November 22, 2016

Negron, Corcoran now officially in charge of Florida Legislature

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@stevebousquet @MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Under new leadership, the Florida Legislature entered a strange new world Tuesday as the House speaker condemned the entrenched power of lobbyists and called for major changes in spending sure to be opposed by the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, described a Capitol controlled by lobbyists and politically-wired vendors, with lawmakers doing their bidding at the expense of taxpayers.

“Too many bills filed in session are given to members by lobbyists and special interests,” Corcoran said. “Too many lobbyists see themselves as the true power brokers of this process. Too many appropriations projects are giveaways to vendors and the decision of whether they get in the budget has more to do with their choice of lobbyist than the merits of the project … It all ends, and it all ends today.”

But it won’t all end as easily as it sounds.

Despite Corcoran’s zeal for reforming the process of lawmaking, he controls only one side of the Capitol. The Senate, led by Republican Joe Negron of Stuart, has very different ideas.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 21, 2016

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

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@ByKristenMClark

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

Florida Legislature's leadership for 2016-18 includes major Miami-Dade influence

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@ByKristenMClark

For the next two years and potentially beyond, lawmakers representing Miami-Dade County are poised to wield extreme influence in the Florida Legislature — the likes of which they haven’t had in a decade or more.

At least seven Miami-Dade legislators — and potentially a few more yet to be announced — will hold powerful leadership positions from now through 2018 under incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

These roles should ensure Miami-Dade’s mark on everything from school choice measures and gambling regulations to which local projects get funding priority.

The 2016-18 Legislature will be sworn in Tuesday during a one-day organizational session, when Negron and Corcoran will also formally take over as chamber leaders.

Both the new Senate president and House speaker have chosen Republican women from Miami as their top lieutenants: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, respectively.

Below them will be a slew of committee chairs from Miami-Dade, too, who will have the ability — particularly in the House — to hold sway over statewide policy and the purse strings of the state’s $82 billion budget.

Among those chairs is Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who Corcoran named leader of the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee. Oliva is also what his Miami colleagues call the “speaker in waiting,” poised to succeed Corcoran as head of the chamber two years from now.

For local residents, these positions of influence for Miami-Dade legislators mean the senators and representatives they elected — especially the Republican ones, since that party holds the majority in both chambers — will be among the key decision-makers in Tallahassee with the ability to put the county’s needs and priorities at the forefront for possibly years to come.

“It’s access to where decisions get made,” Nuñez said. “We really are in a unique position and our citizens are the better for it.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 17, 2016

Miami-Dade declares Asencio finished ahead by 53 votes, but Rivera challenges result

via @glenngarvin

The recount of the nip-and-tuck legislative race between Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera ended Thursday with Asencio 53 votes ahead — but even before the last ballot was checked, Rivera officially contested the election, a move that will likely delay the naming of a victor for weeks or even months.

After 10 hours counting ballots, the Miami-Dade County elections department declared that Asencio finished with 31,412 votes and Rivera 31,359 — a margin 15 votes closer than when the recount began.

The race was so close it actually triggered two recounts — the first by machine, and the second a hand-examination of ballots the machines thought were marked with votes for too many candidates or too few.

And it may get even tighter. Rivera’s lawyers asked elections officials to impound about 300 disputed ballots — mostly absentee ballots on which the voter’s signature was either missing or ruled not to match signatures in elections department records.

“We’ve already got affidavits from 59 of those voters saying they legitimately voted by mail and cast their ballots for me,” said Rivera, noting that would be enough to tip the election the other way.

More here.

November 14, 2016

Florida Senate already critical of Corcoran plan to 'shut down' budget

The ink wasn't dry on incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran's rewrite of House rules and the Senate's first reaction was not positive -- the first of what will be many signs that his new way of doing things will cause a major stir in the Capitol.

Corcoran's 117-page rewrite of House rules is a manifesto for many changes to the status quo in Tallahassee. What has drawn much early media attention is his insistence on less interaction between lawmakers and lobbyists, such as a texting and email ban during floor sessions and committee meetings.

