August 19, 2018

Daphne Campbell: 'The gay people have their rights. I have my rights.'


Facing criticism from her own party over her conservative positions on mainstream Democratic issues, Miami state Senator Daphne Campbell explained her views on gay rights during an appearance Sunday on CBS Miami’s Facing South Florida.

“They have their rights. I have my rights,” she said.

Appearing on the program to debate her primary opponent, Jason Pizzo, Campbell defended her vote in 2015 against gay adoption and her decision to co-sponsor a so-called “bathroom bill” widely interpreted as an attack on Florida’s transgender community. Campbell, a former state Rep. who was first elected to the Senate in 2016, represents a district that includes Miami Beach, which hosts a substantial and vocal gay community.

“The gay people have their rights. I have my rights,” Campbell said when host Jim DeFede mentioned her votes on LGBTQ issues. “Of course, I took an oath to serve everyone. I don’t discriminate. I have gay people who work in my office. I have gay friends. But they have their rights. I have my rights.”

On the bathroom bill she co-sponsored, Campbell explained: “Everywhere you go it says women’s bathroom, men’s bathroom. If you’re a woman in the bathroom do you want somebody else in the bathroom?”

“Is this a problem that needed to be legislated?” DeFede asked.

“This is still, again, that’s their rights,” Campbell answered.

Campbell, who is deeply religious, explained her positions as she and Pizzo, a former prosecutor who lost to Campbell in 2016, argued over who is the better Democrat. Campbell took a shot at Pizzo’s sparse voting record during the decade that he's lived in Miami-Dade County and pointed out that he wasn’t registered to vote as a Democrat until he decided to run against her two years ago.

Pizzo said he was registered without party affiliation until after he left he Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Records show he voted twice in 2016.

“I am a Democrat. There is a stark division and contrast in our policy ideas, in our ideologies as it relates to a woman’s right to choose, gay adoption, same-sex marriage,” Pizzo said, adding that Campbell’s repeated assertions that he hasn’t voted in eight years are inaccurate. “We are diametrically opposed.”

Any voter in the 38th Senate district can vote in the race regardless of party affiliation, since the election is the one and only vote that will be needed to decide who represents the district. But the vote is a Democratic primary, and when they weren’t slamming each other over their ethics, the two candidates argued over who is the better Democrat.

On charter schools, Campbell said she has been inaccurately cast as an ardently pro-charter-schools lawmaker. She said she has previously supported efforts to boost Florida’s expanding charter school network, but voted against the budget this year over her objection to the state’s handling of the education budget.

“When I found out how public schools are being treated” Campbell changed positions, she said. “As you can see, on my agenda for next year, it’s to make sure we have adequate funding for public schools.”

On abortion, DeFede pointed out that Campbell has voted repeatedly for legislation that would create roadblocks to abortion, and at one point supported a bill that would restrict Planned Parenthood’s access to funds. DeFede asked her if her opposition to abortion was “absolute.”

“Let me make clear. Yes. Women have the choice. They have the right to choose. That’s their body,” said Campbell. ‘I’ve stated over and over why. I have a child who is 25 years old. When I was pregnant with the child, when she was three months [gestation] I went blind and I spent six months at Bascolm Palmer. When they asked me to have an abortion I said ‘No way.’ That was 1992.”

Campbell added: “I would never prevent women from doing whatever they want to do to their own bodies.”

Pizzo, however, said Campbell’s statements about respecting the rights of women who choose to have an abortion ring hollow when placed next to her voting record.

“The irony is that Senator Campbell’s very personal experience speaks to the idea that it’s very personal. But her legislative, her  votes on abortion legislation would seem to abridge and curtail the ability of a woman to do that, to have that choice,” he said.

Campbell fired back. “I don’t understand why my opponent is talking about votes. He hasn’t voted in eight years.”

The two face each other in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for Campbell’s district.

August 18, 2018

Florida election officials seek info as support builds for Nelson’s Russian-hack claim

Scott and nelson

@alextdaugherty @greggordon2

Florida election officials said Saturday they are seeking more information to combat any possibility of ongoing hacking efforts on county voting systems, as support mounted over the weekend for Sen. Bill Nelson’s recent claims that Russian operatives have “penetrated” some county voter registration databases in Florida ahead of the 2018 elections.

A U.S. government official familiar with the matter confirmed to McClatchy on Saturday an NBC news report that Nelson was right when he said Russian hackers had “penetrated” some of Florida’s county voting systems. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told Nelson recently that operatives working for Russia penetrated some county voter registration databases in Florida. That appears to represent new information about fallout from a Russian hacking operation nearly two years ago and not evidence of a fresh attack, the government official familiar with the matter said.

And on Saturday, Nelson defended himself against claims by Gov. Rick Scott, his likely opponent in a hotly contested U.S. Senate election, that he was careless with classified information.

“I did exactly what the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee — both the Republican chairman and the vice-Chairman — asked Marco Rubio and I to give that warning. And to give it to the supervisors, which we did,” Nelson said at a campaign stop in Tampa. “I think now that Marco Rubio and I have brought it to everybody’s attention, despite the attempts at politicization of it by Gov. Scott, I think now that it’s out there on the open on what is the potential threat, I think the supervisors will make sure that their systems are secure.”

