May 23, 2017

On House floor, lawmakers urge 'decisive' U.S. steps on Venezuela

@PatriciaMazzei

Five members of Congress from both political parties took to the House floor Tuesday evening to deliver a series of related speeches denouncing the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro.

The lawmakers, two of them from Florida, urged further U.S. sanctions. Last week, the Trump administration penalized eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges, citing their short-lived decision earlier this year to strip legislative power from the elected National Assembly.

"The situation in Venezuela is becoming more desperate by the day: the humanitarian situation is worsening, the Maduro regime continues its flagrant human rights abuses, and despite the latest round of sanctions issued by the Treasury Department, the United States needs to take more decisive steps in support of the Venezuelan people," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who led the effort.

Also speaking were Reps. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina.

May 22, 2017

Gathered outside her house, protesters ask for Baez's resignation

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@PatriciaMazzei

Protesters greeted state Rep. Daisy Baez outside her Coral Gables home Monday morning, asking for her resignation because she doesn't live in her House district as required by Florida law.

"Resign now!" the protesters chanted. "Liar liar liar," one of the signs read.

About 18 people held signs on the sidewalk in front of Baez's house on Malaga Avenue at around 8:30 a.m. The house is in House District 112, but Baez, a Democrat, represents neighboring House District 114, as the Miami Herald reported last week.

Three days later, Baez dropped out of a special Florida Senate election where she had been the Democratic Party favorite.

Several protesters said they had seen Baez leave the house a little earlier Monday morning.

"She read my sign and sped off in a white Mercedes," said Mercedes Plasencia, a West Miami retiree. No cars were parked in front of the house by the time a Herald reporter arrived.

Mauricio Pons, 20, criticized Baez for failing to live in her district, despite a Florida constitutional requirement that she do so.

"That's like if the mayor of Miami lived in Coral Gables," said Pons, who described himself as a conservative. Neither he nor Plasencia would say which political group organized the protest.

A Herald reader said she received a robocall early Monday afternoon “alerting” her about Baez’s residency issues.

Baez is registered to vote in District 112. She told the Herald last week that she keeps two residences, including a rented apartment on Anderson Road in District 114. She changed her voter registration to that address six days before Election Day last November.

But the apartment is occupied by its owner, who wouldn't explain what sort of arrangement she has with Baez. And a neighbor said Baez doesn't live in the boutique building.

Local blogger Elaine de Valle reported over the weekend that Baez acknowledged she sleeps in her Malaga Avenue house, outside the district. Baez told de Valle she made an offer Saturday on a property within District 114 boundaries.

Spotted outside of Baez's Malaga Avenue house Monday morning: a new "For Rent" sign.

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Diaz to resign Florida House seat so he can run for Senate

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@PatriciaMazzei

To run in a special Florida Senate election, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz will resign from the House later this year, according to a letter he filed late last week with the state division of elections.

Diaz's resignation will be effective Sept. 26, the day Gov. Rick Scott set for the special Senate District 40 election.

The Miami Republican submitted his resignation last Thursday. Florida law requires candidates in state office to resign to run for another state seat. The deadline to do so was Saturday.

Diaz is running to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned last month from his competitive Southwest Miami-Dade County seat. Other Republicans in the race include former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck.

Candidates have until next Wednesday to qualify for the ballot. Diaz's resignation will require a special election to replace him.

View Diaz's letter here.

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, Associated Press

May 19, 2017

Asencio says no to running for Florida Senate

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@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Robert Asencio said no Friday to running for the Florida Senate seat left vacant by Frank Artiles, noting he's a freshman with only on legislative session under his belt.

"While it is a tremendous opportunity, I must be congizant of the fact that I have only recently been elected to state office by the will of the voters in House District 118, and it is to them who I am beholden," Asencio said in a statement. "Moreover, there are many critical issues in the Florida House that I want and will continue to fight for: stopping the wanton gutting of public education, fair wages for working families, to name a few."

Asencio, a Miami Democrat, had mulled a candidacy, knowing his House district is competitive and Republicans hope to win it back in 2018. He decided against a run on the same day Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, dropped out of the contest. Both would have had to announce their House resignations by Saturday, 10 days before the start of the May 30 candidate qualification deadline for the ballot.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine open to running as independent for Florida governor

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via @adamsmithtimes

Maybe multimillionaire Miami Beach businessman Philip Levine was just trying to be provocative, earn a little extra attention as he mulls a run for governor. Maybe he was just spitballing an unlikely idea before the Tampa Tiger Bay luncheon Friday. But the Miami Beach Mayor and close friend of Bill Clinton said he is keeping the door wide open to running for governor as an independent candidate.

"There's one assumption that you made there - that somehow if I ran for governor I would be a Democratic governor," Levine, a Democrat, responded when asked how he would work with a GOP-dominated Legislature. "Too much is about Democrat and Republican. It needs to be about the people. ... Maybe possibly it's time we do something different."

Levine has been one of the biggest Democratic fundraisers and donors in the state, but he describes himself as a "radical centrist" and noted that successful mayors usually don't govern based on partisanship but on getting things done.

"I'm a Democrat right now, and I hope that I stay in the Democratic Party. I love the Democratic Party. But you know what's interesting? I actually like the Republican Party, and I like a lot of Republican ideas, and I like a lot of the people in the Republican party as well. I think that's where we need to go as a country - and start in a state like Florida and make that decision that we're going to change and do it the right way," said Levine, 55, who is worth at least $100 million earned largely as a cruise industry concessionaire.

He has invested $2 million in a political committee to fund his exploration into a possible run for governor, but said he has not made up his mind yet and is in no rush. Other Democrats actively campaigning are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

The best experience for governing, Levine told the Tampa crowd, is no experience governing. Both parties claim to be the parties of working people and job creation but too often field candidates who have never created jobs or barely worked in the private sector. It was a clear dig at Gillum, Graham, and Republican candidate Adam Putnam, the agriculture commissioner.

His top priority would be improving Florida's economy, and he derided Gov. Rick Scott's emphasis on big tax breaks to lure corporations.

What will bring top-tier companies to Florida is creating "a culture and an ecosystem where they want to relocate, where their workers want to be around. It means unbelievable infrastructure, it means connecting our cities, it means making sure you have fresh water. ... NASA to us is our Silicon Valley and it hasn't been exploited to the level it really can be," Levine said.

"We should have innovation zones. Our universities must be the best. You make a decision -- do you want to invest in the state or do you want to cut everyone's taxes?. You can cut everyone's taxes, that's a great short-term solution and people will vote for you. ... I travel all over the world, all over the country. I have never had anyone say to me, 'We were thinking of coming to Florida, but it's a high tax state.' I've heard them say that your schools aren't as good as they could be."

Pressed after the luncheon if he is seriously considering running without party affiliation or considering even running as a Republican (a senior campaign adviser is Republican Adam Goodman of St. Petersburg), Levine said he has not decided.

"I'm keeping every door open right now, but I'm running as an American and I'm running as a Floridian and I'm running as someone who I believe has a good message for the times, which is not about being left and not about being right. It's about being in the center and being a Floridian, taking care of everybody and creating better and better opportunities for our state," Levine said. "I don't know if that's being Republican or Democrat, and as I go through my journey I'm going to figure that out."

Running as nonpartisan candidate would present enormous challenges, considering that more than 73 percent of the state is a registered Democrat or Republican and unaffiliated voters tend to be the most unreliable voters to turn out. The last major statewide candidate to run without party affiliation, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, received less than 30 percent of the vote in 2010 running for U.S. Senate against Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek.

Curbelo alluded to impeachment. His critics took to Facebook.

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@PatriciaMazzei

The comments came in fast and furious Friday after Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo published a Facebook post to explain his thoughts on the wild week of White House news.

"You spineless piece of crap," began a commenter named Dan Capote, who urged Curbelo to stand by President Donald Trump.

In a flurry of national TV interviews, Curbelo had suggested Trump might have obstructed justice -- an impeachable offense -- if, as reported first by the New York Times, he asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Russian ties to former National Security adviser Michael Flynn.

"It has been YOU obstructing justice," wrote a commenter named Stephanie Paige who apparently wanted Curbelo to be more critical of the president. "I want you to actively oppose the wrong you see- NOT vote to hide & obstruct the truth!"

Curbelo had set off the conversation by saying that, amid the controversy, the "main priority at this time is to seek out the truth and lay out the facts with transparency."

"My sincere hope is that no one in our government is guilty of any wrongdoing and that we can move beyond this difficult time in our country's politics," he wrote. "In the meantime, we should all make an effort to remain sober and measured as we take in all the news."

The comments were anything but.

A few hours later, Curbelo responded:

"Fascinating and entertaining to read the diversity of responses to this post. It's impossible for all of you to be right. However, it is quite possible that all of you are wrong," he wrote.

"A few points for all of you 1) My loyalty is to our community, our country, the Constitution, and the truth. Sorry if that's inconvenient or unacceptable to some. 2) I have 0 interest in a career in Congress. I just want to do the best that I can while I'm there. 3) Some of you should really consider taking a deep breath (count to 10; or maybe 100). So much anger and hate is unhealthy. Would you be proud to show your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews your expressions? I wouldn't. 4) Have a good weekend. I hope that at some point we can all come together as one nation under God." 

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

Robopoll: Trump's job approval is 38% in Miami-Dade

@PatriciaMazzei

Only 38 percent of likely Miami-Dade County voters approve of the work President Donald Trump has done so far, according to a new robopoll.

But since Trump only got 34 percent of the county vote last November, that might not actually be so bad, according to Republican pollster Armando Ibarra of AI Advisory, which conducted the automated survey.

