June 13, 2016

Todd Wilcox announces statewide tour to discuss national security

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox will embark on a three-day statewide tour this week to discuss national security issues with voters.

The tour -- which his campaign has titled "Preserving Peace through Strength" -- will stop in Tampa, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Amelia Island and Jacksonville between Tuesday and Thursday. (The tour does not include stops in South Florida.)

Wilcox's campaign had been planning the tour for a couple weeks, but the discussion topic is especially timely after the Orlando nightclub shooting on Sunday -- the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history perpetrated by a U.S. citizen who, authorities say, pledged support for ISIS in a 911 call shortly before the attack.

"As we approach this historic election, we must examine the context of our current U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy within which our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are serving," Wilcox said in a statement.

He added: "The unspeakable act of terror in my hometown this weekend remains on the forefront of concern this week for all of us and my hope is that this previously scheduled series of events serves as an opportunity to have thoughtful dialogue with veterans, GOP activists, community leaders, concerned Floridians and business owners about the impact our nation’s foreign policy has on our safety and security here at home."

Wilcox himself is a combat veteran and former CIA case officer.

Wilcox's Tallahassee stop on Wednesday will be held at the Florida Bureau of Elections, indicating that's when Wilcox might officially file his qualifying papers for the Aug. 30 primary.

Here is the schedule for his tour:

Continue reading "Todd Wilcox announces statewide tour to discuss national security" »

$1.9M raised since Feb. 1 in contested Miami-Dade Senate races

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County is proving more and more why it's a battleground for the Florida Legislature this year.

Candidates for the four competitive Florida Senate seats in Miami-Dade have raised about $1.9 million over the past four months, an analysis of newly filed campaign finance reports showed.

Current Miami Republican Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores raised almost $600,000 between them in May alone in their bids for re-election in newly redrawn districts.

And that's not counting lucrative help that's starting to pour in from an arm of the state party, which would like to keep as many Republicans in the Senate as possible.

Because of redistricting, several Miami-Dade County seats are in play in November. Democrats see an opening to win potentially a few more seats in the Senate and narrow the Republican's 26-14 majority.

But despite fielding competitive candidates, Democrats are falling behind in the fundraising game.

From Feb. 1 -- after which time most candidates filed for their current races once the redrawn districts were set -- through May, Republican state Senate candidates together have raised three times as much as the Democrats across three of Miami-Dade's four competitive races. That's a valuable advantage because the cost to advertise on radio and TV in Miami is among the most expensive in the state.

Continue reading "$1.9M raised since Feb. 1 in contested Miami-Dade Senate races" »

June 12, 2016

'This is our Paris': Florida U.S. Senate candidates react to Orlando nightclub shooting

@ByKristenMClark

The eight Republican and Democratic contenders for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat were quick to weigh in this morning on social media about the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which happened overnight at an Orlando nightclub.

Most offered measured responses for thoughts and prayers, while one spoke of her support for gun control and another laid definitive -- but yet unproven -- blame for the gunman's motive.

Republican candidate Carlos Beruff called the tragedy "an evil act of a radical Islamic terrorist in Orlando." He added: "Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families this morning."

As of this morning, local, state and federal authorities were still investigating the gunman and his potential motives. He has been identified as Omar Mateen, of Port St. Lucie. He is of Afghan descent. Investigators are exploring whether Mateen could have been self-radicalized, or had connections to overseas terrorism groups, the Miami Herald reported.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Pam Keith, of Miami, tweeted in the wake of the shooting: "I will NEVER cease advocating for measures that will reduce the number of Americans who die from gun violence." (Along a similar vein, the Florida League of Women Voters issued a call to action this morning, demanding better gun control laws in Florida.)

Democratic candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson -- whose Orlando-based district is a few miles away from the Pulse nightclub where the shooting occurred -- called it a "terrorist attack" and posted information on his Facebook page about grief counseling services available to Orlando-area residents and the need for blood donations.

In a statement, Grayson said: "Our thoughts and our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the entire Orlando community. Words cannot express the horror, pain and sadness that we feel about this terrible loss. I commend the Orlando police for their heroic efforts to save the lives of those who could be saved."

Republican Todd Wilcox, an Orlando businessman, said he was "holding my girls a little closer this morning."

"Prayers for those impacted by the unspeakable act of terror in our hometown of Orlando," he tweeted. 

Democratic Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said he was "devastated by the news of the shooting in Orlando." Murphy represents northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, including Port St. Lucie where authorities say the gunman was from.

"My heart goes out to the victims, their friends and family, and all those affected by this horrifying tragedy, including those in the LGBT community," Murphy wrote on Facebook. "Orlando is stronger than this act of hate and evil. Thank you to our first responders for your brave and selfless actions." 