However, the U.S. government official who spoke to McClatchy said Nelson overstated the threat in saying on Aug. 7 that, after penetrating county voter registration databases, Russian cyber operatives “now have free rein to move about.” Nelson since has voiced concerns that the Russians could tamper with voter registration databases, suppress votes and create chaos at the polls on Election Day.

Details of the extent of any election security threat from the Russians’ penetration of Florida counties are classified, and the limited information that has leaked presents a confusing picture.

Florida officials faced with the prospect of ongoing hacking attempts say they’ve seen no evidence of voter information being altered as early primary voting continues in counties around the state.

Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections for Okaloosa County and the president of the state Association of Supervisors of Elections, said county-level election officials have not been informed of concrete steps they should take to inoculate themselves from the specific threat of ongoing Russian hacking attempts that Nelson has alluded to. Florida officials who do have access to classified information regarding the state’s voting systems typically receive briefings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

Read more here.

August 17, 2018

Nelson declares vindication on Russia hacking claim

Scott and nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson declared vindication Friday over his still unsubstantiated claim that Russians hacked into some county election systems in Florida, pointing to a news report that stated there is a "classified basis for Nelson's assertion."

The Florida Democrat tweeted a breaking news alert from NBC News. "Bill Nelson wasn't making things up when he said Russians hacked Florida election systems," it read.

The report was based on "three people familiar with the intelligence."

Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Nelson for re-election, has accused Nelson of leaking classified information or simply fabricating the story, first disclosed to the Tampa Bay Times more than a week ago.

The Times has reported how top Republicans in Washington, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Sen. Marco Rubio, have issued statements that neither confirm or contradict what Nelson said.

[Bill Nelson: The Russians have penetrated some Florida voter registration systems]

The Florida Department of State did not respond to the NBC News report.

Instead, a spokeswoman pointed to a Thursday letter sent to Nelson from Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, asking for evidence to support his claims.

"The Department of State has no evidence to support his claims at this time. We look forward to his response," the spokeswoman said Friday, responding for the governor as well.

As governor, Scott has a security clearance and could have requested a briefing from Washington officials but did not. A spokesman said that Detzner's office was handling communication with federal authorities.

Republican groups hammering away at Nelson reacted to the report by questioning if the Democrat "broke the law" by revealing classified information.

Rules for the Senate Intelligence Committee do say senators are not to disclose material and can be referred to the ethics committee if they do.

Parkland parents' super PAC releases new ad—but they're waiting to attack pro-gun lawmakers

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 2.37.31 PM


A group of Parkland parents are getting their hands dirty ahead of the 2018 elections. 

The Families Versus Assault Rifles PAC, a super PAC organized by Parkland parents who want to oust lawmakers that do not support limiting access to assault weapons, banning bump stocks and limiting magazine size, released a new ad that uses footage from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on the day of the shooting and a salvo of gunshots to drum up support for their cause. 

The ad, a 30-second digital spot titled "Mass Shootings are NOT Normal" opens with footage of Parkland students being led away from their classrooms during the shooting before the sound of gunshots cuts in. Then, Parkland parents Sergio Rozenblat and Jeff Kasky urge supporters to join and donate to the cause.


"There are certain entities, who are gun lobby entities, who claim certain amounts of membership in the millions of people. There’s one in particular that has 6 million members," Kasky said, referring to the National Rifle Association. "That means there’s 344 million Americans who are not members of your organization. But we also want to be able to say these are the Americans who disagree with your message. You’ve got your 6 million we’ve got our 344 million." 

Kasky started the super PAC shortly after the mass shooting on Valentine's Day and his son Cameron became one of the most visible student leaders in the March for Our Lives effort. The elder Kasky's goal is simple: raise money to fund ad campaigns against lawmakers who don't agree with their agenda. 

Kasky said the group isn't publicly announcing which races around the country will be a part of their effort until after primaries conclude nationwide in a few weeks, though he said the U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson along with the race for the open Florida governor's seat are on his radar personally. 

"When we find a candidate who disagrees with us then he or she will be in our crosshairs," Kasky said. "Then, we’ll take a look and see if the investment will be productive." 

The group's process is simple, Kasky said. Candidates or lawmakers are asked about their positions on banning bump stocks, limiting magazine sizes and if they support severely restricting assault weapons. If a candidate answers yes to all three, the group moves on. If not, the group will decide if the candidate is worth attacking during election season. 

"We’re looking at each race as a possible investment, if we look at a race and it looks like we can make a difference and it's close enough," Kasky said. "We know our opponents are very well-funded and that’s why were in this fundraising mode. Say our guy is 25 points behind in a traditionally conservative gun-friendly area, we’re not going to look at it, its a waste of our money." 

So far, the PAC has raised about $200,000 according to federal filings that were due at the end of June. If the group wants to compete with some of the nation's biggest super PACs who can swoop in with TV ads during the final weeks of a campaign it will need to raise millions of dollars. 

"It almost goes against every fiber of my being, I’m a professional mediator," Kasky said of the group's negative approach. "I’m a lover not a fighter, but the other side has made it very clear that this is the way they do things. We’re going to have to get a little dirty." 

Watch the ad here: 

A tale of two primaries: The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen enters the final stretch

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


The Republican and Democratic primaries to replace Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both have front-runners.

