June 08, 2017

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell weighing bid for Carlos Curbelo's seat



U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo could soon get a Democratic challenger. 

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in 2016, was in Washington on Thursday to meet with party leaders and members of Congress. 

Mucarsel-Powell confirmed in an interview with the Miami Herald that she is taking a hard look at Curbelo's seat in 2018. 

"I met with various members of Congress who are extremely concerned about the direction our country is in, they are encouraging me to take a serious look at it," Mucarsel-Powell said. "One of the reasons I'm considering it is that I'm fully committed to the people in the district. The horrible healthcare vote that Curbelo took a few weeks ago shows that they don't have a member in Congress. He doesn't represent the district." 

Mucarsel-Powell met with Florida Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel along with Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell and Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark. She also took meetings with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the group tasked with getting Democrats elected to the House nationwide, and EMILY's List, a group that aims to elect female politicians. 

"I’m leaving extremely impressed with the members I met," Mucarsel-Powell said. "It gives me hope we can stop Trump's agenda."

Curbelo, a second-term Republican, has yet to draw a Democratic opponent despite a district that has voted for Democrats at the presidential level. A host of Miami-area Democrats are weighing a bid for Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat after she announced her plans to retire.

"I know we're going to be okay in that district," Mucarsel-Powell said, adding that her main priorities are education and healthcare. 

Mucarsel-Powell wants to consult with her family and friends before making a definitive decision, she said and acknowledged that a run against Curbelo, who ranks among the GOP's top fundraisers, will be challenging. Mucarsel-Powell captured 45.8 percent of the vote against the well-funded Flores, a moderate Republican, in 2016.

"The Democratic Party and EMILY’s List have to make sure that someone’s viable, candidates have to raise a significant amount of money first," she said. 

Curbelo's district extends from Central Miami-Dade County down to Key West. 



January 13, 2017

Hillsborough Democratic activist knocked out of race to lead state party



Less than 24 hours before he was hoping to become the new Florida Democratic Party chairman, longtime Hillsborough County party activist Alan Clendenin was ruled ineligible for the race, leaving just four candidate remaining to take over leadership of the party.

"I'm disappointed," Clendenin said moments after a rules committee with the Florida Democratic Party made a decision on Friday that essentially disqualifies him from running for state party chairman.

The 7-member rules committee did not buy Clendenin's attempt to change his residency to rural Bradford County to remain eligible to be the state party chairman.

Last month, Clendenin lost his election to be Hillsborough County's state committeeman for the Democratic Party. In order to remain eligible in state chairman's race, he needed to be a county chairman or state committeeman in one of Florida's 67 counties. He decided to move to trailer in Bradford County in December where he could run for a vacant state committeeman's seat. Clendenin won and changed his voter registration and drivers license to show he was becoming a resident.

However, Bay County state committeewoman Patricia Byrd filed a complaint with the state party arguing Clendenin was playing "a shell game with residences" and was not really a resident of Bradford County. The rules committee voted 5-0, with two members abstaining, in favor of Byrd's complaint, which knocks Clendenin off the ballot on Saturday morning when the Florida Democratic Party is expected to vote on a new leader.

Left in the race are former State Sen. Dwight Bullard, Miami real estate developer Stephen Bittel, Osceola Democratic Party activist Leah Carius, and Duval County state committeewoman Lisa King. Bullard remains in the race despite him having a similar residency issue as Clendenin. After Bullard lost his state committeeman race in Miami-Dade, he tried to set up a residency in Gadsden County. He changed his voter registration and won a state committeeman's race there. But unlike Clendenin, no one tried to file a challenge to his residency.

Clendenin said he was targeted because supporters of Bittel, who has backing from state party leaders like U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, know he is a threat to win the party's chairmanship.

While the rules committee disqualified Clendenin Friday, they rejected another complaint that sought to rule Bittel ineligible because of how Democrats in Miami-Dade handled their race for state committeeman, which Bittel won over Bullard last month.

The candidates are all seeking to replace Allison Tant, who is not seeking a new term as party leader. The position pays $100,000 a year.

January 12, 2017

Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, what's the difference?


