November 29, 2016

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.

November 14, 2016

Dwight Bullard's position on Israel could cost him support of Jewish Democrats for state party chair

Bullard_cropAP

@amysherman1

Sen. Dwight Bullard, who wants to run for Florida Democratic Party chair, is facing resistance from some Jewish Democrats after he was accused of meeting with a man linked to a terror group in Israel earlier this year. 

Bullard says that the accusation lacked “merit” and that he is a supporter of the Jewish community.

Bullard is one of multiple  candidates who are considering the state party position after Allison Tant announced Friday that she would not seek re-election in January. That could set off an intraparty fight about who would be the best person to lead the Democrats after it suffered crushing defeats including Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in Florida.

The Bullard name is a longtime fixture in Miami-Dade politics because both of his parents served in the state Legislature. But he could face an uphill battle for state party chair due to his position on Israel.

A political committee for Florida Senate Republicans ran an ad this summer accusing Bullard of spending time with a "terrorist" during a trip to the Middle East.

NBC6 Miami reported that Bullard was photographed with a tour guide affiliated with the anti-Israel BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian group with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated by the State Department as a terrorist group.

Bullard told the station the man was a "tour guide in old Jerusalem" and he "had no idea" of his political affiliations.

He told NBC6 that he is "pro-Israel, but I'm also pro-Palestine in that people can co-exist. ... My position is co-existence."

Bullard also faced heat for his vote in October 2015 against a bill that would ban the state of Florida from entering contracts with companies that boycott Israel. But when it reached the full Senate in January he voted for it and it passed unanimously.

“A number of folks called me concerned over my committee vote,” he told the Miami Herald. “For the sake of not being the thorn in anyone’s side I decided to vote for it on the floor.”

He told the Miami Herald that he shared the same concerns as the ACLU of Florida which wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that the bill “is a clear violation of of long established First Amendment law.” The ACLU urged Scott to veto the bill but he signed it into law.

Bullard told Colorlines, an online news site about race and culture, that boycotts are protected free speech: "We look back now in hindsight and say, '[Fighting] for the boycott and divestment movement against the South African government was the right thing to do.' How that is somehow different as it pertains to Palestinian rights is really inexplicable."

Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mike Moskowitz, who raised $1 million for Clinton and is a frequent contributor to Democrats, said he will actively work against Bullard if he runs for chair and will call activists and members of Congress to urge them to oppose Bullard.

“I will discontinue all financial support if he becomes the chair; and will call around to all financial donors in the entire state and ask that they commit to do the same,” he said.

Former state Sen. Steve Geller, who was elected to the Broward County Commission Nov. 8, said Jewish Democrats won’t support Bullard.

“I think he is just wrong on this issue,” he said. “Did the Republicans take it a little too far? Yes. Do I think Dwight is a terrorist? Not at all."

But Geller said that Bullard should have disassociated himself with the anti-Israel BDS group.

Geller and Moskowitz don’t get to vote on the chair position -- that decision lies with state committeemen and women in January. But those who have a vote are likely to listen to input from prominent fundraisers and elected officials who could play a role in the 2018 races for governor and U.S. Senate. Committeemen and women in South Florida play a major role in selecting the chair because they get votes based on a formula that takes into account the number of registered Democrats in their county.

Bullard told the Miami Herald that he will seek re-election as county party chair Dec. 6th and then run for state chair.

He said that Jewish Democrats should not be swayed by the attack on him about his Middle East trip.

“I would hope they would hear me out and not fall victim to a political smear campaign that has no merit,” he said.  “I never met with a terrorist. Did I take a trip to Israel and the West Bank? Absolutely. The notion that I am anti-Israel and pro-terrorism, that was all orchestrated unfortunately by my opponent. I’ve never been any of those things. I continue to be a strong supporting of the Jewish community.”

Bullard lost his state senate race to Republican State Rep. Frank Artiles in a heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade district. The attack ad about Bullard’s trip to Israel was in Spanish.

Evan Ross, a member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and a political consultant who is Jewish, also raised concerns about Bullard.

“Having a party chair who supports BDS and speaks out against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state would do irreparable harm to the relationship with the more than two-thirds of Jewish Floridians that consistently support Democrats,” Ross said. “We need a chair who will unite people at this critical time for our party, state and nation.”

