August 08, 2017

Scott gave his political operative six-figure state job at agency before tapping him to run super-pac

Taylor TeepellBefore Gov. Rick Scott named Taylor Teepell to be the finance director of the New Republican Super PAC, the governor gave him a $110,000 job in Florida government for which he had no experience.

For 14 months, the Louisiana native served in a top position in the Department of Economic Opportunity — as head of growth management oversight in Florida. When he left in May, he’d been given a raise — to $116,561— nearly three times the average state worker salary.

Teepell, 34, had spent a decade working as a Republican political operative and was campaign manager for former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign for president. He had worked in the executive offices of Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, worked campaigns in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Teepell was also close with Scott’s former campaign manager, Melissa Sellers Stone, but he had no experience in development or land planning — which the director of the Division of Community Development oversees.

After Jindal’s five-month campaign ended in November 2015, Teepell needed a job. He moved to Tallahassee, rented a townhouse from former Scott legislative affairs director Jon Costello and applied to head the division charged with fostering “economic development and planning in the state’s rural and urban communities.”

Teepell filled out the standard application for the DEO job on Feb. 9, 2016 but left most of it blank. Instead, he referred to a two-page resume that listed 10 years working in political jobs and one year as marketing director at a Colorado printing company. More here. 

August 07, 2017

Well-known Republican attorney to challenge Debbie Wasserman Schultz in South Florida district

DWSinblue

@amysherman1

A well-known Republican lawyer will challenge U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2018, the first time she has faced a credible Republican opponent in the overwhelmingly left-leaning district in South Florida.

Carlos J. Reyes announced to supporters in an email Sunday night that he will run against the Weston Democrat in his first bid for public office in the district. (Hat tip to browardbeat.com.)

“Being the son of Cuban immigrants and many years in community service have taught me the values of hard work and tenacity,” Reyes stated in a press release Monday, the day he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run in the Weston to northern Miami-Dade district. “As a strong advocate for programs that focus on faith, family and freedom, I’ve heeded the encouragement of hundreds of friends, family and community leaders that the time is right to run for United States Congress.”

In November, Hillary Clinton won about 63 percent of the vote in the district making any challenge by a Republican a longshot. Reyes said part of his strategy should he win the Republican primary will be to appeal to independents who represent about 30 percent of voters in the district. Republicans comprise about 25 percent of the voters while Democrats comprise 45 percent.

Reyes' announcement comes at a time when Wasserman Schultz has been on the defense about waiting to fire an IT worker under federal investigation. While many other Democrats fired Imran Awan amid news reports in February that he was under investigation for procurement theft, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire Awan until he was arrested in July for bank fraud. The federal criminal complaint against Awan relates to an application for a home loan and makes no mention of any IT-related issues connected to his job working for multiple members of Congress. Awan has pleaded not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug. 21.

The Awan case will likely become attack fodder for Wasserman Schultz's opponents during the next year -- her primary opponent Tim Canova has been on Fox News attacking Wasserman Schultz for how she handled the case. 

Reyes told the Miami Herald that he isn't focused on the Awan case.

"She is going to have to deal with it however she feels is most appropriate," Reyes said. As for the allegations against Awan, "they may go somewhere -- they may not."

He said he is focused on other issues such as the economy, terrorism and health care. When asked if he believes Obamacare should be repealed, Reyes didn't provide a definitive answer.

"The Affordable Care Act is challenged financially -- it will crumble by it's own weight by the fact that so many insurance companies are dropping out," he said.

Democratic and Republican opponents face an uphill battle against Wasserman Schultz who has easily beat challengers for more than a decade.

In August, she beat Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, by about 14 percentage points several weeks after she stepped down as Democratic National Committee chair amid the release of emails by Wikileaks showing the DNC favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

In November, Wasserman Schultz beat Republican Joe Kaufman 57 to 41 percent -- the closest margin any Republican achieved against her. But Kaufman, who is running again, is not seen as a major threat because he has lost to Wasserman Schultz twice in a row and is most famous for being lampooned on The Daily Show for trying to block a Muslim from joining the Broward Republican Executive Committee.

Also running in the GOP primary is Carla Spalding, a Navy veteran, former VA nurse and a mental health educator. In 2016 Spalding ran as an independent in Congressional District 18 and won about 3 percent of the vote in the race won by Republican Brian Mast. Spalding lives in Palm Beach Gardens but her campaign says she will move to a rental home in the district in September.

