May 24, 2018

Special session to boost education funding? It's not happening. Republicans vote for status quo.

By Jeffrey Solochek, Tampa Bay Times Corcoran and Sheve Jones

To almost no one's surprise, a last ditch effort to bring Florida lawmakers back to Tallahassee for another conversation about public education funding has failed.

A group of House Democrats, led by Reps. Shevrin Jones and Nicholas Duran, used an obscure law by which 20 percent of the Legislature could require a poll to determine whether a special session would take place.

Three-fifths of the members in each chamber would have to agree. The vote fell far short.

In the House, all 41 Democrats supported the measure. Not a single Republican did.

In the Senate, all 16 Democrats backed the call. Not one Republican joined them. In fact, the nearly half the Senate Republicans did not even participate in the survey, including former president Tom Lee (Hillsborough), future president Wilton Simpson (Pasco) and president pro tempore Anitere Flores (Miami-Dade).

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the survey results Thursday, after the noon deadline had passed. The outcome was all but certain two days earlier, though, as the emerging tally made clear the 60 percent threshold wouldn't be reached.

The Democrats made their push amid school leader complaints that the state's public education budget for the coming fiscal year did not include enough added funding to cover rising daily costs, while also not meeting the Legislature's demands for increased school security and mental health services.

Republican leaders fired back with a video insisting the state's education funding had reached record levels, and arguing the detractors misrepresented the budget. Gov. Rick Scott also stood by the spending plan, which he signed despite calls for a veto by superintendents and others.

Rep. Jones, the ranking Democrat on the House Education committee, said it was unfortunate the effort failed.

"I'm thankful for my Democratic colleagues for understanding and keeping true to our values, which we have consistently been fighting for," he said. "We will continue our commitment to fight on behalf of our teachers and on behalf of our students.

"How do we do that? The people will always rise."

Students, parents and educators are becoming fed up with a legislative system that does not share that priority, Jones said, suggesting the electorate will take matters into its own hands.

"We fight on," he said.

Soon after Detzner's official pronouncement that the special session hadn't passed, the Florida Education Association issued a statement noting that Scott easily could have called lawmakers back on his own, if he had the will.

"This is very sad news for our schools, but no surprise given the current political landscape," FEA president Joanne McCall said in the release. "It's sad news for all of us, because the whole state loses when public education is harmed. The only bright spot I see, going forward, is that we can change our political landscape this fall at the polls."

House Democratic leaders who called for the session could not be immediately reached for comment.

Related: Florida Dems use obscure law in last-ditch effort to call Legislature back for more school funding 

Photo: Rep. Shevrin Jones confers with House Speaker Richard Corcoran in a recent Florida legislative session. [The Florida House]

 

How a Miami Republican is leading a last-gasp shot at an immigration vote in Congress

Curbelo

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is leading a last-gasp shot to change the nation's immigration laws after years of inaction, and he's been furiously trying to rally dissatisfied Republicans over the past three weeks to bypass House Speaker Paul Ryan and force a series of votes on the House floor on immigration in the next few days..

Here's what you need to know.

On May 9, Curbelo introduced a petition to change the rules in the House of Representatives to allow votes on four immigration-related bills. The bill that receives the most support beyond a simple majority passes the House and heads to the Senate for consideration.

Within hours, 17 Republicans signed Curbelo's petition, including Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Curbelo and California Republican Rep. Jeff Denham have led an arm-twisting effort over the past two weeks to get more Republicans on board, and now they are two Republican signatures short of the 25 GOP votes they need to reach a majority if every single Democrat signs the petition.

The petition would force a vote on the following bills:

A conservative immigration bill embraced by the majority of House Republicans that doesn't have enough support to pass.

▪A bill called the DREAM Act that would protect DACA recipients and DACA-eligible young people who didn't sign up for the program from deportation and give them a path to citizenship.

▪A bill that gives DACA-eligible young people a path to citizenship while also including funding for border security.

▪A fourth bill of Speaker Ryan's choosing.

Read more here.

The Republican Governors Association has a target in Florida: Gwen Graham

Screen Shot 2018-05-23 at 11.23.01 AM_1
A screenshot of the Republican Governors Association website from Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

If there is a candidate for Florida Governor that the Republican Governors Association doesn't seem to like, it's Gwen Graham.

Nine of the association's latest news releases from Florida take aim at the the former Congresswoman, who is considered a front-runner but slightly behind in polls to former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

The releases, all in the month of May, have the typical headlines you'd expect from members of the opposite party, calling Graham "desperate" or "phony" or having been "caught misleading voters." 

