June 28, 2017

Miami Democrat kicks off congressional campaign talking health care, climate change -- but not Trump

IMG_5640
@PatriciaMazzei

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez picked the most Little Havana of scenes to kick off his campaign for Congress on Tuesday, gathering a small group of supporters outside Calle Ocho's Domino Park as he pitched himself as the candidate to tackle big issues -- and what's expected to be a hotly contested race.

"When I'm speaking with neighbors, families, residents, constituents -- they're talking to me about the fact that the residents of District 27 need access to affordable health care. And that starts with protecting the gains in the Affordable Care Act," he said, a day after the Senate postponed a vote on legislation to undo some of former President Barack Obama's signature law.

As he spoke, men shuffled dominoes on nearby tables. An old-school peanut salesman walked by ("¡Manícero!"). Tourists streamed out of double-decker buses.

Laying out his campaign platform in addition to healthcare, Rodríguez mentioned the economy and climate change, though he offered no specifics, even when pressed about what Obamacare tweaks, if any, he'd support.

He declined to call himself a "moderate" Democrat, though that's how he's voted in the Florida House and Senate -- and how he's likely to run in the Southeast Miami-Dade County district, which leans Democratic but is currently held by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring. Rodríguez praised the congresswoman's constituent services as a model to follow.

Several other Democrats are also seeking Ros-Lehtinen's seat. Rodríguez was the first big-name Democrat to jump into the race after Ros-Lehtinen's retirement announcement last month.

Not once did he name Democrats' likely bogeyman in next year's election: President Donald Trump.

Continue reading "Miami Democrat kicks off congressional campaign talking health care, climate change -- but not Trump" »

June 27, 2017

Beware healthcare 'spin,' Kellyanne Conway says in Miami, doing her own spinning

CONWAY0628 STAGE2 CTJ
@PatriciaMazzei

On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

“I know that people like to spin tales,” she said at the Miami-Dade County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day fundraising dinner. “Do the homework. Read all of the information.”

She, however, was not always providing it.

Conway said the Senate bill, called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” would offer “an increase in Medicaid spending every year, with a slowing of the growth of the expansion” promoted by former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

In its report released Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the lower rate of spending on Medicaid would result in a $772-billion reduction by 2026, about a 26 percent cut over a decade that would leave thousands of people without health insurance. Medicaid, which is run by states but funded by states and the federal government, provides care to the disabled and the needy. 

In all, the CBO projected some 22 million people with individual, employer or government insurance would lose coverage by 2026.

More than tout the Senate bill, Conway criticized the existing ACA, saying the “19th and 20th Obamacare exchanges failed — there’s only four left.” That appeared to be a reference to the 19th healthcare cooperative in the country folding, leaving four nationwide. But co-ops are not exchanges; exchanges are the ACA-created insurance marketplaces.

More here.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

Man 'fed up' with Republicans threatens Miami lawmaker on Facebook, gets arrested

Steve Stfelizvia @ChuckRabin

Two weeks after a U.S. congressman and four others were shot during a baseball practice in a Washington suburb by a man with a history of lashing out at Republicans, a Florida lawmaker decided he wasn’t taking any chances.

So Sunday, after someone threatened his life on his Facebook page, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, informed police.

And on Monday, Northwest Miami-Dade resident Steve St. Felix, 34, was arrested and charged with written threats with intent to do bodily injury. Police said St. Felix was “fed up” with the Republican Party — and that he hadn’t taken his meds when he posted the threat.It’s unclear what condition the medications were treating.

The threat — “I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting” — was quickly removed from Diaz’s Facebook page, police said. It appeared to refer to the Republican Executive Committee, the name of the local Miami-Dade County GOP.

St. Felix’s listed address is clear across the county from where Diaz lives.

Diaz, 37, is running for a contested state Senate seat. The primary is July 25.

More here.

Photo credit: Miami-Dade Corrections Department

House GOP-backed PAC pledges anti-Pelosi campaign in Curbelo's Miami district

Congress Democrats
@PatriciaMazzei

Get ready, voters in Florida's 26th congressional district: A rash of anti-Nancy Pelosi advertising is coming in the 2018 election.

Congressional Leadership Fund, a political committee backed by the House Republican caucus, pledged Tuesday to devote serious cash next year to running against Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

The group says it's polled 11 competitive congressional districts -- including FL-26 -- over the past 60 days and found Pelosi is disliked. Her leadership came under political fire last week after Democrat Jon Ossoff lost a special election in Georgia. A defiant Pelosi, a Democratic fundraising machine, made clear she's sticking around.

According to Congressional Leadership Fund, 45 percent of poll respondents in FL-26, which is represented by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, view her unfavorably, compared to 37 percent who view her favorably.

"During the 2018 cycle, CLF will spend millions of dollars highlighting Nancy Pelosi's toxic agenda and reminding voters across the country that Democratic candidates are nothing more than rubber stamps for her out-of-touch, liberal policies," Congressional Leadership Fund Executive Director Corry Bliss wrote.

Curbelo, who has yet to draw a Democratic challenger, has been repeatedly jabbed recently by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for his support for the House healthcare bill. Another Miami Republican, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, also backed it.

"Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart already made their bed and now they have to lie in it," DCCC Spokesman Cole Leiter said in a statement Monday.

We talk more about Pelosi in our weekly McClatchy politics podcast, "Beyond the Bubble":

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

June 26, 2017

Rubio reviews Senate healthcare bill while protesters ask him to oppose it

Healthcare2 protest lnew cm
@PatriciaMazzei

To study the Senate healthcare bill's effects on Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio last week invited the top three Republicans in the state Capitol -- Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron -- to weigh in on the legislation.

By Monday, three staffers sent by the three state GOP leaders were in Washington, going through the bill with Rubio aides. Scott himself will travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to offer his thoughts to Rubio directly.

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to Corcoran; and Justin Senior secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. 

The Republican senator has yet to say how he'll vote. But he's hardly expected to oppose the legislation, given his past support to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And the state staffers, expected to remain "embedded" in Rubio's office all week, probably won't give him a compelling reason to vote no, either: Scott, Corcoran and Negron chose not to expand Medicaid under the ACA and have been critical of the law. That's even though Florida, with its large uninsured population, was one of the states to see the most people covered under Obamacare.

Rubio outlined his criteria for the bill in a Facebook Live appearance last week. For example, he wants people with pre-existing conditions to be protected and Florida to be "treated fairly" on Medicaid (that is, not penalized for not expanding the program).

Pro-Obamacare activists demonstrated outside Rubio's Doral office Monday to urge him to oppose the Senate's "Better Care Reconciliation Act."

"Rubio, do your job!" some of them chanted.

After the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that 22 million Americans would lose health-insurance coverage by 2026 under the Senate plan, two Republican senators said they would vote against the bill as written: Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Three GOP no's would kill the bill.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor to oppose the legislation: "This bill is just as bad as the House bill," he said.

This post has been updated.

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

June 22, 2017

Miami-Dade Democrats ask Democratic state attorney to resign

  Kathyfrundlemh
via @jkbjournalist

Miami-Dade Democrats approved a resolution Wednesday night calling for State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle to resign, citing her failure to hold law enforcement officers accountable for criminal wrongdoing and civil rights abuses.

The local party’s criminal justice committee, which drew up the resolution, specifically pointed to the case of Darren Rainey, an inmate who died in a shower at Dade Correctional Institution five years ago this week. It was voted on at the monthly meeting of the party’s executive committee.

The rebuke comes as Fernández Rundle is considering a run for either governor or state attorney general.

Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, was locked in a hot shower by corrections officers, who left him there for 90 minutes. Inmates at the prison contend that guards used the shower to torment unruly inmates with unbearably hot water and steam.

More here.

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, for the Miami Herald

June 21, 2017

Miami-Dade schools hires lobbyist — at $108,000 a year — to take concerns to Congress, Trump

White house

@KyraGurney

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Miami-Dade school district is hiring a lobbying firm to represent its interests in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the School Board approved a three-year contract — at $108,000 a year — with Ballard Partners, a Florida lobbying firm, to advocate for the district’s interests before Congress and several federal agencies.

“We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who oversees the school district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. The district hopes to “nurture good working relationships with the federal administration to continue to be able to provide a quality education to the students in Miami-Dade.”

The School Board’s decision comes amid growing concern nationwide about proposed cuts to federal education funding.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training and after-school programs.

The proposed budget cuts would “severely reduce” the amount of federal education funding Miami-Dade receives and are among the district’s top concerns, said Mendez-Cartaya.