Among all of the past and present Republican challengers, Reyes is the most well-known opponent and likely has the strongest ability to fundraise.

He is well-known in business, law and Republican circles in Broward and has held many community leadership positions including an appointment by then Gov. Jeb Bush to the South Broward Hospital District. The Miami-born Davie resident owns a commercial and civil litigation law firm in Plantation.

Reyes' connections will give him a good place to start in terms of fundraising, said Chip LaMarca, the lone Republican on the Broward County Commission.

"He has at a minimum to shoot for at least $1 million, a million and a half to get his message out in that district," LaMarca said.

Aaron Nevins will manage Reyes' campaign. Nevins is a political operative who asked for information from Guccifer 2.0, the hacker that stole information from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Wall Street Journal reported that Nevins was the author behind HelloFLA.com, a political gossip blog where he published some of the documents. Nevins, who also worked for state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, is also the son of Buddy Nevins, author of the browardbeat.com blog.

Reyes will hold an announcement rally Aug. 29 at the Signature Grand in Davie.

Wasserman Schultz declined to comment through her spokesman David Damron.

This blog was updated to include an interview with Reyes

August 03, 2017

For Richard Corcoran, summer is the season for calling in the fundraising chits -- from trial lawyers

Richard Corcoran smiling@MaryEllenKlas

With a second month of fast-paced fundraising, House Speaker Richard Corcoran's newly-formed political committee, Watchdog-PAC, amassed $820,900 in the month of July, fueled in part by large checks from Florida trial lawyers.  

Corcoran, who is expected to seek the Republican nomination for governor, posted July numbers that exceed those of his two likely primary rivals, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala.

Putnam, whose Florida Grown PC has raised $13.6 million with $10 million on hand, raised $211,000 in July through July 25.

Latvala, the Clearwater senator who will announce his candidacy Aug. 16, has raised $8.6 million for his Florida Leadership Committee, has $3 million on hand and collected another $236,000 in July. 

Corcoran's biggest checks came from trial lawyers, who have watched as their star return to an orbit of influence in Tallahassee under the Land O'Lakes Republican.

Last session, the trial bar succeeded at stalling or defeating efforts to rewrite the attorneys fees provision of the workers compensation law that had been ruled unconstitutional, changes to the insurance assignment-of-benefits system and a repeal of Personal Injury Protection for auto insurance. Also, the ice melted on claims bills to compensate people injured in accidents or negligence of state or local government employees -- and pay their lawyers -- as lawmakers sent several claims bills to the governor for his signature. 

Corcoran supporters say those defeats should be blamed on the Florida Senate, not the House, which passed a workers comp bill, and assignment of benefits reform that were rejected by the Senate. They also note that Corcoran isn't the only Republican House speaker who has allowed claims bills to advance. 

Two West Palm Beach law firms each gave Corcoran $100,000 in July: Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart, and Shipley and Lytal, Reiter, Smith. And another $25,000 check came from Orlando trial lawyer Rich Newsome, who Corcoran appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission.

In the dark money category, $100,000 came from the Citizens Alliance for Florida's Economy, a political committee run by Corcoran consultant Anthony Pedicini that has received large contributions from lawyers. Corcoran received another $25,000 from a political committee run by Michael Millner, Leadership for Florida's Future. Millner is the treasurer of Pedicini's political committee and in June his committee received $100,000 from Pedicini's committee and $97,000 from Associated Industries-affiliated political committees. 

This is the second month Corcoran has pulled in the lawyer cash. Last month, Corcoran held a big fundraiser in Orlando, hosted by Democrat and big-name trial lawyer John Morgan. He raised $76,000 from lawyers and law firms. 

Corcoran's other big donors in July: $25,000 from U.S. Sugar, $25,000 from Associated Industries of Florida's political committee, Voice of Florida Business.  

August 02, 2017

Democrat bashes Carlos Curbelo over Obamacare in campaign kickoff

DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL0342

@amysherman1

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell wants to make her congressional campaign against Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo about health care.

In formally launching her candidacy Wednesday, Mucarsel-Powell slammed Curbelo’s vote to replace the Affordable Care Act — a message national Democrats plan to repeat across the country to try to unseat Republicans in 2018.

“It is inconceivable to me that politicians in D.C. are committed to stripping away health care access to millions of Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell said in her speech outside of West Perrine health center where the poor can see doctors and get medicine.