Democratic activists do not appear to have coalesced around any single candidate so far for chair and many of them have lost previous races including Annette Taddeo, who most recently lost a Miami-Dade primary for Congress; Alan Clendenin, who lost to Tant in 2013 and recently lost a bid for a Hillsborough County School Board seat and former state Sen. Dan Gelber who lost a race for attorney general against Pam Bondi in 2010.

Photo by the Associated Press

November 11, 2016

With state order, machine recount for Asencio-Rivera House race set for Monday

@ByKristenMClark

As expected, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has ordered a machine recount in a tight race between Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera for Miami-Dade County's House District 118 seat.

In unofficial results, Asencio edged Rivera by just 68 votes -- a tenth of a percentage point. State law requires automatic recounts when results are within a half of a percentage point.

More here.

 

November 10, 2016

Anitere Flores named to Florida Senate leadership post

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

Newly re-elected Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been named the Florida Senate's President Pro Tempore for the 2017 session.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Flores' appointment as his No. 2 on Thursday, heralding Flores as a "loyal friend and trusted ally."

"The role of Senate President Pro Tempore is a significant position of trust and authority," Negron said in a statement, adding that Flores has "longstanding relationships with many new and returning senators. She has a proven ability to work in a bipartisan manner without compromising her own unwavering principles. I have complete confidence in her ability to represent the Senate in this important leadership position."

Flores was re-elected to the Senate on Tuesday with 54 percent of the vote after a competitive battle with Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for the newly redrawn District 39. The district includes portions of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County. Flores has been in the Florida Senate since 2010.

Flores' appointment will become effective Nov. 22, when the Senate convenes in Organization Session. The President Pro Tempore is formally nominated and elected by the full Senate during the Organization Session.

Flores joins a growing list of Miami lawmakers who will hold influential positions in Tallahassee next session. On Wednesday, several Miami-Dade County representatives were also named to the leadership team in the Florida House under incoming Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Photo credit: AP

November 04, 2016

Dwight Bullard pushes back on attacks over Israel trip as critics repeat 'terrorist' claims

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@ByKristenMClark

Nearing Election Day in a competitive race, incumbent Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard recently ramped up his defense against weeks-long political attacks over a trip he took to the Middle East last spring.

The normally mild-mannered lawmaker has taken an aggressive approach: He did a lengthy interview on Spanish-language TV last week to address the matter and, this week, has twice publicly rebutted emails blasted out on a pro-Israel mailing list that have attacked Bullard and claim he's anti-Semitic and not answering questions about his trip with a Miami-based social justice organization.

On Friday, one of his former Democratic primary opponents, former Miami-Dade School Board member and state Rep. Ana Rivas Loganalso came to his defense by formally endorsing his campaign.

NBC6 Miami first reported in late August -- a week before the contested Democratic primary in Bullard's District 40 race -- that Bullard had traveled to Palestinian areas of Israel "in the company of a man linked to a terror group."

In the weeks since the primary, allegations about the controversial trip have continued to dog Bullard as they became fodder for continuous attacks.

A political committee for Florida Senate Republicans -- who are backing Bullard's challenger, Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles -- paid for an eye-catching, Spanish-language ad this fall that included footage from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in accusing Bullard of spending time with a "terrorist."

MORE: "GOP ad featuring 9/11 footage accuses Dwight Bullard of meeting with 'terrorist'"

Pro-Israel activist and South Florida businessman Joe Zevuloni, who originally spoke with NBC6, remains outspoken against Bullard. He told the Herald/Times this week that he's not satisfied with explanations Bullard has given.

Continue reading "Dwight Bullard pushes back on attacks over Israel trip as critics repeat 'terrorist' claims" »

November 03, 2016

Legislative candidates who don't live in district they're seeking can't vote for themselves

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

When she votes this fall, veteran Miami Republican lawmaker Anitere Flores might not be able to vote for herself.

Because if she votes in her current precinct, the ballot she receives will have neither her name nor her District 39 Florida Senate race on it. It will list the District 40 race instead.

The same goes for House District 103 candidate Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich, a Doral Democrat in her first bid for public office. Rather than seeing her own name on a ballot for the first time, she’ll see candidates for House District 116 if she votes in the precinct she’s assigned to now.

That’s because Flores and Gonzalez Petkovich — along with five other legislative candidates in Miami-Dade — don’t currently live in and aren’t registered to vote in the district that they’re seeking to represent.

The Herald/Times identified the seven candidates — one Republican (Flores) and six Democrats — through an analysis of current voter registration records. These candidates make up 20 percent of the 34 candidates competing for Miami-Dade legislative seats this fall.

More here.

Photo credit: AP