October 19, 2017

As white nationalists converge, lawmakers propose removing confederate monuments and holidays

Gainesville SpencerAs police and protesters prepare today in Gainesville for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak at the University of Florida, two state legislators, both Democrats, filed bills to remove the vestiges of the confederacy from Florida's statutes and public spaces.  

Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, filed HB 235 Thursday to remove from public property all monuments erected to memorialize members of the Confederate military or any other organization that espouses white supremacist or white separatist ideology.

“Who we once were cannot, and should not, continue to define who we are today as a state,” Jones said in a statement. “It is time that we assess this period in our history with the context it deserves and with the clear-eyed understanding that our ghosts are just that: spirits whose presence cannot continue to haunt us.”

Under his bill, the Department of Management Services would remove and relocate all monuments on public land to the Museum of Florida History by 2020.

Also on Thursday, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, filed HB 277 to remove the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Day from the list of legal holidays in Florida. 

“When I think of who should be honored with legal holidays, the types of people who come to mind are not those that cost millions of lives in the defense of slavery,” Moskowitz said in a statement. “I’m positive that celebrating racism shouldn’t be on the calendar each year.  It’s not erasing history to put it where it belongs; in a history book or a museum hall.”

Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring the companion bill, SB 224, in the Senate.

For more information on Gainesville's reaction to Spencer's arrival, follow the Miami Herald's live feed here.  

Photo via Alex Harris, Miami Herald @harrisalexc

October 18, 2017

Confusion over constitution review panel's open meetings rule causes another rift

CRC in Miami@MaryEllenKlas

Can members of the powerful panel that has the authority to put constitutional amendments directly on the November 2018 ballot discuss votes in secret and lobby each other?

That is the question Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari has been trying to get answered for six months. Now, his failure to get an answer, he said, could spell trouble for the commission.

As a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, Solari left the June 6 meeting of the commission baffled and confused.

The meeting was bitter and contentious as CRC chair Carlos Beruff created an inconsistent set of rules in an attempt to get the panel to approve rules Beruff wanted. Hours after the meeting, Solari sent a letter to CRC staff director Jeff Woodburn seeking clarification.

Does the open meeting rule adopted by the commission prohibit meetings between two or more CRC commissioners, preventing members from lobbying one another, he asked. Or does it use the looser standard, allowing up to two commissioners to meet in secret but require meetings of more than two of them to be open? Read more here. 

Koch-backed group urges Bill Nelson to support Trump's tax reform effort



For months, president Donald Trump and various conservative groups have courted moderate Democrats to join in their plan to overhaul the nation's tax system, which hasn't been significantly changed since 1986. 

This week, the Senate will likely vote on a 2018 budget proposal, and Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-backed group that is pushing for tax reform, is urging Sen. Bill Nelson to vote in favor in a new digital ad released on Wednesday.

"Nelson has hinted at being willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reform the tax code to make it more fair and efficient," AFP Florida director Chris Hudson said in a statement. "This is a once in a generation opportunity that deserves his full endorsement immediately."

Passing the budget plan would enable the GOP to proceed on their tax overhaul without a 60 vote threshold in the Senate, a necessity when Republicans only control 52 seats. Some moderate Democrats like North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin have indicated a willingness to work with Republicans on taxes. 

Nelson, one of 10 sitting Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump in 2016, voted against a procedural motion to start debate on the 2018 budget on Tuesday. The motion passed on a 50-47 party line vote. 


Watch the ad here.

October 16, 2017

Republicans trail Democrats in the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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Over a dozen hopefuls have filed paperwork to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope to flip in 2018. 

But six months after Ros-Lehtinen retired, the declared Democrats are soundly beating the Republicans in the money race. 

Five Democrats have raised well over six figures in the latest fundraising quarter and a sixth has hauled in over $200,000 since the spring.

But zero Republicans have raised anything close to $100,000 in the latest quarter spanning July 1 to September 30.

Three Republicans have posted fundraising results that were publicly available on the Federal Election Commission's website on Sunday. Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro hauled in $41,950, former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado raised $15,050 and former Doral council member Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said that aliens took her on a spaceship, raised $4,990. 

Regalado said in a statement posted to her Facebook page that she suspended her campaign just before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. Irma made landfall on September 10, about six weeks after Regalado officially announced her bid. 

"I made this decision knowing full well that all of the other candidates in this 2018 race would continue raising funds despite the challenges that we, our neighbors and fellow Floridians faced," Regalado said. "Rather than call and email my supporters for funds I decided to ask them to set this race aside and help our community recover." Regalado told the Miami Herald that she is fundraising this quarter.  

"The issue is that I officially became a candidate a week before the hurricane hit and during the hurricane all i did was help people," Rodriguez Aguilera said. "I didn’t think that was the moment to really fundraise." Rodriguez Aguilera announced her candidacy about 10 days before Irma made landfall. 

Barreiro, the only Republican who fundraised in the previous quarter, has just over $187,000 on hand for his campaign as of October 15. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A host of other Democrats and Republicans in South Florida suspended fundraising efforts due to Hurricane Irma, including Democrats running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

Seven Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman. All of them except Hepburn have raised over $100,000. 

