February 12, 2018

Miami wants rail permits. Trump: ‘We’ll get them for you so fast your head will spin.’

Trump

@doug_hanks @alextdaugherty 

President Donald Trump pledged environmental regulation wouldn’t hold up Miami-Dade’s quest for more rail projects, telling a county commissioner that federal permits will arrive “so fast your head will spin.”

The longtime owner of one of Miami-Dade’s largest resorts, Trump told Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo that federal red tape won’t hold up local transit projects.

“We’re going to get you the federal permits, OK? And we’re going to get you the environmental and transportation permits,” Trump said to Bovo, a fellow Republican seated a few seats down from the president at a White House event Monday touting the administration’s new infrastructure plan. “We’ll get them for you so fast your head will spin. The question will be whether you can get the local permits. That’s up to you.”

The moment put Miami-Dade in the spotlight for the president’s unveiling of his infrastructure plan, with Bovo literally having a televised voice at the table as the White House tries to drum up support for its $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The plan relies on federal money to attract state, local and private dollars to major projects.

Bovo cited Trump’s history in Miami — he owns the Trump National Doral golf resort and tried to take over the county’s Crandon Park golf course shortly before running for president — in making a pitch for Washington’s help.

“Mr. President, you would appreciate, knowing Miami-Dade the way you do, the gridlock we’re experiencing,” Bovo said.

The presidential statement also arrived at an interesting juncture in Miami-Dade’s latest effort to revive stalled plans to expand the 25-mile Metrorail system. Summoned to the White House was Bovo, a champion of expanding rail, and not Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has warned that Miami-Dade can’t afford either the expense or the red-tape delays required to extend Metrorail farther into the suburbs.

Gimenez last year proposed a $534 million plan to create dedicated lanes and elevated stations for high-tech bus service connecting Metrorail to Florida City to the south and Miami Gardens to the north. He’s pitching the stations as convertible to rail if Miami-Dade later can afford to expand Metrorail.

Read more here.

January 10, 2018

Curbelo challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell gets help from national Democrats

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@alextdaugherty 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is going all in for Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

On Wednesday the DCCC announced that Mucarsel-Powell, a consultant for nonprofits who is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, is one of 18 Democrats nationwide to land in the organization's Red to Blue program. The program highlights candidates in competitive districts who have shown an ability to fundraise and build a viable campaign operation.

"As a working mom, a Latina and an immigrant to the United States, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will fight every day to ensure that the American dream – which she’s lived - exists for her kids and the kids of so many others in South Florida," said DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. "And it’s clear what’s at stake for South Florida families – Debbie has centered her candidacy from day one on protecting access to high quality, affordable healthcare for the families she will represent. Debbie is running a people-driven, grassroots campaign built on earning voters’ trust and their votes this November."

The Red to Blue designation is not an explicit endorsement from the DCCC, though Mucarsel-Powell is the only candidate challenging Curbelo who has raised a significant amount of money. Mucarsel-Powell raised $177,048 through the latest fundraising quarter, according to Federal Election Commission records, though she trails Curbelo's $1.7 million raised during the 2018 cycle so far.

Curbelo won reelection against former Rep. Joe Garcia in 2016 despite representing a Miami-to-Key West district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in a district represented by a Republican running for reelection in 2018. 

January 05, 2018

A year after obeying Trump on immigration, Miami-Dade still waiting for a windfall

Sessions and gimenez

@doug_hanks

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions flew to Miami in August, he promised “more money for crime fighting” as a reward for Miami-Dade dropping “sanctuary” protections from immigration violators at county jails.

But after nearly a year as one of President Donald Trump’s most lauded counties, Miami-Dade is still waiting for its federal windfall. Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited billions in rail funds Miami-Dade hoped to secure from Washington in defending the county’s immigration switch days after Trump took office. But when Trump’s transportation secretary visited Miami last fall, she offered help on permitting issues but noted: “Resources are an issue.”

Chicago is suing the Trump administration over Trump’s funding threats for sanctuary jurisdictions, but the Windy City received the same $3 million police grant from the Justice Department that Miami-Dade did in November. Before Trump became president, both jurisdictions rejected federal requests to detain people who were booked on local charges while being sought for deportation. Chicago still doesn’t, but Miami-Dade started honoring the “detainer” requests last January.

When Sessions came to Miami to cheer the county’s accepting federal requests to detain immigration offenders, the attorney general formally announced what Justice had told the county in a letter two weeks earlier: the switch on “detainers” meant the county was eligible to continue receiving help from the Byrne Grant program for local police agencies. Figures released this week by Miami-Dade’s budget office showed the county received about $700,000 in Byrne dollars last year — enough to fund the $680 million police budget for about eight hours.

