April 19, 2014

Charlie Crist's major challenge: the apathetic voters of South Florida

@MarcACaputo & @stevebousquet

Sam Oser is 88, and he wants to live long enough to see a Democrat get elected governor of Florida again — even one who used to be a Republican.

So Oser is ready to embrace Charlie Crist, a career politician of changing stripes who’s a Democratic newcomer. No matter, says the West Palm Beach retiree: Democrats are doomed to irrelevance until they reclaim the Governor’s Mansion after a 16-year absence.

“We’re outnumbered,” Oser said of the Republicans’ dominance in Florida, sipping coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts. “The only way we can move ahead is to have a Democratic governor.”

The Bronx-born Oser, a World War II veteran who needs a walker to get around his Century Village retirement complex, is now a foot soldier in an increasingly diverse army of South Florida Democrats who view Republican Gov. Rick Scott as vulnerable and believe their best hope is Crist, his predecessor.

But for Crist to win, South Florida voters need to do something they haven’t done in years: vote in bigger numbers in a governor’s race.

About a third of Florida’s 4.6 million Democrats live in the three-county metropolis of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, a sprawling breadbasket of liberalism that proved critical in both of President Barack Obama’s Florida victories.

But off-year or midterm races for governor are a different story.

Year after year, voters in the Democratic region are among the state’s worst when it comes to showing up at the polls. It was most glaring in 2010 when Scott won office and statewide voter turnout was a meager 49 percent.

The turnout in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties was worse: about 41, 40 and 47 percent, respectively. If those three counties had voted at the state average, Democrat Alex Sink likely would have beaten Scott by nearly 250,000 votes statewide. Instead, Sink lost by 61,550 votes.

Crist vows that won’t happen again.

more here

Hialeah mayor’s testimony highlights own involvement in shadow-banking schemes

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

A big-city mayor took the stand in Miami federal court last week and admitted he charged exorbitant, illegal interest rates to a Hialeah businessman — Florida law calls it “loan sharking” — which he failed to report as income on his tax returns.

But he was not the mayor on trial.

Carlos Hernandez, Hialeah’s current mayor, testified as a government witness in the tax-evasion trial of his predecessor, Julio Robaina.

On the stand, Hernandez was asked specifically if he had received as much as 36 percent interest annually on loans he made to a Hialeah jeweler later convicted as a Ponzi schemer.

“Yes, sir,” he told prosecutor Richard Gregorie. Florida law says anything over 25 percent interest is a crime.

Hernandez was also asked if he plans to amend his tax returns.

Yes, he said. Hernandez’s tax returns from that time, which have been public for years, show he did not report the income.

Why Hernandez, mayor of Miami-Dade County’s second largest city, can’t be charged with violating Florida’s loan-sharking laws is clear: The statute of limitations — one year — ran out long ago.

Why he couldn’t be charged with federal income-tax evasion is not as clear. Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

More here

April 18, 2014

Image of FSU mascot roils South Florida water management board meeting


He wasn’t on the agenda, but Chief Osceola briefly disrupted this month’s meeting of the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board.

As part of a report on water conditions to the Gator-dominated board, a division director, also a Gator, included an image of the Florida State University mascot as a farewell gesture to board member Tim Sergeant, an FSU alum whose term is ending.

“I know that was painful for you, Terrie. But I do appreciate that. Thank you,” Sergeant said to Water Resources Division Director Terrie Bates.

But Miccosukee tribe member Houston Cypress, who was a part of a large crowd attending the meeting in support of a long-anticipated central Everglades restoration plan, was not so thankful.

While the Seminole Tribe of Florida has signed an agreement with FSU supporting the mascot, the mascot is still widely condemned as a minstrel caricature of the chief, who fiercely opposed the Seminole nation’s surrender to the government. An earlier mascot retired in the 1970s had been named Sammy Seminole.

“I want to admonish the board for condoning the use of the racist imagery earlier with the display of the FSU mascot,” Cypress said. “Once again I admonish you.”

Board chairman Dan O’Keefe thanked Cypress for his comments, then moved on to the next speaker without responding to the condemnation.


