Incumbent Miami Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard announced on Tuesday — by way of his Florida Senate office — his “top legislative priorities” for the 2017 session.
Ordinarily, such an official message might be considered routine for a state lawmaker to send, except that voters haven’t determined yet whether Bullard will still be in the Florida Legislature next year.
They’re still making up their minds.
And with a week to go until the end of a heated election season, some — including Bullard’s challenger, Republican Miami state Rep. Frank Artiles — question whether the timing, tone and details of Bullard’s announcement make it not unlike a last-minute campaign pitch out of a government office.
State law prohibits candidates from using government services, including public employees during working hours, “in the furtherance of his or her candidacy for nomination or election to public office.”
A suspicious slate card recently mailed to some Miami households deceptively represents itself as recommending Democrats but actually encourages voters to support some Republicans, including two incumbents for state Senate: Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores — both of whom are fighting for re-election in newly redrawn, Democratic-leaning districts.
The true source of the mailer is dubious. The political action committee listed on the disclaimer doesn’t exist anymore, never operated in Florida and its treasurers — one of whom has past ties to Diaz de la Portilla — say they have no knowledge of it.
Both Diaz de la Portilla and Flores also said they had no involvement in it and that the first they had heard of the slate card was when a Herald/Times reporter asked for comment Monday.
“I have nothing to do with it; I don’t know it,” Diaz de la Portilla said emphatically.
The Democratic challenger seeking to unseat Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores unveiled a new TV ad on Monday featuring President Barack Obama in voice-over.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Pinecrest resident in her first bid for public office, was one of 13 legislative candidates in Florida that Obama endorsed this month.
She and Flores are in a competitive race for the newly redrawn District 39 seat that spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys. It leans Democratic and Hispanic.
"I know Debbie will fight to defend the progress we've made over the past eight years," Obama says in the ad.
The president also cut a similar endorsement ad for District 37 state Senate candidate and current Miami Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez.
A Florida labor union is spending $45,000 on a new Spanish-language radio ad in Miami so that Florida Democratic Party vice chairwoman and former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Annette Taddeo can promote incumbent state Sen. Dwight Bullard in the final days before Election Day.
Bullard, D-Miami, is in a competitive race for re-election against Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles, who has vastly outspent Bullard in the bitter District 40 contest in central Miami-Dade County.
1199SEIU Florida, which represents 25,000 health care workers, is paying for the ad. The group said in a press release that Taddeo felt compelled to record the ad for Bullard "because of what she described as lies being spread against Bullard’s character in a deceitful Spanish-language ad."
Artiles recently aired a misleading ad on Miami TV, in which Artiles falsely said Bullard "voted to release violent criminals and sexual delinquents in our community." More here on why Artiles' claim isn't accurate.
"Artiles is trying smear him with a campaign of lies in an attempt to deceive voters. But it’s not going to to work," Roxey Nelson, political director for 1199SEIU Florida, said in a statement. "Dwight shows up. He is fighting for us, and hundreds of volunteers have been out in force knocking on doors and fighting for him."
In the 60-second radio ad, Taddeo touts Bullard's work as "an educator for twenty years, fighting to raise the minimum wage, to expand Medicaid and enable immigrants to go to college."
Miami Republican incumbent state Sen. Anitere Flores and her previous employer, Doral College, allege that Flores' opponent has made "untrue and malicious" statements that are "damaging" the college's reputation.
The state party is supporting Democrat and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest, who's aiming to unseat Flores for Miami-Dade's District 39 Senate seat. The newly redrawn district is heavily Hispanic and leans Democratic.
Doral College in its letter -- which Flores' campaign provided to the Herald/Times -- accused the Democratic Party of repeating two falsehoods: "that Doral College is a for-profit college and the degrees obtained by its students are worthless."
"These claims are objectively false and warrant immediate correction," wrote Ryan Kairalla, the college's general counsel. Here's an example of a direct-mail piece containing the claims Flores and Doral College took issue with.
Kairalla is correct that the Democratic Party erred in referring to Doral College as a "for-profit" college. It is a not-for-profit institution -- although the company that it's associated with is for-profit -- but whether the college's degrees are "worthless" is a matter of continued dispute in the political battle between supporters of charter school programs and those who favor more traditional educational options.
Mucarsel-Powell said Flores' and Doral College's complaints were "yet another desperate attempt by Anitere Flores to distract from her shameful 12-year record in Tallahassee."
Through a new Spanish-language TV ad and other campaign materials, state Senate candidate and Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles is falsely telling central Miami-Dade County voters his opponent “voted to release violent criminals and sexual delinquents in our community.”
Artiles’ TV ad claims Cutler Bay Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard “was the only senator who voted against keeping our communities safe — the only one,” and that Artiles would be the one who would protect the communities of Senate District 40. He echoed the attack in an image he posted on Twitter, too, in which Artiles claimed he “led the way to keep sexual predators off the streets” while Bullard “voted in favor of releasing violent criminals.”
But Artiles’ assertions manipulate facts.
Bullard called the ad "disgusting" and another example of "gutter-level politics" from Artiles.
President Barack Obama is supporting 13 Florida Democrats running for the state Legislature, the Florida Democratic Party announced this morning.
The list includes several high-profile candidates in highly competitive races -- many in Miami-Dade county.
Those include District 37 Senate candidate and current Miami state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez and District 39 candidate and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest.
Both Rodriguez and Mucarsel-Powell are trying to unseat powerful Miami Republicans -- Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores, respectively -- and help Democrats narrow the Republicans' hold on the chamber majority.
On the House side, Obama also backed Miami-Dade legislative contenders Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich (challenging Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. in District 103); Nick Duran (running for Rodriguez's open seat in District 112 against Rosa Maria Palomino); Daisy Baez (running for the open District 114 seat against John Couriel); and Robert Asencio (who's in a bitter battle against former state Rep. David Rivera in District 118).
Many other Democrats also running against Republicans in Florida legislative districts weren't included in Obama's endorsement list, which is solely non-incumbents.
But noticeably absent from the list were state Sen. Dwight Bullard (who's running for re-election in District 40 in a heated race against state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami) and District 38 Senate candidate and current state Rep. Daphne Campbell (who's running against former state Rep. Phillip Brutus).
Here is the full list of Florida legislative candidates Obama endorsed:
Whether to continue supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is a decision that continues to divide Republicans in Miami-Dade County.
Miami Republicans state Rep. Michael Bileca and state Senate candidate and current state Rep. Frank Artiles gave nearly identical comments in separate interviews with the Miami Herald's editorial board on Monday in admonishing Americans' top choices for president this year.
"I can tell you right now that I think that both candidates are the most horrible candidates that have ever been put up for the president of the United States," Artiles said.
"I think we have the two worst candidates that either party has ever put up in the history of presidential elections," Bileca said.
But there's a big difference between the two legislators beyond that: Artiles supports Trump for president, while Bileca doesn't.
With an already narrow balance of power at stake in the Florida Senate — and the political futures of several incumbents on the line — some of Miami-Dade County’s state Senate races have turned increasingly ugly as Election Day draws closer.
In one race, a Democratic incumbent has been accused of consorting with a Middle Eastern terrorist, and in a couple of others, the candidates have sparred passionately over their policies and potential conflicts of interest.
Voters are already casting ballots in the county’s five races, four of which are competitive. Democrats hope an anti-Donald Trump wave will help boost their candidates’ prospects even further, while Republicans have poured millions of dollars into helping their contenders retain — or in one case, gain — seats.
While Democrats hope Senate seats in Tampa and central Florida could also be pick-ups for them, Miami-Dade County has the highest concentration of consequential races. They are in play this year because of redrawn Senate districts that could affect the Republicans’ 26-14 chamber majority.
Current Republican Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores and Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard all want voters to send them back to Tallahassee, but each is fighting an aggressive opponent angling to unseat them.
A political committee for Florida Senate Republicans has been running a Spanish-language ad on Miami TV for several weeks now that accuses incumbent state Sen. Dwight Bullard of spending time with a "terrorist" during a trip to the Middle East earlier this year.
The mostly black-and-white ad features footage from the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- specifically, of the second plane erupting into a ball of fire as it strikes the South Tower of the World Trade Center -- as well as news clips from the San Bernardino shooting last year and last month's explosion in Manhattan. It also shows men with cloths over their faces holding guns and waving flags with Arabic script on them.
"If images used in this ad are offensive or extreme, it's probably because meeting with terrorists in the Middle East is both offensive and extreme," said Erin Isaac, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which paid for the ad and is backing Bullard's opponent.
Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is in a competitive fight for re-election this fall against Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles in District 40 -- a central Miami-Dade County seat that is heavily Hispanic. The FRSCC's ad tries to persuade voters that Bullard has "radical ideas" and "irresponsible conduct" because of his recent trip to Palestine and Israel.
In a recent Herald/Times interview, Bullard dismissed the ad as "a desperation tactic" and called it "a bit far-fetched."
The ad's claims stem from information reported by NBC6 Miami in late August. The station said Bullard, while on a trip to Palestinian areas of Israel, was photographed with "a man linked to a terror group." Bullard told the station the man was a "tour guide in old Jerusalem" and he "had no idea" of his political affiliations.
"Do you know Dwight Bullard?" the FRSCC's ad begins, while showing a 2012 image of Bullard wearing a hoodie covering his head -- something he did as a state representative at the time to show solidarity for Trayvon Martin.
"While the world suffers from terrorism, Dwight Bullard traveled to Palestine and met with an organization listed on the state department's terrorist list," the narrator continues in Spanish. "Members of his own party denounced the trip. We can't remain silent while an elected Florida official meets with a terrorism group. Dwight Bullard: When you get to know his ideas and his conduct, they're more than alarming."
At one point, the ad shows a photo of Bullard's tour group, with a red arrow pointing to him -- "Bullard" -- and one pointing to another man -- labeling him "terrorist."
Asked for his thoughts on the ad, Artiles said in a statement: "As a former U.S. Marine and someone who put on the uniform and served to protect Americans from terror, I am offended that a public official would meet with a terrorist leader and unapologetically challenge Israel’s right to exist."
Bullard had 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 told the Herald/Times he's "not going to spend a whole lot of time trying to counter or answer" what he called the ad's "misinformation."
"What we are going to do is make sure people know who we're are, who the campaign is, who I am, what I've been about and highlight some positives," he said.