“The underlying arguments were not correct,” said Melissa Taveras, spokeswoman for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a Miami-based advocacy group that opposed Gimenez’s policy change. “What we’re doing is creating more fear among our immigrant community.”

Read more here.

January 03, 2018

Sanctuary no more: Feds seize 1 immigration detainee per day from Miami-Dade jails

Donald trump 2

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade jails turned over an average of one immigration detainee per day to federal authorities during 2017, a pace set by the county’s controversial decision to comply with President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people being sought for deportation.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered county jails to comply with the federal detention requests days after Trump took office on Jan. 20 and promised to withhold federal funds from local governments providing “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants. Miami-Dade had previously declined the requests under a county policy enacted four years earlier.

Gimenez’s directive brought instant praise from Trump himself on Twitter, but from elsewhere, accusations that Miami-Dade was abandoning its tradition as one of the most welcoming cities in the country for immigrants.

Since Gimenez’s Jan. 26 policy change, Miami-Dade jails have turned over 436 people — a little more than one person a day on average — to agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a year-end tally by the county released Tuesday. Federal “detainer” requests ask jails to hold suspected immigration offenders for an additional 48 hours after they have been booked on unrelated local charges. A detainer kicks in once the person would otherwise be free to leave the local jail, either through posting bail, being released until trial or after serving a sentence.

Local charges that landed undocumented people on the federal deportation track include a mix of serious crimes and minor offenses, according to a summary by Miami-Dade’s Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.

More than 100 detainees are listed as being arrested for violent crimes, from simple battery to kidnapping and attempted murder. A sampling of other offenses: about 30 who were in custody for driving without a valid driver’s license; about three dozen people charged with drug possession; two people charged with loitering; and seven, with misdemeanors related to drinking in public.

“It’s made people go back into the shadows,” said Rebeca Sanchez-Roig, a Miami immigration lawyer who said she sees clients far more fearful of county and city police. “Very often they won’t report a crime or violence, because they’re afraid they will be turned into Immigration. We have endangered communities with this policy.”

Read more here.

September 06, 2017

Miami-Dade to unauthorized immigrants: Don’t fear Hurricane Irma shelters

Florida1 senators lnew cmg
@PatriciaMazzei

Immigrants in South Florida illegally should not fear deportation if they seek shelter during Hurricane Irma, according to political leaders who urged the undocumented to heed local evacuation orders.

“We don’t ask anybody for their identification,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a briefing late Wednesday from the county’s emergency operations center in Doral. “Everybody who needs shelter in Miami-Dade County is welcome, and you should do so without any fear of any repercussions.”

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas late last month, some unauthorized immigrants told aid workers and news reporters they stayed away from public shelters because they were scared federal authorities would inquire about their legal status and detain them. Their concerns were exacerbated when uniformed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents assisted in the recovery — even though the federal government said repeatedly the agents weren’t acting in any deportation capacity.

To avoid a similar situation in South Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio urged the Department of Homeland Security to explain in advance its role during Hurricane Irma. The agency said Wednesday it “will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations in the affected area,” though Homeland Security personnel will be deployed to help federal, state and local authorities in the storm’s aftermath.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

August 31, 2017

Diaz-Balart to Miami-Dade: 'C'mon, man. Use me.'

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via @doug_hanks

As Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tells it, he watches from the chairman’s perch of a powerful transportation committee just waiting to use his authority to steer billions of dollars in federal transit aid to his home county of Miami-Dade. The wait continues.

“C’mon man,” Diaz-Balart said. “Use me.”

His comments to the Miami Herald Editorial Board this week capture one of the biggest divides in Miami-Dade’s ongoing debate about whether to pursue an expensive rail expansion or make do with some sort of modernized bus system.

Advocates of rail say county leaders’ unwillingness to pick a single rail corridor to be built first has left Miami-Dade paralyzed. An ongoing study of six potential rail lines, they say, leaves Miami-Dade unable to start the lengthy federal application process that could eventually let Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, use his influence as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for transportation to advance a hometown project to the top of the funding list.

Skeptics see the years required for federal approval as a delay that residents won’t tolerate as traffic worsens. Now, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has joined their ranks. A recent memo from the mayor and his financial team outlines a more daunting objection: Even if Washington came through with billions to build new rail lines for Miami-Dade, the county doesn’t have the millions needed to operate it.

More here.

July 25, 2017

Raquel Regalado officially announces run to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Regalado Congress

@alextdaugherty 

Raquel Regalado is officially joining the race to replace longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress next year. 

The former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for county mayor in 2016 filed her paperwork to compete in the Republican primary against county commissioner Bruno Barreiro on Tuesday morning. Nancy Watkins, a top Florida GOP political accountant based in Tampa, will serve as campaign treasurer. 

Regalado highlighted Miami's affordable housing woes in her announcement video. 