SEIU visits Miami lawmaker's office over Jackson hospital legislation


Florida Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican, received a visit Thursday from members of the labor union representing physicians, nurses and other health care professionals at Jackson Health System, the county’s public hospital network.

SEIU 1991 representatives said they want Bileca, who also is a member of the Public Health Trust that runs Jackson, to take a stand against a bill before the Florida Legislature that would strip authority from Miami-Dade County commissioners to approve labor contracts at the taxpayer-funded safety net hospital.

The county, the hospital system, the Public Health Trust and the labor union all opposed the measure when it was proposed this month. SEIU 1991 recently negotiated a one-time, 2 percent pay bonus for employees, a deal that was ratified by the county commission.

Bileca was not at his office on North Kendall Drive to meet with union representatives on Thursday afternoon. He also missed Thursday morning’s meeting of Jackson’s board, which started more than one hour late due to a lack of quorum.

Bileca could not be reached on his cell phone for comment.


Scott joins Jeb and Martinez to demand FL Senate vote on DREAMer tuition

From a press release

TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Rick Scott and former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez advocated for lowering tuition by advancing SB 1400, which would allow all Florida students, regardless of their background, to qualify for the in-state tuition rate.

Continue reading "Scott joins Jeb and Martinez to demand FL Senate vote on DREAMer tuition" »

April 17, 2014

Senate Appropriations Committee won't hear in-state tuition bill, Negron says

Thousands of undocumented immigrants fighting for in-state college tuition rates might have had their hopes dashed Thursday when a top state lawmaker abruptly announced his committee would not hold a vote on the controversial bill.

The surprise move by Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron — which caught Republicans in the House and governor’s office flatfooted — means the proposal (SB 1400) will be a long shot for passage during the final two weeks of the legislative session.

Negron, R-Stuart, gave a list of reasons for rejecting the bill, including the potential cost.

“If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents?” Negron said in a statement. “I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact.”

But Sen. Jack Latvala, the moderate Republican from Clearwater pushing the proposal, called Negron’s argument a “red herring.”

“Just say it like it is — you don’t like it,” Latvala said. “They’ve got money to do whatever they want to do. To say there’s not money for this is not true.”

Latvala pointed out that 20 senators had co-sponsored his bill, meaning there would be enough votes to pass it on the Senate floor.

“It’s just unfortunate to have one senator stand in the way of a majority of the Senate,” he said.

If the bill were to die, it would be a significant loss for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made it among his top priorities this year.

It would also be a setback for Gov. Rick Scott, who strongly supports a provision preventing colleges from hiking tuition above the rate set by the legislature, and needs the support of Hispanic voters in the November election.

Both men said they would continue to fight for the bill.

Read more here.

Dade Democrats' chair: I didn't break rules by endorsing

Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Annette Taddeo-Goldstein sent an email endorsing Joe Geller in his race for State House District 100.

“It's my great pleasure to announce my endorsement of my friend and longtime public servant Joe Geller for State House, district 100,” states the April 15th email from Taddeo-Goldstein. “Over his long career in public service, Joe served as Mayor of North Bay Village and Chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, and now he is our general counsel — volunteering his time to make sure every vote is counted.” (Geller is also the brother of former state Sen. Steve Geller, an adviser to Charlie Crist’s campaign.)  

Taddeo-Goldstein sent the email after Alexander Lewy, a Hallandale Beach city commissioner, dropped out of the race to take a job at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Lewy didn’t return our calls last week about his new gig, so here is some background from the Sentinel.)

Lewy had raised about $86,000 and was seen as Geller’s main opponent, so now that he dropped out Geller -- who has raised about $104,000 and loaned his campaign $25,000 -- is the front runner.

Taddeo-Goldstein says Geller is now the only viable Democrat -- and the only one from Miami-Dade County for the seat that also stretches into Broward.

But Geller still faces two primary opponents: John Alvarez of Hallandale Beach who has raised about $9,000 and loaned his campaign about $9,000 and Benjamin Sorensen of Hollywood who has raised about $18,000 and loaned his campaign about $8,000. The seat in the left-leaning district is being vacated by term limited state Rep. Joe Gibbons.

