November 21, 2016

Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders



A longtime legislator from Miami Gardens will lead the Democrats of the Florida Senate for the next two years.

Sen. Oscar Braynon’s ascension to Senate minority leader was made official Monday evening in advance of Tuesday’s organizational session for the 2016-18 Legislature. He’s now in charge of a 15-member Democratic caucus, of which 11 are newly elected senators.

“I’m happy to be taking on that role,” Braynon said. “We’re going to have a bunch of blank slates when it comes to what happens in the Senate. There’s a lot of potential there.”

One of those newcomers is freshman Broward County Sen. Lauren Book, whom the Democratic caucus also unanimously elected as Braynon’s No. 2 in the role of Senate Democratic leader pro tempore.

Book, of Plantation, is a prominent advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and the founder and CEO of Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids. She is also the daughter of powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, whom she called “her best friend, rock and mentor.”

Although the Republican majority in the Senate will drive the agenda, Braynon said his goal as minority leader is to continue pushing for Democratic priorities, such as equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, improving access to health care and strengthening public education.

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

DuBose, Farmer named leaders of Broward County legislative delegation


A state representative entering his second term and a freshman senator in his first elected office have been named the leaders for Broward County's legislative delegation for the 2017 session.

State Rep. Bobby DuBose and state Sen. Gary Farmer, both Democrats from Fort Lauderdale, were elected as chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, by the 19-member delegation on Thursday.

The delegation's chairmen and vice-chairmen serve one-year terms.

DuBose was first elected to the Legislature in 2014 and was reelected this year without opposition.

Farmer is a consumer advocate attorney and former president of the Florida Justice Association. He won Broward County's District 34 Senate seat with 63 percent of the vote.

DuBose and Farmer, respectively, replace former Democratic state Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed and Sen. Chris Smith.

November 17, 2016

Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler said he will decide about state run in 2017



Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler will make a decision next year about whether to run for statewide office.

"I am still considering a run for statewide office in 2018, and I am especially interested in the Attorney General position," he told the Miami Herald in an email. "I will make a decision in 2017."

Attorney General Pam Bondi can't run again due to term limits and she could end up leaving her position early if she gets hired by Donald Trump's administration.

Seiler, a lawyer and Democrat, was re-elected to the mayor position in 2015. He formerly served as a state representative and mayor of Wilton Manors. He has never lost a race.

Seiler has said if he runs statewide he will run as a moderate. But if he faces a contested Democratic primary, he could face criticism for his stance on same sex marriage. Seiler, a married Catholic and father of four children, tried to stay on the sidelines of the same sex marriage debate. In 2014, he voted against a city resolution in support of same sex marriage but when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2015 Seiler signed a city proclamation celebrating the decision.


November 14, 2016

Dwight Bullard's position on Israel could cost him support of Jewish Democrats for state party chair



Sen. Dwight Bullard, who wants to run for Florida Democratic Party chair, is facing resistance from some Jewish Democrats after he was accused of meeting with a man linked to a terror group in Israel earlier this year. 

Bullard says that the accusation lacked “merit” and that he is a supporter of the Jewish community.

Bullard is one of multiple  candidates who are considering the state party position after Allison Tant announced Friday that she would not seek re-election in January. That could set off an intraparty fight about who would be the best person to lead the Democrats after it suffered crushing defeats including Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in Florida.

The Bullard name is a longtime fixture in Miami-Dade politics because both of his parents served in the state Legislature. But he could face an uphill battle for state party chair due to his position on Israel.

A political committee for Florida Senate Republicans ran an ad this summer accusing Bullard of spending time with a "terrorist" during a trip to the Middle East.

NBC6 Miami reported that Bullard was photographed with a tour guide affiliated with the anti-Israel BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian group with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated by the State Department as a terrorist group.

Bullard told the station the man was a "tour guide in old Jerusalem" and he "had no idea" of his political affiliations.

He told NBC6 that he is "pro-Israel, but I'm also pro-Palestine in that people can co-exist. ... My position is co-existence."

Bullard also faced heat for his vote in October 2015 against a bill that would ban the state of Florida from entering contracts with companies that boycott Israel. But when it reached the full Senate in January he voted for it and it passed unanimously.

