July 10, 2017

Former Doral council member may run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat



Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a former Doral city council member and Republican, said she is seriously considering a bid for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat in 2018.

Rodriguez Aguilera was a council member from 2012 to 2014 when she lost to former councilman Pete Cabrera. She previously worked as the city's economic development director.

Rodriguez Aguilera owns Bettinara Enterprises, a company that assists people in understanding how government works. She also created a women's leadership certificate program which she teaches at Miami Dade College.

Democrats view Ros-Lehtinen's retirement as a chance to pick up a left leaning seat. Ros-Lehtinen, who did not vote for President Donald Trump, has often disagreed with her own party including her vote against the GOP health care plan.

Rodriguez Aguilera said she voted for Trump.

"I am a Republican -- I had to look at the choices," she said. "I voted for who I believed at that point was the person that I needed to vote for but I would like to consider the issues and problems that the community has. Money and economic development do not have a Republican or Democratic stamp on it."

Asked about the GOP health care plan that narrowly passed the House in May, Rodriguez Aguilera said she is still "studying the different options." 

Other Republicans who have said they are running including former School Board Member Raquel Regalado and Miami Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Maria Peiro, who ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 primary, is also running.

On the Democratic side, the candidates include state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person.




June 29, 2017

Miami Republicans vote against bill to expand penalties on sanctuary cities



Donald Trump campaigned as a tough-on-immigration Republican who would roll back Obama-era protections for undocumented immigrants.

But he can’t count on Miami’s Republican delegation in the House to back him on every facet of his immigration agenda.

The three Republicans, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against a bill on Thursday that would deny federal law-enforcement funds to cities that choose not to comply with the federal government’s effort to enforce tougher immigration laws.

“I think this one is frankly too broad,” Diaz-Balart said.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 228-195. The Miami trio were among just seven Republicans who voted against the bill, which passed largely on party lines.

But the three Republicans did vote for another bill on Thursday trumpeted by Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would expand criminal penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes. The bill, dubbed Kate’s Law, is named after Kate Steinle, a San Francisco woman murdered by an illegal immigrant who was in the U.S. despite multiple deportations.

“I think most people would agree, you’re here in this country illegally, you’re doing terrible things, you’re just a bad apple. Let’s get rid of you,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We have so many good people who want to come. That’s totally different than the sanctuary cities issue where so many of those folks are good people. That makes no distinction between whether they are good people or criminals. But in Kate’s Law we’re talking about criminals who have done horrible things. I don’t care if they’re American or from Central America. You’re bad, you’ve got to be in jail and you should be deported.”

Read more here. 

June 22, 2017

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Debbie Wasserman Schultz take on the media — in softball



Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had her shot to one-up the Fourth Estate on the softball field Wednesday night, as she suited up against Washington reporters decades her junior who spend their days needling members of Congress about Donald Trump’s latest tweet or trying to snag a quote for their story.

But just after Ros-Lehtinen took her place in right field in the first inning of the ninth annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game, NPR reporter Tamara Keith blooped a single that scooted underneath the glove of the longtime Miami Republican.

“Sorry!” Ros-Lehtinen yelled as she ran after the ball.

Sprinting after her was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the ultra-competitive second baseman for congressional team, ready to field Ros-Lehtinen’s cutoff throw.

But their combined efforts couldn’t stop two runs from scoring, and the play turned out to be the decisive blow in a close 2-1 game won by the reporters.

“We come out here to practice two or three mornings a week and for an old lady like me it feels really good,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Wednesday’s game was more than just an opportunity for reporters and politicians to take out their frustrations on one another, it was also a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness.

The annual game was started by Wasserman Schultz and former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., in 2009 to build bipartisanship and raise funds for a charity dedicated to helping young women identify and treat breast cancer.

Wasserman Schultz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and when she decided to go public in 2009, Emerson approached her about starting the game.

“The idea was the baseball game was played by men but we didn’t really have a sport the women played,” Wasserman Schultz said.

The first game in 2009 pitted members of Congress against their staffers, but “they were much younger so we didn’t do very well,” Waserman Schultz said. Ever since, members of Congress have played the press.

Wednesday’s game raised $292,097.59 for the Young Survival Coalition and the game has raised more than $1.1 million for charity since 2009.

“It’s so personal for me and all these women on the press team,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The softball field is a politics-free zone.”

But it’s not a competition-free zone.

Wasserman Schultz, a team captain along with Ros-Lehtinen, was involved in numerous collisions at second base and pumped her fist when Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida made an accurate throw to her to nail a runner.

“I’m a little competitive,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Read more here. 