Privately, some Democrats said Taddeo-Goldstein was breaking an unspoken party rule or tradition that often keeps Democratic party chairs from endorsing in primaries.

Asked about that unofficial rule, Taddeo-Goldstein said she did nothing wrong.

“It doesn’t break any rule,” she said. “We can endorse in primaries as individuals, and I was happy to do so.”

Taddeo-Goldstein said that the endorsement came from her individually -- not the Miami-Dade Democrats, which as a group hasn’t made an endorsement.

But since the email came from Taddeo-Goldstein, the chair of the party and has the Miami-Dade Democrats logo on it, couldn’t readers interpret that as an endorsement from the group?

“I understand they could read it that way if they don’t pay attention to the first sentence, but I was very clear in my first sentence I was the one endorsing,” she said.

The members of the county party group sign a loyalty oath that is intended to prevent members from endorsing Republicans, Taddeo-Goldstein said. The oath states: “I will not support the election of the opponent of any Democratic nominee, I will not oppose the election of any Democratic nominee, nor will I support any non-Democrat against a Democrat in any election other than in judicial races....”

The word “nominee” refers to the Democrat who emerges from the primary as the winner, so that doesn’t mean members can’t endorse in the primary, Taddeo-Goldstein argues.

Geller says there is nothing unusual about the party chair making an endorsement.

“I used to be the chair of the party. I did it all the time. .... I endorsed Bill Clinton in the primary -- there were five or six Democrats running.”

Lopez-Cantera to Crist: I'll see your Plantation field office opening with a Miami event


So Democrat Charlie Crist is going to open a field office Saturday in the Democratic heartland of Broward County.

What's a Republican to do? Have a field-office event on the same day in Miami in a Republican area.

So, for you political masochists, on Saturday morning from 10-11, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon Day will hold a "volunteer open house" in Miami. Location: 5455 SW 8th St, Suite 265.


“Floridians deserve a Governor who will work with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and restore deep cuts to public schools,” said Crist. “We are committed to having the boots on the ground to make that happen and that starts in Broward County.”

Then, at 12:30, Crist opens his first field office at 320 South University Drive, Plantation, FL 33324. Crist's press release came with a statement from campaign manager Omar Khan: “We are a metrics and data driven campaign and a huge part of that will be our grassroots field operation. Broward County is critically important to Governor Crist, so we’re excited to get started there." 

Earlier in the week, Gov. Rick Scott's deputy campaign manager, Tim Saler, said the GOP data effort was, well, bigger.


NRCC gives boost to Carlos Curbelo over 4 other Republicans in Miami congressional race


National Republicans have taken sides in the primary to for Florida's 26th Congressional District.

On Thursday, the National Republican Congressional Committee moved up Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo in its "Young Guns" program, which identifies and helps top first-time candidates for Congress. The program has three tiers; Curbelo is now in the second one in the race against Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia.

"Carlos Curbelo has reached the 'Contender' status because he is exemplary of the new leadership needed in Washington D.C. to turn our country around and provide a check and balance in Washington," NRCC Chairman Greg Walden,an Oregon Republican, said in a statement.

Democrats fired back by calling Young Guns a "dog and pony show."

"If Republicans think that voters will elect Curbelo to join them in Congress while he is supporting policies that hurt middle class Floridians, they're in for a surprise in November," the DCCC's Josh Schwerin said in a statement.

Partisan shots aside, it seems clear that the GOP is sending a message to the other four Republicans in the race -- Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, attorney Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck and Key Largo resident Jose Felix Peixoto -- that party leaders have a favorite candidate, the one who has raised the most among them in campaign contributions.

In Miami, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson renew call for U.S. sanctions against Venezuela


Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, joined forces Thursday in Miami to call for stepped up attention and potential U.S. sanctions against Venezuela for repressing political protests.

They also suggested that Venezuelans should become eligible for special U.S. immigration status.

To try to persuade their colleagues, Rubio said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to hold a hearing soon on the ongoing unrest, with as-yet unnamed leaders of the Venezuelan opposition invited to testify. Rubio is a committee member.

“What we want to do is build a case,” Rubio said — not only for sanctions against members of President Nicolás Maduro’s administration, but also perhaps against private Venezuelan citizens tied to the government.

