May 05, 2017

Is Miami-Dade schools chief thinking of running for Congress?


Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Friday he’s being courted to run for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — and he’s considering the overtures, but mostly out of a sense of respect for the people hoping he gets into the race.

“I have a sort of moral responsibility at least to entertain their request for consideration,” Carvalho said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “At the same time, my dedication and commitment to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools is as strong and unwavering as ever.”

Carvalho traveled to Washington on Thursday, fueling speculation that he was eying Ros-Lehtinen’s Democratic-leaning seat. But he went to the nation’s capital solely for school district business and did not hold any meetings about a potential campaign, he said.

Since Thursday, top Florida Democrats who had heard Carvalho was seriously thinking of running sounded jittery with excitement over the possibility — even though Carvalho, 52, is not currently a Democrat. A self-described social liberal and fiscal conservative, Carvalho is registered to vote without party affiliation, and he said Republicans have also reached out to gauge his political interest.

“Politically, I’m a free agent, accountable only to the people I serve,” he said. “And that’s a good position to be in.”

More here.

An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Carvalho had met with Democratic leaders in Washington to discuss his potential candidacy.

--with Kyra Gurney and David Smiley

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

Republican Miami-Dade commissioner says he's running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat in Congress

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@PatriciaMazzei @NewsbySmiley

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is running for Congress.

Barreiro told the Miami Herald on Friday he plans to seek Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat next year, now that she is retiring. He is the first big-name Republican to announce a candidacy.

"I am definitely running," Barreiro said, adding that he's preparing filing paperwork and putting together a campaign team.

Barreiro isn't term-limited until 2020, and because he's not on the local ballot in 2018, he won't have to resign from the commission run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

"All of my districts -- in the state House, on the county commission -- have always been 100 percent within this congressional district," said Barreiro, a former state representative. "I've always eyed running for Congress. I didn't think it would be this soon."

Barreiro said his interests at the federal level lie in housing and transportation. On the commission, he's sometimes bucked Republican orthodoxy and sided with labor unions. A group of activists tried to recall him in 2010, after he backed the creation of a new Miami Marlins ballpark, but they fell short in gathering petition signatures against him.

"I think I've worked across the aisle at the state level, and on the commission, and God willing I could do it in Congress," Barreiro said.

Keeping Ros-Lehtinen's seat in Republican hands will be difficult for the GOP. The 27th district, which comprises Southeastern Miami-Dade County, leans Democratic. In last year's presidential election, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by 20 percentage points, making it the most Clinton-leaning district in the country held by a Republican.

In a WPLG-ABC 10 "This Week in South Florida" interview taped Friday, Ros-Lehtinen was asked about good potential Republican candidates. She mentioned Barreiro -- and former Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado. A Republican named Maria Peiro has already filed.

Regalado said Friday she was "honored" to be mentioned by Ros-Lehtinen, although she said she hasn't yet made up her mind on a campaign. She said she's waiting to see the direction of "the national party," but said it looks like the GOP is willing to support a moderate candidate.

 "This is a multi-million-dollar race. I've already discussed this with my family and considered the logistics of it. I've called people locally to see where they're at," she said. "The party may or may not participate in the primary but you need to figure out if you can raise the money. I think I can. I think I'm the right candidate."

Regalado -- whose older brother, Tommy, is currently running against Barreiro's wife, Zoraida, for Miami City Commission -- seemed ready to start the campaign.

"Bruno and I are being mentioned because we've both been elected in the district for a while. We both have a track record that fits the district somewhat. I think I'm a better candidate," she said. "I don't think he can prove he's a fiscal conservative. He supported the Marlins Stadium. He raised taxes. There are things that set us apart."

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

May 04, 2017

One way or another, Miami lawmaker expects he won't be in Florida House next year


TALLAHASSEE -- State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz plans to give his Florida House farewell speech on Monday, the last scheduled day of the legislative session.

That normally wouldn't be news, if Diaz were term-limited. But he's not.

Instead, the Miami Republican has asked to say good-bye because he expects to be gone from the House one way or another before the 2018 session.

Diaz, a lawyer, is a finalist for the Miami U.S. attorney job under President Donald Trump. But even if he doesn't get appointed to the high-profile gig, he intends to run for the state Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. Frank Artiles.

If Diaz runs, then his Republican colleague and friend state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, the House speaker pro tempore, won't seek the Senate seat, Nuñez told the Miami Herald on Thursday.

