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

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.

July 25, 2017

Perez defeats Mallea in special Miami House GOP primary

Dan26 DPerez NEW PPP
@PatriciaMazzei @CrossingBordas

Daniel Perez won a special Republican primary in a GOP-leaning Miami state House district Tuesday — meaning the attorney and political newcomer is now the heavy favorite to head to Tallahassee in a few months.

Perez defeated brewery owner Jose Mallea in the race for House District 116, a Southwest Miami-Dade County seat that is unlikely to switch to Democratic hands. Perez will nonetheless face Democrat Gabriela Mayaudón, herself a first-time legislative candidate, in the Sept. 26 general election.

“I’m very humbled, and I’m very thankful, that the residents of District 116 have trust in me, as one of their own, to represent not only the Republican Party but the district moving forward,” Perez told the Miami Herald. He was leading Mallea by 55-45 percent in unofficial, and still incomplete, results late Tuesday.

The fresh-faced Perez, 30, won despite being outraised in the campaign by Mallea, a former aide to Jeb Bush and former U.S. Senate campaign manager for Marco Rubio

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, Miami Herald

Diaz, Taddeo notch easy victories in special Miami Senate primaries

Diaz and Taddeo
@PatriciaMazzei @CrossingBordas

Two Miami state Senate candidates who raised and spent the most in their respective primaries — Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo — notched easy victories in a special election Tuesday night.

Taddeo and Diaz will now face off in the Sept. 26 general election for Senate District 40, a competitive seat in the heart of Southwest Miami-Dade County.

Diaz defeated two opponents, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares. The testy rivalry between Diaz and Diaz de la Portilla — who released a pair of polls early on boasting about his broad name identification — suggested the race could be close.

But Diaz, who along with his political committee spent more than $2 million on the campaign, won decisively Tuesday: He took 58 percent of the vote, compared to Diaz de la Portilla’s 26 percent and Palomares’ 17 percent, according to unofficial results that were still incomplete late Tuesday. 

Diaz, who is known as Pepi and is a beloved figure among most Tallahassee Republicans, resigned his House seat to run.

“When this race started and we looked at the numbers, they weren’t wrong: We were losing by a lot,” Diaz told supporters Tuesday at the Latin American Cafeteria in Kendall. Some of them celebrated by playing bongos and singing “Guantanamera.”

More here.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ted Deutch hold hearing on Coral Springs native Bob Levinson

6a00d83451b26169e201b7c8de8453970b

@alextdaugherty 

South Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and Ted Deutch, D-Fort Lauderdale, held a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday with Doug Levinson, the son of Coral Springs native Bob Levinson, and other families whose loved ones were detained in Iran.

Levinson is a former FBI agent from Coral Springs who went missing from Kish Island, Iran, while working on an unauthorized mission for the CIA in 2007. 

Ros-Lehtinen and Deutch, the chairwoman and ranking member of the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, held the hearing to raise awareness of individuals held as hostages in Iran. 

Deutch introduced a resolution calling on Tehran to do more to bring Bob Levinson home safely. 

"Iran's outrageous disregard for international law should give every country, every company-especially every American company, pause as to whether this is a country they should welcome back into the community of nations," Deutch said during the hearing. 

Earlier in July, Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson sent a letter to the White House urging President Donald Trump to “maintain pressure on Iran to see that [Bob] is returned as soon as possible.”

Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Levinson family met with senior State Department officials in Washington, and that many senior U.S. officials believe that Levinson is no longer alive.  

Wasserman Schultz fires arrested IT staffer under investigation

DWSinblue

@amysherman1

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, has fired an IT worker arrested on bank fraud.

Imran Awan was fired Tuesday, according to her office spokesman David Damron.

"Mr. Awan previously served as an employee in our office, but his services have been terminated,” he said in an email.

Fox News reported that Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport Tuesday after buying a ticket to Pakistan on Monday with a return ticket for January.

Awan, 37, of Lorton, Virginia, was arraigned Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on one count of bank fraud, according to Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington D.C.

Awan pled not guilty and was released pursuant to a high-intensity supervision program which requires him to use a GPS monitor, abide by a curfew and not leave a 50-mile radius of his home. Awan was also ordered to turn over all of his passports.  A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 21.

