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."

Does Daisy Baez live in the Florida House district she represents?

Baez@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Daisy Baez doesn’t appear to live in the House district she represents, a possible violation of the Florida Constitution that could haunt her Florida Senate candidacy.

Her residence continues to be a prim Coral Gables house with a stack of her old campaign yard signs leaning against one of the porch walls. On Monday evening, Baez wasn’t inside — but her two rescue dogs, Oso and Coco, were. So was her campaign team, working around the kitchen table. Baez was expected back a couple of hours later.

The home is in House District 112. Baez, a Democrat, represents House District 114, whose boundaries begin about half a mile away. Florida requires lawmakers to live and vote in the districts they represent by Election Day. For Baez, a freshman, that was Nov. 8 of last year.

Six days earlier, on Nov. 2, Baez changed her voter-registration address to a Coral Gables apartment within the District 114 boundaries, election records show.

“I have two residences,” Baez told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Baez said she rents an apartment on Anderson Road, about a mile and a half away from her three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Malaga Avenue where she claimed a homestead exemption on her 2016 property taxes, according to county records. Asked if the apartment was vacant or occupied, Baez cleared her throat several times, sounded uncomfortable and wouldn’t respond.

“I have kept this home, and I have a rental,” she said. “I am renovating this house to put it on the market.”

Baez then ended the interview, saying she needed to consult with her campaign team before speaking further.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

May 15, 2017

Two Republicans say no to running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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@PatriciaMazzei

A pair of Republican state legislators have decided against vying for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's congressional seat when she retires next year.

State Sen. René García of Hialeah said Monday to be mentioned as a potential contender was "one of the greatest compliments I have ever received in my career in public service." Hialeah, however, is not part of Ros-Lehtinen's Democratic-leaning 27th district, which runs along the Miami-Dade County coast from Miami Beach to Kendall.

"While the district represents a great part of the community and county that I love, I cannot continue to serve the public knowing that I would be abandoning the city of Hialeah and the people of Northwest Miami-Dade County," García said in a statement. "Having been born and raised in Hialeah, it has been the privilege of my life to serve my hometown for almost 20 years. I do so today with the same appreciation and intensity that I felt when I was first elected."

State Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, who was also mentioned as a possible candidate, is not running, either.

"I can assure you I'm not running and my focus is to finish out my Florida Senate term strong and serve the constituents of District 39," Flores said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I think that is the best place where I can serve my community in the coming years."

Flores isn't term-limited until 2020, but García's Senate term will end next year. The two senators have been mentioned as likely future candidates for local office, either at Hialeah City Hall (for García) or Miami-Dade County Hall (for both).

The best-known Republican already in the congressional race: Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, a former state representative. Several Democrats, including state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, have also declared their candidacies.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

May 11, 2017

Possible gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine engaged and awaiting child

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@joeflech

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is in the midst of touring Florida as he mulls a possible run for governor in 2018, is engaged and awaiting his first child.

Levine, 55, recently got engaged to Caro Murciano, a real estate agent and younger sister of television actor Enrique Murciano. Levine has never been married before. The couple are expecting.

The mayor told the Miami Herald these changes in his personal life only bolster his motivation as he considers a run.

"Becoming a husband and father will be one of the greatest highlights of my life and reinforces my determination to make our children's future secure and bright," he said on Thursday.

Levine has yet to commit to a run to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who is term-limited in 2018. He would enter a field of Democrats that include Gwen Graham, former North Florida congresswoman and daughter of former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King. Trial attorney John Morgan may also run.