Nuñez could, however, wind up with a committee chairmanship with the imminent departure of Diaz, the regulatory affairs committee chair, or of Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the appropriations committee chair who is being considered for an ambassadorship.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

Miami-Dade mayor's son leaves Trump-linked lobbying firm that represented Venezuelan-owned company


C.J. Gimenez, a son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said Thursday he is leaving the lobbying firm Avenue Strategies, in part because the company took on as a client Citgo, the Venezuelan-government owned oil company.

Avenue Strategies' founder, former Donald Trump presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, also announced his exit from the firm Thursday, Bloomberg reported, after a spate of negative publicity.

The younger Gimenez, who had joined Avenue just last month, characterized the Citgo representation as the "straw that broke the camel's back" and said he and Lewandowski will now focus solely on domestic lobbying clients.

"I will personally never represent the interests of the Maduro regime, which reflects the worst there is of all humanity," Gimenez, who was traveling, told the Miami Herald in a text message.

"We wish him well," Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide who co-founded Avenue with Lewandowski, told the Herald in an email.

Politico reported Wednesday that Citgo finalized a $25,000-a-month contract with Avenue last month. The U.S. has been stepping up sanctions against the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro -- a widely detested figure among Miami-Dade County's vast Venezuelan community.

Gimenez, a Coral Gables attorney, had characterized his role at Avenue as one of business development in Florida and Latin America. He and business partners met privately with Trump in January.

May 03, 2017

Alex Diaz de la Portilla files to run for Frank Artiles' Florida Senate seat


Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla wants back into the Florida Legislature.

The Miami Republican filed paperwork with the Florida Division of Elections on Wednesday to run for former Sen. Frank Artiles' Southwest Miami-Dade County seat.

Diaz de la Portilla is the first Republican to open a campaign account, which will allow him to begin fundraising. One Democrat, state Rep  Daisy Báez of Coral Gables, has also filed; the list of possible contenders from both parties remains long. Gov. Rick Scott has yet to schedule a special election. Báez and Diaz de la Portilla for now are considered 2018 candidates.

Diaz de la Portilla had said he was interested the same day Artiles, also a Republican, resigned two weeks ago. But since Diaz de la Portilla's name had also come up as a potential candidate for Miami city commission, whether he'd actually launch a Senate candidacy was unclear.

Ros-Lehtinen is the longest-serving woman in Congress from the South (and other fun facts)


The folks at Smart Politics have compiled a number of interesting factoids about Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who said Sunday she will retire at the end of her term next year.

Among their findings:

  • "A new Smart Politics report finds that Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will exit the U.S. House in January 2019 with the sixth longest tenure (29 years, 4 months, 6 days) among the nearly 300 women who have served in the chamber and the second longest among GOP women.
  • Ros-Lehtinen will eclipse Frances Bolton on July 7, 2018 to exit Capitol Hill with the second longest service for a Republican woman in the chamber’s history behind only Edith Rogers.
  • Ros-Lehtinen is the longest-serving woman from the South in the chamber’s history and the only such member to serve over a quarter century. Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson (24 years, 4 months) will eclipse that mark in early 2018."

The full Smart Politics report is available here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

May 02, 2017

Back to business as usual for Erik Fresen

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Former Florida state representative Erik Fresen was back to business as usual on Tuesday, speaking at an education event in Miami less than a week after pleading guilty to failing to file a tax return for 2011.  

The former House education budget chairman was a panelist at an event organized by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce on education options in the downtown area. Fresen advocated for charter schools and discussed the need to better promote the strength of Miami-Dade schools to business interests and families in the downtown area.

Fresen, who represented House District 114 until he was term-limited last year, has ties to the charter school industry. He has worked as a land-use consultant for Miami architecture firm Civica, which has done work for charter school management company Academica, whose founder is Fresen's brother-in-law.

One topic Fresen did not discuss at Monday's event: his tax troubles. In a statement filed with his plea agreement, Fresen admitted to failing to file federal tax returns between 2007 and 2016, eight years of which he served as a state legislator. Fresen still owes at least $100,000 in back taxes, according to prosecutors.

At the panel discussion, held at the Hilton Miami Downtown, Fresen dodged a question from the Miami Herald about why he had not filed federal income tax returns. Fresen faces from probation up to one year in prison for his misdemeanor conviction and will be sentenced in August.

Miami-Dade state attorney not happy prosecutors won't get raises, while public defenders could

via @DavidOvalle305

Public defenders may be getting pay raises. And prosecutors may not.

And that isn’t sitting well with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who on Monday emailed her entire staff to apologize — and to criticize Florida lawmakers, saying “our Legislature did not see fit to acknowledge your tireless work on behalf of our community.”

In unusually frank language, the longtime elected Democrat singled out Sen. President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, “who previously stated that he thinks the prosecution has an easier job than the defense,” according to her email.