A federal criminal complaint posted by Politico Tuesday states that Awan and his wife Hina Alvi attempted to defraud a Congressional credit union. The couple obtained a $165,000 home loan by making misrepresentations, including about their use of a residence as a primary residence and not a rental property. Alvi left for Pakistan in March and the FBI does not believe she intends to return.

Imran has been under a criminal investigation for equipment and data theft for several months. Many of his relatives, who have also worked for House members, have also been a part of that investigation.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Capital Police, Eva Malecki, told the Miami Herald in February that the United States Capitol Police began the investigation at the request of members of Congress and that no members were being investigated. 

Awan has worked for various members of the House since 2004.

This post has been updated with information from the U.S. Attorney's Office

 

Controversial Miami Beach PAC still hasn't returned donations

@joeflech

People for Better Leaders, a controversial Miami Beach political committee that raised money from special interests and came under mounting scrutiny for its ties to commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Grieco, has a history of blowing deadlines for filing financial updates with the state elections department.

It appears that pattern hasn't changed. Even after that committee's chairman, Brian Abraham, stated on June 9 that he would close the committee and return contributions to donors on a pro rated basis, state filings show he has yet to do that as of this week. 

When the Miami Herald emailed Abraham last week about the delay, he had a short reply.

"All donations are being returned to donors and PAC is being closed," he wrote.

Calls to several donors were not returned over the last week.

The committee raised $200,000 from donors including prominent lobbyists, developers and city vendors. Two donors interviewed by the Herald linked the committee to Grieco in early June, prompting the commissioner to vehemently deny any connection to the group.

Following a series of articles outlining Grieco's connection to the committee — including handwriting analyses by forensic document experts that confirmed Grieco's handwriting appeared on paperwork by the committee — Abraham said he had hired Grieco to help him file that paperwork.

Abraham also announced the committee would close and money would be returned to contributors, and he indicated the same in a June 9 letter to the state elections department. 

Grieco may have violated a Beach ethics ordinance that prohibits candidates and elected officials from asking vendors and lobbyists for donations, either directly or through a third party. Meanwhile, the Miami-Dade state attorney's office has opened an investigation into the committee's activities

In June, he told the Herald he welcomed an "objective, thorough and professional inquiry because it will show no wrongdoing."

Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City to step down from House on Aug. 15

Dan Raulersonvia William March, Tampa Bay Times

After missing much of this year’s legislative session because of severe back problems, and after hints of his estrangement from Republican legislative leadership, state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, has announced he’ll resign from his seat effective Aug. 15.

It’s expected Gov. Rick Scott will set a date for a special election to replace him, but the timing of the vote could be tight. With the 2018 session starting in January because of the election year, pre-session committee meetings will start in September. 

Raulerson’s announcement follows unusual public comments he made a month ago that were critical of House leadership. 

He said few weeks later that he had experienced no negative feedback as result of those comments. But he also said as recently as three weeks ago that he planned to have surgery for his severe back problems, then participate fully in the next legislative session, and run for re-election in 2018, his last term under state term limits laws. 

But Raulerson told the Times on Tuesday he’s changed his mind. 

“I need to focus on my health and my business,“ he said. He still intends to have back surgery soon, and to continue his practice as a certified public accountant, which he sought to maintain while in the Legislature. 

“My job was my career,” rather than politics, he said. 

Raulerson missed seven of the 63 House floor sessions in the 2017 session and 17, or nearly half, of the 36 meetings of his committees, according to House records. 

Long a prominent political and civic leader in Plant City, the heart of his House district, he has spinal stenosis, a painful disease that causes compression of the spinal cord within the spine. 

Raulerson said he intended to send a formal resignation letter to Corcoran’s office this week.  

He said he doesn’t intend to be involved in the campaign to choose a successor. 

“We’ll leave that up to the constituents and whoever they select will be their representative,” he said. “I’m going to stay out of it. I’m not even sure who it would be.” 

Raulerson has been known as something of a maverick within the GOP legislative caucus, and expressed dissatisfaction in a recent political forum with the performance of the Legislature and Republican leadership. 

“As a citizen I’m embarrassed about the performance of our legislature over the last three or four years,” he said in an interview following a post-legislative session forum last month. “I think everybody’s upset.” 