That possibility has drawn particular interest in South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelans outside their country, including some rumored Maduro allies. Miami and Orlando remain frequent destinations for Venezuelan tourists, among them government officials.

More here.

Don Gaetz: "I will vote against SB 1400"

The holiday break didn't stop Senate President Don Gaetz from weighing in on one of the most controversial bills of the session.

On Thursday, Gaetz sent an email to his constituents in Northwest Florida voicing opposition to Senate Bill 1400. The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities. 

A version of the bill has already passed in the House.

The Senate bill has 20 co-sponsors, meaning it has enough support to pass on the upper chamber floor. But in order for that vote to even take place, Latvala must first secure a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, has had issues with the bill since the beginning of session.

He made his position clear in his electronic newsletter Thursday.

"Though I am likely in the minority in the Legislature on this matter, I cannot support taxpayer subsidies in the form of tuition discounts for undocumented or illegal students," he wrote.

Gaetz acknowledged that the issue was politically charged.

"I am told it is 'good politics' to support Sen. Latvala’s bill, that it will help Republican candidates appeal to Hispanic voters in the 2014 and 2016 elections," he wrote. "Perhaps. It is certainly true that the Republican Party has lost much of the Hispanic support President Bush earned in 2000 and 2004 and that Gov. Jeb Bush still has in our state and across the nation."

But Gaetz argued that SB 1400 is "not limited to Hispanics." 

"It casts a blanket of approval over non-citizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence," he wrote. "There is no improper or careless intent behind the legislation, but this bill goes much further than merely reaching out to Hispanic voters."

Gaetz later pointed out that undocumented students are able to enroll in public universities.

"The question posed by SB 1400 is not whether undocumented students will have access to a Florida public college or university education that is supported by Florida taxpayers -- they already do," Gaetz wrote. "The question is the extent to which parents, struggling to save for their own children’s education, and taxpayers, slowly recovering from a deep recession, should be mandated to pay for substantially increased tuition subsidies for non-citizens, who have not attained legal status in our country."


2nd mysterious departure: Crist's new spokesman leaves


Something's weird in Charlie Crist's campaign.

His new spokesman, Eric Conrad, just left after less than a week on the job "to pursure other opportunities," said de-facto spokesman Kevin Cate. The pro-Crist Saint Petersblog noted the departure first.

Cate has said as much before when Bill Hyers, Crist's here-today-gone-tomorrow campaign manager quit before/around the time he started.

Gov. Rick Scott, too, has had his share of shakeups. So it's not as if these things don't happen. They do.

But Crist is walking a tight rope. He doesn't have the money that Scott has. Florida Democrats don't have the organization Republicans do. And for a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, having Democrats in good standing suddenly up and leave your campaign with no explanation looks a lot more damaging.

This is a potential leading indicator of why some establishment Democrats, namely those who wanted Sen. Bill Nelson to run, were so nervous about Crist. Like a gifted athlete, Crist relies on his own talents. But he resists coaching. He doesn't always take good advice. He acts spur of the moment. His campaign is more of a cult of personality compared to Scott's campaign, which is more like a disciplined business start up.

"Charlie thinks he can do everything on his own. For a certain type of personality, that can be frustrating," said one Democrat familiar with the campaign. "It's not really weird that this stuff happens because, if you think about it, Charlie's a weird guy."

UPDATE: The shakeup led to the inevitable smack-talk when Susan Hepworth, Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman, trolled Crist adviser Jim Messina, who was President Obama's campaign manager in 2012.

Hepworth: "Has anyone asked @Messina2012 how he thinks the @CharlieCrist campaign is shaping up? http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/...."

Messina: ‏".@shepworth I feel great about .@CharlieCrist campaign! Especially w u doing the same great work u did for Romney in FL."

Pockets of anti-Crist resistance visible in Broward

As the Democratic Women's Club of Broward gathered for its monthly meeting Wednesday, a table was filled with flyers promoting Nan Rich's candidacy for governor but not a piece of Charlie Crist literature could be seen.

