April 24, 2015

Feds charge ex-chief of staff to former Rep. Joe Garcia with secretly financing ringer candidate

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

Federal prosecutors on Friday accused former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia’s ex-chief of staff of secretly financing a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010 to draw votes away from a Republican rival — an illegal scheme that inspired a more serious copycat case two years later.

Jeffrey Garcia was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense. Prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to pose as another challenger to David Rivera.

Arrojo was also charged Friday with the same misdemeanor.

Rivera is suspected of following a similar playbook in 2012 to prop up a Democratic candidate against Joe Garcia. Rivera has not been charged, although two others in that case — the straw candidate and Rivera’s ex-girlfriend — were convicted.

Jeffrey Garcia himself confessed his actions to prosecutors three years after the fact, his attorney said. The charge, filed in U.S. District Court, paves the way for Garcia, 44, to surrender to authorities next week and then plead guilty in the hope of receiving a light sentence. The same outcome is likely for Arrojo, 41.

More here.

February 24, 2015

Joe Garcia gets new gig with Miami Beach merchant and investment bank, talks new U.S.-Cuba policy

@PatriciaMazzei

Former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has taken on a job as senior vice president of QueensFort Capital, a Miami Beach-based merchant and investment bank.

The ex-congressman told the Miami Herald he will work to expand investment opportunities through federal government's EB-5 visa program, which requires investors to put up big money -- at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high-unemployment areas -- in exchange for a two-year U.S. residency green card for themselves and their immediate family. If the investments succeed and create at least 10 U.S. jobs, investors gain permanent residency plus dividends.

None of the work will involve Cuba, said Garcia, a Cuban American who had been the only South Florida member of Congress advocating for greater engagement with the island before he lost reelection to Republican Carlos Curbelo in November. Still, he was surprised by the extent of President Obama's new Cuba policy, Garcia said Tuesday.

"I think the administration probably went a little bit further that I had assumed it would," he said.

He compared trying to bring about political change in Cuba to changing "a religion, not a policy" ingrained on the island for more than half a century: "The idea that this is going to be easy is nonsense."

"I think this could all be solved if Cuban Americans and Cubans were speaking," he said. "If the Cuba government was wise, it would reach out to leaders and opinion makers in South Florida to create some sort of rapprochement that benefits the U.S. and Cuba."

And if Obama wants a long-term change that outlasts his administration, then his government also has to reach out to Cuban Americans sidelined from the new policy, he added.

As for talk that Garcia might challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez next year, the former congressman brushed off the rumors.

"I am not running for any public office," he said.

January 22, 2015

Headlined by Donna Shalala, Ready For Hillary PAC to raise Miami $ in Bush/Rubio country

@MarcACaputo

Ready4HillIs Miami ready for Hillary Clinton?

The Ready for Hillary PAC is about to find out Feb. 12, when the political committee holds its first major South Florida fundraiser.

It’s headlined by the former Secretary of State’s close friend, outgoing University of Miami President Donna Shalala, the former health secretary under President Clinton.

This is only the beginning of the 2016 fundraising season, so expect more because Miami-Dade has some of the deepest pockets for Florida fundraisers, making it a regular stop on the political money-grubbing circuit.

This fundraiser is set to be held at the home of philanthropist Adrienne Arsht (after whom the county’s performing arts center is named). The host committee includes Hispanic-outreach wiz Freddy Balsera, fundraiser-lawyer Mitchell Berger, former DNC treasurer Bob Farmer, former U.S. Rep. Hon. Joe Garcia, lobbyist Alex Heckler, and former Clinton White House aide and current Arsht Foundation executive Suzanna Valdez.

The Miami fundraiser has an added dose of political interest because it’s being held in the home county of potential Hillary Clinton rivals, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

As the state’s most-populous and most-Hispanic county, Miami-Dade is also one of the most hotly contested, although it has trended more and more Democrat in recent years. Bush is the only Republican in at least 15 years who has one a majority of the vote in Miami-Dade County (53 percent in 2002). Rubio in his 2010 bid for Senate won the county with 43 percent of the vote, but that’s partly because then-U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and then-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Last year as a Democrat, Crist won a greater share of the Miami-Dade vote in his failed bid for governor, 58 percent. But in raw votes (541,000) and in percentage terms (62 percent), President Obama in 2012 firmly established Miami-Dade as a Democratic bulwark.

With margins like that, it’s not easy to see how Bush or Rubio could beat Clinton in their home county. But both speak Spanish, unlike Clinton and unlike 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney lost the county by more votes (208,459) than any other recent Republican candidate. That margin helped cost Romney must-win Florida and, therefore, the White House. Romney's hardline positions on immigration likely helped cost him a significant portion of the Hispanic vote, the state and nation's fastest growing major demographic that promises to be even more influential in 2016.

So it's a good bet that Miami, and perhaps Florida, is far less likely ready for Mitt than Hillary

November 19, 2014

South Florida Dems to Obama: Venezuelans should be part of executive action on immigration

@PatriciaMazzei

Two South Florida Democratic members of Congress have penned a letter to President Obama asking him to specifically include Venezuelans in his planned executive action on immigration.

U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia of Miami and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, wrote in the letter Tuesday that Obama should provide "administrative relief protections for thousands of Venezuelans who have fled Venezuela and are fearful of returning."

"Political and economic conditions in Venezuela have been declining for years, but now the Venezuelan people are facing a government that would rather repress and demonize its own citizens than engage in dialogue to address the serious problems facing the country," they said.

Any action could apply to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before December 2011, the cutoff date for the Senate immigration-reform bill yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives, the letter says. Or Obama could authorize "delayed enforced departure," a protection similar to the one granted to people with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

"Their inclusion in administrative relief falls in line with the purpose of such action which should be to provide relief from deportation to those who have established lives and families in the U.S. and whose deportations would rip apart communities."

South Florida is home to the largest number of Venezuelans outside of the South American country -- including a large contingent in Wasserman Schultz's hometown, which is known as Westonzuela. Garcia, who lost reelection earlier this month to Republican Carlos Curbelo, has filed legislation to give Venezuelans special immigration status, but it has gone nowhere.

November 05, 2014

FL-26 changes political party hands again

@PatriciaMazzei @cveiga

South Florida’s 26th congressional district lived up to its label as a swing seat Tuesday, changing political party hands for the second time in two years.

Florida lawmakers redrew the boundaries of the state’s southernmost district in 2012 so that it’s almost evenly split among registered Democrats (35 percent), Republicans (33 percent) and independents (32 percent).

Low turnout in Tuesday’s election, particularly among Democrats, benefited Carlos Curbelo, the Republican who ousted Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami. Garcia spent only one term in office, having defeated Republican David Rivera in 2012.

Granted, Garcia was tainted by campaign scandals. So was Rivera. But the back-to-back victories by opposing parties in the district suggest it could remain competitive for years to come.

On Wednesday, Curbelo said he’s not worried that the frequent turnover, depending on the composition of the electorate in a given election, could affect his future chances.

“If I work hard and do a good job for this district, and I represent the community with effectiveness, I think I’ll get another shot at it,” Curbelo said. “It is certainly too early to start thinking about the next election.”

More here.

November 04, 2014

GOP picks up South Florida seat: Carlos Curbelo defeats Miami Rep. Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei @cveiga @dchangmiami

Carlos Curbelo flipped a South Florida congressional seat for the Republican Party on Tuesday, besting Miami Rep. Joe Garcia in a midterm election dominated by the GOP.

Garcia, a freshman Democrat, was undone in part by scandals, much like the Republican he defeated two years ago.

Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County school board member, led from the moment the first election results were posted through the end. He won the 26th congressional district, which spans Westchester to Key West, with 52 percent of the vote to Garcia’s 48 percent.

“Tonight begins the work of giving the people of Florida’s 26th congressional district the honest and effective representation we need,” Curbelo said.

More here.

Miami Rep. Joe Garcia talks policy -- and gives driving directions -- to West Kendall voters

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Rep. Joe Garcia spent part of Election Day afternoon giving directions to would-be voters who were confused about where to vote.

They showed up at the West Kendall Regional Library, one of the county's largest precincts in the 2012 presidential election. Earlier this year, the Miami-Dade elections department redrew some precincts -- including those at the West Kendall library -- to make them smaller. The department says it notified those voters. 

But many of them either didn't receive a notification or didn't pay attention, because they kept getting turned away Tuesday by poll workers who printed out slips of paper listing their new, nearby polling places.

That left Garcia, the incumbent Democrat facing a strong challenge from Republican Carlos Curbelo, giving voters directions at the library parking lot.

"When you leave here, you cross the street, and it's right there on the left," he said in Spanish to a voter.

"Oh, so it's not by the Taco Bell," said the man. He identified himself to a reporter as Miguel Palacios, a 65-year-old registered Republican who called the situation frustration.

"This is very bad. I've always voted here. I wasn't notified," he said.

Garcia said about two-thirds of the people who walked into the polling place when he was there after 4 p.m. were sent somewhere else. 

"Do me a favor: Go in there and ask if you're in the right place," he told a woman as she walked in.

Garcia, holding a water bottle, hustled from one end of the parking lot to the other, trying to say hello to the voters who steadily trickled in. One woman and her son asked for a photograph with him. Another asked him about his position on immigration reform (he favors it and sponsored a stalled House bill on it). Another, who said he was a federal worker, asked him about across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration (he voted against).

"I voted for him," said 39-year-old Sandra Moore, a registered Democrat, who praised Garcia's visibility in the 26th congressional district. "He's done a lot that he said he would do. And he's active in the community."

Carlos Curbelo greets string of Republican voters in Miami's West Kendall

@PatriciaMazzei

Carlos Curbelo greeted mostly Republican voters Tuesday afternoon at a West Kendall polling place where the sky was blue, the wind was blowing and people were arriving at a slow but consistent clip.

"This morning we have a little rush, but that's it," Curbelo said. 

He was the only candidate at John A. Ferguson Senior High School. A voter also named Carlos said today was his birthday. Curbelo pointed out that Nov. 4 -- Election Day -- is the Feast of St. Charles (San Carlos in Spanish) in the Roman Catholic church.

When the Republican congressional candidate, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, introduced himself to another voter, the voter replied, in Spanish, "I know who you are. I've seen you on TV."

"Pórtate bien," Juan Carlos Esquivel, a 49-year-old Republican, joked before walking into the precinct. "Behave."

After voting, Esquivel said he favored Curbelo because he's someone "defined, who's not switching positions to and fro."

Later, Curbelo stretched out his hand to greet a third voter, who shook it before he realized who Curbelo was.

"Oh, Carlos Curbelo! Take my picture with him," the voter told his companion in Spanish.

"This bodes well," Curbelo said.

The man, 67-year-old Gustavo Cruz, a registered Republican, pledged his family's five votes for Curbelo.

"Forty-nine years ago I was imprisoned in a Cuban concentration camp, and Joe Garcia says, 'Communism works,'" Cruz said in an interview after casting his ballot. "Yes, it works to do harm. That man over there," he added, pointing at Curbelo, "I've never seen do harm."

The voter was referring to a sardonic remark Garcia made earlier this year in which he criticized excessive U.S. government spending on the Mexican border. But Cruz seemed to take the comment literally.

"He's a crook," he said of the congressman.

November 03, 2014

GOP leads Dems by 7K ballots in FL-26

@PatriciaMazzei

We haven't done day-to-day tracking of the early ballots cast by mail and in person in the tight race for Congressional District 26. But Monday's data from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties -- the district extends from Westchester to Key West -- shows Republicans have a lead over Democrats of almost 7,000 pre-Election Day ballots cast.

That's a margin of 7.5 percentage points -- larger than the GOP has going into Election Day in the Florida governor's race, for example. But far fewer people have cast ballots in the congressional race, only about 92,000 out of some 424,000 registered voters.

The question is whether that lead will be enough for Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo to oust Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia. More Democrats than Republicans cast in-person early ballots in the Miami-Dade portion fo the district, and more Democrats tend to vote on Election Day. But this is a midterm election, in which more Republicans typically go to the polls.

Here are the numbers:

PARTY AB %
REP       26,920 48%
DEM       18,050 32%
IND       10,908 20%
TOTAL       55,878  
     
PARTY  EV %
REP       13,463 37%
DEM       15,419 42%
IND        7,754 21%
TOTAL       36,636  
     
PARTY  EVAB  %
REP       40,383 44%
DEM       33,469 36%
IND       18,662 20%
TOTAL       92,514  

--with Marc Caputo

This post has been corrected. An earlier version mislabeled EV and AB votes in the chart.

Hillary Clinton machine: Don't release recording of robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama recorded a robocall for Miami Rep. Joe Garcia last week. Vice President Joe Biden came to stump for him Sunday.

Now likely Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has recorded a call for Garcia. It went out to targeted voters in Congressional District 26 on Monday morning.

But Garcia's campaign won't make the recording available to reporters -- because Clinton's people won't let them. That's according to Garcia campaign consultant John Hennelly.

So we can't tell you what the call said.

We can, however, point out that Clinton's people also kicked reporters out of the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last month when she was there fundraising for Charlie Crist, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor. No reporters were allowed at a book-signing event the same day, and Clinton took only pre-screened questions at a speech to the real-estate industry.

Democrats like Crist and Garcia, running in tight races in the nation's largest swing state, want Democratic voters to see them with people like Clinton. It could turn out more of their base to cast ballots in Tuesday's midterms, which usually draw more Republican than Democratic voters.

But that's apparently not the Clinton way. And campaigns appear more interested in remaining in Clinton's good graces than using her endorsement to win their own races.