What Jon Ossoff’s loss means for Democrats trying to win swing seats in Miami

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Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old centrist Democrat who didn’t live in the Atlanta-area district he was seeking to represent in Congress and whose resume includes stints as a Capitol Hill staffer and documentary film producer, just ran the most expensive campaign ever for a House seat.

He lost.

Now, the focus turns to the 2018 election for Democrats where their best chance at breaking up a Republican-controlled government runs through the House.

“We as Democrats have to come to terms with the fact that we lost again,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat gaining buzz for a potential presidential run in 2020. “We’re the party that stands up for working families, the middle class and yet many of them are not voting for us.”

Democrats must flip 24 seats to control the House, and two Miami-Dade seats currently occupied by Republicans are considered near must-wins: the open seat occupied by retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Miami-to-Key West seat occupied by Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“I applaud the enthusiasm behind Ossoff’s candidacy, but how many Democrats could we have gotten elected for $30 million?” said Scott Fuhrman, a Miami Democrat who lost to Ros-Lehtinen by 10 percentage points in 2016 even though national Democrats chose not to spend in the race. Fuhrman was planning to run against Ros-Lehtinen again before she announced her retirement and a slew of Democrats jumped in the race. He dropped out in early June.

Local Democrats are quick to warn outsiders like Daily Kos Elections, a liberal blog that kick-started the cash flow to Ossoff, that using messages that resonate with the Democratic base nationally may not be the best idea in Miami, where foreign policy issues in Latin America are of large importance to Democrats, independents and Republicans alike.

“In Miami generally it is very difficult to tie national winds to what goes on in Miami-Dade County because we’re such a unique little island of diversity,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic consultant who worked on Fuhrman’s campaign and will work in the election to replace Ros-Lehtinen.

Fuhrman put part of the blame on minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, chair of the Democrats’ fundraising organization.

“Moral victories in politics are BS and at the end of the day Democrats needed a win last night and they didn’t get it and people should be held accountable,” Fuhrman said. “For whatever reason people tend to fail up in our organization.”

The nearly $50 million invested into Ossoff’s campaign, along with months of attention from national Democrats and constant media coverage, didn’t pan out.

Read more here. 

June 21, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen files bill to aid young cancer patients, inspired in part by FIU alumna


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen chose Wednesday, the day of the Congressional Women's Softball Game that raises money for women with breast cancer, to file legislation geared at helping young cancer patients.

Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado introduced the Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act that would allow cancer patients to defer public student loan payments without interest while undergoing treatment. 

"For these individuals, a cancer diagnosis goes beyond the exhaustive treatment, including medical expenditures," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. "It often leads to unemployment or underemployment." 

Helping drive the bill, according to Ros-Lehtinen's office, was Kate Houghton, a Florida International University alumna and former Capitol Hill staffer who was diagnosed with cancer in her mid-20s. She now heads a group called Critical Mass, which provides resources for young adults with cancer.

Houghton is also involved with the annual softball game, a favorite of the retiring Ros-Lehtinen, who likes to use Twitter to trash-talk her opponents on the field: female congressional reporters, also known as the Bad News Babes.

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

After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts

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Two Republican-held congressional districts in South Florida remain among the most attractive for Democrats to flip next year, according to an internal Democratic memo circulated after the party lost a closely watched and incredibly expensive special Georgia election Tuesday night.

Recent Democratic polls in Florida's 26th and 27th districts show Democrats doing better than they were when they surveyed voters in the same districts last October, wrote Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Luján's memo tried to keep Democrats motivated after Jon Ossoff's loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Atlanta suburbs -- a race that cost both sides about $55 million, the most expensive in history. In the memo, Luján listed 30 competitive districts Democrats plan to target to try to win back the House in 2018. They would need to flip 24 GOP-controlled districts to do so.

"The House is in play," Luján wrote for the first time. 

Among them are FL-26 and FL-27, now held by Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When Democrats polled Ros-Lehtinen's district in October, a generic Democratic candidate outperformed a generic Republican by 7 percentage points. The beloved Ros-Lehtinen, however, is sui generis: She defeated challenger Scott Fuhrman by nearly 10 points.

But Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Democrats' more recent polling shows a generic Democrat leading a generic Republican by 18 points.

Similarly, Democrats say they've gained ground in the district held by Curbelo, who is running for reelection. A generic Democrat polled evenly with a generic Republican in his district in October; now, Democrats say they're up by 7 points.

Still, a generic ballot is not the same as testing specific candidates. Curbelo is a sophomore much less entrenched than Ros-Lehtinen, but he appears pretty well-liked in his Westchester-to-Key West district. There's perhaps no bigger sign that he's a tough opponent than the fact that he's yet to draw a big-name Democratic challenger ahead of 2018.