Republican Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. David Jolly, of Indian Shores, said: "This is our Paris. Let us never forget -- and let us always resolve to confront and defeat terror at the hands of evil."

Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera said: "Our prayers are with those and their families devastated by last night’s act of terror."

Added Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach: "My thoughts & prayers are with the victims, families & people of Orlando. Thanks to law enforcement who responded to this act of terror."

June 10, 2016

DLP vs. JJR contest in Miami-Dade begins as a tie, Democratic poll says

@ByKristenMClark

A competitive Miami-Dade state Senate seat is a toss-up with almost a third of potential voters undecided about five months ahead of the general election, according to an internal Democratic poll obtained by the Herald/Times.

In the race for the newly redrawn District 37 seat, Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is up two percentage points on Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez -- a statistical tie, since it's within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The two candidates, both of whom live in Miami, officially launched their campaigns in May, though they filed for the race several months ago.

About 37 percent of those surveyed said they preferred Diaz de la Portilla, 35 percent supported Rodriguez and 29 percent were undecided, according to the polling memo. Raw data from the poll, including a list of specific questions asked, was requested but not provided.

From June 1-6, Tampa-based SEA Polling & Strategic Design surveyed 540 district voters expected to vote in the legislative contest. The poll was paid for by the Florida Democratic Party as an in-kind contribution to Rodriguez's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

It's one of a few Miami-Dade state Senate seats that Florida Democrats hope to win in November, which would help them narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

But it'll be a rough battle between Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez.

Heading into May, Diaz de la Portilla had considerably stronger fundraising numbers than Rodriguez. (The campaigns' reports for May are due today and not available yet.)

And the sitting senator also picked up a valuable endorsement this week from the Florida chapter of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It's rare for labor unions to endorse Republican candidates. (AFSCME Florida also endorsed Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores this week in her close contest against Democrat Andrew Korge for District 39.)

The Democratic poll for District 37 showed potential voters' party preference leans in Democrats' favor. In general, 39 percent of respondents said they would support a Democratic candidate, 35 percent said they would support a Republican candidate, 22 percent had no preference and 4 percent said they didn't know.

"We know that Miami-Dade continues to change and the poll confirms what we’ve known all along," Christian Ulvert, a campaign adviser to Rodriguez, said in a statement. "Despite almost 30 years of a Diaz de la Portilla in office in Miami-Dade, Jose Javier Rodriguez starts the race tied with Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. The residents in SD37 are very much aligned with the values and principles of Jose Javier Rodriguez and he is well-positioned to carry the district with their support."

Diaz de la Portilla found optimism in the poll, too, and was critical of his opponent.

"The reason Mr. Rodriguez can't even win in his own paid push poll is the same reason why he won't win this election: People here know he parachuted into our community a few short years ago to run for office," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message. "My constituents will ask themselves: If he doesn't know us and doesn't share our values, how can he represent us?"

Todd Wilcox inducted into Army ROTC Hall of Fame

@ByKristenMClark

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox was inducted into the Army ROTC Hall of Fame on Friday during a ceremony at Fort Knox in Kentucky.

Wilcox is a combat veteran and former CIA case officer. When he was younger, he earned an Army ROTC scholarship to attend the University of Tampa.

"It was there that I shed this idea that I didn't deserve more. It was there that I learned the value of hard work, the necessity of personal discipline and the value of genuine leadership," Wilcox said in a statement released by his campaign. "I am living proof that circumstances be damned -- we all have a right to succeed in this country so long as we are willing to work and sacrifice for it."

He credited his career accomplishments to the fact that "a little over 30 years ago the Reserve Officers Training Corps took a chance on a kid from the wrong side of town."

"What began as a way out, ultimately became the way up and I owe that to the ROTC," Wilcox said.

Wilcox is among five Republican candidates for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, currently held by Marco Rubio.

Read more about Wilcox's life in this Herald/Times profile published Friday.

The two Carloses of Florida's U.S. Senate race trade barbs

@ByKristenMClark

Continuing to dog his primary opponent for skipping a political forum last week, Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera on Friday offered to pay for an Uber ride for fellow U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff so that Beruff could meet him on an event stage this weekend in Sarasota County.

Lopez Cantera's jab included a veiled reference to a speeding ticket Beruff once got for going 103 mph, as well as an attack on Beruff for supporting Charlie Crist after the former governor famously denounced the Republican Party and declared himself first an independent and then a Democrat.