He cited several failures by the Legislature in recent years and blamed the problems largely on term limits, which he said have resulted in too much power in the hands of legislators without adequate experience and institutional knowledge.  

“It’s become blatantly obvious to me that we have bred incompetence in the leadership” because of term limits, while putting too much power into the hands of the staff and the legislative leaders," he said.  

“We crossed the pond 300 years ago to get away from monarchy,” he said of the power of the House speaker.  

Such critical comments by a House member are unusual in a body where the leadership team, topped by the speaker, has near absolute power over legislation. Corcoran in particular is known for strong opinions and isn’t reluctant to enforce his views on House members. 

In his five years in office, he has used his auditing background to strengthening the state's inspector general laws, working to provide agency inspectors with more autonomy so they can provide more independent oversight of state agencies.  

Raulerson said one of his main goals in the Legislature has been to use his accounting background to help increase accountability in government. 

He helped passed legislation to increase the independence of government inspectors general, and had hoped to continue that process with further legislation already drafted by his staff for the coming session. 

Raulerson also worked on strengthening the state's whistleblowers statutes. Next year, he would have been chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, which oversees the financial troubles surrounding the City of Opa Locka in Miami-Dade County. The city, which has been under investigation by the FBI for the last four years, has received numerous extensions for turning in its financial review documents to the committee before facing sanctions.  

He introduced a bill last year to provided a city in such a financial emergency with more resources and also strengthen the governor’s authority to force changes in the city, and had hoped to re-introduce it in 2018.  

Miami Herald's Mary Ellen Klas and Tampa Bay Times' Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. 

Socialist Workers Party candidate running for Miami mayor

@NewsbySmiley

A member of the Socialist Workers Party is running for mayor of Miami.

Cynthia Mason Jaquith, 70, filed papers Tuesday with the city clerk to open a campaign account. For her phone number and email, the long-time party activist left contacts for the party in Miami.

Anti-capitalist, the Socialist Workers Party supports far-left regimes in Cuba and Venezuela -- extremely controversial positions in a city hosting large exile communities. The front page of TheMilitant.com, a socialist newspaper, carries a statement from the party's mayoral candidate in Albany warning the U.S. government to keep its hands off Venezuela and the Nicolás Maduro regime.

Jaquith, who could not be reached for comment, has apparently been campaigning for some time. In April, The Militant referred to her as a candidate for Miami mayor.

Marco Rubio votes to proceed with debate on Obamacare repeal

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio joined 49 Republicans to vote in favor of proceeding with Senate debate on an Obamacare repeal bill, a critical step in the effort by Republicans to repeal Obamacare.

Rubio had been expected to vote in favor. He announced on July 13 that his concerns with the repeal process had been addressed by Senate leadership.

“The sooner we get to the floor and start the debate on the floor in front of the American people, the better off it’s going to be for everyone,” Rubio said on July 13.

Two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against proceeding with debate, meaning Rubio’s vote was essential in passing the measure. Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie in favor of proceeding with debate on repeal.

The 51-50 vote means that the Senate will now begin debate on a proposal to repeal Obamacare, although it is not clear what specific bill the Republicans decide to move forward on. It is expected that a bill that repeals Obamacare without a replacement and a bill that keeps portions of Obamacare will be debated, but if the various proposals increase the federal deficit after 10 years, a process typically determined by the Congressional Budget Office, at least 60 senators must vote in favor.

But the Senate can pass a bill with a simple majority instead of 60 votes if the Senate cobbles together a plan with elements that do not increase the deficit after 10 years, something dubbed a “skinny repeal” plan. Republicans only have 52 Senate seats compared to Democrats’ 48, so a bill that requires 60 votes would fail.

Rubio said two weeks ago that he wanted to ensure more Medicaid payments to Florida hospitals that serve a large number of low-income people, an option to choose catastrophic coverage plans with low monthly payments but high deductibles, and flexible Medicaid caps for public-health emergencies like Zika.

After a closed-door meeting with Republican leadership on July 13 Rubio emerged to say he would vote in favor of debate on a repeal bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ended months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and deal-making efforts by putting the motion on the floor Tuesday, forcing Republican senators like Rubio to either vote in favor of debating a repeal package or turn their backs on a long-running campaign promise for many Republicans.