“A number of folks called me concerned over my committee vote,” he told the Miami Herald. “For the sake of not being the thorn in anyone’s side I decided to vote for it on the floor.”

He told the Miami Herald that he shared the same concerns as the ACLU of Florida which wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that the bill “is a clear violation of of long established First Amendment law.” The ACLU urged Scott to veto the bill but he signed it into law.

Bullard told Colorlines, an online news site about race and culture, that boycotts are protected free speech: "We look back now in hindsight and say, '[Fighting] for the boycott and divestment movement against the South African government was the right thing to do.' How that is somehow different as it pertains to Palestinian rights is really inexplicable."

Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mike Moskowitz, who raised $1 million for Clinton and is a frequent contributor to Democrats, said he will actively work against Bullard if he runs for chair and will call activists and members of Congress to urge them to oppose Bullard.

“I will discontinue all financial support if he becomes the chair; and will call around to all financial donors in the entire state and ask that they commit to do the same,” he said.

Former state Sen. Steve Geller, who was elected to the Broward County Commission Nov. 8, said Jewish Democrats won’t support Bullard.

“I think he is just wrong on this issue,” he said. “Did the Republicans take it a little too far? Yes. Do I think Dwight is a terrorist? Not at all."

But Geller said that Bullard should have disassociated himself with the anti-Israel BDS group.

Geller and Moskowitz don’t get to vote on the chair position -- that decision lies with state committeemen and women in January. But those who have a vote are likely to listen to input from prominent fundraisers and elected officials who could play a role in the 2018 races for governor and U.S. Senate. Committeemen and women in South Florida play a major role in selecting the chair because they get votes based on a formula that takes into account the number of registered Democrats in their county.

Bullard told the Miami Herald that he will seek re-election as county party chair Dec. 6th and then run for state chair.

He said that Jewish Democrats should not be swayed by the attack on him about his Middle East trip.

“I would hope they would hear me out and not fall victim to a political smear campaign that has no merit,” he said.  “I never met with a terrorist. Did I take a trip to Israel and the West Bank? Absolutely. The notion that I am anti-Israel and pro-terrorism, that was all orchestrated unfortunately by my opponent. I’ve never been any of those things. I continue to be a strong supporting of the Jewish community.”

Bullard lost his state senate race to Republican State Rep. Frank Artiles in a heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade district. The attack ad about Bullard’s trip to Israel was in Spanish.

Evan Ross, a member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and a political consultant who is Jewish, also raised concerns about Bullard.

“Having a party chair who supports BDS and speaks out against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state would do irreparable harm to the relationship with the more than two-thirds of Jewish Floridians that consistently support Democrats,” Ross said. “We need a chair who will unite people at this critical time for our party, state and nation.”

Democratic activists do not appear to have coalesced around any single candidate so far for chair and many of them have lost previous races including Annette Taddeo, who most recently lost a Miami-Dade primary for Congress; Alan Clendenin, who lost to Tant in 2013 and recently lost a bid for a Hillsborough County School Board seat and former state Sen. Dan Gelber who lost a race for attorney general against Pam Bondi in 2010.

Photo by the Associated Press

Broward Democrats to brainstorm about Florida Democratic Party chair election



The last time Florida Democrats elected their own chair, it was a drawn out battle with pressure from on high: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the national party chair, and Sen. Bill Nelson pushed for lobbyist Allison Tant who beat Tampa activist Alan Clendenin in January 2013.

This time, one of the key power brokers in the decision to elect Tant’s replacement -- Broward state committeeman Ken Evans -- says that Democrats should start the process by listening to fellow activists first.

While some of the candidates vying for the chair position have contacted Evans seeking his support, he says he isn’t ready to commit to any candidate yet.

Evans will host a listening session on Thursday evening to begin the process of brainstorming the type of qualities that activists want in their next chair.  

“It's for me to take notes, see what they want,” he said. “Do they want a party in Tallahassee that is going to be money people like it was? Do they want to work on grassroots? How do we bring that to work together. I think people need be heard right now -- they are upset and hurt.”

