November 28, 2016

Miami Lakes councilman opens campaign account for 2018 state House bid

Mingo_frank@ByKristenMClark

Miami Lakes Councilman Frank Mingo will seek a seat in the Florida Legislature in two years.

Mingo filed paperwork last week with the Division of Elections to run as a Republican for the House District 103 seat. Current Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, is in his third term and plans to run for state Senate in 2018.

Although Mingo is the first to file for the seat, he is likely to have the backing of powerful House Republicans. He works as the supply chain manager for the Oliva Cigar Company -- the business of Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who is in line to take over as House speaker in 2018.

Mingo has lived in Miami Lakes since 1986 and has been a town councilman since 2013. Launching a campaign account now allows Mingo to begin raising money.

Photo credit: miamilakes-fl.gov

November 26, 2016

With Castro's death, Miami politicians spy opening for Trump to adopt Cuba hard line

Roslehtinen1 castro lnew cm
@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

In Miami, the city where candidates built their careers on stridently resisting the Cuban dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s death marked the end of a political era — and, Cuban-American members of Congress hoped, the start of a new one, with reinvigorated support for a hardline policy under President-elect Donald Trump.

Republican politicians, some of them still uneasy about a Trump presidency, confidently declared Saturday that his incoming administration, set to begin less than two months from Castro’s unexpected demise, represents the best hope for the Cuban opposition — assuming Trump fulfills his campaign promise to sever the Cuba ties reestablished by President Barack Obama.

“President-elect Trump has correctly stated that Obama’s overtures to the Castro regime were one-sided and only benefited the Cuban regime,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who wrote in Jeb Bush’s name for president instead of voting for Trump.

“I hope that the new administration, under the leadership of President Trump, seizes this moment as an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the Cuban people that it will pressure the Castro regime by rolling back these executive actions of the Obama administration.”

Trump’s candidacy had managed to pull together a majority of Cuban-American voters, according to exit polls — but not necessarily their elected leaders, who denounced Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants, especially Hispanics, and reported business interest in Cuba. Castro’s death late Friday appeared to do more to consolidate his standing among Miami’s Cuban-American political establishment than anything he said during the campaign.

More here.

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

November 21, 2016

Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders

SP_407425_KEEL_11_FLGOV

@ByKristenMClark

A longtime legislator from Miami Gardens will lead the Democrats of the Florida Senate for the next two years.

Sen. Oscar Braynon’s ascension to Senate minority leader was made official Monday evening in advance of Tuesday’s organizational session for the 2016-18 Legislature. He’s now in charge of a 15-member Democratic caucus, of which 11 are newly elected senators.

“I’m happy to be taking on that role,” Braynon said. “We’re going to have a bunch of blank slates when it comes to what happens in the Senate. There’s a lot of potential there.”

One of those newcomers is freshman Broward County Sen. Lauren Book, whom the Democratic caucus also unanimously elected as Braynon’s No. 2 in the role of Senate Democratic leader pro tempore.

Book, of Plantation, is a prominent advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and the founder and CEO of Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids. She is also the daughter of powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, whom she called “her best friend, rock and mentor.”

Although the Republican majority in the Senate will drive the agenda, Braynon said his goal as minority leader is to continue pushing for Democratic priorities, such as equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, improving access to health care and strengthening public education.

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida Republicans to launch conservative coalition for immigration reform

@amysherman1

A group of Florida Republicans including two who were critical of Donald Trump will launch a conservative coalition that will make an economic argument in favor of immigration reform.

Floridians for Immigration Solutions will hold their kickoff event at Hialeah City Hall at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

“The effort is one of a dozen statewide conservative coalitions calling for a responsible solution to the country’s broken immigration system that secures the border, grows the economy, and recognizes that America cannot and should not engage in mass deportations of millions of productive members of society,” states a press release.

Trump made a series of immigration-related promises including that he would turn off the “jobs and benefits magnet” that attracts immigrants who come to the United States illegally. His  immigration plan also includes building a wall on the Mexican border, deporting criminals and ending Obama’s executive actions including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Trump has something in common with some Florida business owners: he has used H-2B visas to import temporary foreign workers at his Mar-A-Lago resort.

The coalition leaders include four Republican past or present politicians: Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, State Sen. René García, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Juan Zapata and former State Rep. J.C. Planas. The coalition also includes business leaders Julio Fuentes, CEO of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Mandy Llanes, chair of the Hialeah Chamber of Commerce.

Planas backed libertarian Gary Johnson but said on election day he wrote in former Gov. Jeb Bush’s name. He said the coalition will make an economic case about the need for immigration reform.