Rubio has repeatedly said that he was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2016 on a platform of repealing Obamacare, and that he intends to follow through on his campaign promise.

Read more here. 

Rubio, Menendez to Trump: Sanction 10 more high-ranking Venezuelans

Marco Rubio 3
@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to sanction 10 more high-ranking individuals in the Venezuelan government, ahead of a Sunday election in the South American nation that Trump warned last week would be met with “strong and swift economic actions.”

“However, even before that vote, the current situation in Venezuela justifies sanctions on numerous individuals responsible for supporting the Maduro regime,” wrote Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.

The most prominent name on the list suggested by the two Cuban-American senators is Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council.

The other nine names are: Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Maria Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Simón Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, vice president of finance of state-oil company PDVSA; Carlos Alberto Osorio Zambrano, head of the strategic region of integral defense; Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, brigadier general; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.

This developing story will be updated here.

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

Venezuela accuses Rubio, CIA of plotting to topple Caracas government

Venezuela Crisis

@francoordonez 

Venezuela’s senior leaders charged Sen. Marco Rubio and the CIA of plotting to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

With their country descending into crisis, Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada and Carlos Ron, the chargé d'affaires of the Embassy of Venezuela, accused Rubio and CIA Director Mike Pompeo of secretly conspiring against Caracas so that Washington can install new leaders amenable to U.S. interests.

“What this group is trying to do with Venezuela is basically divide the government, recognize other leaders and foment a conflict with the Venezuelans,” Ron told a small group of reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

The South American country with the world’s largest oil reserves is spinning out of control, its economy in tatters and its people starving as oil revenues plummet. Tensions reached a tipping point this week ahead of a July 30 vote to change the Venezuelan constitution and strip lawmakers of power. The government argues the change is needed to stabilize the country, but U.S. leaders see it as a move toward a “full dictatorship.”

In a nearly two-hour discussion at the Venezuelan residency in Washington, the Venezuelan officials — including interim Ambassador to the Organization of American States Carmen Velasquez — criticized U.S. threats of sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil if the vote isn’t called off. 

Ron said the American people are not hearing the full story and accused the United States of unfairly attacking a democratically elected government.

He said relations with the United States have long been challenging, but that tensions have escalated under President Donald Trumpciting sanctions against Venezuela Vice President Tareck El Aissami and threat of an embargo against Venezuelan oil.

“At this moment, relations are not good,” Ron said.

Read more here.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz to hold tele town hall on health care

DWSAPmug

@amysherman1

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a tele town hall about health care Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a motion to proceed with debate about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Wasserman Schultz has been a champion of President Barack Obama's signature legislation passed in 2010 although she has called for some fixes.

Among the problems, she told WPLG Channel 10, is that in numerous places around the country there is "very little choice in terms of competition among companies that provide policies."

Wasserman Schultz's spokesman Michael Liquerman said that a tele town hall allows her to reach a greater audience than an in-person event because thousands can participate.

But it also allows Wasserman Schultz to avoid in-person confrontation by critics, including supporters of her primary opponent Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who has advocated for single payer health care.

Although Democratic support for single payer health care is rising, it doesn't appear to be going anywhere in Congress. There is a great deal of disagreement among experts regarding how much single payer health care would cost.

A single payer bill, H.R. 676 Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, was introduced in February but has received no votes.

Wasserman Schultz is not one of the 115 cosponsors of the single payer bill. She has spoken in favor of a public option which would provide competition for insurers. 

Wasserman Schultz beat Canova by about 14 percentage points in August in the district which stretches from Weston to northern Miami-Dade County. She easily beat her Republican challenger, Joe Kaufman, in the left-leaning district.

The tele town hall is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. although that could change depending upon the House vote schedule. Constituents will receive a robocall with the phone number. Wasserman Schultz is expected to take questions from constituents and the media.

This post has been updated to include additional information from Wasserman Schultz's office

 

Miami-Dade schools will weigh joining HB 7069 lawsuit during Wednesday workshop

No F Schools Press ConferenceSBAB06_28_2017Jimmy Abraham_MDCPS_44

@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade Public Schools could decide as soon as Wednesday whether to join Broward County and other school districts in challenging the constitutionality of a sweeping K-12 education reform law that took effect this month.