That’s where the similarities end.

Democrats are arguing over policy issues that could accelerate the party’s leftward shift and are trying to attack former University of Miami President Donna Shalala. Discussions about abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and implementing Medicare for all are ideas that just recently came to the national party’s attention.

Republicans are arguing that the leading candidate, TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, was flirtatious with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an television interview 23 years ago, lobbing well-worn accusations of being soft on Cuba that have been a staple of Miami campaigns for decades.

“You would think that in Miami that we’re running campaigns on foreign policy,” said Republican political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who is not involved in the GOP race. “This is an example on the federal level, but even on the policy it seems like it’s about the perception that someone may have been friendly to Fidel Castro in an interview years ago.”

When Ros-Lehtinen, the GOP’s leading social moderate in Congress and a noted critic of President Donald Trump, announced her retirement nearly a year and a half ago, the seat instantly became the Democrats’ to lose. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the district that encompasses Miami Beach, most of Miami, Kendall and parts of coastal South Dade.

Republicans and Democrats have gone 0 for 23 in situations like Ros-Lehtinen’s since 1994, when an incumbent representative doesn’t run for reelection in a district carried two years earlier by a president from the opposite party.

Read more here.

A local election official gives Bill Nelson 'a fit' over Russian claims

When U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made a campaign stop in Madison this week, Tommy Hardee asked for a face-to-face meeting — to "eat his lunch."

"I was trying to give him as much of a fit as I could," Hardee said.

Hardee is the supervisor of elections for Madison County. He remains rattled by Nelson's recent headline-grabbing claim that Russians have penetrated Florida's voting system, a claim Nelson says he can't explain in more detail because "that's classified."

Other senators and two federal agencies have neither contradicted nor confirmed Nelson's assertions, compounding a sense of alarm among elections officials in Florida.

In a statewide conference call with elections officials Thursday monitored by the Tampa Bay Times, Hardee told his colleagues that Nelson surprised him even more by saying the Department of Homeland Security wouldn't know if Florida's voting systems had been infiltrated, due to security reasons.

"(Nelson) said Homeland Security didn't know about these threats going on," Hardee said. "He said the only people that would know were the CIA and the NSA (National Security Agency)."

In a subsequent Times interview, Hardee went further and said he decided to confront Nelson at a campaign event after the senator's staff didn't respond to his phone calls last week.

"I'm as frustrated as anybody," Hardee said. "He should have reached out to the supervisors first and given us a head's-up. He basically made a statement, and he's gone. Why isn't he backing us up on this?"

Hardee was appointed supervisor of elections in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson's U.S. Senate opponent, who reiterated his criticism of Nelson Thursday and pressed him on his knowledge of Russian meddling.

"Bill Nelson needs to come clean," Scott said in Tampa. "He needs to say he received classified information … he was never entitled to," and added" "If he does have classified information, why would he be releasing it through reporters? Why didn't he come work with the state?"

A spokesman for Nelson's campaign, Dan McLaughlin, said of Hardee: "I'm only going to hope that his motivation isn't partisan. These comments are strikingly similar to to the partisan political rhetoric of the governor."

Nelson's campaign and Senate office did not respond to Hardee's assertion about Homeland Security being in the dark on security threats.

Nelson made his initial meddling claim on Aug. 7 and repeated it Aug. 8. He has said he and Sen. Marco Rubio co-signed a letter July 2 to all 67 election supervisors, telling them to seek federal cyber-security assistance, at the urging of Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mark Warner, D-Va., on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The state fired off another letter to Nelson Thursday evening, but officials remain patient with Homeland Security and the FBI, who have still not yet responded to an Aug. 10 letter from Scott's elections officials seeking more information about possible attacks.

Nelson has declined to say more, and he brushed past reporters in the U.S. Capitol Thursday.

On his North Florida campaign swing on Tuesday, Nelson also met with Taylor County Supervisor of Elections Dana Southerland, who could not be reached for comment.

Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report.

Miami-Dade tops in mail ballots and early voting

More than 800,000 ballots had been cast by Friday morning, 11 days before a closed primary election when both parties will nominate candidates for governor and other state and local offices.

The Division of Elections reports that 785,400 voters had cast mail ballots and more than 49,000 people had voted early, for a statewide total of about 834,000. Republicans continue to outpace Democrats by about 388,000 to 338,000.

Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, is the turnout leader, with about 92,000 ballots cast. The county total has risen steadily after it began offering early voting last Monday at 20 locations.

Pinellas is No. 2 with about 71,000 ballots, all by mail. The third-largest pre-primary turnout is Hillsborough, with about 69,000 ballots as of Friday morning. Hillsborough also began early voting last Monday.

The amount of ballots cast is expected to increase significantly over the weekend, as all 67 counties begin early voting on Saturday.

A total of 1.8 million mail ballots are in circulation and have not been returned, the state reports.

About 2 million Floridians cast ballots in the last midterm primary in 2014.

Florida gun group: Ron DeSantis supports openly carrying guns without requiring permit

Alan McFadden, 54, of Seminole, looks at guns and shops for ammunition in the gun shop at Bill Jackson's Shop For Adventure in 2015. (LARA CERRI | Times)

Ron DeSantis told a gun rights advocacy group that people should not need a permit to openly carry a firearm in public, according to the group's lawyer and a release sent out by the organization this week.