But a far-reaching change that could set the tone for the entire 2017 session is Corcoran's creation of an entirely new system for getting local projects funded in future state budgets. The new rules require that every project paid for with one-time or nonrecurring money also be filed as stand-alone bills by March 7, the first day of the session, meaning each one must be debated on its merits and they can no longer be tucked inside a mammoth spending plan in the final days.

Corcoran's counterpart for the next two years, Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is, like Corcoran, a budget wonk. Negron has been chairman of the appropriations committees in both chambers and is a sealous protector of the Senate's spending prerogatives that now must respect the House's rigid timetable. Negron flatly disputed Corcoran's contention that the House plan increases budget transparency.

"I respect the right of the House to produce its own rules on the budget, and I certainly think that there's a case to be made that there should be an opportunity for the public to be heard," Negron told the Times/Herald. "But the budget process should not be shut down before the session starts. That results in less public input, not more public input."

Another new layer of spending scrutiny will soon emerge from the House.

Corcoran and his staff are putting the final touches on a survey questionnaire that every group seeking money for projects will have to complete. The survey, with about 40 questions, requires information on who's registered to lobby for the project, what services will be provided to citizens and whether financially disadvantaged Floridians will benefit.

November 11, 2016

With state order, machine recount for Asencio-Rivera House race set for Monday

@ByKristenMClark

As expected, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has ordered a machine recount in a tight race between Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera for Miami-Dade County's House District 118 seat.

In unofficial results, Asencio edged Rivera by just 68 votes -- a tenth of a percentage point. State law requires automatic recounts when results are within a half of a percentage point.

More here.

 

November 09, 2016

After U.S. Senate defeat, Patrick Murphy taking time for himself

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@ByKristenMClark

Following his decisive loss to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday night, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is keeping a low profile.

He's not doing any media interviews today, his campaign said. (The Herald/Times did request one.) The two-term Jupiter congressman has "no immediate plans" other than spending the next few days with family and friends, his campaign said.

After a hard-fought, 20-month campaign, advisers say Murphy was realistic about his odds and was prepared for Tuesday's outcome -- long indicated by consistent polls in Rubio's favor.

Murphy also knew that, regardless of the result, his life would change Tuesday, his campaign said: He'd either be a newly elected U.S. senator or he'd be on his way out as a public official.

Voters decided the latter would be Murphy's fate.

Photo credit: Jim Rassol / Sun Sentinel

Rubio's margin of victory: 716,833 votes

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@ByKristenMClark

While some expected Florida's U.S. Senate race to be relatively close at the end, Florida voters were decisive in re-electing Republican Marco Rubio on Tuesday.

In complete but unofficial results, Rubio's margin of victory was 8 percentage points -- 716,833 votes, to be precise, out almost 9.3 million cast.

Rubio outperformed president-elect Donald Trump -- who took Florida by about 120,000 votes out of almost 9.4 million cast -- while Rubio's Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy underperformed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Rubio beat Murphy 52 percent to 44 percent, while Trump beat Clinton in Florida 49 percent to 48 percent.

MORE: Rubio returns to U.S. Senate

Murphy, a two-term congressman from Jupiter, won the majority of the vote in only nine of Florida's 67 counties -- most of them in reliably blue hotspots: Alachua, Gadsen, Leon, Orange, Osceola and St. Lucie counties, plus the Democratic stronghold of South Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach.

While Rubio, of West Miami, lost his home county to Murphy by 109,000 votes, Rubio easily won most of Florida's rural counties and two key metros: Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. In Florida bellwether Hillsborough County, Rubio won by just 2,900 votes, with stronger support in the surrounding counties. In Duval County, Rubio's advantage was more than 69,000 votes.

Murphy -- who will now exit Congress in January after representing the Treasure Coast and northern Palm Beach County for four years -- had a mixed bag in his moderate congressional district. (His redistricted seat went back in the red column Tuesday, won by Republican Brian Mast.)

He won in Palm Beach County by more than 61,000 votes and eked by in St. Lucie County with 3,300 more votes than Rubio. However, he lost Martin County to Rubio by more than 16,000 votes.