Miami-Dade School Board members are holding a workshop to discuss their legal options when it comes to House Bill 7069 — but it’s evident by legal counsel they’ve already received which avenue they’re most likely to pursue: Suing the state.

Tapping the help of three outside legal firms, the district has already spent about $9,900 to research the constitutionality of HB 7069, a district spokeswoman said Monday. According to documents requested by the Herald/Times, some of that legal advice came even before the final version of the legislation was introduced and passed in the final days of session in early May.

With five memos in all, each raises questions about the law’s constitutionality and presents arguments the district could use in court. Chief among them are various ways, the attorneys argue, that the law grants new powers to privately managed charter schools and bypasses the authority of locally elected school boards to oversee public schools within their districts.

Full details here.

Was Adam Putnam, candidate for Florida governor, in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants?

PutnamannouncesPolkCoTBT

@amysherman1

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has largely had the Republican field for governor to himself, but the camp of one potential primary challenger has portrayed Putnam as soft on immigration and undocumented immigrants.

Tony Fabrizio, a pollster hired by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran who may challenge Putnam in the 2018 primary, cast Putnam as not being conservative enough.

"He was for amnesty," Fabrizio told Politico July 10, while criticizing Putnam’s positions on a long list of issues.

That a-word can be a powerful weapon in a Republican primary. But we found that Putnam’s record on immigration can’t be boiled down to a soundbite.

As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2010, Putnam represented a Central Florida district that included agribusiness interests that wanted immigrant labor. Putnam supported legislation that would have benefitted undocumented farm workers, and he supported changing immigration laws which included a path to citizenship.

But he also took some stances that didn’t benefit undocumented immigrants, such as opposing the DREAM Act and increasing enforcement.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

Regalado's 2018 budget leaves out EB-5 center

Panorama

@NewsbySmiley

Of all the things funded in Tomás Regalado’s unprecedented $1 billion budget for 2018, his ballyhooed Office of International Business Development isn’t one of them.

The program, launched three years ago by the mayor in order to “market Miami to the world” through investment-based EB-5 visas, is in an uncertain place as Regalado prepares to end his second and final term in November. His proposed spending plan strips some $275,000 in annual funding from the program, leaving only leftover office funds to keep it open through April barring a change.

Regalado, though, remains a believer in Miami’s publicly owned EB-5 regional center — even if no one can say exactly how much money the city-owned and managed center has brought to South Florida since it opened, or how many jobs it has helped create.

The mayor says he simply wants to leave its fate to his successor.

To read the rest, click here.

(Photo above shows developer Tibor Hollo, left, with Mikki Canton, Tomas Regalado, and a rendering of Hollo's Panorama Tower, funded in part by EB-5 investors.)

With Miami-Dade's Diaz leaving, Corcoran shuffles House deck

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is reshuffling the leadership deck chairs with more changes to come in the weeks ahead.

The Land O'Lakes Republican announced Tuesday that Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is the new chairman of the Commerce Committee, replacing Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, who resigned to Corcoran_richard 022217 1 run for an open Senate seat in Miami-Dade. Boyd had been chairman of the Ways & Means Committee that writes tax legislation, but Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who recently won a GOP caucus vote to be House speaker in the 2022-2024 cycle, will be its new chairman. Renner, a redshirt freshman, had held no chairmanship.

"Updated committee assignments will be made in the next few weeks," Corcoran told members in a memo. That signals more change is coming from the speaker, who has the final say on members' assignments that determine political power and, in many cases, campaign fund-raising strength.

Two Tampa Bay Republicans sure to get new assignments are Reps. Kathleen Peters of Treasure Island and Dan Raulerson of Plant City, both of whom are on the outs with Corcoran. Peters chairs an energy and utilities subcommittee and has announced plans to leave in 2018 to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, citing Corcoran's agenda to reduce local government home rule powers. Raulerson is alternating chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

Under House rules in effect since 2000, committee assignments are good for one year only. They are two years in the Senate.

Raquel Regalado officially announces run to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Regalado Congress

@alextdaugherty 

Raquel Regalado is officially joining the race to replace longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress next year. 

