October 13, 2017

Prosecutors questioned Miami lawmaker in criminal investigation over her residency

Baez
@DavidOvalle305 @PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County prosecutors recently questioned state Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, as part of a criminal investigation into her legal residency, a source close to the case confirmed Friday to the Miami Herald.

The investigation has taken a back seat to proceedings under way at the Republican-controlled Florida House, where a special bipartisan committee found probable cause earlier this week to move forward with an inquiry that could result in Baez's possible expulsion from the chamber.

Baez's meeting with prosecutors was first reported by Politico. The investigations into her residency began after the Herald questioned in May whether Baez lived in her House district, as required by the Florida Constitution. Baez and her attorneys -- Mark Herron in Tallahassee and Ben Kuehne in Miami -- have said she has complied with the requirement that she, as a legislator, be "an elector and resident of the district from which elected." 

But the House panel found Tuesday that Baez likely violated the residency law by living in her Coral Gables home in District 112 -- even after having gotten elected last November to represent neighboring District 114.

In  May, Baez told the Herald she kept her home -- the one listed on her driver's license and where she had a homestead exemption -- but also rented an apartment in District 114. But the apartment's owners also lived there, and maintained a homestead exemption. After the Herald report, Baez obtained a lease for a second apartment in District 114, House investigators found.

Kuehne told Politico the House -- and not Democratic State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle -- has jurisdiction over Baez's residency.

"The fact that the state House has initiated action is certainly a good indication that the state House is the one that should be handling this matter," he said. "This should not be anything that any governmental agency other than the legislative body looks into."

In June, a spokesman for the state attorney's office declined to comment to the Herald on whether they'd opened an investigation into Baez, based on whether she had unlawfully maintained her homestead exemption. At the time, it appeared Baez's 2016 exemption was proper, and she still had time to file or make changes to her 2017 exemption.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

October 10, 2017

Taddeo joins Florida Senate as first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to chamber

Taddeo swearing in1 (1)

@ByKristenMClark

Beginning her service in Tallahassee this week as Florida’s newest state senator, Miami Democrat Annette Taddeo said she aims to be “a voice of inclusion, a voice of opportunity for all.”

“Just bringing the voice of the people,” Taddeo said at the state Capitol Tuesday morning after she was officially sworn in as District 40’s next senator. “It was not just a hashtag when we said it was ‘a people-powered campaign’ — it was truly born from the community and I’m very proud of that.”

Taddeo won a special election on Sept. 26 to replace disgraced former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who resigned in April. Her upset win over former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, helped the Democrats secure an additional seat in the Senate, narrowing the Republican majority to 24-16.

In joining the Senate, the Colombian-born Taddeo also became the first Hispanic Democratic woman elected to the chamber.

“It’s a humbling experience; I’m very excited and honored to be given this responsibility,” she said. “I’m ready.”

Full story here.

 

Photo credit: State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, center, is sworn in to office by Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince on Oct. 10, 2017. She was joined at her swearing-in ceremony by her 11-year-old daughter Sofia Taddeo-Goldstein, her husband Eric Goldstein and her mother Elizabeth Taddeo. [Florida Senate]

October 05, 2017

Emily's List formally backs Curbelo challenger

@PatriciaMazzei

Emily's List, which promotes the candidacies of progressive women in politics, is formally getting behind Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell's bid against Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

The group announced its endorsement Thursday for the 2018 race in Florida's swing 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West.

It did not come as a surprise: Mucarsel-Powell met with Emily's List leaders in Washington before launching her candidacy in August. The group's early backing signals that Democrats probably don't expect another significant female candidate to get in the race.

"Too much is on the line to stay home next November, like protecting women's health care and passing permanent DACA legislation," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program phased out by President Donald Trump. "Debbie is just the type of fighter Florida's working families deserve representing their interests in Washington."

Schriock called Curbelo an "extreme Republican who supports Donald Trump's dangerous agenda." Curbelo, it should be noted, has broken with Trump on a number of issues -- and filed legislation to protected DACA beneficiaries.

October 03, 2017

Miami Beach mayor and potential gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is a father

@joeflech

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's fiancee Caro Murciano has given birth to their son Henry Joel Levine. 

Levine, a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2018, shared the news on his social media profiles Tuesday morning. The mayor has told the Miami Herald he expects to make a decision on a run for governor in November.

 

September 29, 2017

Fresen sentenced to 60 days in jail, probation in tax case

Erik5 fresen lnew cmg
@PatriciaMazzei

Former Miami state Rep. Erik Fresen will serve 60 days in jail and a year of probation for failing to file a 2011 tax return on more than $270,000 in income, a federal judge sentenced Friday.

He will begin his jail term on Nov. 17 and serve 15 days in jail per month for four months — an intermittent sentence intended to keep him earning some income to pay back his tax penalties.

“I want him to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in jail so that every holiday for the rest of his life he’ll think back to that,” U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said.

Fresen’s mother, wife and three sisters, seated two rows behind him in court, cried.

Fresen faced up to a year in prison. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of six months in jail and six months of house arrest, while Fresen’s defense attorneys requested only probation.

Scola said he couldn’t be as lenient as the defense requested because Fresen didn’t properly report his income to the Internal Revenue Service from 2007-16 — a nine-year period that included his eight years as a Republican lawmaker the Florida House.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

September 25, 2017

Open Miami-Dade House, Senate seats will be decided in Tuesday special election

Diaz and Taddeo

@ByKristenMClark

In a special election on Tuesday, voters in southwest Miami-Dade County will determine the successors for two seats in the state Legislature that opened up after a Miami Republican senator was forced to resign last spring when he made racist and insulting remarks in front of fellow senators at a bar near the state Capitol.