American civil rights and organized labor leader Cesar Chavez in 1975. AP Photo


As gaffes go, confusing a Latino civil right and labor icon with a Marxist revolutionary who was a chief executioner for the Castro Regime would seem to be a big one.

That is what happened late Wednesday when the president of the Florida College Democrats tried to send out a ringing endorsement to make Stephen Bittel the next Florida Democratic Party chairman. In his letter to Democratic voters, Chris Reilly praised Bittel for his work ethic and leadership skills. Then it got, well, let's say imprecise.

“But, what many of us don’t know are the stories of Stephen’s heart.  The stories of him stuffing envelopes for George McGovern, leading a fast with Che Guevara and mentoring and donating to progressive candidates and our causes.  And I’m supporting Stephen both for his understanding of how to run a large successful organization AND his heart.”

Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary from Argentina who joined Fidel Castro to help overthrow Fulgencio Batista and has been labeled Castro’s chief executioner.

An hour after Reilly sent out his letter, a new one arrived with a very different name in what was mostly the same paragraph.

“But, what many of us don’t know are the stories of Stephen’s heart.  The stories of him stuffing envelopes for George McGovern, leading a fast with Cesar Chavez and mentoring and donating to progressive candidates and our causes.  And I’m supporting Stephen both for his understanding of how to run a large successful organization AND his heart.”

Chavez is an Arizona born labor leader and civil rights activist who rose from being a Mexican-American farm worker to leading non-violent protests that gave voice to millions of migrant workers.

A spokesman for Bittel assures it was a big mistake. He said Bittel has no ties at all to Che Guevara. The statement should have said Cesar Chavez.

Bittel is one of five Democrats running to replace Allison Tant as the party leader. Dwight Bullard, Alan Clendenin, Lisa King and Leah Carius are all running for the top post. On Saturday in Orlando, Democratic activists are expected to decide who will be their leader for the next two years.

December 16, 2016

Bill Nelson: Stephen Bittel 'would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party'

Nelson_bill 121616


Florida's top Democratic elected official says he's a fan of Stephen Bittel as a future leader in the Florida Democratic Party but his praise stops short of a formal endorsement.

Talking with reporters in Tallahassee on Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was delicate in how he answered questions about the future of the state Democratic Party -- the fate of which rests on the outcome of a special Miami-Dade party election on Tuesday.

"I'm trying to keep a low profile and let the party process work its will, because the minute that I stick my head out then people are going to say I'm trying to influence the election," Nelson told reporters. "I can tell you that Stephen Bittel is a personal friend and he would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party."

Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer, and former Cutler Bay state Sen. Dwight Bullard are competing for the position of Miami-Dade County Democratic Party committeeman. The special election on Dec. 20 comes after Bret Berlin stepped down earlier this month four days after being re-elected, making way for Bittel. The winner of the Bittel-Bullard contest will likely become the next state party chairman.

MORE: "With Florida Democratic Party in balance, lowly Miami-Dade race goes national"

Nelson praised outgoing state party chairwoman Allison Tant for having done "a remarkable job" leading the party and raising money while facing a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.

"It's very hard under those circumstances for the chair of the party to raise the money, and yet she has still done an exceptional job in the face of huge huge odds," Nelson said. "Going forward, I see that Stephen Bittel is someone that I know personally who could continue that excellent job."

"And beyond that, I better not get into it," Nelson said, declining any comment on Bullard.

Nelson also wouldn't touch on the political maneuvering that's made the way for Bittel to have a shot at Miami-Dade Democratic committeeman.

"I can only repeat to you what I know is happening," he said. "There is now a race for the state committeeman position in Miami-Dade County, and in order to be eligible for running for state party chair under state party rules, you have to be either a party chair, a vice chair or state committeeman or woman to run. That's my comment on that. I just don't know how that election is going."

July 21, 2016

Democrats release early list of 80+ convention speakers and it includes (only) one Floridian

Hillary Clinton underscores the importance of the Florida vote tomorrow, arriving for a two-day tour of Orlando, Tampa and Miami where she is even expected to introduce her vice presidential choice.

On the eve of the visit Thursday, the campaign released its first line-up of 62 speakers for the four-day convention in Philadelphia next week. How important is Florida? Only one Florida Democrat is worthy of a speaking spot according to the list: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. 