Evans said he invited a few dozen active Democrats in Broward including activists who supported Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, club presidents and members of the Democratic Executive Committee to meet at Duffy’s restaurant in Plantation.

Evans said he doesn’t want Democrats forced into making an early decision. The election for the four-year position will be held in January.

“Let’s just wait, not rush into things,” said Evans, who was a leader for Clinton on LGBT outreach. “We saw what happened with the DNC and that. Let’s just be fair and let people run, let’s do the right thing. That’s why I want to have communication with the local people, I want to get some guidance from people who are going to elect me."

(For the record, Evans has no interest in seeking the state party chair position although he will seek re-election from Broward Democrats in December as state committeeman.)

State committeemen and committee women elect the chair based on a formula that gives weight to the number of registered Democrats in their county which means that Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach hold the bulk of the power. We don't yet know for certain who those people will be since county party groups will hold their elections before the state party election in January.

Broward has about 600,000 Democrats -- the highest number in the state -- followed by Miami-Dade which has about 585,000 Democrats and Palm Beach with 384,000.

Tant announced last week that she would not seek re-election, setting off a long list of potential candidates who are interested in the seat.

In addition to Clendenin, other names in the mix include former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo; Susannah Randolph, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson’s former district director; state Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa, who narrowly lost a state Senate race in the August primary; Miami political consultant Christian Ulvert; former state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach; and state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay, who heads the Miami-Dade party and lost his seat Tuesday.

(Tampa Bay Times photo of Allison Tant, left, when she beat Alan Clendenin, right, for state party chair in 2013.)

November 10, 2016

Why Broward's vote counting was so slow on election night

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As election results poured in from around Florida Tuesday night, revealing at times a close race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, one key piece of data was missing: election-day voting results in Broward County.

Results from Florida’s bluest county, and its 1.2 million voters, were being closely watched by TV networks, newspapers, campaigns and voters around the nation.

“Oh man, anyone who lived through Bush/Gore totally constricts every sphincter when Broward County, Florida and slow election results are in the same sentence!” wrote one person on Facebook on election night.

Other observers were more conspiratorial, declaring that Broward must be trying to rig the election.

But the sluggish results were a result of nothing sinister. Just the slower process Broward uses to report results.

Keep reading here.
Miami Herald photo by Marsha Halper

November 06, 2016

Sunday turnout shatters records in Miami-Dade and Broward


There’s really no other way to say it: Early voting went absolutely gangbusters in Florida’s two most populous counties on Sunday, during the last day the polls were open before Election Day.

Miami-Dade County Elections Supervisor Christina White reported 53,095 ballots cast, a number that shattered the county’s previous record of 42,810, set Friday.

Before that, Miami-Dade had never exceeded 39,400 in-person early voters in a single day; 40,051 voted Saturday, when much of the county was drenched in rain. Bad weather typically drives down turnout.

“This has no doubt been a record breaking election. Both in terms of overall turnout and because we broke the daily record today by more than 13,000 voters,” White said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “This coupled with minimal wait times has made early voting in Miami-Dade a success.”

In Broward County, 44,216 people voted Sunday, the highest total from the two weeks of early voting this year. The previous 2016 high, from Friday, was 36,276. On Saturday, 35,905 Broward residents voted, also despite persistent rain.

The day brought Broward’s total number of early votes over two weeks to 426,498. Another 188,489 people had cast ballots by mail, for a total of 614,987. Compared to 2012 totals, that’s a nearly 47 percent jump.

Miami-Dade saw 475,864 in-person early votes during the two-week 2016 period, and 287,224 mail votes, for a total of 763,088. That’s a 61 percent increase from 2012. Four years ago, there were only eight days of in-person early voting, and no voting on the Sunday before Election Day.

More here.

November 04, 2016

Donald Trump has more poll watchers in Broward than Miami-Dade



Donald Trump will have more registered poll watchers in Broward than Miami-Dade and Hillary Clinton will have more than Trump in both counties on election day.

Trump will have 222 registered poll watchers in Broward County and 150 in Miami-Dade Nov. 8. Clinton will have 604 poll watchers in Broward and 903 in Miami-Dade.

