November 06, 2017

Code of silence is breaking on Tallahassee’s sex secrets

AIF Keeler 2015

@maryellenklas @stevebousquet @patriciamazzei

For decades, sex has been a tool and a toy for the politically powerful in the male-dominated world of politics in Florida’s capital. Now it’s a weapon.

Allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and infidelity among the state’s legislators flew like shrapnel from a bomb blast in recent weeks, destroying much of the trust left in the Republican-controlled Legislature and replacing it with suspicion and finger pointing.

The latest target, Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, was accused by six unnamed women Friday of inappropriate touching and verbal harassment. Shortly after Politico Florida first reported the allegations, Senate President Joe Negron called them “atrocious and horrendous” and ordered an investigation. Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and candidate for governor, denied the allegations, said he welcomed the probe, and vowed a fight to “clear my name.”

The claims followed the abrupt resignation of one of Latvala’s allies, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens of Atlantis on Oct. 26 — after he admitted to an affair with a lobbyist — and the revelation that a state senator had discovered a surveillance camera placed by a private investigator in a condominium where several legislators stay during the annual session.

“It’s almost like a dark state going on in Tallahassee,” said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and critic of the “culture of Tallahassee that compromises the process” because “priorities are shaped not on policy, but on relationships.”

For decades, that culture used attractive people as tools to cajole the powerful, and rumors of affairs were used to extort favors. Now, in the era of Harvey Weinstein and social media, women have been empowered to speak out about sexual harassment. But in Tallahassee, where questions are raised about the political motive of every leaked allegation, the claims of unidentified accusers can get tangled in the bitter political forces of Florida’s 2018 election year.

Complicating the quest for justice, said Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami lawyer and recently retired state legislator, are those questions about political motives. “All these stories, and all these allegations, are they being instigated by other legislators with a singular purpose? Is it being strategic, or is it being done for the purpose of truly bringing justice to the system?”

Read more here. 

October 31, 2017

Rep. Daisy Baez: 'I will tender my resignation'


State Rep. Daisy Baez will resign her Florida House seat Wednesday ahead of pleading guilty to perjury in a criminal case over her legal residency, she told the Miami Herald late Tuesday.

As part of an agreement with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Coral Gables Democrat will also pay a $1,000 fine, take an ethics course and serve one year of probation, during which she’ll be banned from seeking public office.

“On November 1, I will tender my resignation as a member of the Florida House of Representatives,” Baez said in a statement. “I want to thank the residents of Florida, Miami-Dade County and District 114 for giving me the opportunity to serve, it’s been a great honor.

“When I began my service as a Representative last year, I vowed to serve the public interest to the best of my ability and I am confident I have done so. As I return to my life as a private citizen, I pledge to continue fighting for universal healthcare, empowering our teachers, and improving the quality of life for the youngest, most vulnerable Floridians.”

Baez was returning to Miami on Tuesday from the Dominican Republic, where she buried her mother, who died last week. 

Prosecutors began investigating after the Herald reported on May 16 that Baez did not appear to live in House District 114, as required by the Florida Constitution. She claimed she rented an apartment inside the district.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

October 10, 2017

Taddeo joins Florida Senate as first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to chamber

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Beginning her service in Tallahassee this week as Florida’s newest state senator, Miami Democrat Annette Taddeo said she aims to be “a voice of inclusion, a voice of opportunity for all.”

“Just bringing the voice of the people,” Taddeo said at the state Capitol Tuesday morning after she was officially sworn in as District 40’s next senator. “It was not just a hashtag when we said it was ‘a people-powered campaign’ — it was truly born from the community and I’m very proud of that.”

Taddeo won a special election on Sept. 26 to replace disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who resigned in April. Her upset win over former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, helped the Democrats secure an additional seat in the Senate, narrowing the Republican majority to 24-16.

In joining the Senate, the Colombian-born Taddeo also became the first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to the chamber.

“It’s a humbling experience; I’m very excited and honored to be given this responsibility,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Full story here.


Photo credit: State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, center, is sworn in to office by Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince on Oct. 10, 2017. She was joined at her swearing-in ceremony by her 11-year-old daughter Sofia Taddeo-Goldstein, her husband Eric Goldstein and her mother Elizabeth Taddeo. [Florida Senate]

August 31, 2017

Rubio records robocall for Miami Senate candidate Diaz

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has lent his name -- and now, his voice -- to help a Republican friend campaign for the Florida Senate in Miami.

Rubio recorded a robocall in English and Spanish for state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who's running in a special Sept. 26 election for Senate District 40. Diaz faces Democrat Annette Taddeo and independent Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth.

Rubio had already been featured in a mailer for Diaz, asking voters to sign up to vote by mail. The robocall "chases" those forms, asking voters to return them.