The announcement followed a report that 20 "Americans from across the country" also would be telling their personal story to the convention audiences. That list also includes no Floridians. 

Gillum is a rising star but is the Clinton camp dissing the entire congressional delegation? It's likely DNC Chair and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz will have a role but how about Sen. Bill Nelson? etc. The campaign says stay-tuned. 

Here's the release: 

Continue reading "Democrats release early list of 80+ convention speakers and it includes (only) one Floridian" »

July 11, 2016

Florida LGBT caucus endorses Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The caucus of the Florida Democratic Party that represents gays and lesbians announced today that it has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Clinton did not go on record supporting same-sex marriage until 2013. As PolitiFact reported, Clinton opposed same-sex marriage as a candidate for the Senate, while in office as a senator, and while running for president in 2008. She expressed her support for civil unions starting in 2000 and for the rights’ of states to set their own laws in favor of same-sex marriage in 2006.

As polls showed that a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage, Clinton’s views changed, too. She announced her support for same-sex marriage in March 2013.

Other endorsements by the Florida LGBTA caucus include U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston and Bob Poe, who is running for Congress in Orlando and is openly gay and HIV-positive. The caucus also endorsed Carlos Guillermo Smith and Beth Tuura for state House in central Florida. 

June 18, 2016

Florida Democrats say Orlando massacre makes this perfect time for politics

via @adamsmithtimes

Less than a week after the massacre at a gay club in Orlando, hundreds of Florida Democratic activists are gathering at The Diplomat in Hallandale Beach today for the state party's fundraiser gala. Emotions remain raw, and at an LGBT caucus meeting today sprinkled with cheers, tears, and jeers, Democrats made clear they had no sympathy for those arguing that politics should be put aside in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

"It's only not a good time for politics, if your on the other side of these issues," said Bob Poe, former state Democratic Chairman and now a congressional candidate in Orlando. "They use that like Kryptonite -- 'Oh, don't raise that now because it's not the time. It's tawdry to do that now.' Well, when is time? When the emotions die down and people start to forget?" I'd like to ask (Attorney General) Pam Bondi, if not now, when?"

At a state party LGBT Caucus meeting Saturday, people sounded as angry as they did sad.

"Across the country the same politicians who've offered thoughts and prayers for the Orlando victims are pushing anti-transgender bathroom bills and so-called religious freedom laws.These actions not only disparage people, they fuel anti LGBT sentiment and serve as an inspiration for someone like Omar Mateen to go into a gay club and kill people," said Terry Fleming of Gainesville, president of the Florida Democratic Party's LGBT Caucus, who said the caucus also stands with "Our Muslim brothers and sisters" and will speak out against effort to paint an entire religion as dangerous.

Alan Clendein, vice chairman of the state party and candidate for Hillsborough School Board, singled out several Florida politicians who converged in Orlando after the shooting,

"I'm angry when I turn on the TV and see Gov. Rick Scott hogging the camera. I'm angry at Pam Bondi going on TV pretending to be a friend to our community. I am angry when I saw Marco Rubio hogging that camera and doing the same thing," shouted Clendenin, who is gay. "We cannot give them a pass for the rhetoric and the hatefulness that they have spread though our state for years, They cannot do that for years and come in on Sunday and pretend that they're our friends. Because they are not. Never forget how you felt Sunday morning."

Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant tried to hold back tears. "This has been an attack on part of my family," said Tant, likening it to the Charleston church shooter killing African-Americans -- another loyal Democratic constituency.

"I will stand with you, I will be with you until the last day," she said, recalling that her uncle committed suicide after being outed as gay.

Two contenders for governor in 2018, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tallahassee U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, also paid their respects, with Graham breaking into tears as she urged everybody simply to love one another.

Buckhorn said any community in Florida could have had to endure what Orlando has, and that Florida and individual community progress when they embrace diversity.

"As a community we are so much better, we are so much stronger, we are so much more competitive when we value the worth of everybody. I'm my community we don't ever demonize anybody for any reason," Buckhorn said. "I don't care if it's the color of your skin, the origin of your birth, the language that you speak, the god that you worship, or who you love. We're not doing it. Not on my watch. Not ever."