The fight for the District 40 Senate seat — formerly held by Frank Artiles, who stepped down in April — has been highly competitive for what it could mean, particularly for Democrats: The chance to flip the seat and narrow Republicans’ current 24-15 advantage in the chamber.

The House District 116 seat is also on the ballot, because Florida’s “resign to run” law required Miami Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz to vacate that seat when he chose to run in the District 40 contest.

More details here.

Photo credit: Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right. [Miami Herald file photo.]

September 21, 2017

Annette Taddeo nabs late campaign endorsement from Joe Biden

2bBiden

@ByKristenMClark

Just how important is a win next week for Florida Democrats in the competitive special election for a state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County?

Important enough that former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a campaign call for Annette Taddeo in an effort to give a late boost to the Democrat’s candidacy against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

Taddeo’s campaign announced Biden’s endorsement — and the phone call he recorded for her — on Thursday afternoon, five days before the District 40 election will be decided on Tuesday. Voting early in person and by mail has already started.

“I wanted to call to remind you that voting is underway for a very important special election in your community,” Biden says in the 50-second recording to voters, which is a political ad paid for by Taddeo’s campaign.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

Civil liberties group offers Election Protection hotline to help Miami-Dade voters

Voting in Miami David Santiago elneuvoherald

@ByKristenMClark

Worried that poor and minority voters might be disenfranchised because of the impacts of Hurricane Irma, a national civil liberties group is promoting its Election Protection hotline in advance of Tuesday's special elections for open House and Senate seats in Miami-Dade County.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law -- a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that runs the hotline -- was among the groups that supported the Florida Democratic Party's request to Gov. Rick Scott for him to delay the special elections for Senate District 40 and House District 116.

Scott denied the request, ensuring the elections would happen as originally planned. Voting early in person and by mail is already underway. Tuesday is Election Day.

The organization said Scott postponed elections in Lee County -- also scheduled for Tuesday -- to Oct. 3, but "he did not provide the same relief for Miami-Dade voters."

"By choosing to delay some elections and not others, Governor Scott will deny minority voters who have been uniquely impacted by the destruction from Hurricane Irma, the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a statement.

Scott's office noted that Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections Christina White did not ask for the elections under her supervision to be re-scheduled, while local officials and elections supervisors overseeing city elections in Cape Coral and Fort Myers had.

“We rely on the independent supervisors of elections to guide decision-making on elections in their counties. Supervisor of Elections Christina White has requested to move forward with this election, and we will accept her guidance,” Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis had said last week.

Nonetheless, the committee has its concerns about storm victims not being able to make it to the polls.

The group wants eligible voters who have voting-related questions to call its hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

Photo credit: David Santiago / El Nuevo Herald

September 18, 2017

As state Senate election nears, Diaz, Taddeo debate 'lessons learned' from Hurricane Irma

Diaz taddeo debate 0917

@ByKristenMClark

The impacts and recovery efforts that followed Hurricane Irma have presented fresh fodder for political debate between the two main candidates who are seeking voters’ support in a bitter battle that will be decided next week for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County.

On WPLG Local 10 News’ “This Week in South Florida” on Sunday, Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democrat Annette Taddeo sparred about the “lessons learned” from the storm.

They also used the 10-minute televised debate to trade attacks over which of them caters more to special interest groups and industries that came to the forefront during and after the hurricane, such as utilities and nursing home care.

“What we have learned is that industry has a great impact at the [Public Service Commission], at the Legislature. They have killed certain legislation so it could have prevented the lives that we lost at the nursing home,” Taddeo said on the Sunday morning show, referencing the eight elderly people who died last week in a Broward County facility that lacked air conditioning after the hurricane.

Whether it was the elder care industry or utilities, like Florida Power & Light, Taddeo said: “We need to make sure we have representatives that represent us — not the special interests. And that’s not what we have right now; we have had this problem in Florida for decades.”

Diaz — who’s served in the Florida House for seven years — countered that “it’s unfortunate that my opponent would try to paint me off as someone who’s beholden to special interests.”

“The only special interest that matters to me is the people of my community. Nobody’s worked harder during and after this storm than me,” Diaz said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, debate during Sunday’s episode of “This Week in South Florida” on WPLG Local 10 News in Miami. Diaz and Taddeo are candidates for the open Senate District 40 seat in Miami-Dade County. [WPLG]

September 07, 2017

Miami-Dade expands mandatory evacuation orders ahead of Hurricane Irma

@doug_hanks @PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez expanded evacuation orders Thursday to the county’s coast and other inland areas as Hurricane Irma threatened to bring severe flooding to South Florida.

Gimenez’s new order covers the rest of evacuation Zone B as well as Zone C, a rapid escalation of Miami-Dade’s efforts to get residents to flee areas considered most vulnerable to dangerous storm surge. On Wednedsay, Gimenez told residents in Zone A and the eastern part of Zone B — Miami Beach and the county’s other barrier islands — to begin evacuating at 7 a.m. Thursday.

The expanded order for all of Zone B includes Miami’s two main office and condo districts on Brickell Avenue and downtown, as well as large portions of South Dade. Parts of Cutler Bay, Florida City and Homestead — a city ravaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — sit in the expanded evacuation area. For Zone C, the evacuation orders expand even further inland, encompassing the rest of Homestead, as well as at least parts of Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Shores and North Miami Beach.

Gimenez said he decided to expand the orders after studying storm-surge maps provided Thursday morning by the National Hurricane Center. The new order will be effective sometime later Thursday. The mayor urged people to first seek shelter with friends and family before going to an emergency shelter.

“Now is the time for us to come together and help each other out,” Gimenez said.

More here.