The association, whose stated purpose is "electing and supporting Republican governors," apparently has someone surreptitiously recording the candidate. Its latest release features a video by someone secretly recording while asking Graham a question about taxes at a campaign event.

The RGA hasn't focused solely on Graham, though. The last time they did a press release that targeted another candidate was back in March, when they did a post mentioning that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is "catching fire" among Democrats. (They previously noted that Gillum is "surging" among Democrats.)

Why the focus on Graham? The RGA didn't respond to a request for comment. The current chairman of the RGA is Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for senate, was vice chairman of the organization last year.

As for Graham's camp, they're brushing it off:

"Focusing so many of their attacks on Democrat Gwen Graham, seems like 'R.G.A.' really stands for 'Republican Graham Anxiety,'" Graham campaign manager Julia Woodward said in a statement. "The Republican Governor’s Association fears 20 years of one-party rule is coming to an end in Florida, and they clearly know Gwen is the one who’s going to end the Republican lock on the governor’s office in November."

May 22, 2018

Democrats reserve $1.9 million in Miami TV airtime ahead of 2018 election

Debate 27

@alextdaugherty

A Washington-based organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives is locking in its TV airtime for the fall. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that it reserved $1.9 million in the Miami market ahead of Election Day 2018. Campaign committees and other political organizations typically reserve airtime in advance to receive cheaper advertising rates. The Miami reservation, part of a $12.6 million nationwide ad buy was first reported by Inside Elections.

It's not clear yet which Democrats stand to benefit from the outside television presence. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores will likely be the Democratic nominees challenging incumbent Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, while five Democrats are seeking to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for an open seat that is expected to be a pickup opportunity for Democrats in November. 

None of the Broward County-based seats, currently represented by Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch are expected to be competitive races for Republicans. 

The GOP equivalent of the DCCC, the National Republican Congressional Committee, previously announced a $3.2 million ad reservation in the Miami media market in March as part of a $46.3 million ad buy nationwide. Running TV ads in Miami is an expensive proposition and most congressional campaigns must run English and Spanish language ads. 

The NRCC does not get involved in Republican primaries, but their money will likely be spent to support Curbelo, Diaz-Balart and whoever emerges from a nine-way GOP primary in Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

A Super PAC called the House Majority PAC that also seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives also announced a $1.1 TV ad reservation in March.

Patrick Murphy, David Jolly build momentum in first national TV appearance as a pair

Murphyjolly-msnbc
Former Congressmen Patrick Murphy (left) and David Jolly (center) discuss their potential bipartisan ticket for Florida governor on MSNBC on May 21. | Courtesy of Preston Rudie


In a quick four-minute appearance on MSNBC Monday afternoon, former Congressmen Patrick Murphy and David Jolly gave what seemed to be an elevator pitch for their potential run for governor and lieutenant governor.

"The reality is most Floridians disagree on issues but they have to choose on lane or the other," Jolly said. "We're talking about a lane where everybody has a home."

Under the proposed plan, Murphy, a Democrat, would run for governor and would nominate Jolly, a Republican, as his running mate after making it through the primary.

The cable news spot — set against a "Purple Ticket?" broadcast news banner — marked the pair's first national TV appearance together, after a tour of college campuses and local TV stations discussing gridlock in Washington and the need for more bipartisanship. Jolly also is a regular guest on MSNBC and Fox who often criticizes President Trump.

One issue Murphy and Jolly highlighted where they find common ground is that of gun control. Ten students and teachers were killed at a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday.

Jolly suggested universal background checks and making it more difficult for people to get assault rifles, calling his fellow Republican's post-shooting policy solutions "absolute garbage."

And Murphy called gerrymandering, or the redrawing of legislative districts to give one party an advantage in elections, "the single biggest problem with partisanship in our country." Florida's next governor will be in office when the state is required to start redrawing its districts for both the state Legislature and Congress in 2022.

But the show's anchor, Katy Tur, pressed them for more than just soundbites.

"I'm still not entirely sure why you're not running and announcing that you're running," she said to chuckles from both men.

"We've got about two to three weeks until qualifying," Jolly said, referring to the paperwork deadline to officially run for statewide office on June 22.

Jolly told the Times/Herald that the duo have ruled out any third-party run, and if they decide to join the race it will definitely be as a bipartisan ticket.

Legal experts have told them the idea is viable, according to Politico Florida, only increasing the political buzz. They have more national TV hits planned for Tuesday: on MSNBC again around 7:40 a.m. for the "Morning Joe" show and on Fox News in the 7 p.m. hour.

And supporters have conducted polling that shows they could have an edge among Democratic primary voters, many of whom are still undecided three months before the polls open.