Keep reading here.

August 01, 2017

Democrat challenging Curbelo lived in the district — for 2 months

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will challenge Republican Carlos Curbelo to represent voters living in a sprawling Miami-to-Key West district. She doesn’t live in the district now, but history shows she has a handy fallback option in the Florida Keys.

When Mucarsel-Powell ran for office in 2016 — an ultimately unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat — she changed her voter registration two months before Election Day from an out-of-district Pinecrest home she has owned since 2009 to an in-district rental property 60 miles away in the Florida Keys. It was a gambit that allowed her to criticize her competitor for living outside of the district.

“My opponent can’t vote for herself,” Mucarsel-Powell tweeted a few weeks before Election Day. “Why should the voters of SD 39?”

 After the vote, she switched her registration back to Pinecrest  raising the question of whether she ever really lived in the Keys, or simply rented an apartment there because it was good politics. A questionable residency could be fodder for Curbelo and Republicans looking to keep his swing seat.

Mucarsel-Powell declined to comment Tuesday. Pressed by the Miami Herald, her campaign produced a lease for a rental property in Islamorada signed on Oct. 9, 2016. The $3,000-a-month lease was set to end in January 2017, but Mucarsel-Powell switched her voter registration to Pinecrest in December. Mucarsel-Powell and her husband have three school-age children.

In an interview Monday announcing her candidacy, Mucarsel-Powell acknowledged currently living outside the 26th congressional district and made no claim that she’d plan to move there — though she said she rents property in the Keys and would love to live there.

“That’s where my heart is,” she said.

Members of Congress aren’t required to live in the districts they represent.

In 2016, Mucarsel-Powell was in the midst of an expensive state Senate campaign against Anitere Flores, a Republican with a massive campaign warchest.

But both Flores and Mucarsel-Powell shared the same political disadvantage: Neither candidate lived in the sprawling Senate District 39, which closely mirrors Curbelo’s congressional district, at the start of the campaign.

In October, Mucarsel-Powell changed her voter registration from her Pinecrest home to Islamorada, according to voting records in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Four weeks later, on Nov. 5, she touted her vote on Twitter.

“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and her husband Robert cast their ballots today in Islamorada!”

November 2016 Herald story from highlighting candidates who didn’t live in their districts identified Mucarsel-Powell as “Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Islamorada.” But in December 2016, after losing to Flores by about 8 percentage points, Mucarsel-Powell changed her voter registration back to her Pinecrest home, about 5 miles outside the congressional district.

Read more here.

Curbelo draws Democratic challenger in swing Florida district

IMG_debbie_murcarsel-pow_4_1_3M9KMIAC_L265070303

@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty

Months after Democrats began calling him a top national target, Carlos Curbelo has drawn a serious 2018 challenger.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ran a stronger-than-expected state Senate campaign in 2016, will run for Congress. She plans to hold a news conference announcing her candidacy Wednesday.

“It’s shocking that the people in Washington are trying to strip healthcare from millions of Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Miami Herald in an interview Monday, taking a jab at Curbelo. “The person that I’m running against voted for Trumpcare.”

She claimed Curbelo “has voted more than 86 percent of the time with Trump,” but also insisted: “I don’t want to focus my entire energy on what’s happening with the president.”

The bilingual Mucarsel-Powell, 46, was born in Ecuador, where she lived until she was 14. That’s when she and her single mother and three sisters moved to southern California. Mucarsel-Powell followed a sister to South Florida in 1996.

Now married with a stepdaughter, a daughter and a son, Mucarsel-Powell lives in Pinecrest, which is outside the 26th congressional district, a stretch of Westchester to Key West. She rents property in the Florida Keys, she said. Curbelo lives about a mile from the district’s boundaries in West Kendall.

After years of working in various nonprofit organizations, at ZooMiami and for Florida International University, Mucarsel-Powell opened a consulting firm on strategic planning.

“I’ve spent my entire life in nonprofits trying to bring change, positive change,” she said. “People are really charged. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They want change.”

For months, national Democrats have labeled Curbelo a top target, citing his district’s Democratic-leaning makeup. It favors Democrats by 6 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, making Curbelo’s district the most Democratic in the country currently held by a Republican. Last year, Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the district by 16 points.

But Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points, a 28-point swing showing Curbelo’s crossover appeal among Democrats and independents. He’s also a prolific fundraiser who had $1.1 million in his campaign account as of June 30 and consistently posts among the highest fundraising hauls of House members in both parties. Mucarsel-Powell said she expects to have to raise at least $4 million to compete.

Curbelo’s support in May for the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, was political manna for Democratic Party leaders, who see the vote as one of Curbelo’s biggest electoral weaknesses in a district where 92,500 people get health insurance through Obamacare — one of the highest rates in the country. Republicans have already vowed to spend millions of dollars defending Curbelo and other Republicans in competitive districts who backed the legislation.

Read more here.

Seventh Democrat enters race to replace Republican Ros-Lehtinen

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

Matt Haggman, the former program director of Miami’s Knight Foundation, will run for Congress as a Democrat to seek retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.

“Our biggest challenges continue to go unmet,” he told the Miami Herald on Monday. “We’re not building for the future. Sea-level rise is being ignored. Many of the jobs today will be dramatically different in a very, very short time. We’re doing very little on that — and that has to change.”

Haggman has invited backers to a Tuesday event dubbed “Building a Better Miami,” where he will announce his candidacy. He signaled his impending run when he resigned earlier this month from Knight, where he had worked since 2011. He plans to be a full-time candidate and cast himself as a political newcomer with the sort of civic experience that might appeal to pragmatic progressive voters. 

Haggman, 46, said he’s been contemplating a run since President Donald Trump won the presidency last November — and before Ros-Lehtinen stunned the local political establishment by announcing her retirement in April. He has never been a candidate before, though Democrats have tried to recruit him in the past for local office.

Trump’s victory — and how Republican leaders in Congress have handled him — nudged him to run, Haggman said. 

“With the election of Donald Trump, who I stand firmly and strongly and adamantly against, many of our bedrock values are under threat: the values of welcoming immigrants with open arms, of a free press guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

Haggman, a Boston native and Coconut Grove resident, is married to Danet Linares, vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. Before joining Knight, Haggman was a Herald reporter, covering real estate and Miami-Dade County Hall; he had previously worked for the Daily Business Review. Though he holds a law degree from the University of Vermont, Haggman never practiced as an attorney.

Accustomed to awarding Knight’s grants, Haggman will now have to get used to asking political donors for campaign cash. He’s hired Washington firm SKDKnickerbocker as his political consultant and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research as his pollster.

Mostly unknown outside of the tight-knit technology, media and arts community supported by Knight, Haggman will face the challenge of raising his public profile in a Democratic primary field rife with candidates, most of them with past ballot experience.

Read more here.

July 31, 2017

Carlos Curbelo wanted to repeal Obamacare. Now he wants to work with Democrats.

Carlos Curbelo 3

@alextdaugherty

Last week, Carlos Curbelo ventured across the Capitol to see his hero, Arizona Sen. John McCain, speak about the need for compromise in Congress.

The moderate from Miami listened intently as the maverick from Arizona. who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, chided colleagues from both parties on the Senate floor about the dangers of naked partisanship.

“Just had the special privilege of being in the Senate Chamber to welcome John McCain back to D.C.,” Curbelo tweeted. “He's a national hero & one of my heroes.”

But less than 72 hours later, McCain cast the crucial vote against a narrowly tailored Obamacare repeal bill — a vote that will likely give headaches to moderate House Republicans like Curbelo ahead of the 2018 elections.

Curbelo and others like him took a politically tough House vote in May to replace Obamacare. But that bill is now dead. The political ads are yet to come.

In the wake of the legislative failure, Curbelo, whose Miami-to-Key West district is the most Democratic-leaning in the country currently held by a Republican, is now talking bipartisanship.

“It's critical to our democracy for Members of Congress to put politics aside and come together to find solutions to the issues affecting our constituents,” Curbelo, who declined an interview request, said in a statement. “Our healthcare system needs reform and I've been committed to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find market-based solutions that would result in increased coverage and lower costs.”

Curbelo is part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 43 House Republicans and Democrats who released a bipartisan health care plan on Monday.

Among other things, the plan calls for creating a stability fund that states can use to reduce health insurance premiums, requiring that businesses with more than 500 employees provide health insurance — instead of the current 50 employees — repealing the medical device tax and providing guidelines for states that want flexibility in the existing exchanges.

But hours before McCain’s vote, Curbelo said he was ready to proceed with the repeal of Obamacare if the Senate passed it.