“The message of this is immigrants are not just an important part of our country -- immigrants are an important part of the economy,” Planas told the Miami Herald. “For all Americans to prosper and for us to keep the economy growing we have to make any immigration solution be as positive for economy as possible. We cannot let any sort of xenophobic feelings cause us to harm the economic recovery of the country.”

Garcia criticized Trump after he said that a judge in the Trump University case couldn’t be fair because the judge was of Mexican descent and Trump wants to build a border wall.

"These demeaning words seek to divide the country among racial lines, and that is simply contrary to the American values that have made our country great,” Garcia said in June. “It is shameful that Mr. Trump is using his public profile to force pressure on a reputable member of the federal judiciary to affect the outcome of a private civil matter. Republican or Democrat, black or white, we must stand in solidarity and denounce these blatantly racist remarks."

Hernandez, who told the Miami Herald that he voted for Trump, said he wants a path to legal status for certain undocumented immigrants. He said he wants the Trump administration to pursue: "a path to securing our border, restructuring the U.S. immigration system in a manner that supports economic growth, discourages illegal immigration, and creates a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who are not a threat and are productive members of society."

The coalition is an initiative of the New American Economy, a bipartisan effort calling for immigration reform. The New American Economy is working toward having similar coalitions nationwide -- this is the first one in Florida.

“Our basic reason for being is to make the case of how immigration helps America and helps the economy,” said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the New American Economy. “We want diverse political voices. It’s no secret the Republicans control everything, that is the reason why we are lifting up conservative voices now.”

 

Florida Legislature's leadership for 2016-18 includes major Miami-Dade influence

OT_402078_KEEL_7_flgov (2)

@ByKristenMClark

For the next two years and potentially beyond, lawmakers representing Miami-Dade County are poised to wield extreme influence in the Florida Legislature — the likes of which they haven’t had in a decade or more.

At least seven Miami-Dade legislators — and potentially a few more yet to be announced — will hold powerful leadership positions from now through 2018 under incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

These roles should ensure Miami-Dade’s mark on everything from school choice measures and gambling regulations to which local projects get funding priority.

The 2016-18 Legislature will be sworn in Tuesday during a one-day organizational session, when Negron and Corcoran will also formally take over as chamber leaders.

Both the new Senate president and House speaker have chosen Republican women from Miami as their top lieutenants: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, respectively.

Below them will be a slew of committee chairs from Miami-Dade, too, who will have the ability — particularly in the House — to hold sway over statewide policy and the purse strings of the state’s $82 billion budget.

Among those chairs is Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who Corcoran named leader of the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee. Oliva is also what his Miami colleagues call the “speaker in waiting,” poised to succeed Corcoran as head of the chamber two years from now.

For local residents, these positions of influence for Miami-Dade legislators mean the senators and representatives they elected — especially the Republican ones, since that party holds the majority in both chambers — will be among the key decision-makers in Tallahassee with the ability to put the county’s needs and priorities at the forefront for possibly years to come.

“It’s access to where decisions get made,” Nuñez said. “We really are in a unique position and our citizens are the better for it.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 17, 2016

Miami-Dade declares Asencio finished ahead by 53 votes, but Rivera challenges result

via @glenngarvin

The recount of the nip-and-tuck legislative race between Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera ended Thursday with Asencio 53 votes ahead — but even before the last ballot was checked, Rivera officially contested the election, a move that will likely delay the naming of a victor for weeks or even months.

After 10 hours counting ballots, the Miami-Dade County elections department declared that Asencio finished with 31,412 votes and Rivera 31,359 — a margin 15 votes closer than when the recount began.

The race was so close it actually triggered two recounts — the first by machine, and the second a hand-examination of ballots the machines thought were marked with votes for too many candidates or too few.

And it may get even tighter. Rivera’s lawyers asked elections officials to impound about 300 disputed ballots — mostly absentee ballots on which the voter’s signature was either missing or ruled not to match signatures in elections department records.

“We’ve already got affidavits from 59 of those voters saying they legitimately voted by mail and cast their ballots for me,” said Rivera, noting that would be enough to tip the election the other way.

More here.

Dwight Bullard and Millie Herrera could compete for Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair

@amysherman1

Millie Herrera, a former appointee of President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Labor, will run for chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, a challenge to the current chair Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay.

If Bullard wins the chair post Dec. 6th, he may run for chair of the Florida Democratic Party -- one of several candidates who are vying to replace Allison Tant who announced after Hillary Clinton's defeat that she won't run again in January.

"I want to get back to getting out the vote and the grassroots level," said Herrera, who lives in the Kendall area and is president of a marketing and public affairs firm. "I don't want to run for anything else. I'm not using it as a springboard to anything." 

Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School, was first elected to the state house in 2008 and the state senate in 2012 and has also chaired the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. His name is well-known in county politics where both his parents previously served in the state Legislature. On Nov. 8, Bullard lost a race to State Rep. Frank Artiles, a Republican, in a heavily Hispanic district.

Herrera, who was born in Cuba and is a former chair of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, says the party needs more outreach to Cuban-American and young voters.

 

 

 

 

November 14, 2016

Dwight Bullard's position on Israel could cost him support of Jewish Democrats for state party chair

Bullard_cropAP

@amysherman1

Sen. Dwight Bullard, who wants to run for Florida Democratic Party chair, is facing resistance from some Jewish Democrats after he was accused of meeting with a man linked to a terror group in Israel earlier this year. 

Bullard says that the accusation lacked “merit” and that he is a supporter of the Jewish community.

Bullard is one of multiple  candidates who are considering the state party position after Allison Tant announced Friday that she would not seek re-election in January. That could set off an intraparty fight about who would be the best person to lead the Democrats after it suffered crushing defeats including Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in Florida.

The Bullard name is a longtime fixture in Miami-Dade politics because both of his parents served in the state Legislature. But he could face an uphill battle for state party chair due to his position on Israel.

A political committee for Florida Senate Republicans ran an ad this summer accusing Bullard of spending time with a "terrorist" during a trip to the Middle East.

NBC6 Miami reported that Bullard was photographed with a tour guide affiliated with the anti-Israel BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian group with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, designated by the State Department as a terrorist group.

Bullard told the station the man was a "tour guide in old Jerusalem" and he "had no idea" of his political affiliations.

He 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 also faced heat for his vote in October 2015 against a bill that would ban the state of Florida from entering contracts with companies that boycott Israel. But when it reached the full Senate in January he voted for it and it passed unanimously.

“A number of folks called me concerned over my committee vote,” he told the Miami Herald. “For the sake of not being the thorn in anyone’s side I decided to vote for it on the floor.”

He told the Miami Herald that he shared the same concerns as the ACLU of Florida which wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that the bill “is a clear violation of of long established First Amendment law.” The ACLU urged Scott to veto the bill but he signed it into law.

Bullard told Colorlines, an online news site about race and culture, that boycotts are protected free speech: "We look back now in hindsight and say, '[Fighting] for the boycott and divestment movement against the South African government was the right thing to do.' How that is somehow different as it pertains to Palestinian rights is really inexplicable."

Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mike Moskowitz, who raised $1 million for Clinton and is a frequent contributor to Democrats, said he will actively work against Bullard if he runs for chair and will call activists and members of Congress to urge them to oppose Bullard.

“I will discontinue all financial support if he becomes the chair; and will call around to all financial donors in the entire state and ask that they commit to do the same,” he said.

Former state Sen. Steve Geller, who was elected to the Broward County Commission Nov. 8, said Jewish Democrats won’t support Bullard.

“I think he is just wrong on this issue,” he said. “Did the Republicans take it a little too far? Yes. Do I think Dwight is a terrorist? Not at all."

But Geller said that Bullard should have disassociated himself with the anti-Israel BDS group.

Geller and Moskowitz don’t get to vote on the chair position -- that decision lies with state committeemen and women in January. But those who have a vote are likely to listen to input from prominent fundraisers and elected officials who could play a role in the 2018 races for governor and U.S. Senate. Committeemen and women in South Florida play a major role in selecting the chair because they get votes based on a formula that takes into account the number of registered Democrats in their county.

Bullard told the Miami Herald that he will seek re-election as county party chair Dec. 6th and then run for state chair.

He said that Jewish Democrats should not be swayed by the attack on him about his Middle East trip.

“I would hope they would hear me out and not fall victim to a political smear campaign that has no merit,” he said.  “I never met with a terrorist. Did I take a trip to Israel and the West Bank? Absolutely. The notion that I am anti-Israel and pro-terrorism, that was all orchestrated unfortunately by my opponent. I’ve never been any of those things. I continue to be a strong supporting of the Jewish community.”

Bullard lost his state senate race to Republican State Rep. Frank Artiles in a heavily Hispanic Miami-Dade district. The attack ad about Bullard’s trip to Israel was in Spanish.

Evan Ross, a member of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and a political consultant who is Jewish, also raised concerns about Bullard.

“Having a party chair who supports BDS and speaks out against Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state would do irreparable harm to the relationship with the more than two-thirds of Jewish Floridians that consistently support Democrats,” Ross said. “We need a chair who will unite people at this critical time for our party, state and nation.”

Democratic activists do not appear to have coalesced around any single candidate so far for chair and many of them have lost previous races including Annette Taddeo, who most recently lost a Miami-Dade primary for Congress; Alan Clendenin, who lost to Tant in 2013 and recently lost a bid for a Hillsborough County School Board seat and former state Sen. Dan Gelber who lost a race for attorney general against Pam Bondi in 2010.

Photo by the Associated Press

Big Miami donor says he 'might' want to head Florida Democratic Party

@PatriciaMazzei IMG_Bittel_7_1_VT9NK7SB_L269015500

Throw a big-name donor into the growing list of potential new chairs of the Florida Democratic Party: Stephen Bittel

The Coconut Grove businessman, who heads Terranova Corp., picked up the phone Monday night when a Miami Herald reporter called to ask if he's thinking of seeking the position. A couple of local Democrats had floated his name.

"I might be," Bittel said. "I care very deeply about our community, state and country, and if enough of our party leadership and grassroots think that I'm the one that can do the best job, I think service to my country is really important."

Bittel faces the same challenge as several other possible contenders whose names have surfaced in recent days: He's not a Miami-Dade County precinct committeeman for the party -- a requisite post to run for county chairman or committeeman and, later, state chairman. Allison Tant, who currently occupies the Florida job, said Friday she won't try for another term following last week's disappointing election results for Democrats.

"We have some special rules in our state party," Bittel acknowledged, "but we have in the past elected people to leadership positions who didn't naturally fill all the roles, and we figured out a way to get it done. If we get to the place that enough people coalesce in support of me, we'll figure it out."

Bittel, who raised serious dollars for Hillary Clinton and Patrick Murphy, noted he's served as the Democratic National Committee's national finance co-chairman and has been involved with the national and state parties for a long time.

"I'm the story that requires me to pinch myself all the time: I was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital, I went to public schools, and I've been very fortunate," he said. "This is giving back.... We have, in two years, some really important elections."

Phuoto credit: C.W. Griffin, Miami Herald file

Broward Democrats to brainstorm about Florida Democratic Party chair election

Allisontanttbt

@amysherman1

The last time Florida Democrats elected their own chair, it was a drawn out battle with pressure from on high: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the national party chair, and Sen. Bill Nelson pushed for lobbyist Allison Tant who beat Tampa activist Alan Clendenin in January 2013.

This time, one of the key power brokers in the decision to elect Tant’s replacement -- Broward state committeeman Ken Evans -- says that Democrats should start the process by listening to fellow activists first.

While some of the candidates vying for the chair position have contacted Evans seeking his support, he says he isn’t ready to commit to any candidate yet.

Evans will host a listening session on Thursday evening to begin the process of brainstorming the type of qualities that activists want in their next chair.  

“It's for me to take notes, see what they want,” he said. “Do they want a party in Tallahassee that is going to be money people like it was? Do they want to work on grassroots? How do we bring that to work together. I think people need be heard right now -- they are upset and hurt.”

Evans said he invited a few dozen active Democrats in Broward including activists who supported Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, club presidents and members of the Democratic Executive Committee to meet at Duffy’s restaurant in Plantation.

Evans said he doesn’t want Democrats forced into making an early decision. The election for the four-year position will be held in January.

“Let’s just wait, not rush into things,” said Evans, who was a leader for Clinton on LGBT outreach. “We saw what happened with the DNC and that. Let’s just be fair and let people run, let’s do the right thing. That’s why I want to have communication with the local people, I want to get some guidance from people who are going to elect me."

(For the record, Evans has no interest in seeking the state party chair position although he will seek re-election from Broward Democrats in December as state committeeman.)

State committeemen and committee women elect the chair based on a formula that gives weight to the number of registered Democrats in their county which means that Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach hold the bulk of the power. We don't yet know for certain who those people will be since county party groups will hold their elections before the state party election in January.

Broward has about 600,000 Democrats -- the highest number in the state -- followed by Miami-Dade which has about 585,000 Democrats and Palm Beach with 384,000.

Tant announced last week that she would not seek re-election, setting off a long list of potential candidates who are interested in the seat.

In addition to Clendenin, other names in the mix include former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo; Susannah Randolph, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson’s former district director; state Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa, who narrowly lost a state Senate race in the August primary; Miami political consultant Christian Ulvert; former state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach; and state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay, who heads the Miami-Dade party and lost his seat Tuesday.

(Tampa Bay Times photo of Allison Tant, left, when she beat Alan Clendenin, right, for state party chair in 2013.)