At issue: Senate Bill 7030 boosts pay for public defenders with three years of experience or more by 6 percent. The bill, which passed the Senate’s appropriations committee on Monday, did not do the same for Florida prosecutors.

The issue, however, is not a done deal as the Senate and House leadership work to hash out final budget before Tuesday.

Full story here.

May 01, 2017

Daisy Baez announces campaign for Frank Artiles' open Senate seat

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Freshman state Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, officially says she's running for the vacant state Senate seat left open after Miami Republican Frank Artiles resigned 10 days ago.

Baez announced her candidacy in a statement Monday, saying the state Senate "is where I believe the most good can be accomplished on behalf of Floridians."

"The people of Miami-Dade deserve to have high quality public schools for their children, good-paying jobs that provide economic security for working families, and access to quality, affordable healthcare," she said. "I look forward to continuing my steadfast advocacy on behalf of Florida families in the State Senate."

Several candidates have expressed interest in Artiles' District 40 seat, which represents a largely Hispanic population and leans Democratic.

Baez is the first to formally launch a campaign for the special election that will determine Artiles' replacement. Due to House rules prohibiting fundraising during the legislative session, Baez cannot begin raising money for what's expected to be a hotly contested race until after session ends Friday.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has not yet scheduled that election. He said Monday he's "reviewing it."

Baez was elected to the state House barely six months ago. She won with 51 percent of the vote over Republican John Couriel. She represents District 114 in southeastern Miami, the former seat of Republican Erik Fresen who left office in 2016 due to term limits.

Baez was born in the Dominican Repubican and emigrated to the U.S. at age 17. She served in the U.S. Army, where she received numerous medals of achievement, and she now works as the director of the Dominican Health Care Association of Florida.

Last fall, she campaign on a platform of supporting a living wage, equal pay and more money for public education, and of opposing steering taxpayer money to private, for-profit institutes and wants to restore cuts to Bright Futures scholarships.

"As a veteran and an immigrant, I have spent my adult life working hard to repay this country for the incredible opportunities provided to my family and I so we could achieve the American Dream," Baez said Monday. "Serving in the Florida House has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and serving in the Florida Senate will allow me to continue to work on behalf of our community in a much greater capacity."

-- Mary Ellen Klas and Amy Sherman contributed.

Gov. Rick Scott miffed about budget but doesn't use 'veto' word



Gov. Rick Scott is clearly miffed that the state Legislature doesn’t see eye-to-eye with him on tax cuts and the amount of money for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, but he wouldn’t use the “veto” word in an interview in Broward Monday.

Scott briefly spoke with reporters while visiting Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale for Fleet Week. Scott gave no indication about his timeline for setting a special election to fill the seat of Sen. Frank Artiles and called the retirement of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen a loss for the state.

Here is a partial transcript:

Q: It looks like tax cuts are far smaller than you had hoped for. How do you feel about that?

“We walked in with almost $3 billion surplus. We have some extra general revenue, the president gave us the low-income pool that President Obama had cut so we have ability to do tax cuts. The right thing to do is give citizens some of their money back. Our economy is booming right now, we ought to give people their money back.

I am very concerned about making sure the Legislature finds$ 200 million to jump start the Lake Okeechobee dike project. I am very focused on making sure they give us $100 million to continue the success we’ve had with tourism in this state. If we want to continue to diversify this economy we've got to continue to fund Enterprise Florida.”

Q: How likely is it you will veto the budget if it doesn’t give as much in tax cuts or Visit Florida or Enterprise Florida funding as you think Florida needs?

“I’m going review the budget like I've done every year make sure it's good for citizens of our state.”

Q: What do you think about the Latest GOP health care plan -- the MacCarthur amendment that would give waivers states. Do you think Congress should pass that and would you want a waiver or Florida?

“I clearly want as much flexibility as possible. We've got to figure out how to reduce costs. The way you reduce costs is you create more competition, you would allow people to buy the insurance they want to can buy, you sell insurance across state lines....”

Q: Would you want them to vote yes on the (health care) amendment?

“I haven’t seen all of it but I know we have to repeal and replace Obamacare. We’ve got to make sure citizens can afford their health care.”

Q: what do you think about Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retiring?

“She is wonderful person. I spoke to her on Saturday. She and her husband Dexter are wonderful people. She clearly cares about her state, she clearly cares about freedom and liberty in Cuba. It will be very difficult to replace her.

Q: What do you think the chances are that Republicans can win that seat. It's now a left leaning seat with tons of Democrats lining up."

“This election going to be about who can do the best thing for the state.”

File photo of Gov. Rick Scott