The Miami Herald obtained the numbers of poll watchers from election supervisors in both counties. Poll watchers must register with election offices which gives them the right to observe voting areas.

Photo of the St. Louis debate by the AP


At Broward elections office, Republican and Democratic lawyers keep a watchful eye



The scrutiny of the Broward elections office continues Friday as Republican and Democratic lawyers are observing the canvassing of ballots at the elections warehouse in Lauderhill.

Both parties are poised to have lawyers observe election workers open mail ballots throughout the weekend.

On Wednesday, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia sent a letter to Broward Supervisor of elections Brenda Snipes alleging that her office had improperly started opening  mail-in ballots without the proper review of the canvassing board. Ingoglia also objected to Snipes’ policy to only allow the public to observe the process for about a half hour each day.

In response, Broward Judge John Fry, a member of the canvassing board, said on Wednesday he would be present whenever the canvassing of ballots takes place. He also said that the public -- including media and lawyers on behalf of political parties -- could watch the process.

“I am here and will be here between now and Monday every minute,” that canvassing is underway, Fry told a group of observers Friday afternoon. “I think we have statutorily complied. I’m going to be here. The residents of Broward County deserve this. There should be no taint.”

Among the observers on tour: Tim Donnolly, public corruption chief for Broward State Attorney Mike Satz. On Thursday, Satz’s office announced that it had opened a voter fraud hotline.

When asked if he was investigating any complaints, Donnolly replied “I’m here to ask questions.”

Donnolly noted that there is identification on the envelopes which contain the ballot. He asked if once the ballot is removed from the envelope if election workers can identify who the voter is and he was told that they can’t.

Snipes has said she followed a lawful procedure before Fry stepped in. Since Snipes is on the ballot, she can’t be on the canvassing board so a judge appointed electors -- county employees -- who have been on hand observing canvassing daily.

Asked about why she previously only allowed 30 minutes of observation by the public, Snipes said “it’s the policy we had in place at the time.”

The observer on Friday morning for the Republicans was David Shestokas, a lawyer for the Republican National Lawyers Association who is based in Chicago but is a member of the Florida bar. Ediberto Roman, a Florida International University law professor, observed for the Democrats. Roman does Hispanic outreach in Miami-Dade for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Afternoon observes included Joseph Harbaugh, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, and on the Republican side Shari McCartney, a director at the Tripp Scott law firm.

On Monday, the full canvassing board will convene and examine absentee ballots that lack a signature or have a mismatch in the signature.

Snipes said Friday morning that the last count she heard was that more than 800 lacked signatures. A document from her office Thursday showed 78 mismatched signatures. Those numbers fluctuate daily because voters can come in and resolve any problems with their signature.

“I think the election is going extremely well,” Snipes said Friday. “It’s unfortunate we have a lot of extra things we have to deal with.”

But Snipes said she did not object to Fry opening up access to the public.

At around 4 p.m., an elections worker told the room full of people opening ballots that they were done for the day which drew some cheers. That prompted Fry to cap off the day with a quip: "I am Judge Fry and I approve this message!"

(Miami Herald photo by David Smiley shows Judge John Fry (left) with David Shestokas, a lawyer on behalf of the Republican National Lawyers Association.)

November 03, 2016

Broward elections supervisor says GOP claims that she mishandled ballots is "totally inaccurate"


Calling allegations that her office mishandled absentee ballots “incendiary,” Broward elections supervisor Brenda C. Snipes told Republican attorneys after an inside look at her operations Thursday morning that the state’s bluest county is doing everything legally and by the book.

“We don’t run a slipshod operation here,” Snipes told two GOP lawyers who came to South Florida from Chicago and Houston. “So for someone to say we mishandled thousands of absentee ballots — that’s totally inaccurate.”

Snipes was visibly defiant one day after Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia accused her office of opening tens of thousands of mail-in ballots without the proper review of an independent canvassing board tasked with overseeing and certifying elections. Ingoglia — who backed off Wednesday following a compromise — also said Snipes had erred by giving the public only a half-hour each morning to observe.

Keep reading here.