The response from Beruff and his campaign: Calling Lopez Cantera a "lightweight" whose "obsession" with Beruff is "a little sad" and accusing Lopez Cantera of being "Charlie Crist's majority leader."

Beruff's absence from a political forum in South Florida last week has made him a prime target in recent days for his primary opponents in the race to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate.

The Boca Raton event was supposed to be the first political forum that featured all five Republican contenders. Beruff's campaign initially claimed a scheduling conflict, but then Beruff told a Sarasota TV station he "was never gonna go."

Earlier this week, Lopez Cantera accused Beruff of playing "political dodgeball" and avoiding voters. And then businessman Todd Wilcox, another candidate, questioned Beruff's manhood in an open letter on Thursday because Beruff said his four opponents weren't "worth debating." (The other two candidates in the GOP primary are U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly.)

In a statement today, Lopez Cantera said he was "excited to be heading back to Mr. Beruff's backyard this weekend for the NOVA Republican Club Picnic in Venice." Beruff is a developer from nearby Manatee County.

"So Mr. Beruff, here is my challenge to you: Voters deserve to hear why you thought it was appropriate to support Charlie Crist after he left the Republican Party and voters deserve to hear why you took a hard stance against Obama’s Cuba policy when you yourself traveled to Cuba to advocate for Obama’s policies," Lopez Cantera said. “If you are not afraid to answer these questions and maybe a few more, I look forward to seeing you there, and to avoid any urge to speed I am happy to send an Uber to pick you up and drop you back off."

Beruff's campaign followed up this afternoon with a statement, blasting Lopez Cantera as a "professional politician (who) forgets part of his own resume."

"The Lieutenant Governor's obsession with Carlos Beruff is starting to get a little sad, but this is what professional politicians do when they're desperate – they sling mud," Beruff spokesman Chris Hartline said. "Charlie Crist's Majority Leader, who helped advance Charlie's liberal policies -- including $2.2 billion in tax increases on Florida families, is slinging mud because he can't defend his own record."

Speaking to a Herald/Times reporter at a Jacksonville campaign stop today, Beruff himself called Lopez Cantera a "lightweight."

To clarify, Beruff's jab about Crist isn't entirely accurate. While Lopez Cantera took over as House majority leader in late 2010 -- while Crist was still in office -- he actually led the chamber during the first two years of Republican Gov. Rick Scott's administration.

After seeing Beruff's campaign statement, Lopez Cantera spokeswoman Courtney Alexander asked: "So is that a 'no' to the Uber? Or a 'no' to Charlie Crist?"

Herald/Times reporter Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report from Jacksonville.

Scratch one Bondi complaint, as Florida Bar has no jurisdiction

via @stevebousquet

The Massachusetts lawyer who wants an investigation of Attorney General Pam Bondi won't be getting much of a response from the Florida Bar.

Bondi is a member of the Florida Cabinet, a lawyer and member of the Bar, but as long as she holds public office, she's beyond the Bar's jurisdiction. Citing a writ of prohibition issued by the Supreme Court in 1982 that dealt with separation of powers issues, the Bar says anyone who files a complaint against a lawyer who at the time holds a constitutional office receives this response:

"The Florida Supreme Court has held that a person elected to a constitutionally created office who must be a lawyer to hold that office is not answerable to the Florida Bar while that person holds that office. Therefore, the Bar does not have jurisdiction over the elected state attorney or elected public defender in any of our judicial circuits, nor do we have jurisdiction over the attorney general of our state."

The Bar also notes that under the Florida Constitution, a Cabinet member is exclusively subject to impeachment proceedings by the state House of Representatives "for misdemeanor in office."

Attorney J. Whitfield Larrabee III of Brookline, Mass. filed a complaint with the Bar Wednesday based on news accounts that she solicited a $25,000 campaign contribution from Donald Trump in 2013 at a time when her office had on file at least one complaint from a disgruntled customer of Trump University, the GOP presidential candidate's now-defunct real estate academy.

Trump U is a defendant in class-action civil suits involving customers living in California, Florida and New York who accuse the program of fraud and deceptive trade practices.

Larrabee accused Bondi of a conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety. He also filed complaints against with Bondi with the Florida Elections Commission and Commission on Ethics. Bondi has called all three complaints "attacks without merit and I am confident it will be shown they have no basis in fact."

Ex-CIA officer Todd Wilcox portrays himself as 'warrior' running for U.S. Senate

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via @michaelauslen

Before the United States invaded Iraq, Todd Wilcox led some of the first Americans on the ground as a CIA officer.

In Operation Desert Storm, he earned a Bronze Star after his Army platoon captured more than 250 Iraqi soldiers. From a Japanese base, he led a team of snipers in hostage situations throughout East Asia.