The former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for county mayor in 2016 filed her paperwork to compete in the Republican primary against county commissioner Bruno Barreiro on Tuesday morning. Nancy Watkins, a top Florida GOP political accountant based in Tampa, will serve as campaign treasurer. 

Regalado highlighted Miami's affordable housing woes in her announcement video. 

"I'm running for Congress because we cannot afford to live in South Florida, because before we get to any other issue we need better paying jobs" Regalado said. "We can't afford to buy a home. We can't afford to live here. We can't afford to raise our children here. We're at a critical point, we need educated, reasonable, articulate and thoughtful people in Congress."

The 43-year-old daughter of Miami mayor Tomás Regalado can now start fundraising after Barreiro raised $176,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 Republican primary also announced her intentions to run, but has not filed yet. 

Regalado is a self-described moderate Republican seeking election in a Miami-based district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 percentage points over Donald Trump, making it the most Democratic district in the country currently held by a Republican. Ros-Lehtinen's retirement opens up a seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018.

Regalado has a history of bucking the GOP. In 2010, she campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink for governor over Republican Rick Scott before unsuccessfully challenging Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, for his seat in 2016. She also did not endorse Trump or Clinton in the 2016 election.

A slew of Democrats have announced or are weighing bids for Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

Correction: A previous version of this most misidentified Regalado's age. She is 43, not 42. 

Putnam, Corcoran, Latvala all at Florida sheriffs' summer event

The leading Republican candidate for governor and two would-be rivals converged on Bonita Springs this week for the summer conference of Florida sheriffs.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam addressed the group Monday as did House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is there Tuesday. So is Gov. Rick Scott as he plots a run for U.S. Senate.

Corcoran is one of 21 lawmakers given a "Friend of the Sheriff" award for his support of their agenda. Latvala was one of five "champions" for his support for a prolific juvenile offender law aimed at reducing Pinellas' epidemic of car thefts.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Putnam spoke in support of law enforcement and "it was what you would expect from somebody in his position." Alachua Sheriff Sadie Darnell said Putnam "talked about the grandeur of Florida" in a luncheon speech, and recalled Putnam saying he doesn't want Florida to become like Colorado and California with their tolerance of recreational marijuana use.

Both sheriffs said Putnam did not discuss guns, and that the issues of campus carry and open carry didn't come up. The sheriffs' group has opposed open carry and campus carry bills in Tallahassee, though some individual sheriffs are supportive. Putnam last week described "absolutely a pathway" to a form of open carry in Florida, which has the support of the National Rifle Association. For the second straight year, an open carry bill wasa blocked by moderate Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Florida Sheriffs Association cannot endorse candidates, but individual sheriffs can, and in many parts of Florida, sheriffs are the most prominent elected countywide officials.

Special Miami House, Senate primaries to be decided Tuesday

IMG_voting_booths_4_1_RUA90PLK_L283396393
@PatriciaMazzei

Late July is hardly peak election season in Miami-Dade County. But the polls in some parts of town will nevertheless open Tuesday for voters to cast ballots in a pair of special primary elections featuring campaigns as heated as the season.

Republicans will pick among Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares to represent Senate District 40, a competitive Southwest Miami-Dade district where Democrats will choose between former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and businesswoman Annette Taddeo. The winners will face off in the Sept. 26 general election.

Diaz, the only sitting lawmaker of the bunch, had to resign to seek the seat — requiring another election for the Republican-leaning House District 116, also in Southwest Dade. GOP voters there will select between brewery owner Jose Mallea and attorney Daniel Perez. There is no Democratic primary because only one candidate, Gabriela Mayaudón, qualified to run. She and either Perez or Mallea will take each other on in September. Both districts are majority Hispanic.

The elections stemmed from the April resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican forced to step down after making offensive comments to a pair of legislators. He was also dogged by revelations that he hired questionable political consultants, including a former Hooters “calendar girl” ahead of last year’s election.

Last November, Artiles bested Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Democrats hope to win back the seat to get a better shot at blocking legislation in the GOP-controlled Capitol. Republicans outnumber Democrats 24-15 in the 40-member Senate.

More here.