Most Republican senators did not support the so-called “skinny repeal.” They viewed it as a way to start negotiations between House and Senate leaders to come up with a better plan.

Curbelo was unconvinced that any more negotiations among Republicans would work, and was ready to vote for a scaled-down repeal of Obamacare that pleased few within the GOP.

Though Curbelo doesn’t have any legislative victories to show for his Obamacare vote, the Republican Party is ready to support a potentially vulnerable incumbent who voted in favor of one of the party’s biggest priorities.

“For Curbelo’s part, he has always been consistent in his messaging for healthcare,” said National Republican Campaign Committee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson. “His vote in the House was a way to keep the debate and the conversation going forward. He was aware that he thought it needed work.”

Obamacare figures to be a huge campaign issue in 2018 for Curbelo and whoever challenges him for his seat, as 92,500 people in his district are enrolled in Obamacare, the second-highest figure for any congressional district in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Read more here.

'Open carry' advocates ask Adam Putnam: Where have you been?

PutnamPinellas01Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is talking a lot about a "pathway" to an open carry gun law in Florida as he chases the Republican nomination for governor, and he proudly calls himself an "NRA sellout" on social media in response to media criticism of pushing a pro-gun agenda.

But his vocal support for an open carry law surprises people who have actually pushed for it in Tallahassee.

Two leading open carry supporters, Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, can't recall Putnam ever helping them get the bill passed.

"Zero," Gaetz said of Putnam. "He didn't help and he didn't hurt. He played no role in moving the bill. He never called me or approached me about the bill or offered to help."

Gaetz's Senate Bill 300 in the 2016 session would have allowed nearly 2 million people with concealed wepaons licenses to openly carry firearms. At an October 2015 Senate hearing, the witnesses included the NRA, Florida Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Fraternal Order of Police and Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith. Putnam was silent. Around the same time, Gaetz and his son Matt, then a House member and now a congressman, held a press conference with Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey. Putnam wasn't there. "He issued no statement, not even a press release," Gaetz said. "He was not involved."

Putnam's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services processes concealed weapons license applications. He has been very aggressive about promoting that, including partnerships with county tax collectors who process the paperwork. Putnam's support for the Second Amendment has never been an issue, and he got A-plus ratings from the NRA when he was in Congress. The question is his support for an open carry law.

Steube filed open carry (SB 140) in the 2017 session, and the bill was seven words long. Steube has no recollection of Putnam trying to help pass the bill.

"This is the first I'm hearing of him taking a position on it," Steube told the Times/Herald. Citing Putnam's "pathway" comments, Steube said: "Prior to that, I didn't know what his position was."

Neither Steube not Gaetz is supporting a candidate for governor.

After a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota in January, Putnam was asked by the Herald-Tribune's Zac Anderson about Steube's bill. He said: "I haven't had an opportunity to review Sen. Steube's bill." Three weeks later, Capitol reporters pressed Putnam on the issue at AP's annual session for journalists. His response: "I think it is important for us to have that debate but I think, generally speaking, there are places where you can expand where people carry guns in a safe and effective way."

In a Times/Herald interview, Putnam said: "I've always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment ... There's no inconsistency at all." He said he recalled meeting with Gaetz a number of times in the 2016 session, "but they were typically on matters related to my legislative agenda and my budget. So I certainly made the best use of time on the issues that were on the top of my list."

Photo credit: Doug Clifford, Tampa Bay Times

July 30, 2017

Matt Haggman, who may run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat, to make "special announcement" on Tuesday

Haggman

@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Matt Haggman looks more like a congressional candidate with each passing day. 

When Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced that she would not run for reelection in 2018, Haggman told the Miami Herald in April a run for her seat is "something I've been actively thinking about for a while now."  

Two weeks ago, Haggman quit his post as the Knight Foundation's program director in Miami, telling a reporter to "stay tuned" about his future plans.

And now Haggman is hosting an event on Tuesday evening dubbed "Building a Better Miami" where he promises a "special announcement," according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. 

Haggman, a Democrat and former Miami Herald reporter, declined to comment. 

If Haggman jumps in the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat he will become the sixth Democrat aiming for the Miami-based seat that Democrats argue is likely to flip after Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement in April. 

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, attorney Mary Barzee Flores, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person are all running in the Democratic primary. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell formed an exploratory committee as he considers a run. 

Three Republicans are also in the race, former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Maria Peiro

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen's district, the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.