Long-time club member Joanne Sterner greeted guests as she stood in front of a sign that read "Stand with Nan." Sterner says she's scared by the talk that Crist, a former Republican governor, is the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

"He's going to get killed," she said, because of his history of shifting positions on key issues. This feisty crowd of determined liberal activists made it clear Crist has a lot of work to do to unite Democrats in the state's most heavily-Democratic county.

Broward is the home turf of Rich, a former Senate Democratic leader from Weston. Among the club's 35 members, there was strong support for her and a visceral dislike for Crist, who plans to open his first regional campaign headquarters in Plantation on Saturday.

"I don't have respect for him," said Barbara Ruge, vice-president of the nearby Oakland Park Democratic Club. "He doesn't know what he's doing. He's just on his own political agenda."

Patricia Golay pinched her nostrils at the suggestion that Crist is destined to be the Democratic nominee. "I'll hold my nose," she said with a laugh.

Some elected officials in Broward are more pragmatic about the Crist-Rich competition. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, a former Democratic House member, praised Rich's record as a lawmaker, but he said she faces an "impossible time" winning statewide and that Crist's "dynamic personality" makes him the best candidate against Gov. Rick Scott, who Seiler said has been unable to connect with real people.

Broward has nearly 564,000 registered Democrats, more than any other county. Unaffiliated voters have passed Republicans in registration there as well. Taken together, the "big three" counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach account for about one-third of Florida's 4.6 million Democrats.


CD19 donnybrook, part XXVII: Connie Mack vs. Brian Hughes


DonnybrookEver since cocaine Congressman Trey Radel resigned his Southwest Florida seat, the Republicans vying to replace him have torn each other up.

Today, their backers got into it on Twitter: Former Congressman Connie Mack (Curt Clawson's supporter) and consultant Brian Hughes (a former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott who's running Lizbeth Benacquisto's campaign).

Hughes kicked it off last night with this Tweet: "Lobbyist @ConnieMackIV 's other disgraced, hand picked candidate returns donor cash. http://www.politicalfixflorida.com...."

This morning it was Mack's turn:

Continue reading "CD19 donnybrook, part XXVII: Connie Mack vs. Brian Hughes" »

At predecessor's trial, Hialeah mayor admits to have taken part in city's 'shadow' banking


Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, testifying under oath Wednesday in the tax-evasion trial of his predecessor, acknowledged that he too had taken part in the city's “shadow” banking business that charged astronomical interest rates on loans.

That under-the-radar industry has put former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina in the cross-hairs of federal prosecutors. They have charged him and his wife with hiding some $2 million in income to avoid paying taxes — including secret cash payments from 36 percent interest charged on $750,000 in loans made to a convicted Ponzi schemer.

Hernandez doesn’t face any charges himself, but under questioning he admitted he collected the same inflated interest on $180,000 in loans he made to con man Luis Felipe Perez — contradicting denials he had issued during the 2011 mayoral campaign.

Back then, Hernandez had angrily denounced a Miami Herald story that reported he was paid about $100,000 in interest by Perez, calling it an attack on his integrity. He claimed that Perez had only repaid him part of the loan principal.

But at the Robainas’ criminal trial, Hernandez testified that he was paid a monthly rate of 3 percent interest — 36 percent annually — on a series of loans between 2007 and 2009. He answered “Yes, sir,” when questioned by prosecutor Richard Gregorie about his high-interest terms and payments.

More here.

April 16, 2014

Bill Nelson seeks local solution to expand Medicaid in Florida


Expanding Medicaid to cover thousands of uninsured Floridians has mostly been ignored by Republicans during this year's legislative session, but U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is making a last-ditch effort to get it done.

Medicaid is a joint state-federal program, though most of the expansion called for under the Affordable Care Act would be funded by Washington. Still, Florida Republicans have balked, claiming that in the future, the burden on state funds would be too great.

Politics may be an even bigger problem than money, since Medicaid expansion is key to the success of President Obama's signature health law.

For months, Nelson has sought a way around the opposition while still meeting federal requirements. He thinks he has found it in a never-tried-before plan: Using health care dollars raised by counties to get the $3.5 billion needed to draw down $51 billion in federal funding.

"If you really want to get it done, and if your reason for opposing it really was that you didn't want to commit state tax dollars in the out years to expanding Medicaid, then this is the opportunity to do that," Nelson said Wednesday.