If Democrats continue the strategy they tried in Georgia, they will likely keep trying to run in congressional districts against President Donald Trump. In his memo, Luján included a chart noting Trump's job performance is under water in both Ros-Lehtinen's and Curbelo's district. Some 61 percent of respondents have a negative view of Trump's work so far in Ros-Lehtinen's district, according to the DCCC. That number is 52 percent in Curbelo's district.

Luján, who was in South Florida last month, wrote the DCCC will try to recruit candidates across the country in July.

"Let’s look outside of the traditional mold to keep recruiting local leaders, veterans, business owners, women, job-creators, and health professionals," he wrote. "Let’s take the time to find people who fit their districts, have compelling stories, and work hard to earn support from voters."

Read Luján's memo below.

Continue reading "After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts" »

June 19, 2017

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduces bill for a National Smithsonian American Latino Museum

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Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced a bill on Friday that would establish a National Latino Museum on or near the National Mall in Washington D.C., a longtime goal for some members of Congress. The effort comes less than a year after the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened up near the Washington Monument after years of planning. 

Ros-Lehtinen along with other Latino members of Congress like Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., are longtime proponents of a Latino American museum. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn also co-sponsored the Senate version of Ros-Lehtinen's bill with Menendez.   

“Latinos have made incredible contributions to our nation in every field and endeavor," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "This bill is the first step in the right direction to make this museum a reality. Together, in a united  bi-partisan manner we will make this happen. As the first Hispanic woman to serve in the Florida House, Florida Senate, and Congress, I know that while we have made great strides, much more is left to be done and it us up to us to show young Latinos and Latinas that they can achieve great things with hard work and dedication.”

Ros-Lehtinen first introduced bipartisan legislation to jump start a museum project in 2003 with former Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. A 1994 Smithsonian report found that the world's largest museum complex failed to properly recognize Hispanic contributions to art, culture and science. 

The non-profit seeking to create a new museum praised Ros-Lehtinen's longtime interest in establishing a national Latino museum. 

"Upon her retirement, the Friends of the American Latino Museum would like to thank Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for her years of service and vision," the Latino Museum said in a statement. "As the first Latina in Congress, she has earned a rightful place in the future National Smithsonian American Latino Museum she has long fought for." 

June 15, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen backs Trump Cuba policy but won't attend Miami announcement


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen backs President Donald Trump new Cuba policy, but she won't be around for Trump's big announcement Friday.

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring next year, has been critical of Trump. But the White House invited her to attend Trump's policy event in Miami's Manuel Artime Theater. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said she has family plans that will keep her in Washington.

"I fully support President Trump's announcement on his new Cuba policy and I commend my legislative brothers, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, for playing an instrumental role in crafting this initiative which curtails cooperation with the Castro regime's military monopoly GAESA," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "However, I will not be able to travel on Air Force One nor be at the event in Miami due to family commitments in Washington, DC."

Rubio and Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will join Trump, along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Vice President Mike Pence, who was in town Thursday for a conference at Florida International University, might also attend. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is out of town, but the county will have the representation of Chairman Esteban "Steve" Bovo and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto


June 07, 2017

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen blasts Goldman Sachs investment in Venezuela

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Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen took to the House floor on Wednesday to blast Goldman Sachs' recent purchase of $2.8 billion in Venezuelan oil bonds, which hands the socialist government a financial lifeline amid widespread protests and hunger in the South American country. 

Ros-Lehtinen argued that the bond purchase will personally benefit embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

"Goldman Sachs is also adding to the people's misery," Ros-Lehtinen said in a floor speech on Wednesday. "Last week, the investment bank bought $2.8 billion in Venezuelan bonds, not only providing the Maduro regime a lifeline in the short term but saddling the Venezuelan people with crippling debt repayments in the long term. When, not if, a democratically elected president comes to the Venezuelan people they will be stuck with the bill and the responsibility to pay for this debt."

Goldman Sachs, a New York-based investment bank, bought the bonds for 31 cents on the dollar, according to the Wall Street Journal, meaning the bank stands to make a tidy profit when Venezuela starts paying its debt.

"With so many Venezuelans lacking the basic goods, including food, many have taken to calling these bonds 'hunger bonds' as the regime lines its own pockets and the Venezuelan people continue to suffer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Venezuela's pervasive corruption means any infusion of cash, like Goldman Sachs, will not benefit the people of Venezuela who desperately need it. Instead, Maduro and his thugs fill their coffers and use the cash to abuse the Venezuelan people and use it to stay in power."

Ros-Lehtinen, a longtime Miami Republican who recently announced that she's leaving Congress, is a longtime critic of the Maduro regime. The recent news of Goldman Sachs' bond purchase spawned protests and outrage among Venezuelan activists. 

During her speech, Ros-Lehtinen also criticized Maduro's involvement in writing a new constitution in Venezuela, arguing that the president is strong-arming the democratically elected legislature. 

"Peaceful protests have led Venezuelan strongman Nicholas Maduro to issue a decree to convene a constitutional national assembly in order to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Maduro is once again trying to delay the inevitable: free, fair, transparent and democratic elections in Venezuela." 

South Florida is home to the highest concentration of Venezuelans in the United States, and local politicians have increasingly railed against Maduro's regime in recent months. 

"U.S. businesses should be avoiding deals with Maduro like the plague," Ros-Lehtinen said. 


June 06, 2017

Exclusive: Legislature's financial sleuth, David Richardson, to run for Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat

David Richardson House floorState Rep. David Richardson, the Miami Beach Democrat and retired forensic auditor who has used his expertise to uncover financial abuse in the state prison system, will run for Congress in the Miami-based seat being vacated by U.S. Rep.Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who announced her retirement last month. 

"I'm ready for it,'' Richardson said in an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau. "The most important thing is that anyone working Washington has got to work in a bi-partisan way and, for the last five years, I've demonstrated I've been able to get things done in the minority." 

Richardson, 60, entered a race that is already crowded with both Democrats and Republicans. He was first elected to the House In 2012. He starts with a strong base as his Democratic state House district is enclosed entirely within Congressional District 27, is 60 percent Hispanic and leans Democratic. 

"Ileana Ros-Lehtinen because of her tenure has been amazing and exceptional with constituent services,'' he said. "I really believe she could have won in 2018."

National Democrats consider the seat, which favor Clinton over Trump by 20 percentage points, a favorable pickup opportunity. Already announced are state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. 

Republican candidates who have announced former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado and Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro will run, and Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully challenged Ros-Lehtinen in last year’s primary. 

Richardson said he has been considered a run for Congress for some time but expected Ros-Lehtinen to retire in 2020. Her unexpected announcement that she will retire in 2018 after 35 years in office, accelerated his timeline.

Miami businessman Scott Fuhrman, the first Democrat to announce a challenge to Ros-Lehtinen before her resignated, announced Tuesday that he’s suspending his campaign. Richardson, who is spending Tuesday in D.C. meeting with pollsters and party strategists, said he has hired Eric Johnson, who managed Fuhrman's campaign, to be his campaign consultant.

"I've been looking at the seat for a couple of years but had decided I wasn't going to run against her,'' he said. "It's not going to be a cakewalk. I've spent a lot of time studying the race and weighing my options. I think this is the best way to serve folks in the State of Florida right now."

Read more: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to retire from Congress

Richardson ran for office after he retired as a forensic auditor. Drawing on a 30-year career unraveling corporate corruption and financial malfeasance, he turned his expertise into examining the financial records, policies and allegations of abuse in the state's troubled corrections system.

He investigated brutal “test of heart” hazing rituals used by prison gangs to extort money from young newcomers in return for protection and forced policy changes. He has learned how gangs avoid corrections officers, create lookouts and decoys, and rely on poorly designed prison spaces to exploit blind spots and prey on their victims.

He uncovered what he considers “ground zero for officer-on-inmate violence” at Sumter Correctional Institution. He dug out details about how new arrivals were routinely “punched, or choked, or hit or slapped by an officer” as they arrived on the prison bus, validating reports that elements of the state’s prison culture were failing to police their own.

Read more: A fix-it Miami lawmaker goes into prisons, talks to inmates ... but avoids 1 question

In the last year, he spent more than 700 hours interviewing 300 inmates at dozens of facilities across the state, Richardson discovered that the bifurcated oversight worked to the advantage of the private prison companies and to the disadvantage of taxpayers.

He revealed evidence of officer-on-inmate violence at youthful offender facilities, uncovered how gangs evaded officers, caught officers withholding food from inmates, and persuaded the Department of Corrections to close down Lancaster Correctional Institution, a youthful offender prison. He uncovered “horrific” conditions at Columbia Correctional, where toilets wouldn’t flush, showers didn’t work, a heating system didn’t heat and deafening sounds came from an exhaust fan.

And he has forced two investigations in Gadsden Correctional, where he discovered women housed lived for months without hot water or heat, faced flooded bathrooms daily and endured water rations when the septic tanks were jammed with food waste.

READ MORE: “Private prison deprived inmates of heat and hot water for months, lawmaker finds”

"I can't wait to get started looking at the federal prisons,'' Richardson said.