally with Clinton's running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Levine, a longtime Clinton friend and fundraiser, is part of her Florida "Leadership Council." She gave him a shout-out during her most recent Miami rally, which was focused on a key Miami Beach issue: climate change.

Trump on employees scouting deals in Cuba: 'They had some meetings'


Pressed on his business dealings in Cuba, Donald Trump acknowledged in a Miami interview Sunday that several of his top executives traveled to the island for company purposes.

"They had some meetings," Trump told Jim DeFede, an investigative reporter with Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported this summer that Trump's team went to Cuba to explore potential sites for golf courses.

Trump danced around questions regarding that story, and about a Newsweek report that his company violated the Cuban trade embargo in 1998. Trump is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Miami's Bay of Pigs invasion veterans, in a continued effort to try to shore up support among Cuban-American Republicans.

Here's a transcript of the DeFede interview:

Continue reading "Trump on employees scouting deals in Cuba: 'They had some meetings'" »

Obama endorses Joe Garcia for Congress


President Barack Obama endorsed Democrat Joe Garcia for Congress in Florida's competitive 26th district, Garcia's campaign announced in a statement Monday.

"Over the last eight years, we've made tremendous strides towards making our nation safer, stronger, and fairer, but it's clear that to continue this progress, we need to send more commonsense leaders like Joe back to Congress to get things done for the middle class," Obama said.

"Joe is a champion for South Florida families and isn't afraid to take on the tough fights, like defending a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions, protecting Social Security and Medicare, making sure we keep our sacred promises to our nation's veterans and their families, and addressing the crushing burden of student loan debt felt by so many Florida students and families."

Over the last few days, the president has waded into down-ballot Democratic races, in a coordinated effort with Hillary Clinton's campaign to win more seats in Congress and state legislatures. Obama tore into U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a Clinton rally in Miami Gardens last week, urging voters to choose Democrat Patrick Murphy instead. But the president didn't mention Garcia, who was at the rally. Garcia didn't have a speaking role, either, but his campaign says he will get to say something Monday ahead of a Tim Kaine rally at Florida International University. Garcia is trying to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

"Barack Obama has spent the past eight years doing the right thing," Garcia said in a statement about the president's endorsement. "In Washington I'll work to expand on Obama's vision for our country so that every South Floridian can get ahead and stay ahead."

Clinton super PAC targets Rubio with web video

via @adamsmithtimes

The pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Correct the Record has a new online video targeting Marco Rubio, and highlighting his support for Donald Trump. Correct the Record has similar spots on Republican senators running in the battleground states of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Indiana.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times