State Rep. Frank Artiles is examining a run for Florida’s most-scandalous Congressional seat in a bid that could spell a bloody GOP primary in the shadow of big-dollar outside interests from the Genting Group casino company to the Miami Dolphins.
For the past few days, Artiles has been phoning political players about running for Congressional District 26 and even spoke Wednesday night to one of his potential Republican opponents, Miami-Dade School Board Member Carlos Curbelo.
“Carlos Curbelo is a friend of mine; I don’t have a problem with him,” said Artiles, stressing that he hasn’t made up his mind yet on whether to run for office.
“Miami politics is a full-contact sport.”
It’s also rife with innuendo and rivalry.
Artiles’ interest came just after fellow state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz decided not to run for the Kendall-to-Key West seat, intensifying speculation among Miami politicos that Miami-Dade delegation members hold a grudge against Curbelo for working as a consultant and lobbyist for Genting when it was implicated in funding opponents against three other legislators.
Curbelo has denied putting up candidates to run against the legislators -- Mike Bileca, Jeannete Nunez and Carlos Trujillo– for not backing Genting’s effort to bring casino gaming to downtown Miami.
“It’s a myth,” Curbelo said. “These people are friends of mine… Frank is a friend of mine as well.”
Artiles downplayed any talk of revenge. He said he was running because others had asked him to examine the race to knock of Democratic incumbent, Joe Garcia, whose campaign and congressional office are reeling from an absentee ballot-request fraud scandal.
Garcia won his seat against a scandal-plagued incumbent last year in a race where another candidate was convicted of federal crimes.
Meantime, Diaz, Trujillo and Bileca are actively being targeted by Stephen Ross, a fellow Republican who owns the Miami Dolphins and vowed revenge against them for their role in helping kill the team’s effort to secure public money to help fund a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium.
Ross' political group, Florida Jobs First, is reaching out to potential candidates to pose primary challenges to them and has trashed them in mailers.
Florida Jobs’ spokesman, Eric Jotkoff, credited the effort with keeping Diaz out of the CD-26 race and implied that Artiles is next.
“Diaz clearly opted out because he was afraid of the pressure we have brought and would continue to bring. But our focus is not just on these three, and frankly not just on Miami-Dade,” Jotkoff said.
“So if a guy who opposed creating 4,000 good jobs at a time when Miami-Dade needs them, and opposed giving voters a voice in the decision, opts to run for higher office, you can count on us to be involved.”
Florida Jobs also opposes Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, another candidate for CD-26 who travelled to Tallahassee to oppose the Dolphins’ stadium plan last year.
Artiles, who also spoke with the National Republican Congressional Committee about his potential candidacy, said he’d need to have a long conversation with his wife and kids about running for congress.
He said the threat of the Ross’ money is to be expected.
“When you get elected in Miami-Dade – whether it’s state, local or federal – you have to expect to get hit by special interests,” Artiles said.
Artiles acknowledged that he had a blemish on his record: His failure to move into his district quickly when he was elected in 2010. But, he pointed out, Garcia hasn’t yet moved into his congressional district, either.
The bevy of Republicans have lined up to take out Garcia, who occupies one of Florida’s few highly competitive Congressional seats, which he won after defeating U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who was nagged by federal investigations into his campaign and personal finances.
One candidate who ran against Garcia in the Democratic primary in 2012 was convicted in federal court of campaign-finance irregularities.
As if all the players weren’t confusing enough, two more camps have been drawn into the mix in Miami’s political gossip circle: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.
Other Republicans have whispered that Rubio supporters are still miffed at Curbelo’s initial involvement with Charlie Crist’s campaign against him in 2010, when the former governor was still a Republican.
But Curbelo points out that Rubio’s nephew plays a top role in his campaign.
Curbelo was a spokesman in 2008 for Diaz-Balart and his brother, former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, when they fended off Garcia and former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, respectively.
Martinez’s son now works for Garcia; and Lincoln Diaz-Balart has since retired and did work for Genting, bringing Curbelo along with him in 2011.