"For the time being, Republicans might live to fight another day," he said. "It's not a crisis -- yet."

His poll found a generic Democrat would lead a generic Republican in a hypothetical Miami-Dade election by 47-37 percent.

As with all robopolls, it's important to note they usually skew Republican because they usually miss cellphone-only voters, who tend to be young, poor and minority -- the Democratic Party base.

Trump's job approval is fueled by the 79 percent of Republicans who like what he's doing, compared to 83 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of no-party-affiliated voters who disapprove. While 61 percent of Cubans approve of Trump's performance, 61 percent of Latinos disapprove, as do 79 percent of blacks.

Like Trump, Gov. Rick Scott is similarly underwater -- a sign voters might not differentiate much between the two Republicans, Ibarra said. Only 38 percent of respondents approve of Scott's job performance, compared to 47 percent who disapprove.

The robopoll of 2,933 likely Miami-Dade voters was conducted in English and Spanish on May 15-16. It has an error margin of 1.8 percentage points.

It's official: Baez out of special Florida Senate race to replace Artiles

Baez@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Daisy Baez’s short-lived candidacy for the Florida Senate came to end Friday, doomed politically by a crowded Democratic primary and the likelihood that she’d be attacked as a carpetbagger.

Baez dropped out of the race for Senate District 40 just 19 days after it began, citing her ailing mother’s deteriorating health.

“My life today is a direct reflection of my mother’s decision to immigrate to this country and work multiple jobs to ensure that I could live the American Dream,” Baez, who is Dominican-American, said in a statement. “Just after announcing my intention to run for the Florida Senate, my mother’s health deteriorated and it became clear to me that spending time with her now is of the utmost importance. As her daughter, caring for her is my number one priority. Therefore, I will not pursue a campaign for the Florida Senate.”

On Tuesday, the Miami Herald reported Baez appears to live outside her House district, which would violate a Florida constitutional requirement. Then came a Democratic poll that showed Baez, a freshman lawmaker, trailing far behind her primary rivals, businesswoman Annette Taddeo and former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan.

Democrats pressured Baez to reconsider her candidacy, which would have left vacant a competitive House seat eyed by Republicans. A loss might have also damaged the chances for Baez, a well-liked U.S. Army vet, to run for higher office in the future. 

“I will spend the upcoming weeks with my family and continue to use my voice in the Florida House to speak out clearly and forcefully to fight for better jobs, to protect our environment, to ensure we all have access to affordable health care, and to support our public schools,” Baez’s statement said.​

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

May 17, 2017

As Trump World turns, Republican lawmakers are forced to react. And react. And react.

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@PatriciaMazzei

It’s become de rigueur for members of Congress: another day, another request from reporters to comment on the latest crisis overtaking the White House.

This week, the questions centered on the momentous revelations that President Donald Trump gave classified information to Russia in the Oval Office — and that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo saying Trump asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Democrats have been uniformly critical. But for many Republican lawmakers, navigating the halls of the U.S. Capitol has turned into an exercise in deploying deliberately cautious language — while also sounding increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration.

Take, for example, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo, one of the most threatened GOP congressmen, is a frequent Trump critic who had been facing stinging criticism in his Democratic-leaning district for voting for House Republicans’ healthcare legislation. He backs the formation of a select committee to investigate the allegations against Trump.

More here.

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

May 16, 2017

Diaz: 'Aggressive trolling' prompted deletion of Twitter selfie with Trump

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@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said he deleted a Twitter photo of himself with President Donald Trump after an "aggressive trolling campaign" gave him grief about it online.

Following his entry into the race to replace former state Sen. Frank Artiles, Diaz said people he presumed to be from his opponents' campaigns "seized upon an old tweet and began an aggressive trolling campaign aimed at provocation and distraction."

"I deleted the vehicle they were trolling, which was a picture from the Presidential Inauguration and now they are, again, trying to create a story where there is none," Diaz said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

The deletion only got Diaz more trolling from local liberal activists, as reported by Politico Florida and the Miami New Times. Diaz faces former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck in the special July 25 primary election. If Diaz wins, expect Democrats to try to tie him to Trump in Democratic-leaning Senate District 40. Diaz was interviewed as the Trump administration's potential pick to serve as Miami U.S. attorney.

The Jan. 19 tweet read: "Just ran into the first guy who ever fired me. The next president of the United States @realDonald Trump #Apprentice #POTUS #ElPresidente."

Diaz, a one-time contestant on "The Apprentice" reality show, attended the inauguration along with state Rep. Carlos Trujillo. Both are Miami Republicans.

"My being on NBC's The Apprentice is public knowledge and something that I do not shy away from," Diaz said Tuesday. "I am running for the Senate based on my record of service and the good laws that I have passed by way of protecting kids, protecting seniors and investing in Miami-Dade County's most important institutions."