Two other Democratic gubernatorial prospects, State Sen. Jeremy Ring and Miami Beach Philip Levine, also are expected to attend, and Levine is hosting a reception for city officials.

May 27, 2016

In this age of political disruption, is the party as we know it over?

Political parties KRT Tim GoheenThis summer may be remembered not only for a blue moon and the welcome end to a bitter presidential primary, it may also mark the time America’s century-old political parties went on life support.

At the top of the ticket, both the Florida Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Florida have anointed presidential frontrunners who are seen by most voters more negatively than positively. Corporate donors, the bread and butter of the party diet, are circumventing the parties in large numbers by contributing directly to candidates’ committees.


In Florida, the often-reliable bellwether for the nation, party membership is steadily eroding as the majority of new voters don’t register with any party and fewer new voters are registering than have in previous presidential years.

Then there are the casualties.

Florida Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, has beentargeted for defeat from within by Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old Vermont senator who is the overwhelming favorite of the youth vote. Jeb Bush, Florida GOP’s favorite son, is so disgusted by Donald Trump and his message he has announced he won’t vote for his party’s nominee. And GOP candidates in Hispanic-rich South Florida are keeping their distance from the frontrunner.

With a battleground this bloodied, can political parties be saved?

It’s an uncomfortable question that could have serious implications for future statewide candidates like Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Congresswoman Gwen Graham. Each hopes to run for governor in 2018 relying on a durable, traditional, governing coalition.

But 2016 laid waste to durable traditions as Florida and the nation showed that its allegiance to political parties was over.

“I think we’ve got 20 more years of disruption ahead of us,” predicts Steve Schale, the Democratic consultant to who steered Obama’s victory in Florida in 2008. “You’ve got a generation of people who are growing up in a time when traditional organizations are not vital to the world. We have to figure out what do we look like in the next 20 years, and do we even exist?” 

The numbers tell just part of the story. Of the 2.1 million new registered voters in Florida since 2012, 28 percent have registered Republican, 31 percent Democrat and 42 percent registered anything else, according to data analyzed by Associated Industries of Florida.

David Johnson, former executive director of the Republican Party who worked on Bush’s Right to Rise political committee this election cycle, is among those who say his party has reached an existential crisis.

“The Republican Party is torn apart,” he said, and how it handles Trump’s divisive campaign will be the crucial test. “There is no question in my mind there is a path toward a viable third or fourth party in the future.” More here

Illustration: Tim Goheen, KRT


May 16, 2016

Rep. Wilson to chair hearing on helping young people of color


Rep. Frederica Wilson on Tuesday will bring together lawmakers and youth experts from Florida and beyond for a congressional forum on expanding opportunities for black and Latino young people.

Michael Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and head of the White House My Brother's Keeper program, will moderate the forum. Wilson will be joined by Arnaldo Gonzalez, Miami-Dade Schools chief of growth and development, and education leaders from North Carolina, Virginia and other states.

Also speaking will be Albert Dotson Jr., a board member of 100 Black Men of America who helps run the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

"As the founder of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an in-school dropout prevention and mentoring program, I have experienced firsthand the powerful influence that a caring adult can have on a young person's life," Wilson, a third-term Democrat from Miami Gardens, said.

In February, Wilson helped launch the Congressional My Brother's Keeper Caucus. It now has 18 members, among them Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar; South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat; and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

When he started the My Brother's Keeper mentoring program in 2014, Obama drew criticism from some advocacy groups for excluding young women and girls. Wilson's hearing Tuesday will focus on expanding opportunities for male and female people of color.





May 10, 2016

Payday lenders have given millions to Florida politicians

Payday lenders have donated about $2.5 million to Florida politicians and and both political parties in recent years, according to a new analysis by a liberal group.

Allied Progress has drawn attention to the issue of payday lending in Florida by attacking U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic national committee chair, and other politicians who have taken money from the industry.

The group gave the Miami Herald an advanced copy of its new report, “A Florida Plan: How Payday lenders bought Florida’s political establishment.” The report lists donations given to federal and state candidates as well as the state’s Republican and Democratic parties since 2009.

Overall, Republicans received $1.6 million and Democrats received about $890,000, while $29,000 went to independents. But the top individual recipients were South Florida Democrats.

Keep reading from the Miami Herald.