Eric Friday, the general counsel for Florida Carry, said he met with DeSantis in Kissimmee while the Congressman was there for the Republican "Sunshine Summit" in June, which featured a debate between DeSantis and his rival in the governor's race, Adam Putnam, as well as prominent speeches from prominent Republicans like Ben Carson.

DeSantis' position was originally touted in a roundup earlier this week of various lawmakers' stances on gun issues based on conversations they had with the group.

Florida currently requires a permit (and thus, background checks) for anyone wishing to carry a handgun, and it must be concealed. Thirty-one states have adopted permissive "open carry" laws that allow people to carry guns without a permit if they are in plain sight. This is also sometimes called "constitutional carry," because its supporters believe the Second Amendment bypasses the need for a license.

"What Congressman DeSantis said is he doesn’t understand why you need a license to exercise a fundamental right in the first place," Friday said in an interview with the Times/Herald. "He did not make a commitment to support open carry or unlicensed carry. He didn’t say he would he would push for it in the Legislature (if elected governor)."

"We were very pleased with his answers and very pleased to hear him express support," Friday added.

In the original release, Florida Carry also said that DeSantis supports "campus carry," or allowing gun owners to carry firearms on college or university campuses.

Campaign spokesman David Vasquez did not respond to requests to confirm DeSantis' statements made to the group.

Florida Carry is a state organization comparable to the National Rifle Association, though Florida Carry has sometimes taken stronger positions than the NRA.

The issue of gun rights has continued to draw a great deal of political oxygen throughout this campaign cycle, as the Parkland students completed a national bus tour registering young voters. February's murder of 17 students and teachers in Parkland also returned to the fore this week as students went back to school, this year with armed guards required on every campus.

Then, last month, a broad daylight killing of an unarmed man in a Clearwater parking lot sparked renewed furor over Florida's self-defense law.

READ MORE: 27 Days: The Markeis McGlockton case, from shooting to stand your ground furor to shooter’s arrest

Also according to the Florida Carry release, DeSantis' rival in the Republican race for Florida governor, Adam Putnam, "refused to meet" with them. Friday elaborated that a staff member from Putnam's campaign agreed to meet with him in Kissimmee but then stopped responding to texts to set it up.

That's uncharacteristic of a candidate who has received A+ ratings from the NRA and has drawn ire from the left for tweeting that he is a "proud NRA sellout."

On the campaign trail, Putnam said more than a year ago that he would support a "pathway for Florida to get to a form of open carry," as well as campus carry. He did not specify whether he would support allowing open without permits.

While serving as Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture, Putnam also advocated for streamlining the process to issue concealed carry permits. It was later found that his office mishandled that process and failed to review background checks in several thousand cases.

His campaign's spokeswoman, Meredith Beatrice, said Putnam's reported refusal to meet Florida Carry was a "misunderstanding."

She then doubted DeSantis' authenticity.

"You mean to tell me Congressman DeSantis, who recently stood with Al Sharpton and Democrats against Florida law enforcement on Stand Your Ground, previously told this group he is in favor of constitutional carry?" she said in a statement.

"That’s the real story here, he will pander and say anything to get a vote. There is no one in this race who is a stronger advocate of Second Amendment rights than Adam Putnam."

READ MORERepublican candidates for governor get in dust-up over Clearwater ‘stand your ground’ shooting

Donna Shalala losing momentum as primary election approaches


w/ @AlexTDaugherty

Things seem to be heading the wrong direction for Donna Shalala.

Not only has the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th congressional district watched her lead shrink this summer, but the former Health and Human Services secretary also seen her closest competitor nearly triple her fundraising over the last month.

Newly filed pre-election campaign finance reports show that, during the five weeks between July 1 an Aug. 8, Shalala raised $134,983.53.

Not bad.

But state Rep. David Richardson pulled in $364,712.65 over the same period.

Richardson’s July haul suddenly gives him more money to spend over the final two weeks before election day. Though Shalala reported $723,319.44 in cash-on hand (compared to Richardson’s $566,476.64), more than $300,000 of that amount was earmarked for the general election.

A breakdown of the fundraising totals shows that Shalala, as of Aug. 8, had about $420,000 left to spend on the primary. Richardson had about $500,000. Matt Haggman, who raised $67,806.71 in July, had $280,000 to spend since close to a quarter-million of his money is reserved for the general election.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn lag far behind in the money race.

Dollars aren’t the same as votes. But internal polls released by Richardson and Haggman last month suggest that the two candidates are gaining on the former University of Miami president. And if you compare Shalala’s end-of-primary fundraising totals to the $1.17 million she touted raising during her first three weeks as an official candidate (neglecting in a press release to mention that she loaned herself $500,000), it looks like her campaign is losing momentum.

As Richardson celebrated his fundraising numbers Friday, he was also campaigning in Miami with Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Pocan sees a competitive primary in a seat that favors Democrats as an opportunity to expand the power of liberal Democrats in Congress. 

"This is one of the best chances for a pickup in the country," Pocan said. "You do not take a majority in Congress if you don't pick this seat up. We've got a really, really great candidate in David Richardson, if you look at his background, it's the path he took as a state legislator where I see some of the most successful members of Congress coming from."
Pocan noted Richardson's work on prison reform in the Florida legislature as an example of someone who can make an impact even when the public's attention is elsewhere. 
"People don't become major advocates of prison reform to get ahead, it's the kind of issues people work on when no one's looking that kind of tells you who is a good candidate. It shows that he’s very woke to what’s going ton and Shalala is trying to wake up to what’s going on."

Richardson says his campaign is intensely focused on the ground game with a week and a half remaining in the primary, now that they've spent money on mailers and television ads to build up his name ID. His campaign estimates that about half of undecided voters are going his way, with the other half split between Shalala and Matt Haggman, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Hepburn

"I don’t believe in going to the doors too early," Richardson said. "I think its much more impactful to be at the door after they’ve seen the mail, TV messaging."

And Richardson said he isn't afraid to bring up Shalala's name and experience when talking with voters, adding that most already know who she is and he can use her well-known career as the former Secretary of Health and Human Services and tenure as the University of Miami president as a jumping off point to discuss their differences.

Pocan said he isn't worried that a Richardson victory in the primary would give Republicans more of a chance to win in November, arguing that the issues Richardson advocates for like Medicare for all are the issues that interest independent voters.

"I'm from Wisconsin. Honestly, if this was the decision to pick the next football coach, (Shalala) would be great, she made a great pick with Barry Alvarez at the University of Wisconsin," Pocan said. "But if it's to be the next member of Congress, it's got to be David."

This article has been updated to correct information regarding the candidates' primary election money. A previous version of this article lumped general election money in with primary election money.

August 16, 2018

Citing hurricane, voting rights groups seek more bilingual ballots

Voter advocacy groups aligned with Hispanics and Democrats filed a lawsuit Thursday calling on Gov. Rick Scott's administration to order all ballots and election materials to be printed in English and Spanish in 32 counties in the November general election.

The action cites the arrival of Puerto Ricans in Florida after Hurricane Maria last fall, and estimates that more than 30,000 people are affected.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, also names as a defendant Kim Barton, the supervisor of elections in Alachua County in Gainesville, where the lead plaintiff in the case, Marta Valentina Rivera Madera, is registered to vote.

"The counties' first-generation Puerto Rican population has increased significantly in the wake of Hurricane Maria," the lawsuit states. "Most of those newly-arrived residents were educated in Spanish-language schools in Puerto Rico and many are not proficient in English … (They) will not be able to vote effectively unless they have access to Spanish-language ballots, election materials and assistance."

The lawsuit was filed by Faith in Florida, Hispanic Federation, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, UnidosUS and Vamos4PR. The plaintiffs' attorneys also represent the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with strong Democratic Party ties.

Scott, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, has frequently highlighted his efforts to help Puerto Ricans who faced massive hurdles in recovering from the devastating storm of nearly a year ago.

Puerto Rican voters tend to identify most closely with the Democratic Party.

The lawsuit includes a declaration from Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist, which included the most recent federal census estimates of the number of Spanish-speaking residents in the 32 counties named in the case (below).

The legal action says that in April, the plaintiffs asked the 13 counties with the largest populations to voluntarily agree to provide bilingual voting materials, but that the counties declined the request in June.

The federal government, under the Voting Rights Act, already requires 13 Florida counties to provide ballots and voting materials in English and Spanish because at least 5 percent of the voting age population speaks Spanish.

Those counties include Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Pinellas, which is providing bilingual materials in a statewide election for the first time in the Aug. 28 primary. The others are DeSoto, Hardee, Hendry, Lee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk and Seminole.

The 32 counties named in Thursday's lawsuit include Pasco and Hernando in the Tampa Bay area and Monroe County in the Florida Keys.

The others include Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Highlands, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Leon, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Putnam, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Sumter, Taylor and Wakulla.

Tampa Bay Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Black lawmaker says Miami Democrats have ‘lynched’ him in primary


w/ @JoeFlech

Suspecting that his own allies may push him out of office in a few days, an angry state Rep. Roy Hardemon is torching his political party, accusing Democratic leaders in Miami of racism and back-stabbing.

Hardemon, in interviews with the Miami Herald, said his party doesn’t like black people — “especially black men” — and claimed the chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrats recruited a Haitian-American candidate to boot him from office. This week, Hardemon went one step further, lobbing a racial accusation during a meeting of Democratic leaders in Doral.

“It’s surprising to be lynched from the Democratic Party,” Hardemon said from a stage, standing next to Chairman Juan Cuba.

The heated rhetoric highlights the bitterness of the primary race in House District 108, where Hardemon, the incumbent, faces two challengers for a seat in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature, including a former vice chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democrats.

The heavily Democratic district covers the east edge of mainland Miami-Dade, an area along Biscayne Bay from I-195 to North Miami that includes the Liberty City and Little Haiti neighborhoods, as well as the villages of El Portal and Biscayne Park. Hardemon, a member of a prominent political family in Miami, is opposed by attorney Dotie Joseph and immigration consultant Joseph Beauvil.

Whoever wins the Aug. 28 primary will emerge as the heavy favorite in the general election against Libertarian Riquet Caballero.

Hardemon said Wednesday that he was speaking with intense emotion. He maintained that his party has moved to oust him by recruiting Joseph, his top opponent. 

“That’s how I felt,” he said. “Like I was betrayed by the local party.”

Cuba, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party, flatly denied any involvement in the primary race.

Click here to read the rest.

Can Bernie Sanders swing the Florida governor’s race?


Via @KirbyWTweets

The Independent Senator from Vermont is coming to Tampa on Friday to campaign with Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who's taken up Sanders' progressive banner in the Florida governor's race. But with less than two weeks to go until the Aug. 28 Democratic primary — and hundreds of thousands of Democratic ballots already filled out — Sanders' visit comes at a make-or-break time for Gillum's gubernatorial hopes.

Gillum, who secured Sanders' endorsement earlier this month, has polled well behind former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in recent surveys. But around one in five primary voters remain undecided, and Gillum supporters hope Sanders can help sway those voters.

If it's not too late.

"When you're running for office, you want to peak on election day. You don't want to peak too early," Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who's endorsed Gillum, said Wednesday. "The other candidates have already peaked."

Sanders' backing of Gillum is just one in a recent slate of endorsements from national progressives and progressive groups for the self-described "most viably progressive candidate for Governor in Florida's history." Gillum also has the approval of the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign CommitteeOur Revolution and Indivisible.

Click here to read the rest.

Joe Carollo and Little Havana club owner in spat that led to ethics complaint



The owner of Little Havana nightclub Ball and Chain, Bill Fuller, has accused Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo making false code violation complaints and staking out the bar late at night.

Fuller took his accusations to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust earlier this year, claiming Carollo was targeting his club for code violations as retaliation for Fuller's support of Carollo's opponent in last year's commission race, Alfonso "Alfie" Leon

But at a ethics commission meeting Wednesday, Fuller asked to withdraw the formal complaint. After it was withdrawn, the complaint was made public. Miami New Times detailed Fuller's complaint Thursday morning, including allegations that Carollo followed Ball and Chain's valet employees and once tried to have Fuller's holiday shut down by accusing Fuller of handing out illegal drugs at the party. 

Fuller's attorney, Alexander Orlofsky, wrote in a letter to the commission that Fuller wished to withdraw the complaint because "it was too narrowly drafted," not because the allegations were untrue. Fuller might take "further legal action" or file another ethics complaint.

Without mentioning names, Carollo has referenced his ire for Fuller in public meetings since he is election in November 2017. He's asked the city administration to up code enforcement across his district, which covers much of Little Havana, and griped about certain business owners getting off easy without scrutiny from code compliance officers. He's also mentioned multiple late-night tours of the area with city officials, including City Manager Emilio Gonzalez

Ethnic politics dominate Republican primary to replace Michael Bileca in Florida House


Via @MartinDVassolo

“I am the domino,” proclaims a guayabera-clad Vance Aloupis, a Maine native, as he flashed a tile from the popular game in a Spanish-language campaign advertisement his campaign heralded as a success.

“I am very proud of my heritage,” says Rhonda Rebman-Lopez, an Alabama native who this summer cut her hyphenated last name in half to assume her Cuban husband’s last name. Her maiden name will no longer appear on the ballot.

“I am offended by it,” concluded Jose Fernandez, the only Cuban-born candidate running in the Republican primary for Miami House in District 115, an inland strip of central Miami-Dade County in which 38 percent of the population is Cuban and more than two-thirds is Hispanic.

After responding to Aloupis’ advertisement with one of his own, Fernandez on Tuesday evening accused his two non-Hispanic white competitors of “pandering” to Cuban voters and “pretending to be something they are clearly not,” firing the first salvo in what had been a relatively amicable four-way race in a series of strongly worded statements to the Miami Herald.

The winner of the Aug. 28 GOP primary — among Aloupis, are Lopez, Fernandez and Carlos Daniel Gobel — will face off against the winner of the Democratic primary. The two candidates in that race are Jeffrey Solomon and James Linwood Schulman.

“A cornerstone of my campaign has been the fact that I have been a member of this community for decades,” Fernandez told the Herald. “I don’t think it is appropriate for anyone to pander to our neighbors for votes pretending to be something they are clearly not. As a matter of fact, as a member of this community, I am offended by it.”

Click here to read the rest.

August 15, 2018

Democrats eager for a blue wave admit Carlos Curbelo is beating them



Carlos Curbelo’s low-lying and Democratic-leaning Miami-to-Key West district is ground zero for a blue wave in November.

But he’s built a sizable sea wall.

With two-and-a-half months until Election Day, polling from Republicans and Democrats shows Curbelo with a lead over his likely Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a district that Hillary Clinton won by more than 16 percentage points over Donald Trump, and Curbelo isn’t running television ads yet.

A poll released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, shows Curbelo with a seven-percentage-point lead over Mucarsel-Powell among 500 likely voters.

It’s unusual for political organizations to release polling that shows their favored candidate trailing, and the poll shows a larger gap between Mucarsel-Powell and Curbelo than a DCCC poll from April that showed Curbelo with a five percentage point lead.

“All I can figure is that the DCCC released this poll to send a message to their floundering candidate: ‘You’re losing. Get your campaign in order and do something about it,’” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Maddie Anderson said.

At least one Republican poll that hasn’t been released publicly shows Curbelo with a larger lead over Mucarsel-Powell than the DCCC poll.

