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Pamphlet problems and palm-card controversies: The shadow war between Rep. Artiles and former Rep. Zapata

Zap2With Hurricane Sandy sucking the air out of the presidential race, we now take you back to Miami-Dade County where the hot air is always blowing during election season.

Consider the county commission race between former state Rep. Juan Zapata and Manny Machado. He's backed by longtime Zapata opponent, Frank Artiles, a current state representative who lost two previous bids against the now termed-out Zapata. (Background on the race is here)

Zapata folks accuse Artiles of pulling a fast one and duping the local Republican Party over a palm card advising voters on how to fill out their ballots. Artiles accused Zapata of breaking a state rule over use of the state's seal in a brochure. A Zapata defender said Artiles doesn't understand the law.

The palm-card controversy erupted after Artiles helped persuade the Miami-Dade Republican Party to print up the handy cheat-sheets. He suggested a designer and printer. But Artiles didn't mention that he had used the same designer and printer himself for his own palm cards.

Guess what happened? The palm cards looked almost identical, except for the fact that the Artiles palm cards listed his name and recommended Machado. Zapata folks complained that Republicans would get confused and think the party endorsed Machado. So now the county party is reprinting the GOP cards. But in a different color.

"We're going to make a second run so there's no confusion," said county party chairman Ben Powell. "It was not our expectation that there would be this confusion."

PalmcardArtiles pointed out that his palm cards clearly listed his name. And Artiles found fault with a brochure of Zapata's that used the seals of Miami-Dade County and the state of Florida. He also said The Herald needed to report that Zapata has received loads of campaign money from lobbyists.

"I can't believe The Miami Herald is calling me about these palm cards when Juan Zapata is breaking the law," Artiles said, pointing to a state rule the prohibits the use of the state seal without permission from the Florida Department of State.

Artiles' accusation was the first we heard of Zapata's potential violation, so the Republican representative sent a photo of a Zapata campaign pamphlet that displayed the seal of Florida. And Artiles pointed out that Florida Administrative Code says a person needs "express written authorization from the Department [to]  manufacture, use, display or otherwise employ a facsimile or reproduction of the Great Seal of the State of Florida." And "in no event shall approval be given for the use of the Great Seal for the following: (a) Political or campaign purposes..."

But another former state Rep. and current elections-law lawyer, J.C. Planas, said Artiles got it wrong.

Said Planas in an email: "Frank Artiles has made an accusation regarding Juan Zapata’s use of state and county emblems. Frank Artiles is wrong in his interpretation of the law. The pamphlet does not promote any county or state agency nor does it do any form of advertising or electioneering. The seals are present to indicate that both state and county issues are on the ballots. The guide states the effect of the various proposals without taking a stand on any. There is no attempt to indicate that the pamphlet if from a county or state agency and it is not paid for by any campaign nor political agency. The pamphlet was produced at the expense on an individual to provide clarity on the various amendments and referendums."