In contrast to the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, sitting Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who also represents a Democratic-leaning district in South Florida, raised $431,580 during the latest quarter. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents a more conservative district without a big-name Democratic challenger, raised $199,766 in the latest quarter. 



Mike and Karen Pence set sights on Florida


via @adamsmithtimes

Florida will be seeing a lot of the Pences in coming weeks. Second Lady Karen Pence is scheduled to visit FSU to talk about her art therapy initiative. Then on Nov. 2 Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to headline the Republican Party of Florida’s 2017 Statesman Dinner, an annual fundraising event to be held at Disney World.

“The RPOF is excited to welcome Vice President Mike Pence back as our keynote speaker for this year’s Statesman’s Dinner,” said RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. “Florida was crucial in winning the 2016 election and Vice President Pence was instrumental in rallying the base of our great State. We look forward to yet another enthusiastic message from our VP touting our President’s agenda of prosperity, while catapulting us to victory in 2018!”

The party’s news release said “Pence will deliver the headlining remarks of the night echoing President Trump’s vision for a stronger, bolder nation, and rally attendees for a successful 2018 midterm elections.”

Tickets for non-Republican Executive Committee members cost $200, and the dinner will be at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando. More information here.

Carlos Curbelo outraises Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Miami congressional race

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Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo outraised his main Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the latest federal fundraising quarter. 

Curbelo raised $431,580 from July 1 to September 30 while Mucarsel-Powell raised $177,048, according to Federal Election Commission records. The latest quarter is Mucarsel-Powell's first fundraising total since announcing her bid for Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West seat in August.

Curbelo's fundraising numbers were down this quarter, as many South Florida politicians chose to suspend fundraising for weeks due to Hurricane Irma. Last quarter, Curbelo raised $705,026. His campaign has raised over $1.7 million in the 2018 cycle so far, putting him 21st nationally among all House incumbents and challengers. 

The Miami-to-Key West district is one of the most Democratic-leaning in the country currently represented by a Republican in Congress, but Curbelo, a second-term Republican, has garnered financial support from some local Democrats and is one of his party's leading voices on climate change. 

Mucarsel-Powell has $161,762 cash on hand while Curbelo has $1.3 million. 

In a statement, Mucarsel-Powell blasted Curbelo's vote for legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare. 

"This race comes down to a choice: Carlos Curbelo and Washington Republicans have spent years trying to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare coverage," Mucarsel-Powell said. "I've spent my career working to expand access to those who need it the most in our communities, I know we must improve on what is working and fix what is broken not abandon those who need health care access the most."

Three other Democrats have filed to run for Curbelo's seat, though none of them have reported any fundraising totals as of October 16. Curbelo does not have any announced primary challengers.

Miami politician says aliens took her on a spaceship. Now she’s running for Congress.

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Florida has a U.S. senator who once flew aboard the Space Shuttle.

A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she’s been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials.

Three blond, big-bodied beings — two females, one male — visited her when she was 7 years old and have communicated telepathically with her several times in her life, she says. (Sen. Bill Nelson served as payload officer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. All seven people aboard were from Earth. As far as is known.)

Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview.

She described “going up” inside the spaceship — though whether it went into space or just hovered around town was left unclear

“I went in. There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

In two separate videos posted to YouTube years ago, one by local Spanish-language station America TeVe and another by a political critic with the user name DoralGirl26, Rodriguez Aguilera spoke on television in detail about her extraterrestrial experiences. She said the alien beings reminded her of the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, with arms outstretched.

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

The Miami Herald asked Rodriguez Aguilera about her experiences Friday. She responded with a statement that waxed astronomical but failed to mention close encounters of any kind.

“For years people, including Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and astronauts have publicly claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects and scientists like Stephen Hawking and institutions like the Vatican have stated that there are billions of galaxies in the universe and we are probably not alone,” she said. “I personally am a Christian and have a strong belief in God, I join the majority of Americans who believe that there must be intelligent life in the billions of planets and galaxies in the universe.”

Read more here.

October 15, 2017

Nelson says he'll encourage Puerto Ricans newly arrived in Florida to register to vote


SAN  JUAN -- Sen. Bill Nelson doesn't know how many Puerto Ricans have made their way to Florida since Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island on Sept. 20. And he doesn't know how many plan to stay on the mainland as their home slowly recovers.

But if they plan to stick around the Sunshine State, the Florida Democrat wants them to go to the polls in 2018, when he's up for reelection.

"If they will register to vote, which I'm certainly going to encourage, because I can tell you among the Puerto Rican community in the greater Orlando area, they have been very embracing of my public service," he said at a San Juan news conference after  Puerto Rican reporter asked him about the post-storm migration. "The question is how many will want to register, and how many will want to return."

Standing next to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Nelson took pains to say he wasn't encouraging Puerto Ricans to depart forever. Puerto Ricans worry an exodus of working professionals -- on the heels of years of emigration during the island's financial crisis -- will only make it more difficult for the economy to get going again.