The DCCC touted their poll, which was conducted a month ago, by arguing that the race became tied after voters heard basic biographical information about Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell. Around the same time the poll was conducted, Mucarsel-Powell switched campaign managers and her husband was found to have financial ties to an Eastern European oligarch dogged by allegations of contract killings and embezzlement.

“In the initial vote, despite major name ID disparity, Mucarsel-Powell earns 41 percent to Congressman Curbelo’s 48 percent. This lead quickly erodes after equal biographic information from both sides,” a DCCC polling memo said. “This exodus from Curbelo is spurred by the introduction of Mucarsel-Powell, who at the time of the poll was largely unknown and had not yet communicated with voters in the 26th district.”

Mucarsel-Powell entered the race a year ago, and her campaign started running television ads to introduce herself last week, after the poll was conducted. But Curbelo hasn’t started running TV ads, and he finished the latest fundraising quarter with more money to spend than Mucarsel-Powell in an environment where 56 Democratic challengers outraised Republican incumbents across the country, many in districts that are far less friendly to Democrats on paper.

Read more here.

Mayor's 'anal bleaching' comment to female commissioner taints Hallandale Beach politics


Via @Blaskey_S

Editor's note: Was there ever a story more destined for a blog called Naked Politics?

When Hallandale Beach Mayor Keith London said “sphincter bleaching is a very up and coming business,” during the City Commission’s budget discussion Monday night, he may have been right. But whether he thought anal bleach had anything to do with public safety budgets — the topic being discussed — remains unclear.

Why London thought it relevant, much less appropriate, to accuse a female commissioner of making her living from bleaching her own anus is even more baffling.

“Was it getting my sphincter bleached, is that what I earned my income for?” London said to Commissioner Anabelle Lima-Taub, as the two exchanged personal attacks. “No that would be you.”

What did the mayor even mean by that? London couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lima-Taub told the Miami Herald that she does not profit from bleaching her own anus. And whether or not she uses skin bleaching products — commonly applied by people with medical conditions causing hyper-pigmentation — would certainly not be anyone’s business but her own, she said. (For the record, her mom owns a spa that sells skin bleaching cream, but Lima-Taub said she doesn’t work there.)

“Even if I was doing that for a living, that’s not appropriate,” Lima-Taub said. “For the sitting leader of a city to speak this way was completely inappropriate.”

A pony-tailed commissoner-turned-appointed-mayor, London has a history of inappropriate remarks. In 2017, he told Broward investigators that a fellow commissioner was a “migrant worker.” He wasn’t. Earlier this year, London was recorded asking a city employee if he “sucked dick” while in prison. 

Click here to read the rest.

Dem Poll: Philip Levine edges ahead of Gwen Graham for lead

Levine0095 JAI

Via @AdamSmithTimes

A just-released Aug. 11-14 poll of likely Democratic primary voters finds Gwen Graham no longer the strong frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, but actually slipping behind Philip Levine.

The live caller poll by the respected firm SEA Polling & Strategic Design shows former Miami Beach Mayor Levine with 27 percent support, former Tallahassee Congresswoman Graham with 24 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum with 15 percent, Jeff Greene with 13 percent and Chris King at 3. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Pollster Tom Eldon wrote in a polling memo:

Greene's decision to go negative against Gwen Graham appears to have brought her back to the pack, but also seriously diminished his chances as he has dropped into the fourth place in the low teens.

Among those who self-declared they had already voted, the race is a statistical dead heat with Levine at 30 and Graham at 28 percent.  Those who reported an interest level in the Democratic primary at 5 out of 5 (75% of total respondents), Levine holds a 7 point lead outside of the margin of error.

Can a billionaire’s private school become a model for public education in Florida?

Greene school

w/ @colleen_wright

Billionaire developer Jeff Greene is an unconventional Democrat running an unconventional campaign for Florida governor. So, naturally, his ideas on how to change Florida’s vast public education bureaucracy stem from an unconventional place.

Standing in a former West Palm Beach car dealership that he converted two years ago into a schoolhouse, Greene explains how the future of Florida’s schools lies in shrinking class sizes, replacing letter grades with detailed evaluations and adopting the latest technologies.

After all, he says, those are some of the reasons The Greene School is a model for the rest of the state.

“It’s not that difficult to make changes in education,” Greene says matter-of-factly — even though he was so underwhelmed by the state of Palm Beach County schools two years ago that he went ahead and built his own.

Dissatisfied with the public and private school options for his three sons, Greene and wife Mei Sze opened their own school in 2016, plunging millions of their own dollars into the creation of a campus for gifted kids. At the time they said they hoped it would become a beacon for young professionals pondering a move to South Florida.

Now, Greene — the latest billionaire to adopt education as a passion — hopes it will be a beacon for voters weighing his candidacy.

With families preparing to return their children to school for the year and voters deciding on a candidate to represent their party in the general election, Greene has made education a central tenet of his platform and modeled it around the brick-and-mortar of The Greene School. He’s called the school “an innovative model for what Florida public schools could be if Tallahassee made public education a priority.”

In so doing, he’s dubbed himself an “accidental educator.”

But while education is an all-consuming issue for Democratic voters and candidates, Greene’s decision to promote a private school that vets students with an IQ exam is an awkward one, considering that his own party has spent the last 20 years trying to reverse a tide of legislative bills that have eroded teacher tenure, pushed public money into for-profit management companies and steered several hundred thousand students away from traditional schools.