Florida Senate candidate Todd Wilcox speaks to members and guests of the Plant City Republican Women Federated Women’s Club meeting in Plant City, April 21, 2016.David W. Doonan Tampa Bay Times

More than a decade later, though, he’s struggling to command attention on a new, political battlefield at the Florida Gun Show.

It’s a friendly crowd for a guy like Wilcox, a life member of the NRA who’s shopping for a new scope for his gun, as well as for voters. But few passersby stop under the “Restoring America’s Prominence” banner he set up that May morning to hear his earnest pitch to replace Marco Rubio as the next U.S. senator from Florida.

“That apathy’s going to kill us,” says Wilcox, 49, one of five Republicans angling for attention in a race full of unknowns and little-knowns. By “us” he doesn’t just mean his own campaign; he means the United States.

Apathy is the first step toward the failure of America’s 240-year experiment with democracy, he says. Career politicians have turned voters off government, making them complacent and the nation vulnerable.

Wilcox insists he isn’t like those politicians.

He says it’s time for a change. More specifically: “It’s time to elect a warrior.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: David W. Doonan / Tampa Bay Times

 

June 09, 2016

Helen Aguirre Ferré: 'I will not cow to political pressure'

via @alextdaugherty

Helen Aguirre Ferré will not step down as head of the board of trustees at Miami Dade College after taking a new job as the Hispanic communications chief for the Republican Party, she said Thursday.

Democrats and activist groups have been calling on Aguirre Ferré to leave her post at the college because her new job will require her to support Donald Trump and other Republicans that want to deport undocumented immigrants.

“I will not cow to political pressure,” Aguirre Ferré said after days of silence on the issue. “It’s never been a secret that I am a Republican. I’ve been a member of the board of trustees for many years now and I do so as a volunteer. I believe in the mission of community college and what it offers to students.”

On Monday, the Miami Dade College DREAMers started a petition demanding that Aguirre Ferré step down. Miami-Dade GOP chairman Nelson Diaz said on Tuesday that if he were in Ferre’s position, he would step down because of pressure from Democrats and activists.

“It’s sad because she is putting Miami Dade College in a very bad position,” Maria Bilbao of the Miami Dade College DREAMers said. “She has to promote Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a racist. He wants to deport me, my son, 11 million immigrants and Muslim people.”

Read more here.

Alan Grayson should donate 'African slave labor profits,' opponent says

@ByKristenMClark

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy's campaign says his primary opponent Alan Grayson should donate to charity any profits Grayson or his children made from previous investments in a company that operated in Eritrea -- an east African country whose government leaders, a United Nations commission now says, have committed "crimes against humanity."

Bloomberg Politics reported back in February that Grayson's children invested in -- and profited from -- a Canadian company called Nevsun that operates a gold and copper mine in Eritrea. The country is accused of using "forced labor via the national service program to help build the mine," Bloomberg reported.

Grayson told Bloomberg at the time: "I didn’t know, I couldn’t have known, and I did nothing wrong, nor did my children" and that "if I had known, then I would have divested." (The family ultimately did divest from Nevsun.)

Nonetheless, Murphy's campaign chastised Grayson then for the investment and renewed its call Thursday for Grayson to donate the money his family made.

Why now?

On Wednesday, a United Nations commission of inquiry said it found Eritrea's top political and military leaders "have committed and continue to commit" crimes including enslavement, imprisonment and disappearances, torture, rape and murder," The New York Times reported.

The newspaper wrote: "One of the most egregious offenses, the United Nation commission found, was the forced conscription of young people in a never-ending national service program that has driven thousands of young Eritreans to flee, many to Europe."

The Eritrean government denounced the report, saying it was deeply flawed and unsupported by evidence, the Times reported.

"While it’s barely a surprise to those who know his character, it is truly unconscionable that Alan Grayson refuses to donate this money to charity," Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said in a statement. "If Congressman Grayson has any sense of decency, he will donate every penny of his profit from the suffering of innocent people."

Bloomberg said it's unclear how much Grayson's family made from its investments. When asked by the Herald/Times for a response to Murphy's appeal, Grayson's campaign didn't specifically address it; his campaign manager, Michael Ceraso, said "once more Patrick Murphy is trying to distract voters."

"Rep. Grayson has a strong record of professional and legislative accomplishments, and nothing to hide," Ceraso said. "Rep. Grayson will fight to expand Social Security, Medicare and the minimum wage. That's what voters really care about."

Grayson and Murphy -- both U.S. congressmen -- and Miami labor attorney and former naval officer Pam Keith are running in the Aug. 30 primary in the race for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.