Here's the call script, transcribed from an audio of the call obtained by the Miami Herald:

His, this is Sen. Marco Rubio. I'm calling on behalf of my good friend Jose Felix Diaz, who's a candidate for state Senate District 40. I recently mailed you an absentee-ballot request form, and it's important that you return it today. Jose Felix Diaz voted to cut taxes by over a billion dollars in the past two years, saving you and your family money on school supplies, property taxes and small businesses. Jose will be what he's always been, a tireless champion for your family in the Florida Senate. But he needs your help to get there, so please return your absentee-ballot request form today.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

August 24, 2017

Taddeo fundraiser will feature former presidential candidate O'Malley

FullSizeRender (35)@PatriciaMazzei

An unexpected guest is headlining an upcoming fundraiser for Miami Democratic Senate candidate Annette Taddeo: one-time 2016 presidential candidate Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley, the former Maryland governor, will join other Taddeo supporters Tuesday at the posh Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Taddeo is running in a special Sept. 26 Senate Districit 40 election against Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

O'Malley dropped out of the 2016 race after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, but he may still have future presidential ambitions -- which explains why he's trying to be helpful to a Democrat in swing-state Florida.

Also hosting the reception are a slew of state and local elected Democrats, activists, attorneys and donors, according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald.

Taddeo raised more than $152,000 from July 21-Aug. 18, the latest campaign-finance reports show. But that still lagged behind Diaz, who raked in more than $382,000. The primary was July 25.

Republicans expect to spend $3 million in the expensive race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who resigned in scandal in April.

Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth is also running, without party affiliation.

August 19, 2017

Taddeo denounces GOP ad that casts her as apologist for Castro, FARC

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@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Democratic Senate candidate Annette Taddeo has denounced as false an explosive Spanish-language radio ad from Florida Republicans casting her as — wait for it — a tax-hiker, job-offshorer, Colombian-guerrilla sympathizer and Fidel Castro apologist.

The ad reflects a tried-and-true campaign tack in Miami politics: paint your opponent as soft on Cuba, or soft on Communism.

Particularly offensive to Taddeo is the suggestion that she wanted to “legitimize” the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Taddeo was born in Colombia and fled as a teenager after the FARC captured her father, an American military veteran, at the family ranch.

“How dare my opponent, lobbyist Jose Felix Diaz, use our community’s painful history for political gain?” Taddeo said in a statement. “My father was kidnapped by the FARC and my family had to flee Colombia because of our safety.”

She will face Diaz, a state representative, and independent candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth in the special Sept. 26 Senate District 40 election to replace Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in disgrace in April. 

The ad claims that “when [former President Barack] Obama insisted on a peace plan in Colombia that would legitimize the FARC, Taddeo put partisanship over everything else to support it.”

More here.

Listen to the radio ad here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

August 10, 2017

Florida Democrats release first TV ad for Taddeo in Miami Senate race. It's all about Trump


Florida Democrats are going up on TV first in a special Miami Senate election, trying to portray Republican Jose Felix Diaz as a lackey of President Donald Trump.

The spot by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee begins with Trump on the TV -- and Democrat Annette Taddeo turning it off.

"Families are too busy to worry about this drama," she says, rattling off a list of education and especially health care issues she argues are more important to voters. "But Jose Felix Diaz supports Trump's every move."

Ballots don't go out til later this month for the Sept. 26 election for Senate District 40. But Republicans far outraised Democrats in the primary, and got more of their voters to the polls -- suggesting Democrats had some catching up to do ahead of the general. 

"This is going to be a close race," incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens said in a statement.

During the primary, all three Republicans vying for the GOP nomination campaigned on their Trump connections to appeal to base voters with whom the president remains quite popular. But that left Diaz, the eventual winner, vulnerable to Trump attacks in the general.

August 07, 2017

Florida Democrats go after 'Trumpcare' in special Miami Senate election

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Florida Democrats are attempting to tie Republican Senate candidate Jose Felix Diaz to President Donald Trump through Obamacare.

Repealing or replacing Affordable Care Act is not under the purview of the Florida Legislature, though state legislators did choose not to expand Medicaid under the law.

But campaign fliers sent over the past few days to Democratic Senate District 40 voters in Miami accuse both Diaz, a sitting state representative, and Trump of trying to worsen healthcare coverage. South Florida has some of the highest rate of enrollment in the ACA's federal insurance exchanges.

"Jose Felix Diaz would bring Trumpcare to Florida (and cost millions of Floridians their health care)," reads the flier from the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, accusing them of pushing a plan that would increase premiums and leave people uncovered.

Democrats had signaled they would go after Diaz's personal Trump connection: He was once a contestant on Trump's "The Apprentice" reality TV show.

Diaz is running in a special Sept. 26 general election against Democrat Annette Taddeo. They're vying to replace former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles.

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August 02, 2017

Taddeo settles AmEx lawsuit


Democratic Florida Senate candidate Annette Taddeo said she settled a lawsuit Wednesday with American Express over what the company had claimed were nearly $38,000 in unpaid charges.

