August 10, 2016

Once friends, Garcia and Taddeo become foes in tense Miami congressional primary

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Not long ago, when Miami Democrat Joe Garcia was trying to get elected to one of the most volatile congressional seats in the country, he asked a stalwart friend if she could house a campaign worker who needed a place to stay.

That friend, Annette Taddeo, said yes.

Now Garcia is running again, this time as a former congressman two years out of office. His Democratic primary opponent is none other than his old friend: Taddeo.

And the motivation for her candidacy, as she explains it, is personal disappointment with Garcia, whose campaign got tied up in two separate criminal investigations connected to past elections shenanigans.

“That was just, to me, the ultimate kick in the gut,” she told the Miami Herald editorial board this week. “I don’t care that you’re a Democrat or a Republican — it’s just not right to play with the voters’ intent and to try to rig elections.”

Garcia, whose name is so well known in the district that he hasn’t spent serious money on the primary, maintains voters will see beyond his past legal troubles because they liked his work while in Congress.

“What you haven’t seen from me are false attacks,” he told the editorial board.

How Garcia and Taddeo went from chummy allies to tense rivals is a story about the extraordinary, often scandal-plagued politics of Florida’s 26th congressional district, a coveted prize among national Republicans and Democrats wrestling for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

More here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff

August 03, 2016

Joe Garcia wants Congress to reconvene on Zika


Joe Garcia wants House Speaker Paul Ryan to bring lawmakers back from recess to vote on a Zika-funding bill.

Garcia isn't in Congress anymore. But the Miami Democrat is running for his old seat again. And Miami is Ground Zero for local transmission of the mosquito-borne virus.

So Garcia sent Ryan a letter along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas. "For once, we need to put politics aside and equip our federal and state agencies with the necessary tools to combat this public health emergency," the letter says.

Florida's congressional delegation -- including Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whom Garcia would like to unseat -- sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday asking for more funding to combat the virus.

August 01, 2016

Annette Taddeo cancels appearance at immigration forum


Annette Taddeo pulled out of a scheduled candidate forum to discuss immigration with primary opponent Joe Garcia.

The forum is set for Saturday, Aug. 6 at the Deuxieme Maison Building, Room 100, at Florida International University. Garcia is still scheduled to attend.

According to Bud Conlin of the Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees, a pro-immigrant group, Taddeo confirmed her attendance on July 5 but changed her mind on July 30.

"She didn't give an explanation; it's just very disappointing," Collins said. "I don't know the differences between Annette and Joe [on immigration] so that's why we wanted them both there to find the differences."

Taddeo's campaign did not immediately respond to a Miami Herald request for an explanation.

Incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo was also invited but has not confirmed his attendance. It is uncommon for sitting politicians to debate opponents who are in the midst of contesting a primary.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, WeCount!, Students Working for Equal Rights, Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees, the Haitian Lawyers Association and United Families are sponsoring the forum. All are pro-immigrant groups that want a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

July 28, 2016

Republican super PAC ties Joe Garcia, Annette Taddeo to Clinton


A super PAC tied to U.S. House Republican leaders debuted a website Thursday trying to link Democratic congressional candidates to Hillary Clinton's email scandal on the same day she will accept her party's presidential nomination.

Among the 12 targeted candidates are Miami's Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo, who are vying to challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Behind the "ImWithCareless" website is Congressional Leadership Fund -- a group that, along with its sister nonprofit American Action Network (which can raise secret "dark" money) spent about $20 million on 2014 House races, including about $1.3 million in Curbelo's 26th district.

"Putting politics before principle, Annette Taddeo and Joe Garcia are ‘Ready for Hillary’ regardless of how untrustworthy and reckless she’s found by voters or even the FBI," said Ruth Guerra, Congressional Leadership Fund's deputy communications director. "Democrats proudly embracing Hillary Clinton will have to explain to voters why they continue to stand by her record of scandals and dishonesty."

Democrats are similarly trying to portray House Republican incumbents and challengers as allied to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

July 13, 2016

Obamacare rears its head in Miami Democratic primary for Congress


Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia touted his Obamacare support in the first mailer for his congressional campaign.

But his Democratic primary opponent, Annette Taddeo, begs to differ with Garcia's record.

In a statement Wednesday, her campaign accused Garcia of voting "with Republicans" to delay individual and employer mandates for the Affordable Care Act in 2013 and 2014. Her camp also said Garcia "voted to undermine Obamacare by allowing health care plans to remain on the market" even if they didn't satisfy the law's standards.

"Joe Garcia should tell the truth about his record of voting against Obamacare and leaving hundreds of thousands South Floridians without affordable health care," Taddeo said in the statement.

It's not the first time Garcia's votes on the law become a political issue. When he sought re-election in 2014, a super PAC backing him said Garcia "took the House to task" over the law. At the time, Garcia was running in a Republican-leaning midterm year -- in one of the country's most competitive swing districts. He also got hit from the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce for backing Obamacare.

"Joe has been a strong advocate for Obamacare and access to affordable healthcare," Garcia spokesman Javier Hernandez said. "Joe never once voted to repeal Obamacare. During the rollout of Obamacare he cast votes to help ease the transition to the new system."

Joe Garcia touts congressional record in first campaign mailer


For now, Joe Garcia isn’t fighting fire with fire. His campaign released its first campaign mailer Wednesday, and the flier makes no mention of his Democratic primary opponent, Annette Taddeo. 

Candidates who lead in the polls like Garcia typically avoid engaging with their primary rivals. Taddeo’s campaign released a flier last week attacking Garcia over his former campaign manager and contributions from for-profit colleges.

Garcia's mailer says he fought to lower the cost of college loans and flood insurance, opposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare, advocated for immigration reform and secured funds for job training.

"Joe Garcia has worked his whole life for South Florida, and this campaign will be about everything he has done for our community," Garcia spokesman Javier Hernandez said in a statement.



July 08, 2016

'Mistakes were made,' Joe Garcia says of past campaign trouble


Miami congressional candidate and former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia can't escape questions about his past campaign troubles. And his Democratic primary rival, Annette Taddeo, appears to be relishing the fight.

"People pay a huge price," Garcia said in a Florida Keys forum Thursday, apparently referring to the jail time served by his former chief of staff. "Clearly, mistakes were made."

Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, went to jail over submitting unlawful absentee-ballot requests in 2012. He also received probation after acknowledging he put up a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010.

Joe Garcia was never charged with any wrongdoing -- and won't be, since the statute of limitations has expired. "We corrected those mistakes when we found them," he said at the forum, according to video obtained by the Miami Herald. "We fired the people, and we moved forward."

But Taddeo reminded forum-goers that an email discovered by federal prosecutors in the 2010 case suggested Joe Garcia might have known about the ringer candidate.

"I have to tell you, I'm someone that actually supported Joe Garcia strongly, because I wanted to get rid of David Rivera," Taddeo said, referring to the Republican ex-congressman Garcia ousted in 2012. Rivera is suspected of orchestrating a ringer candidate of his own that year. 

"To find out that after he's elected he had done the same thing two years prior!" Taddeo said of Garcia.

Attacking Garcia may be Taddeo's only option, given that she has been behind in polls. Her campaign has started mailing fliers to voters -- including one going negative on her opponent.

Garcia, for his part, declared himself the winner of the forum in a statement Friday.

July 06, 2016

Joe Garcia and the semantics of immigration politics


Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, recently pounced on news that incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo backed a fellow GOP congressman who suggested immigrants in the U.S. be tracked like Fed-Ex packages.

"Rep. Comstock: track immigrants like FedEx packages. Yet @repcurbelo gave her $1000 from immigration PAC," Garcia tweeted on June 30.

The post linked to a Miami Herald story about contributions from Curbelo's leadership back -- including one to Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who said in 2-14 that "Fed-Ex can track packages coming in here all of the time, we can track people who are coming into the country and we can do that right."

Comparing people to shipping packages did not go over well with pro-immigration activists. But it turns out Garcia made a similar reference two years ago -- not to shipping, but to credit cards.

In a local 2014 radio interview with host Grant Stern, Garcia -- then a sitting congressman -- made an analogy to a traveler using his credit card to buy a coconut in a remote area of Thailand. (Aroud the 40-minute mark.)

"American Express finds you, yet we can't find Pedro, when he crosses the border. It's silliness," Garcia said, apparently using a "Pedro" as the stand-in name for a Hispanic immigrant.

Garcia had been talking about the need for immigration reform, but he added he didn't advocate open borders, just better policies.

Asked about Garcia's comment in light of the candidate's shot at Comstock and Curbelo, Garcia spokesman Javier Hernandez argued the AmEx reference related to financial instruments the U.S. could use to find trouble immigrants -- though if that's what Garcia meant, he didn't make it explicit in the 2014 interview.

"Unlike the Trump Republicans supported by Carlos Curbelo, Joe Garcia would never compare immigrants to inanimate objects in order to score political points," Hernandez said in a statement. "Joe's comments -- in an interview supporting immigration reform -- addressed the ability of the government to use financial tracking mechanisms, if needed, to bring justice to individuals who are breaking the law."

June 23, 2016

Curbelo rivals take aim over Supreme Court immigration ruling


The two Democrats vying to challenge U.S. Carlos Curbelo leaped at the chance Thursday to pound the Miami Republican over the Supreme Court's ruling to block one of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Annette Taddeo and former Rep. Joe Garcia noted Curbelo had characterized the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, overreach by the White House. The court deadlocked 4-4 over the program, allowing a lower appeals court decision against its constitutionality to stand. The late Justice Antonin Scalia has not been replaced.

"It's a sad day for immigrant families and the many activists who have fought for real change," Garcia said in a statement. "When Republicans refused to put my comprehensive immigration reform bill to a vote, I supported President Obama's actions. Now, two years later, Republican still won't take up immigration reform, or even fill the Supreme Court's vacancy, all while they continue to push immigrants into the shadows."

DAPA would have allowed the parents of lawful permanent residents -- in effect, the parents who brought their children into the country illegally -- to apply for a program protecting them from deportation.

"I'm heartbroken by today's Supreme Court decision," Taddeo said in a statement. "It's a big blow to Hispanic families in South Florida. Families continue to be torn apart because of our broken immigration system, and instead of solving the problem, Carlos Curbelo and his Republican buddies in Congress continue to shift the blame elsewhere."

Taddeo also blasted Curbelo on Twitter, saying if he "really cared about South Florida's immigrant families, he wouldn't be applauding" the decision -- even though Curbelo didn't actually praise the court.

He and other Republicans said in a joint statement Thursday that the court ruling did not solve the immigration problem and Congress should "work together" to fix the system. Last week, he and Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led the effort to defeat a House amendment against Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Garcia and Taddeo, however, argue Curbelo has moderated his position in office, given that his newly redrawn district is more Democratic, as is the presidential-election year electorate. Garcia noted Curbelo said in 2014 that he did "not support amnesty" for undocumented immigrants and thought the U.S. should return children crossing the border back to their home countries.

This post has been updated.

June 16, 2016

Annette Taddeo files to run for Congress in Miami

Annette Taddeo filed the paperwork today to qualify for Congressional District 26 in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties her campaign announced today.

Taddeo will face former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia who lost reelection to Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, in 2014. It's possible that Curbelo will face a primary challenger too.

Taddeo paid the $10,440 fee to qualify.

In May, internal polls on the Democratic side showed Garcia in the lead but a sizable chunk of the voters were undecided in the swing district. Taddeo overhauled her campaign staff last month -- her new spokesman Omer Farooque started today. Taddeo has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Emily's List.

The five-day qualifying period starts Monday. The primary is Aug. 30th but voters will start casting ballots by absentee in July.

This post has been updated to reflect that Taddeo qualified by paying the fee.