"It could be a while coming before things get back," Nelson said, referring in particular to the island's destroyed power grid. "I will certainly encourage our fellow citizens to return home."

The question of how a wave of Puerto Ricans,, who tend to vote Democratic, could reshape Florida politics is perhaps more urgent for Nelson than for any other statewide politician. He faces a potential challenge next year from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration has set up relief centers for Puerto Rican arrivals at Orlando and Miami airports and seaports to assist them with schooling, housing and employment.

Also advocating on Puerto Ricans' behalf: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the first mainland politicians to trek to the island after the storm. At the time, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, referred to Rubio as the closest thing the island had to a senator of its own.

"I have zero concern" of what an influx of Puerto Ricans might do to Florida politically, Rubio told the Miami Herald in a recent intervew. "What's the difference between that and people moving here from New York, New Jersey or Carlifornia?

"It's not a problem," he added. "It's a problem for Puerto Rico. It's not a problem for Florida." 

Nelson said he wanted to visit Puerto Rico earlier. But a planned trip last weekend was canceled. So he hopped on a JetBlue flight to San Juan early Saturday morning.

He didn't just want to get the politician tour, he said. He wanted to go inland, to the hard-hit central mountains still struggling to get aid.

So Nelson boarded a helicopter with Rosselló and flew to Utuado, a town that has become a symbol of just how badly Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico.

"The main river there, it's washed out a number of the bridges," Nelson said. "But the people are very ingenious. They have strung a line with a pulley system" to get supplies across, using a supermarket cart over the water.

Without naming names, Nelson criticized fellow mainland lawmakers who have remarked after flying over Puerto Rico that the devastation doesn't look so bad because the island's homes weren't flattened.

"Well, they don't know what's happening inside that concrete structure that is wet, and now the mold and mildew is building up," Nelson said. "This is the story that I will tell tomorrow afternoon on the floor of the United States Senate, because a lot of the reports that have come back have not told about the extent of the damage."

Rosselló called Nelson a longtime "champion for Puerto Rico, and a great friend," and alluded to the help the island will need to get an aid package through Congress soon.

"Now more than ever we're going to need him and his colleagues to continue championing our efforts here," Rosselló said.

October 14, 2017

Miami commissioner Ken Russell joins race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

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Congress could get its first professional yo-yo player if Ken Russell makes it to Washington.

The current Miami city commissioner, who once traveled around the world to showcase his yo-yo skills, told the Miami Herald that he is officially joining the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I love my job as city commissioner and once Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement it started a new conversation,” Russell said. “It’s almost serendipity that [her retirement] is coinciding with what’s going on with the federal government. Instantly, I felt inside this is something I want to do.”


Russell set up an exploratory committee in May to gauge his electoral prospects and begin fundraising. After conducting internal polling, Russell concluded that there was a path to victory, even though other Democrats jumped in the race.

The 44-year-old, who won a Miami city commission seat in 2015, is now the eighth Democrat who has declared a candidacy for a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope they can flip in 2018. The district is among the most Democratic-leaning in the country that is currently represented by a Republican.

“There’s a lot of good people running, we’re all very different,” Russell said. We come from different backgrounds, we appeal to different backgrounds, we all have different visions.”

Seven others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Mark Anthony Person and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman.

Russell, who said his interest in politics started when the park across the street from his house was fenced off because of environmental neglect, plans to highlight the need for infrastructure development to offset sea level rise during his campaign.

“In Miami it’s more prevalent than anywhere else in the country, we cannot expel the water from our streets,” Russell said, adding that the Trump presidency will dominate a lot of the conversation during a Democratic primary but that the electorate will be attracted to a candidate “who is looking beyond the Trump years and has a vision.”

Read more here.

October 10, 2017

Levine hires political fundraiser ahead of possible Florida gubernatorial bid


Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has hired a political fundraiser, a significant step in his potential 2018 bid for Florida governor.

Levine's political committee, All About Florida, announced the hiring Tuesday morning of Courtney Whitney, a Democratic fundraiser who has worked for Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former Miami Rep. Joe Garcia. The committee has already collected nearly $4.8 million since its formation in February, including about $2.6 million from Levine himself.

"Mayor Levine possesses a unique entrepreneurial background, with a robust network of international business leaders," Whitney said in a statement. "This won't be a traditional fundraising operation, and I am thrilled to be a part of the team at All About Florida for this one-of-a-kind opportunity."

Levine's team includes Christian Ulvert, fresh off state Sen. Annette Taddeo's special-election victory last month, and Matthew Van Name, former campaign manager for St. Petersburg Rep. Charlie Crist.

Were Levine to jump into the Democratic primary -- a decision he intends to announce in November -- he'd have already outraised Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Tallahassee Rep. Gwen Graham and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King. Orlando atrial attorney John Morgan, another potential Democratic candidate, recently had a friendly meeting with Levine and posted about it on Twitter.

Last month, Levine traveled to Puerto Rico to deliver Hurricane Maria relief supplies to San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz -- and took the opportunity to criticize President Donald Trump on national television for a slow response to storm's devastation.