"I don’t know whether or not they are running," said Democratic pollster Steve Vancore, who was not involved in the early Murphy-Jolly poll. "But I do know ... I have heard their plea and their ridiculously common-sense concepts about cooperation and commitment to working across the aisle to get things done."

May 21, 2018

Scott blitzes Florida with TV ads. Nelson holds off. That's how Scott won last time.

CIA Haspel

@alextdaugherty

Bill Nelson is an incumbent without the advantages of incumbency.

Florida's only statewide elected Democrat is in a career-defining U.S. Senate race against Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire with unlimited campaign cash and nearly universal name recognition in the state, for better or worse. And so far, Scott is attempting to define Nelson through $8 million in television ads across the state, including Spanish-language ads in Miami.

The early TV blitz raises the question: When is Nelson going to respond?

"The question is not how much money you have or how much money you spend but what is effective," Nelson said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office, where he was waiting to vote on Gina Haspel's nomination as CIA director in Washington while Scott was criss-crossing Florida switching between his official office and campaign mode. . "And so, to be determined. But I'm choosing not to use my hard-earned dollars now."

Nelson declined to say when he will spend his money and what type of message he plans to communicate to voters. But timing a television pitch too late could be Nelson's undoing.

Rep. Charlie Crist, who lost a statewide race to Rick Scott in 2014 by 1 percentage point, said months of television ads by Scott without a response from his campaign was one of the big reasons why he came up short.

"Back in '14 we were unanswering on television for like three months just because of the resource issue," Crist said. "You can handle it for a while but sooner or later you've got to start to respond."

Television advertising is essential and expensive in a state with 20 million people and six of the country's top 100 television markets, including the country's third-largest Spanish-speaking television market in South Florida.

Scott went up on television almost immediately after officially announcing his Senate bid on April 9, meaning Nelson has been playing the television waiting game for over 6 weeks, trying to amass campaign cash through fundraisers while also fulfilling his role as a lawmaker in Washington Monday through Thursday.

Crist said he expects Nelson to be up on TV imminently, though Nelson won't divulge when he'll take the seven-figure plunge. Nelson noted that he had done 44 events during the first five weeks of his campaign, though many of them were fundraisers. He took issue with the suggestion that he isn't campaigning aggressively, but acknowledged the disparity on television.

"I would ask you to question your premise there about him being more aggressive," Nelson said, as he propped his feet on a desk. "If you want to define that in terms that he has TV up, that’s correct, but not in the way the campaign is being conducted."

Read more here.

Rubio introduces bill to expand tax credits in Puerto Rico

Rubio

@alextdaugherty

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a bill last week that would implement multiple tax changes in Puerto Rico after the measures were not included in a massive disaster relief bill passed late last year after Hurricane Maria. 

Rubio's bill, called the Puerto Rican Empowerment Act, would implement recommendations from a bipartisan congressional task force on Puerto Rico that finished its work in late 2016. The bill includes an expansion of the child tax credit to all children in Puerto Rico, which reduces some families’ tax bill for every child they have under the age of 17. Currently, the child tax credit doesn’t apply to Puerto Rican families unless they have three children or more.

“This bill would enact critical tax provisions for Puerto Rico excluded from the recent disaster relief package, like a payroll tax holiday and expanded child tax credit, which would help alleviate the tax burden for Puerto Ricans rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria,” Rubio said in a statement. 

Rubio, who introduced the legislation with Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, sparred with Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló after the GOP tax bill was passed late last year. Rosselló was unhappy that the bill did not include certain changes for Puerto Rican-based businesses, and sources on Capitol Hill complained that his administration focused solely on corporate tax changes at the expense of the task force's recommendations. 

Juan Hernández Mayoral, who led the Puerto Rican government's Washington office under former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, said the Rosselló administration put the task force’s proposal “in a drawer” when Rosselló took office in January 2017 because eliminating tax loopholes under the U.S. territory’s current political status doesn’t align ideologically with Rosselló’s pro-statehood position.

“I mean, anyone who knows Politics 101 had to know that this would be the perfect timing for Paul Ryan to pass his tax reform he’s been working on for 10 years, it’s nothing new,” Mayoral said in February. “It’s an example of how ideology comes first before the Puerto Rican people. The current government did not advocate for it after it had worked its way through Congress for two years.”

The bill, if passed, cuts payroll taxes for Puerto Rican workers for three years, expands the federal child tax credit and establishes a data research center in Puerto Rico to improve the availability of economic statistics in the U.S. territory. The bill also includes corresponding spending cuts to pay for the proposed changes, which could make it a tricky proposition for some Democrats to support it. 

Republicans and Democrats in Florida have campaigned hard for the Puerto Rican vote since Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage in October. Rubio isn't up for reelection this year but Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson have made repeated visits to the island in recent weeks as their U.S. Senate campaigns ramp up. 