"I'm running for Congress because we cannot afford to live in South Florida, because before we get to any other issue we need better paying jobs" Regalado said. "We can't afford to buy a home. We can't afford to live here. We can't afford to raise our children here. We're at a critical point, we need educated, reasonable, articulate and thoughtful people in Congress."

The 43-year-old daughter of Miami mayor Tomás Regalado can now start fundraising after Barreiro raised $176,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 Republican primary also announced her intentions to run, but has not filed yet. 

Regalado is a self-described moderate Republican seeking election in a Miami-based district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 percentage points over Donald Trump, making it the most Democratic district in the country currently held by a Republican. Ros-Lehtinen's retirement opens up a seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018.

Regalado has a history of bucking the GOP. In 2010, she campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink for governor over Republican Rick Scott before unsuccessfully challenging Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, for his seat in 2016. She also did not endorse Trump or Clinton in the 2016 election.

A slew of Democrats have announced or are weighing bids for Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

Correction: A previous version of this most misidentified Regalado's age. She is 43, not 42. 

July 24, 2017

As chaos envelops Venezuela, Caracas spends millions on lobbyists in Washington

C1

@alextdaugherty

Venezuela’s currency is essentially worthless. Its people are starving. Rampant inflation has rendered the bolívar less useful than toilet paper.

And since Donald Trump’s election, the Venezuelan government has spent at least $1.3 million on Washington lobbyists through its subsidiary Citgo, a Houston-based oil company.

Three Washington-based firms currently represent Venezuela in Washington, pushing Capitol Hill, the White House and Cabinet agencies on issues like “fuel refining” and the “potential impact of U.S. energy policies on CITGO’s operation impacting U.S. consumers,” according to Senate lobbying records.

Caracas sees its investment in lobbyists as a way to fight possible sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil. Pushed by lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the White House said last week “all options are on the table” and promised “strong and swift economic actions” ahead of a vote on July 30 that could alter the country’s constitution in favor of President Nicolás Maduro.

“The costs for representation is a drop in the bucket when compared to the potential economic loss” of oil sanctions, said C.J. Gimenez, the son of Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez and a lobbyist who left Avenue Strategies, a firm started by Donald Trump’s former campaign aides, after the firm decided to pick up Citgo as a client. 

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil market could have major financial implications for the Maduro regime and for average Venezuelans. Although Venezuelan crude makes up a small fraction — about eight percent in 2016 — of all U.S. oil imports, the U.S. buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

Gimenez said Venezuela’s greatest asset is its oil and that Maduro “uses it to fund his continued existence.”

In order to shore up the Maduro regime’s future in the face of intense pressure, Washington-based lobbying shops, Avenue Strategies, Cornerstone Government Affairs and VantageKnight. All are well connected in the nation’s capital, spending millions on behalf of corporate titans like Google and Citigroup and staffed with former congressional aides who know Capitol Hill.

VantageKnight, a firm started by Democratic strategist and lawyer Manuel Ortiz, spent $540,000 on behalf of Citgo to lobby on the “potential impact of U.S. energy & foreign policy restrictions on CITGO Petroleum Corporation's operations and valuation of assets” and “sanctions related issues” in 2017.

Neither Citgo nor Ortiz responded to requests for comment. An operator at a Houston office for Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which owns Citgo, hung up when contacted by a reporter.

Citgo is feeling the heat in Washington, where lawmakers have questioned PDVSAs’ pledge of 49.9 percent of its shares in Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from the Russian government-owned oil giant Rosneft. That could leave Moscow with indirect control over Citgo’s U.S. energy assets, including three oil refineries, nine pipelines and dozens of petroleum platforms.

Read more here.

July 03, 2017

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to fundraise for Jose Felix Diaz's senate race

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@amysherman1

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is the special guest at a fundraiser for Rep. Jose Felix Diaz's state senate campaign at the Biltmore Hotel July 18th.

Diaz is running in the July 25th primary for the special election in District 40 created by the resignation of Sen. Frank Artiles

Diaz will face attorney Lorenzo Palomares and former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla in the Republican primary.

February 21, 2017

Miami-Dade mayor to take part in Fox News town hall on immigration

Sanctuary seven mhd cmg
@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is in Jacksonville Tuesday to participate in a televised Fox News town hall on immigration.

Gimenez is one of a handful of listed "newsmakers" at the event, including White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. Immigration attorneys, law enforcement and an academic will also be on hand.

The mayor gained national attention after directing local jails to fulfill federal immigration detention requests of Miami-Dade inmates following President Trump's executive order threatening to cut funding from cities and counties that didn't fully comply with the feds.

The detention requests are voluntary and non-binding, but Gimenez -- and later, a majority of the county commission -- feared being labeled a "sanctuary" would risk funding for big-ticket public-transportation projects.

Fox will air the town hall, moderated by Martha MacCallum, at 7 p.m.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald