December 16, 2016

Bill Nelson: Stephen Bittel 'would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party'

Nelson_bill 121616

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's top Democratic elected official says he's a fan of Stephen Bittel as a future leader in the Florida Democratic Party but his praise stops short of a formal endorsement.

Talking with reporters in Tallahassee on Friday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was delicate in how he answered questions about the future of the state Democratic Party -- the fate of which rests on the outcome of a special Miami-Dade party election on Tuesday.

"I'm trying to keep a low profile and let the party process work its will, because the minute that I stick my head out then people are going to say I'm trying to influence the election," Nelson told reporters. "I can tell you that Stephen Bittel is a personal friend and he would bring a lot to the Florida Democratic Party."

Bittel, a Coconut Grove developer, and former Cutler Bay state Sen. Dwight Bullard are competing for the position of Miami-Dade County Democratic Party committeeman. The special election on Dec. 20 comes after Bret Berlin stepped down earlier this month four days after being re-elected, making way for Bittel. The winner of the Bittel-Bullard contest will likely become the next state party chairman.

MORE: "With Florida Democratic Party in balance, lowly Miami-Dade race goes national"

Nelson praised outgoing state party chairwoman Allison Tant for having done "a remarkable job" leading the party and raising money while facing a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.

"It's very hard under those circumstances for the chair of the party to raise the money, and yet she has still done an exceptional job in the face of huge huge odds," Nelson said. "Going forward, I see that Stephen Bittel is someone that I know personally who could continue that excellent job."

"And beyond that, I better not get into it," Nelson said, declining any comment on Bullard.

Nelson also wouldn't touch on the political maneuvering that's made the way for Bittel to have a shot at Miami-Dade Democratic committeeman.

"I can only repeat to you what I know is happening," he said. "There is now a race for the state committeeman position in Miami-Dade County, and in order to be eligible for running for state party chair under state party rules, you have to be either a party chair, a vice chair or state committeeman or woman to run. That's my comment on that. I just don't know how that election is going."

December 14, 2016

Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district

Pizzo2@ByKristenMClark

Democrat Jason Pizzo says he hopes he'll be "pleasantly surprised" by the work of new state Sen. Daphne Campbell, who took office barely five weeks ago.

But for now, Pizzo is so concerned by the election of the Miami Shores Democrat and former state representative that he's already ramping up plans to run against her again in two years.

Pizzo, a 40-year-old former Miami-Dade prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran against Campbell for an open state Senate seat this year, plans to file paperwork on Wednesday in Tallahassee to launch his 2018 candidacy -- giving him 20 months to take on Campbell, or any other challengers who might arise.

"Unfortunately, the outcome in November was the election of a senator who doesn't and will not and cannot represent our district the way it should be represented, the way it should represent everyone's families -- including mine," Pizzo told the Herald/Times.

Pizzo cited Campbell's recent legislative record in the Florida House where he said she didn't advocate for women's rights for abortion, efforts to halt climate change or proposals to reduce gun violence in vulnerable communities, including Liberty City and parts of Overtown, both of which are in Senate District 38.

"There are so many critical, absolutely critical issues pending right now that will affect everyone's life -- their life, their health, their education, the climate," Pizzo said. "Within the same district, we have kids killing kids, we have climate change occurring and so everyone's interest is for the best, most professional, most ethical representation in the state Senate, and I continue to believe I'm that person."

Continue reading "Former prosecutor will challenge Campbell for Miami-Dade Senate district" »

December 02, 2016

Nine Democrats to compete for Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair

Bullard_cropAP

@amysherman1

Sen. Dwight Bullard won’t run for chair again of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party but still plans to run for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Bullard will run for county party vice chair against activist Rubin Young

On Tuesday, about 200 members of the county party who represent their precincts will gather to elect a chair, vice chair and other leaders. (Here is the full roster of who is running.)

The outcome has ramifications for the state’s party leadership. The county party will also elect a state committeeman and committee woman and those two individuals will get to vote on the Florida Democratic Party chair in January. Across the state, the committeemen and women vote according to a formula based on the number of registered Democrats in the county which means that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach carry considerable weight.

Here’s a look at the candidates running for positions in Miami-Dade:

State committeeman:

  • Bret Berlin: A business consultant, Berlin has served as the chair for 12 years and is former Miami-Dade chairman and supported Hillary Clinton during the primary. He says he hasn’t seen the DEC membership this low. “It's disappointing so few people are engaged -- it means we have to do much better job as a party to regain trust miami dade electorate and rebuild this party.”

(Any voting member can nominate himself or herself from the floor so it is possible he will face a competitor.)

State committeewoman:

  • Francesca Menes: She lost a race for state house in 2016 and is running for a state house race in 2018.
  • Annette Taddeo Goldstein: She has lost multiple races, most recently for Congress to former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. Taddeo Goldstein has been mentioned as a potential state party chair candidate but didn’t respond to the Herald this week about whether she will definitely run. She is currently vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party and a past chair of the Miami-Dade party.
  • Elizabeth Judd: A retired AFSCME union business agent, Judd is a longtime DEC member.
  • Bess McElroy: A retired city of Miami personnel administrator, she unsuccessfully ran for state house twice. In the past she has served as vice chair and was the interim chair a few times.

The other two candidates are Mae Christian, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Elizabeth Washington-Wells who are also running for chair.

The other candidates for chair are:

  • Dr. Leonarda Duran: She is president of the Miami-Dade Democratic Hispanic Caucus and works as a therapist/life coach.
  • Tony Diaz: He runs an ad agency and is running for Miami City Commission in 2017.
  • Millie Herrera: She is a former appointee of President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Labor and a former chair of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida. She owns a public relations firm.
  • Rafael Velasquez: He lost a race for state house in 2002. Velasquez, a real estate broker, said he was on the national finance committee for Clinton.
  • Juan Cuba: He resigned as director of the Miami-Dade Democrats after the Nov. 8th election.
  • Fred Frost: Former president of the South Florida AFL-CIO and works for CWA International Union.
  • Ernesto Fernandez

This post has been updated to reflect additional candidates who signed up to run or switched races.

November 30, 2016

New House education chairman who opposed school recess plan 'will take a look' at it in 2017

Bileca_flhouse@ByKristenMClark

After being one of only two Florida House members to oppose it last session, Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca said he's open to considering a renewed effort to mandate recess time at Florida's public elementary schools.

But he indicated the proposal could still face some potentially tough scrutiny in 2017.

"I will take a look at it," Bileca told the Herald/Times. "The areas I had difficulty with were not changed (last session), so we'll need to see what's changed."

Although he's only one vote in the 120-member House, Bileca's opinion matters greatly because, as chairman of the Education Committee for the upcoming term, he has the power to influence the outcome of a wide range of education policy matters -- including this popular, parent-driven proposal.

Among Bileca's powers as chairman is deciding which bills are taken up by his committee. Failing to get a hearing is a frequent way bills die in session -- and it's how the recess measure stalled last spring in the Senate.

MORE: "Florida will again consider mandatory recess"

In filing a bill on Tuesday, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, got the ball rolling to revive the Legislature's recess debate for next session. Rep. Rene Plasencia, the Orlando Republican who advocated for the issue last spring, is drafting the House companion.

"I know one of the things for me last year that I didn't like was it was tied to discipline," Bileca said, referencing a provision in last session's bill that read: "Free-play recess may not be withheld for academic or punititive reasons."

Bileca said he "expected modifications" in the proposal before it was brought to the House floor for a final vote but the bill was never altered.

Bileca and now-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, were the only "no" votes when the measure passed the House, 112-2, in February. Corcoran's office did not respond to emails seeking comment this week about whether he would support a school recess proposal in the upcoming session.

While Plasencia's bill is still being drafted, the version Flores filed omits the line that concerned Bileca. It also doesn't include language affording recess time to sixth-graders who are enrolled at schools with at least one other elementary school grade, as last session's bill did.

In speaking with the Herald/Times, Bileca indicated the recess proposal could face a high bar as far as his support is concerned.

He noted that Florida already mandates physical education time, "a requirement that a lot of other states don't have." And he said: "My big focus for next session is going to be: Where are there areas we've over-regulated from the state level?"

One of the reasons the recess measure died last session in the Senate was because that chamber's education policy chairman at the time firmly believed it was a local issue that didn't "merit a Tallahassee solution."

Photo credit: State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, during the 2015 session. myfloridahouse.gov

November 29, 2016

Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced

Florida Senate-Renovations (2)

@ByKristenMClark

Senate President Joe Negron R-Stuart, announced his leadership team for the 2016-18 term on Tuesday, a list that includes some expected appointments but also some surprises and a few snubs.

Negron put many of his most trusted allies in key positions, such as naming Trilby Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson as majority leader. Simpson is in line to take over as Senate president in four years. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel was named Simpson's deputy.

President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, R-Miami -- Negron's No. 2 in the chamber -- will helm two committees: Banking and Insurance and the subcommittee in charge of the Health and Human Services budget. She'll also be vice-chairwoman of the full Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano -- last year's majority leader who is likely to succeed Negron as president in 2018 -- will be in charge of the higher education budget, a reflection of the emphasis Negron plans to put on the state's public colleges and universities during his tenure.

Because half of the Senate is new this term, many freshman senators landed key leadership spots -- including several recently former House members and two Democrats, Lauren Book and Randolph Bracy. Veteran Democrats Bill Montford, of Tallahassee, and Audrey Gibson, of Jacksonville, also were given committee chairmanships, affording the minority party's 15 members a level of influence in the chamber.

Of note, as well: The Senate's former steadfast firewall that last spring had halted a couple controversial measures to expand gun rights in Florida is gone, potentially giving such bills an easier route in the 2017 session.

Rather than keep a moderate lawmaker as chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, Negron named conservative Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to the leadership post. The committee was previously led by Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lost his re-election bid to now-Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

Steube, an ardent supporter of gun rights who last year was in the Florida House, told the Herald/Times last week that he's drafting comprehensive legislation for 2017 to reduce various types of restrictions on conceal-carry permit holders. Some of those same proposals were considered last year but failed to pass because of Diaz de la Portilla's decision to kill the bills. Diaz de la Portilla had said the proposals lacked support in the 40-member Senate, which is generally more moderate than the House and where Republicans hold a narrower majority.

In the absence of Diaz de la Portilla, though, Bracy could potentially be a different obstacle as head of the Criminal Justice Committee. The Orlando Democrat supported last year's campus-carry bill but opposed a measure to allow the open-carrying of firearms.

Here's the full list of chairmanships for main committees in 2016-18:

Continue reading "Florida Senate's committee leaders for 2016-18 announced" »

Mandatory school recess proposal coming back for 2017 session

RecessTwo0320 Run MSH

@ByKristenMClark

A popular, parent-backed proposal to require daily recess at all of Florida’s public elementary schools will be back before the Florida Legislature next spring.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, filed a bill on Tuesday that mirrors one that died in the spring — despite fervent support — when one key senator from Pasco County refused to hear it in committee.

The measure, SB 78 for the 2017 session, mandates local school boards offer 20 minutes per day of “supervised, safe and unstructured free-play recess” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, who led the effort last year, will again champion it in the House. He said he’s in the process of drafting his bill for 2017 and plans to file it soon.

Last session’s proposal was initiated by passionate parents from all across Florida — primarily self-described “recess moms” in Tampa and Orlando, as well as Miami-Dade — who pleaded and lobbied for their lawmakers’ support in the 2016 session.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Marsha Halper / Miami Herald

*This post has been updated.

November 28, 2016

Miami Lakes councilman opens campaign account for 2018 state House bid

Mingo_frank@ByKristenMClark

Miami Lakes Councilman Frank Mingo will seek a seat in the Florida Legislature in two years.

Mingo filed paperwork last week with the Division of Elections to run as a Republican for the House District 103 seat. Current Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is in his third term and plans to run for state Senate in 2018.

Although Mingo is the first to file for the seat, he is likely to have the backing of powerful House Republicans. He works as the supply chain manager for the Oliva Cigar Company -- the business of Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who is in line to take over as House speaker in 2018.

Mingo has lived in Miami Lakes since 1986 and has been a town councilman since 2013. Launching a campaign account now allows Mingo to begin raising money.

Photo credit: miamilakes-fl.gov

November 21, 2016

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

SP_407425_KEEL_11_FLGOV

@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

OT_402078_KEEL_7_flgov (2)

@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.