The terms of the lawsuit were kept private. In a statement, Taddeo's campaign spokesman said the lawsuit "has been amicably resolved by both parties." AmEx sued Taddeo and her translation business, LanguageSpeak, in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last month. 

"As mentioned earlier, LanguageSpeak worked diligently to resolve this matter in short order and speaks to Annette Taddeo's well respected record as a longtime successful business owner of nearly 25 years," spokesman Christian Ulvert said. "Further, unlike her opponent, Annette has disclosed more than needed as this matter pertains to company matters, not personal credit cards."

At the time she was sued, Taddeo claimed the suit was politically motivated. She's running for Senate District 40 in a special Sept. 26 election against Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

An AmEx attorney did not immediately respond to a emailed request for comment late Wednesday.

Ulvert used the lawsuit settlement to urge Diaz, an attorney who does lobbying work, to "offer a complete and full account of his clients, retainers paid, issues that were before the Legislature that conflicted with his public service and any activity he engaged in as lobbyist in Miami-Dade County."

July 31, 2017

Who will be the next South Florida Water Management district director?

Everglades sunrise by Jon KralWho will be the next director of the South Florida Water Management District?

The board convenes today in a conference call to announce a replacement to outgoing director Pete Antonacci, who was named by Gov. Rick Scott last week to head the embattled Enterprise Florida economic development agency, a lateral move for the governor's former general counsel and loyal supporter.

The replacement director may be an interim appointment or permanent -- potentially, only an 18-month job -- and the candidates include:

  • Ernie Marks, director of Everglades Policy and Coordination. He is considered the favorite of Antonacci, having moved to the district as recently as March 2016 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission where he was South Florida regional director. He previously worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as Director of the Office of Ecosystem Projects and as a regulatory manager.
  • Terrie Bates, water resources director for the district, is a three-decade veteran of the agency. She manages the WMD's scientific focus on ecosystem and technology research.
  • Jeff Kivett, former director of the districts's operations, engineering and construction, who left in 2016 and is now vice president of the Northern California area at Brown & Caldwell, a California engineering firm. 
  •  Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has been with the state since 2007 and before that spent 16 years with the EPA. 

Once the new, or interim ED is in place, one question ahead is whether the  new director will pivot the agency to reversing the decision by Antonacci to sever ties with the National Academies of Science. Antonacci apparently took the governor's office, and his political staff, by surprise when he announced to the governing board that he no longer wanted his staff to continue the relationship with the top scientists charged with reviewing the Everglades project. 

The organization has a $358,000 annual contract with the SFWMD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review Everglades restoration progress and to produce a report every other year.

In a July 5 letter to Stephanie Johnson of the NAS, Antonacci referred to an agenda for the August 2017 Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress (CISRERP), criticizing it.  "It is plain on the face of the proposed agenda that your panel of distinguished scientists are being lead (sic) down a path of unscientific meddling into the art of budgeting, management and operation by entities designated for such purpose," he wrote.

He complained that "top down Washington nitpicking" was adding "little to the goals of Everglades Restoration" and suggested, for example, that the "development of a Combined Operation Plan" in South Miami-Dade was not helpful to Everglades restoration.

He added that if the group continued to "put science on the back burner," the SFWMD "will have no choice but to legally withdraw from any financial commitments" and he suggested the agency could instead rely on the University of Florida Water Institute, which was hired by the Florida Senate to author a 2015 a report on Everglades restoration.

Among the issues on the draft agenda was an update on Senate Bill 10 which asked the question:

"Does the Senate Bill in essence direct the Corps and District to choose the more expensive but slightly more effective '2nd best option' presented in the CEPP...i.e. the 12' deep 21,000 ac reservoir with 7000 ac STA on the A1-A2 footpront (sic) (estimated to cost $2B more but provide 2-% greater benefits?)

Antonacci was harshly critical of the Senate proposal to build a water-storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to offset the need for damaging water releases into nearby estuaries, arguing that buying land would postpone other needed improvements.

"It is well-recognized that more storage is needed system-wide, however, the myopic focus on land acquisition south of Lake Okeechobee does little to contribute to restoration success,'' he wrote in a letter to Miami-Dade commissioners.

In its latest report, the NAS noted that less than 18 percent of the $16 billion effort needed to complete the restoration project has been funded.

In his July letter, Antonacci suggested replacing the National Academies group with scientists from the University of Florida's Water Institute.

When Johnson responded in a letter, saying that "some information on budget and management is necessary for the Committee to understand the broader context for restoration progress and the relative impact of scientific issues," Antonacci was blunt.

He accused the group of "highly objectionable mission-creep" and suggested that the WMD staff "will not participate in your August meeting."

More from Craig Pittman here: Everglades restoration project leader tells top scientists: Stay in your lane