Read more here

After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts

IMG_Economic_Impact_of_I_2_1_8BAO5GJG_L296697696 (6)
@PatriciaMazzei

Two Republican-held congressional districts in South Florida remain among the most attractive for Democrats to flip next year, according to an internal Democratic memo circulated after the party lost a closely watched and incredibly expensive special Georgia election Tuesday night.

Recent Democratic polls in Florida's 26th and 27th districts show Democrats doing better than they were when they surveyed voters in the same districts last October, wrote Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Luján's memo tried to keep Democrats motivated after Jon Ossoff's loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Atlanta suburbs -- a race that cost both sides about $55 million, the most expensive in history. In the memo, Luján listed 30 competitive districts Democrats plan to target to try to win back the House in 2018. They would need to flip 24 GOP-controlled districts to do so.

"The House is in play," Luján wrote for the first time. 

Among them are FL-26 and FL-27, now held by Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When Democrats polled Ros-Lehtinen's district in October, a generic Democratic candidate outperformed a generic Republican by 7 percentage points. The beloved Ros-Lehtinen, however, is sui generis: She defeated challenger Scott Fuhrman by nearly 10 points.

But Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Democrats' more recent polling shows a generic Democrat leading a generic Republican by 18 points.

Similarly, Democrats say they've gained ground in the district held by Curbelo, who is running for reelection. A generic Democrat polled evenly with a generic Republican in his district in October; now, Democrats say they're up by 7 points.

Still, a generic ballot is not the same as testing specific candidates. Curbelo is a sophomore much less entrenched than Ros-Lehtinen, but he appears pretty well-liked in his Westchester-to-Key West district. There's perhaps no bigger sign that he's a tough opponent than the fact that he's yet to draw a big-name Democratic challenger ahead of 2018.

If Democrats continue the strategy they tried in Georgia, they will likely keep trying to run in congressional districts against President Donald Trump. In his memo, Luján included a chart noting Trump's job performance is under water in both Ros-Lehtinen's and Curbelo's district. Some 61 percent of respondents have a negative view of Trump's work so far in Ros-Lehtinen's district, according to the DCCC. That number is 52 percent in Curbelo's district.

Luján, who was in South Florida last month, wrote the DCCC will try to recruit candidates across the country in July.

"Let’s look outside of the traditional mold to keep recruiting local leaders, veterans, business owners, women, job-creators, and health professionals," he wrote. "Let’s take the time to find people who fit their districts, have compelling stories, and work hard to earn support from voters."

Read Luján's memo below.

Continue reading "After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts" »

June 20, 2017

Republican rivals in Miami House race are still trying to out-Cuban each other

FullSizeRender (28)@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump's Miami visit to announce new U.S.-Cuba policy last week became a campaign moment in a special Florida House race between two Republican primary rivals who have tried to out-Cuban each other.

Foreign policy is not the purview of state lawmakers. Nevertheless, on Friday, after Trump's East Little Havana event, candidate Jose Mallea's campaign put out a robocall to House District 116 Republican voters touting Mallea's support for Trump's policy shift.

"Mallea is a real Republican, Cuban-American, who wants to fight for a free Cuba," the call said. "In contrast, his opponent, Daniel Perez, was a beneficiary of the Obama-Castro policy, going to Cuba on a luxury vacation to take his engagement photos."

Robocall

Cuba has been an ongoing theme in the race since the Miami Herald reported last month on Perez's wedding-engagement photo shoot earlier this year in Havana, which were posted online on two websites. The photos were subsequently taken down.  FullSizeRender (29)

Meantime, Perez's campaign was sending voters a letter, in English and Spanish, from Perez's parents, vouching for their son's Cuban roots. The family left Cuba in 1969, Guelcys and Eugenio Perez wrote in their "personal message," which also said Perez's uncle Antonio Perez "died fighting against the Castro regime."

Continue reading "Republican rivals in Miami House race are still trying to out-Cuban each other" »

The Miami Beach mystery PAC is under state investigation

Miami Beach Grieco

@NickNehamas, @joeflech and @DavidOvalle305

A public-corruption probe is underway into a controversial political group linked to Miami Beach commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Grieco, the Miami Herald has learned.

At least one donor to the political action committee has been subpoenaed by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, according to a Miami Beach defense attorney representing the donor. The attorney asked that he and his client not be identified.

The list of donors to People for Better Leaders is stocked with Miami Beach vendors, lobbyists and developers with business before the city. The PAC raised $200,000 in 2016.

Read more.