Polls had shown Rubio ahead in nearly all polls in the Senate race -- by various margins -- since he declared for re-election in June. Less than a handful had Murphy evenly tied with him.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal / Miami Herald

November 08, 2016

Marco Rubio easily keeps seat in U.S. Senate

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@JeremySWallace @KristenMClark @DavidOvalle305

Marco Rubio is headed back to the U.S. Senate with his prospects of another run for president intact.

Rubio defeated two-term Congressman Patrick Murphy, who couldn’t overcome poor name recognition or questions about embellishments on his résumé.

Tuesday’s outcome was not a surprise given Rubio never trailed in 47 consecutive public polls of the race since he jumped into the contest in June. Yet given that Rubio emphatically stated he would not run for re-election six months ago, the outcome was still improbable.

Rubio, flanked by his family, took the stage at his watch party shortly before 9 p.m. to the cheers of a raucous crowd inside a ballroom at Miami’s Airport Hilton

He said he talked to Murphy by phone. “He ran a great race.”

In his brief remarks, Rubio struck a optimistic tone, making no mention of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He took a sharply different tact than Trump, his party’s standard bearer who campaigned with divisive rhetoric.

“America is going to be OK. We will turn this country around. I have faith. I know God is not done with America yet,” Rubio said, adding: “While we can disagree on issues, we cannot share a country where people hate each other because of their political affiliations. We cannot move forward as a nation if we can not have enlightened debates about tough issues."

More here.

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee / AP

Patrick Murphy wraps up Election Day still on the campaign trail

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@ByKristenMClark & @DavidJNeal

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy spent Election Day in his familiar territory of South Florida trying to maximize as many votes as possible in what's expected to be a close outcome between him and Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The Miami-born Palm Beach County congressman began the day in north Miami-Dade County -- including with a stop at a polling site he visited on the day of the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, which he won decisively.

"I think it's good luck to be in this location," Murphy said at the North Dade Regional Library in Miami Gardens. "So we're here making sure people show up to vote, getting those last few voters, making sure if they have any questions, we're here to answer them.”

MORE: Live coverage of Election 2016: Here’s what’s happening right now

The hip-hop and modern soul music from WEDR 99 Jamz booth that dominated the library parking lot got stepped on by chants of “Mur-phy! Mur-phy! Mur-phy!” as Murphy shook hands, posed for selfies and talked with supporters before hitting the radio booth.

Asked what he wanted to see on Election Day to indicate he'd defeat Rubio, Murphy said, “Long lines. People show up to vote, we win.”

“It's going to be a close race,” he said. “It's Florida. We expect close races.”

By this afternoon, Murphy had made his way up to Palm Beach Gardens -- home to his campaign office and where Murphy's campaign is hosting its Election Night watch party.

Speaking with reporters, he repeated similar themes of optimism for victory and echoed some of the main talking points of his campaign as a final pitch to TV viewers.

He also said -- on the final day of his 20-month campaign -- that if voters elect him to the U.S. Senate, he's going to work on his Spanish.

At one of his last stops of the campaign, Murphy was asked twice Tuesday afternoon by reporters from Spanish-language media if he could offer a message to their viewers in Spanish.

With a quiet, awkward laugh, all Murphy could humbly say each time was: "Gracias por su voto." ("Thank you for your vote.")

After the second reporter had asked, Murphy jokingly explained: "At one point I was pretty much fluent in Spanish, but I’ve lost it in 14 years, so if elected to the U.S. Senate, that’s something I’m definitely going to brush up on."

Murphy has lagged Rubio throughout the general election campaign this fall, but Murphy says he's optimistic tonight and predicted, "I think we win by 1 or 2 points."

But if he doesn't win, what are his plans? "I haven't thought about that yet," Murphy said with a big grin. "Call me tomorrow morning."

Murphy is campaigning down to the wire in an effort, he said, to maximize voter turnout. His campaign has sent out a half-dozen fundraising emails today making last-minute pleas for money and support.

"We're just trying to do everything we can to get our message out there," Murphy said.

Murphy's dozen supporters at the Palm Beach Gardens library -- waving signs and chanting and cheering -- were outnumbered by the army of media that's come in to town to cover the conclusion of Florida's nationally watched U.S. Senate race.

Clark reported from Palm Beach Gardens, and Neal reported from Miami Gardens.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau