May 11, 2017

Quelling candidacy chatter, Carvalho vows to remain Miami-Dade schools chief

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@PatriciaMazzei @KyraGurney

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho appeared to squash rumors Wednesday night that there's a chance he could run for Congress.

Speaking at an awards ceremony for the Education Fund, a local schools nonprofit, Carvalho vowed to remain schools chief this year, next year and for years to come, according to several attendees. The comment seemed to address his own acknowledgment last week that he was being courted to replace Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Carvalho, an independent who has never run for public office, could have mounted a formidable candidacy, given his broad popularity and name recognition. But he sounded reluctant to run even last week, when Florida Democrats were abuzz about his potential candidacy. And he has since spoken to school board members, including one, Lubby Navarro, who said Carvalho was clear he wasn't running.

Wednesday night, Carvalho's promise to stick to his job was met with resounding applause.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Rivas Logan is in for Artiles' Florida Senate seat

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@PatriciaMazzei

Former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan said Thursday she's running for former state Sen. Frank Artiles' seat.

Rivas Logan is the third Hispanic Democratic woman to announce her candidacy, after state Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

The difference, Rivas Logan said, is that she's already won elections in parts of Artiles' Southwest Miami-Dade County district. Her name recognition will help her in the quick-turnaround special election, she said. 

"It's not about who can win a primary," she said. "It's about who can flip the seat blue."

Artiles, a Republican, resigned last month after unleashing a diatribe of sexist and racist insults to two African-American senators. Republican Gov. Rick Scott set the special primary to replace him for July 25, and the general election for Sept. 26. Candidates must qualify to run by May 31.

Rivas Logan, a Cuban-American born in Nicaragua, ran for Senate District 40 last year but lost the rowdy Democratic primary to former Sen. Dwight Bullard. She nevertheless finished ahead of businessman Andrew Korge, who had far outraised her.

A former (nonpartisan) Miami-Dade School Board member from 2004-10, Rivas Logan served one term in the state House from 2010-12 as a Republican. She publicly disavowed the GOP and became a Democrat in 2014.

"This is basically my old school board seat," she said Thursday. "Independents and Republicans have voted for me."

She and her teacher friends plan to campaign door-to-door in the district starting Monday, Rivas Logan said.

Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file

May 10, 2017

Miami billionaire Fernandez plans political fund to defend unauthorized immigrants

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@PatriciaMazzei

To counter the Trump administration’s aggressive deportation policy, a billionaire Miami healthcare mogul plans to spend the next couple of years raising — and spending — serious cash to defend unauthorized immigrants in court.

Mike Fernandez, a Republican-turned-independent political megadonor from Coral Gables, intends to create a nonprofit political organization in coming days to aid existing groups that provide legal services to unauthorized immigrants facing removal from the U.S.

“Immigrants are key to the fiber and the economic survival of our country,” Fernandez said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “We are hard workers. We clean rooms. We herd cattle. We pick fruits. We care for the elderly. If we were not doing it, nobody would be doing it.”

Over the next two years, Fernandez hopes to raise at least $5 million for his bipartisan Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund. Even if he doesn’t, Fernandez said he intends to spend the money from his own pocket to assist agencies like Catholic Legal Services and the Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice.

The assistance will go to defend only non-felons, according to Fernandez. (Unlawfully crossing the border or overstaying a U.S. visa is a civil infraction.) Some of the money will also be used to educate immigrants of their rights, help them apply for residency or citizenship, and raise public awareness of what immigrants do for the economy, he added. 

“It’s education,” Fernandez said. “It is also letting the federal government know that citizens are upset about it, and that they will have to fight us.”

Under Trump, the Department of Homeland Security expanded the categories of unauthorized immigrants prioritized for deportation, reversing the Obama administration’s most recent position.

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

Barreiro files candidacy for Ros-Lehtinen's seat in Congress

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro formalized his candidacy for Congress on Wednesday, announcing he'd filed paperwork to begin fundraising and launch his Republican campaign for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

"Throughout my years as a public servant, I have witnessed first-hand how my efforts can positively contribute to the growth and well-being of our residents in South Florida," he said in a statement. "I have a pulse for the needs of our community, and understand the importance of having a strong advocate for South Floridians in Washington D.C."

Barreiro is the first well-known Republican to enter the race for the Democratic-leaning 27th district, though former Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado is interested, and national Republicans have reached out to Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Jeb Bush Jr. Maria Peiro has also filed to run. Several Democrats are already in the contest.

Barreiro has represented much of Ros-Lehtinen's district on the commission and previously in the Florida Legislature, where he was a state representative from 1992-98. A Cuban-American, he was born in Clearwater but raised in Miami. He's the elected state committeeman for the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee. His wife, Zoraida, is running for Miami City Commission.

"As Congressman, I will work in a bipartisan manner to bring to the table important issues for our residents, such as economic prosperity, improved infrastructure, modernized and efficient transportation alternatives, affordable housing, viable healthcare options, and so much more," Barreiro said.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

May 09, 2017

Florida Supreme Court suspends former lawmaker’s attorney license

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@martindvassolo

Former state Rep. Phillip Brutus’ alleged negligence in managing a trust account has led to a year-long suspension from practicing law and two years of probation, Florida’s Supreme Court ruled last week.

Brutus, who served as a Democrat in the state House from 2000 to 2006, called the ruling extreme and theorized the court may want to send a message to other attorneys by making an example of a public figure.

“I agree it’s wrong, but one year?” he said, adding he was unsure how he would remain financially afloat without his job.

After serving District 108 in the House, Brutus ran to serve District 38 for the Florida Senate in 2016 under no party affiliation but lost to Democrat Daphne Campbell.

The suspension stems from a 2014 complaint from the Florida Bar alleging Brutus violated Bar rules by disbursing funds to his client in a divorce proceeding without court approval.

After learning his client’s ex-husband had taken out a $100,000 home-equity loan against their home and spent $40,000 of it, Brutus filed a motion to preserve the assets. The presiding judge issued an order directing the remaining money, about $60,000, into Brutus’ trust account.

That money was deposited on March 3, 2008, without a court order or settlement regarding how the money would be distributed.

Ten days later, Brutus began disbursing the money, giving his client $46,128.55 and paying himself $12,475 in attorney fees, according to the high court’s opinion. The remaining money — just under $2,000 — went toward adding bars to the home’s window for safety and toward a tax payment his client had to make, Brutus said.

“It would have been approved if I filed it, but I just made a bad decision in disbursing it,” Brutus said. 

Continue reading "Florida Supreme Court suspends former lawmaker’s attorney license" »

Diaz makes it official, says he's filing for Artiles' Florida Senate seat

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@PatriciaMazzei

A day after saying goodbye to the Florida House, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz said he's filing to run for the state Senate.

Diaz, a Miami Republican, said he is filing for former Sen. Frank Artiles' competitive Southwest Miami-Dade County seat. Diaz could become the Republican favorite in the race, given that he's already got hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in his political committee.

"The Florida Senate needs new blood in SD 40," Diaz said in a text message, referring to Senate District 40. "Over the last seven years, I have dedicated myself to uniting our legislative delegation and that unity has resulted in some major wins for our kids and our County. I hope to build on my track record of being a tireless advocate for my community and an effective champion for my constituents' needs."

One other Republican, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, filed to run before Gov. Rick Scott  on Monday set the special election to replace Artiles.

Artiles, also a Republican, resigned last month. The special primary has been scheduled for July 25, with a special general election Sept. 26. Two Democrats have said so far that they're running: Rep. Daisy Baez of Coral Gables and businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

Though Diaz has a year remaining in his House term, he gave his farewell floor speech on the last day of the legislative session Monday, knowing that he would either resign to run for Senate or be appointed U.S. attorney in Miami by President Donald Trump.

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, Associated Press

Taddeo jumps into race for Artiles' Florida Senate seat

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@PatriciaMazzei

The race to replace state Sen. Frank Artiles has drawn a second Democratic candidate: Miami businesswoman Annette Taddeo.

Taddeo unveiled her campaign Tuesday, the day after Gov. Rick Scott set the dates for the special election for Artiles' District 40 seat. Artiles resigned last month after unleashing a string of offensive remarks to two African-American state senators; the special primary will take place July 25 and special general election Sept. 26.

"Through our campaign, we can right a wrong and show how this community can come together, regardless of race, gender or religion," Taddeo said in a statement. "I know that in this election, residents from every part of Senate District 40, including those who stood firm in demanding Frank Artiles resign, will send a clear message to Tallahassee that the days of division are behind us."

Taddeo, a Colombian-American who owns a translation business, will join state Rep. Daisy Baez, a Dominican-American Democrat from Coral Gables who opened a fundraising account last week. Baez won the endorsement Monday of two Democratic contenders for Florida governor, Andrew Gillum and Gwen Graham, a sign that the state party was at least trying to consolidate support behind Baez's candidacy.

But Taddeo, a frequent candidate who lost a Democratic primary for Congress to Joe Garcia last year, owes little allegiance to the Florida Democratic Party. She lost a bid for the local party vice-chairmanship in December and did not support the state party's new chief, Stephen Bittel of Coconut Grove.

Unlike Baez, Taddeo lives in the competitive 40th district, in Southwest Miami-Dade County. She had originally deferred a potential candidacy to her friend and former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Artiles' 2016 opponent. Bullard said he won't run.

A single big-name Republican -- former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla -- has filed candidacy paperwork. State Sen. Jose Felix Diaz, who bid farewell to the state House on Monday, is expected to jump into the race unless President Donald Trump nominates him as Miami's top federal prosecutor.

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

Democratic senator says he'll run for Ros-Lehtinen's congressional seat

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@PatriciaMazzei 

Arguing that “the character of our democracy” is at stake, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez plans to soon become a candidate for Congress.

The Miami Democrat told the Miami Herald he intends to compete for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in 2018.

“It’s a really important time to run,” Rodríguez said in an interview. “It’s a time when we’re trying to define what country we are, and the character of our democracy.”

Rodríguez, 38, would be the first big-name Democrat to declare a candidacy since Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, shocked the political order last week when she said she wouldn’t seek reelection after 28 years in the U.S. House. Rodríguez could take a few weeks to get his paperwork in order and formally open a fundraising account.

Ros-Lehtinen had already drawn four Democratic challengers before announcing her retirement April 30. In the nine days since, a string of other local politicians have said they might be interested in running for her open, Democratic-leaning seat. She represents the 27th district, a swath of southeastern Miami-Dade County.

More here.

May 08, 2017

'Help the poor,' Miami lawmaker urges young sons in poignant House farewell speech

Florida Legislature
@PatriciaMazzei

On what was likely his final day in the Florida House, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz chose to speak to his young sons, Dominick and Christian.

"Your father is the luckiest man in the world," he began.

The Miami Republican was taking the rare step of giving his legislative farewell speech one year early -- because he expects to be either Miami U.S. attorney or in the state Senate (or out of office entirely) by the 2018 session.

WATCH DIAZ'S SPEECH HERE

Most lawmakers wouldn't get that sort of accommodation before they've even resigned from office. But Diaz, known as Pepi, is one of the best-liked House Republicans, the chairman of the influential regulatory affairs committee, and the head of the powerful Miami-Dade County delegation. He wanted to say goodbye, and he did.

Diaz delivered a poignant speech to lawmakers -- "some of my closest friends in the world are in this room" -- but mostly to his boys, whom he calls "tornadoes." He thanked his Cuban parents, who immigrated "with nothing."

"I was never supposed to be here, because as a kid I spoke funny, didn't believe in myself, and I let others define my expectations of myself," Diaz said. "I pray that you realize that helping others is everything. There are rich people, and there are poor people. Help the poor ones. Help the disadvantaged. Help the sick. And don't do it because someone is watching. Do it because it will make a difference in their lives, not yours."

In a speech more personal than political, Diaz offered his sons life advice.

"Don't be afraid to cry," Diaz continued, his own voice about to break. "It means that you are alive."

"Love early, love often, and love profoundly so that your heart dances," he added. "Be careful with your words. They are your strongest weapon. They protect you, but they also leave lasting scars."

When he concluded, he received a standing ovation. And then some of his friends -- led by Miami Reps. Carlos Trujillo, Jeanette Nuñez and Michael Bileca, approached him one by one to give him hugs.

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, Associated Press

Mailers from conservative group back Florida lawmakers on 'schools of hope'

Manny Diaz
@PatriciaMazzei

A national Hispanic conservative group is giving a political boost to five Florida Republican lawmakers who pushed to bring more charter schools into the state.

The LIBRE Initiative, which is backed by the industrialist Koch brothers, will send mailers beginning Tuesday to voters in five districts represented by Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami, House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater and Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart.

The bilingual, campaign-style fliers will "thank" the legislators for voting to "empower our kids." The "schools of hope" legislation allows out-of-state charter school operators to set up shop for a minimum of five years in low-income Florida communities with long-struggling public schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. Critics counter that more charter schools will divert state funds from traditional public schools, which will be left to languish.

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Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times