Click here to read the rest.

After condemning U.S. Sugar's influence, Ron DeSantis to visit toxic green algae

A finger canal off the Caloosahatchee River in the River Oaks neighborhood near LaBelle was clogged with algae. [Pedro Portal | Miami Herald]

Congressman Ron DeSantis is scheduled for a quick visit to southwest Florida on Wednesday, adding himself to the long list of state and federal officials who have traveled to see the green, "guacamole-like" toxic algae for themselves.

But there is one thing that makes DeSantis's visit different: his condemnation of U.S. Sugar's role in the algae crisis during the Republican debate in Jacksonville last week. U.S. Sugar is one of the most dominant special interests in Tallahassee, one that some Democratic candidates for governor, like Chris King, have used as a punching bag during this race.

DeSantis's harsh criticism of the company, is highly unusual for a Republican frontrunner for governor, especially during a televised debate. U.S. Sugar has poured millions and millions into the campaign of his opponent, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

READ MORE: Only one candidate for governor still takes money from Big Sugar: Adam Putnam

Calling Putnam the "errand boy" for U.S. Sugar, DeSantis dismissed the effect of septic tanks in causing the green, toxic algae, instead placing heavy blame on the phosphorous pollution from agriculture, which includes U.S. Sugar. Research has found that both play a role, but U.S. Sugar has also been resistant to sell land south of Lake Okeechobee where Republican state Senate President Joe Negron suggested building a reservoir that would hold  excess water so it wouldn't have to be released to surrounding waterways, which exacerbates the crisis.

"Commissioner Putnam ... will not do anything that offends U.S. Sugar who is his main supporter," DeSantis said. "At the end of the day, if you let one company call the shots we’re going to continue to end up having the problem. Nobody should get special treatment."

Putnam argued back that the toxic algae was caused by many factors, and that there is "no unicorn and rainbow pixie-dust solution to this."

READ MORE: ‘Seinfeld candidate’ vs. Sugar’s errand boy. DeSantis, Putnam clash in final debate

Putnam held a grassroots campaign events in both Fort Myers and Port St. Lucie in the past two weeks, but neither were algae-specific. Putnam is also kicking off a statewide tour of about 20 cities Wednesday, which is scheduled to last until just three days before the primary.

Meredith Beatrice, Putnam's campaign spokeswoman, said that he is the "only candidate with a plan and a track record of protecting Florida’s Golden Goose: water."

DeSantis's visit to Englewood in southwest Florida is scheduled to last just an hour and 30 minutes total, starting with a one-hour "roundtable" with local business owners at 4 p.m., then a 15-minute press conference, ended by a 15-minute "waterfront tour" to wrap everything up by 5:30 p.m.

This labor union is the latest to launch attack ads against Gwen Graham over the American Dream mall

Graham Unite Here ad
A screenshot from UNITE HERE's ad attacking Gwen Graham over her affiliation over the American Dream Miami mega-mall.

A major labor union says it's launching a six-figure ad buy against Gwen Graham, targeting the Democratic front-runner for governor over her family's involvement in the American Dream Miami mega-mall.

UNITE HERE, which represents more than 260,000 mostly service industry workers across the country, says it's going after Graham because of her failure to take a stance on the project, of which her family's company is involved.

"We think that Gwen Graham can’t hide behind the fact that it’s her family who’s involved in the project," said Wendi Walsh, Secretary-Treasurer for UNITE HERE Local 355. "She skirts the issue at every turn."

The union has endorsed one of Graham's opponents, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, in the governor's race. 

The union says it's spending six figures to target more than 800,000 Democratic voters, mostly in South Florida. In addition to advertising on social media and websites, they're buying 50 30-second ad spots during morning and evening shows on CNN, MSNBC, OWN and BET in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.

"While Graham and her family make millions," one of the TV ads says, "Florida will be stuck with poverty-wage jobs, endangered wildlife and massive traffic congestion."

The campaign is expected to start today and run through Tuesday.

Walsh says the union has tried to get Graham to come out against the project, to no avail. Graham has repeatedly declined to take a stance on it.

Her campaign's spokesman has said Graham "believes local communities should have the first and final voice on the project and to date, they have strongly supported it."

The union isn't the first to go after Graham about the project. Fellow candidate and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene has already aired television ads attacking Graham. Levine has said he's been against the project from the beginning, but has so far stayed out of the fight.

The mall project, which would feature a theme park and an indoor ski slope, would be America's largest, and it has been strongly opposed by environmental groups over fears that it would encourage more development on the eastern edge of the Everglades.

Despite rhetoric by Graham's opponents, however, the mall is not in the Everglades, and Graham's campaign maintains that she's never had any involvement in its formation.

The mall is being built by Triple Five, the company that developed Minnesota's Mall of America, but part of the 175-acre property is owned by the Graham Companies. The Graham Companies is also planning to build a massive mixed-used development on 300 acres south of the mall.

Graham, like many members of her family, has a small stake in the family company that is worth millions. But she resigned as a member of the board in 2015, when she was elected to Congress, and her campaign says she owns less that 1 percent of voting stock in the Graham Companies.