Read more here.

Udonis Haslem makes pitch for the "Uber bill"

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, Uber is making an aggressive push to get its priority bills across the finish line.

The luxury-car mobile-dispatching service is throwing its considerable heft behind SB 1618 and HB 1389.

Originally, the proposals sought to let companies like Uber to circumvent municipalities and win approval from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But the bills were watered down in committee, and now would help Uber only in Hillsborough County.

Still, Uber considers the bills an important first step toward changing the regulatory landscape in Florida. So far, the company has only been able to establish itself Jacksonville. It has met roadblocks in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

The company's latest campaign includes an online petition (www.FloridaNeedsUber.com), a Twitter hashtag (#MOVEFLFORWARD) and a new radio ad.

Lending his voice: Miami Heat Forward Udonis Haslem.

In the radio spot, Haslem asks his fellow Floridians "to help to make sure Florida isn’t left standing on the curb while other states pass us by."

"We need choices in Florida, like Uber, that smartphone app where with a push of a button a car shows up to take you wherever you want to go," he says. "You’ve probably seen it used in other states, giving consumers more choices and lower costs, but it’s being blocked here in Florida."

Haslem then makes the pitch for SB 1618 and HB 1389.

Listen to the radio ad here.

The so-called Uber bills will be closely watched in the closing days of the session.

The House version, by Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, survived two close committee votes and is now poised for a hearing on the floor. Its companion in the Senate passed through only one committee, but is still in play.

Expect resistance from taxicab companies, who argue Uber should have to play by the same rules as traditional cabs. Local governments will fight the measure, too, saying they should have the authority to regulate transportation services. 


Rick Scott's latest positive ad: Navy


Upbeat and bearing an inspirational story in just 30 seconds, Gov. Rick Scott's latest TV ad is the kind that makes you want to vote for him. Plus, it's not misleading.

So far the governor has spent more than $5.2 million on TV since March 12. This latest spot, the fourth this spring, indicates he's not just mixing it up (positive-negative-negative-positive), he's on pace to unleash an ad campaign that the state has never seen before.

Cash keeps rolling into Florida's Congressional District 26 race


You know it's getting closer to election season when the two leading candidates for a congressional seat both send news releases touting their fundraising totals.

The incumbent, Miami Democrat Joe Garcia, said he received $463,083 in the first three months of the year, bringing his overall total to $2.3 million and his cash on hand to $1.6 million. His campaign bragged that its contributions and cash on hand have far exceeded his opponents'.

"I am proud to have earned the support of the people of Miami-Dade who share my commitment to prioritizing hard work, problem solving and bipartisan leadership over ideological bickering," Garcia said in part in a statement.

His nearest opponent, Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, said he received more than $310,000 in contributions in the last quarter, bringing his total to more than $950,000 and his cash on hand to about $800,000.

Curbelo's campaign trumpeted that more than half of its contributors reside in the district, which spans Kendall to Key West, and that it is "approaching" the $1 million mark in funds raised.

"We have strong support from our home district and from national conservative leaders such as Governor Jeb Bush and others," Curbelo said in part in a statement.

The other Republicans seeking the post are, in descending order of how much cash they have reported to have on hand: former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, lawyer Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck and Key Largo resident Jose Felix Peixoto. None has more than $50,000 cash on hand.

DEO challenges a local permit. Yes, that's news

From Bruce Ritchie of the Florida Current:

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is appealing a development permit in Lake County in what is the first challenge or appeal to a local land use decision since the department was created.

DEO was created in 2011 when the Legislature eliminated the Department of Community Affairs and shifted its planning division to the new economic development agency. The Legislature that year also rolled back most state oversight of local growth management decisions.

The new department still has not challenged any of the more than 29,000 comprehensive plans or amendments that have been proposed since 2011, according to DEO data. But the department is appealing to the governor and Cabinet a Lake County decision to approve 490 homes on 24 acres along with the removal of 3 million cubic yards of sand and soil from the property.

"The agency is near death but it's good to know there is still an ounce of breath in the body," said Tom Pelham, a land use attorney who twice served as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs. "They have finally challenged a local permit." Story here.