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file

July 24, 2017

As chaos envelops Venezuela, Caracas spends millions on lobbyists in Washington

C1

@alextdaugherty

Venezuela’s currency is essentially worthless. Its people are starving. Rampant inflation has rendered the bolívar less useful than toilet paper.

And since Donald Trump’s election, the Venezuelan government has spent at least $1.3 million on Washington lobbyists through its subsidiary Citgo, a Houston-based oil company.

Three Washington-based firms currently represent Venezuela in Washington, pushing Capitol Hill, the White House and Cabinet agencies on issues like “fuel refining” and the “potential impact of U.S. energy policies on CITGO’s operation impacting U.S. consumers,” according to Senate lobbying records.

Caracas sees its investment in lobbyists as a way to fight possible sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil. Pushed by lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the White House said last week “all options are on the table” and promised “strong and swift economic actions” ahead of a vote on July 30 that could alter the country’s constitution in favor of President Nicolás Maduro.

“The costs for representation is a drop in the bucket when compared to the potential economic loss” of oil sanctions, said C.J. Gimenez, the son of Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez and a lobbyist who left Avenue Strategies, a firm started by Donald Trump’s former campaign aides, after the firm decided to pick up Citgo as a client. 

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil market could have major financial implications for the Maduro regime and for average Venezuelans. Although Venezuelan crude makes up a small fraction — about eight percent in 2016 — of all U.S. oil imports, the U.S. buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

Gimenez said Venezuela’s greatest asset is its oil and that Maduro “uses it to fund his continued existence.”

In order to shore up the Maduro regime’s future in the face of intense pressure, Washington-based lobbying shops, Avenue Strategies, Cornerstone Government Affairs and VantageKnight. All are well connected in the nation’s capital, spending millions on behalf of corporate titans like Google and Citigroup and staffed with former congressional aides who know Capitol Hill.

VantageKnight, a firm started by Democratic strategist and lawyer Manuel Ortiz, spent $540,000 on behalf of Citgo to lobby on the “potential impact of U.S. energy & foreign policy restrictions on CITGO Petroleum Corporation's operations and valuation of assets” and “sanctions related issues” in 2017.

Neither Citgo nor Ortiz responded to requests for comment. An operator at a Houston office for Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which owns Citgo, hung up when contacted by a reporter.

Citgo is feeling the heat in Washington, where lawmakers have questioned PDVSAs’ pledge of 49.9 percent of its shares in Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from the Russian government-owned oil giant Rosneft. That could leave Moscow with indirect control over Citgo’s U.S. energy assets, including three oil refineries, nine pipelines and dozens of petroleum platforms.

Read more here.

'Nationwide search for Pete Antonacci' ends; he'll make $165,000

A "nationwide search for Pete Antonacci" came to a quick conclusion Monday as Enterprise Florida's board of directors voted unanimously to make him the job-recruitment agency's new  PA president and chief executive officer.

Hired without a formal search, Antonacci arrives with the strong backing of the most important person in EFI's world, Gov. Rick Scott, who delivered a strong endorsement of his former legal adviser.

"He will clearly help get deals done," Scott told board members. EFI vice chairman Stan Connally called Antonacci a "fantastic" pick, and board member Dominic Calabro of Florida TaxWatch called him "a real class act."

Antonacci has a long and diverse resume in state government, where has been a true survivor. He served as Scott's general counsel, as Scott's appointee as interim state attorney in Palm Beach County and as the executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, whose members are Scott appointees. He's a former lawyer and lobbyist with the Gray Robinson law firm and spent much of his career as deputy attorney general under Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who was Florida attorney general from 1986 to 2002.

Antonacci becomes Enterprise Florida's fifth CEO in the past two-and-a-half years. He starts work Aug. 2 at a salary of $165,000 a year. It's been a challenging year at Enterprise, which survived an effort by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who said it should be abolished for its practice of "corporate welfare" and "picking winners and losers" in the corporate marketplace. EFI can no longer use tax credits and other taxpayer funded subsidies to lure companies to Florida. Scott ordered a top-to-bottom review of EFI's payroll and overhead after Bill Johnson's abrupt departure in 2015. 

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a recent Scott appointee, were both on Monday's call and both were recorded as supporting Antonacci.