 

 

Bill Nelson gets $2.2 million in TV help from Washington

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's campaign isn't up on TV yet while Republican Gov. Rick Scott has spent the past month on air, but a Washington-based group that aims to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate is coming to Nelson's aid. 

The Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, is spending $2.2 million on a statewide ad buy with an ad titled "Served" that highlight's Nelson's biography and Senate record. 

"Bill Nelson’s life has been about service to others and to his country, and he continues that tradition of service everyday as he fights and advocates for Floridians,” said Chris Hayden, spokesperson for SMP. “Nelson is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with powerful interests. From protecting Medicare and Social Security from privatization to standing up to insurance companies by stopping them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, he never backs down from a fight. Bill Nelson delivers for Florida and there is no question he is the only candidate in this race that puts Florida first.”

The contest between Nelson and Scott could be one of the most expensive Senate races in U.S. history. The Senate Majority PAC is not allowed to coordinate with Nelson's campaign, and PAC's generally receive more expensive advertising rates than candidates do, but super PACs are able to raise unlimited amounts of money from donors while the candidates are bound by contribution limits. The Senate Majority PAC has raised $52.7 million so far this cycle, and the group recently received a $2 million donation from Seth MacFarlane, creator of the television show Family Guy. 

Watch the ad below: 

 

 

May 18, 2018

Miami Democrats pounce on Trump 'animals' comment — Republicans say it's overreaction

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Donald Trump used the word "animals" while talking immigration Wednesday, and Democrats pounced.

They'd been waiting.

At a White House event discussing California's sanctuary city laws, Trump listened as a local sheriff lamented that the state's policies prevent local law enforcement from referring MS-13 gang members to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation. And then Trump vented.

"You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are," Trump said in response, without explicitly mentioning the gang. "These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before."

The comments set off another round of condemnation from the left for a president who's become known for using inflammatory language to communicate a hard-line stance on immigration. Democratic leaders quickly framed the comments as the latest affront from the president who opened his campaign in 2015 by referring to Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals and rapists.

But the White House defended Trump's remarks on Thursday, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said people decrying Trump's remarks are defending MS-13. Trump said the same Thursday evening.

"Frankly, I don't think the term POTUS used was strong enough," Huckabee Sanders said.

Regardless, Republicans spent Thursday playing defense, which is where Democrats want them.

Heading into the mid-term elections, Trump's penchant for incendiary, off-the-cuff remarks is among the reasons the country's minority party is so optimistic they can win in November, particularly in areas like South Florida, where high percentages of voters were either born in a different country or born to parents who fled to the U.S. to find a better life. The president's knack for offending other cultures and dragging lawmakers into his vortex could be a great equalizer even for strong incumbents.

As the White House tried to explain Trump's comments Thursday, Democratic challengers in South Florida sought to put their opponents in the same position. Mary Barzee Flores, a former judge and trial lawyer running against longtime Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, called the incumbent a "coward" for staying silent on Trump's latest remarks.

Read more here.

May 17, 2018

Greyhound owners and breeders file lawsuit to remove Amendment 13 from ballot

GreyhoundsThe predicted lawsuits aimed at throwing out some of the more controversial amendments put on the November ballot by the Florida Constitution Revision Committee
has begun.

The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents dog owners and breeders, filed a complaint against the state Thursday in Leon County Circuit Court, arguing that Amendment 13 which ends the requirement that greyhound tracks race dogs to keep their gambling license is misleading.  Download FGA v Secretary of State Complaint

“The ballot title and summary do not inform voters that passage of Amendment 13 could subject taxpayers to significant financial liability as a result of the taking and/or loss of property of greyhound owners and greyhound tracks (as was the case when the pregnant pig amendment was passed),” said the group's legal counsel Paul Hawkes, a former First District Court of Appeals judge. 

The CRC put the amendment on the ballot with the title "Ends Dog Racing" and with the summary "Phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected."

The industry argues that the title is misleading because dog racing could continue, just no dog racing with wagering.  Download FGA v State Key Points

Kate MacFall, cp-chair of the Protect Dogs - Yes on 13 Campaign, called the lawsuit "dead on arrival"  and predicted it will be dismissed by the court.

"It is a desperate attempt to prevent voters from having a voice on whether greyhound confinement and deaths should continue,'' she said in a statement. "Asking voters to approve a question entitled 'Ends Greyhound Racing' says what it does and does what it says."
 
MacFall noted that the text of Amendment 13 reads, 'The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of Florida.' If the members of the Florida Greyhound Association disagree with this premise, they are free to vote no in November."