June 22, 2017

Miami-Dade Democrats ask Democratic state attorney to resign

  Kathyfrundlemh
via @jkbjournalist

Miami-Dade Democrats approved a resolution Wednesday night calling for State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle to resign, citing her failure to hold law enforcement officers accountable for criminal wrongdoing and civil rights abuses.

The local party’s criminal justice committee, which drew up the resolution, specifically pointed to the case of Darren Rainey, an inmate who died in a shower at Dade Correctional Institution five years ago this week. It was voted on at the monthly meeting of the party’s executive committee.

The rebuke comes as Fernández Rundle is considering a run for either governor or state attorney general.

Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, was locked in a hot shower by corrections officers, who left him there for 90 minutes. Inmates at the prison contend that guards used the shower to torment unruly inmates with unbearably hot water and steam.

More here.

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

June 21, 2017

Miami-Dade schools hires lobbyist — at $108,000 a year — to take concerns to Congress, Trump

White house

@KyraGurney

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Miami-Dade school district is hiring a lobbying firm to represent its interests in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the School Board approved a three-year contract — at $108,000 a year — with Ballard Partners, a Florida lobbying firm, to advocate for the district’s interests before Congress and several federal agencies.

“We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who oversees the school district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. The district hopes to “nurture good working relationships with the federal administration to continue to be able to provide a quality education to the students in Miami-Dade.”

The School Board’s decision comes amid growing concern nationwide about proposed cuts to federal education funding.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training and after-school programs.

The proposed budget cuts would “severely reduce” the amount of federal education funding Miami-Dade receives and are among the district’s top concerns, said Mendez-Cartaya.

Read more here

After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts

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@PatriciaMazzei

Two Republican-held congressional districts in South Florida remain among the most attractive for Democrats to flip next year, according to an internal Democratic memo circulated after the party lost a closely watched and incredibly expensive special Georgia election Tuesday night.

Recent Democratic polls in Florida's 26th and 27th districts show Democrats doing better than they were when they surveyed voters in the same districts last October, wrote Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Luján's memo tried to keep Democrats motivated after Jon Ossoff's loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Atlanta suburbs -- a race that cost both sides about $55 million, the most expensive in history. In the memo, Luján listed 30 competitive districts Democrats plan to target to try to win back the House in 2018. They would need to flip 24 GOP-controlled districts to do so.

"The House is in play," Luján wrote for the first time. 

Among them are FL-26 and FL-27, now held by Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When Democrats polled Ros-Lehtinen's district in October, a generic Democratic candidate outperformed a generic Republican by 7 percentage points. The beloved Ros-Lehtinen, however, is sui generis: She defeated challenger Scott Fuhrman by nearly 10 points.

But Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Democrats' more recent polling shows a generic Democrat leading a generic Republican by 18 points.

Similarly, Democrats say they've gained ground in the district held by Curbelo, who is running for reelection. A generic Democrat polled evenly with a generic Republican in his district in October; now, Democrats say they're up by 7 points.

Still, a generic ballot is not the same as testing specific candidates. Curbelo is a sophomore much less entrenched than Ros-Lehtinen, but he appears pretty well-liked in his Westchester-to-Key West district. There's perhaps no bigger sign that he's a tough opponent than the fact that he's yet to draw a big-name Democratic challenger ahead of 2018.

If Democrats continue the strategy they tried in Georgia, they will likely keep trying to run in congressional districts against President Donald Trump. In his memo, Luján included a chart noting Trump's job performance is under water in both Ros-Lehtinen's and Curbelo's district. Some 61 percent of respondents have a negative view of Trump's work so far in Ros-Lehtinen's district, according to the DCCC. That number is 52 percent in Curbelo's district.

Luján, who was in South Florida last month, wrote the DCCC will try to recruit candidates across the country in July.

"Let’s look outside of the traditional mold to keep recruiting local leaders, veterans, business owners, women, job-creators, and health professionals," he wrote. "Let’s take the time to find people who fit their districts, have compelling stories, and work hard to earn support from voters."

Read Luján's memo below.

Continue reading "After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts" »

June 20, 2017

Republican rivals in Miami House race are still trying to out-Cuban each other

FullSizeRender (28)@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump's Miami visit to announce new U.S.-Cuba policy last week became a campaign moment in a special Florida House race between two Republican primary rivals who have tried to out-Cuban each other.

Foreign policy is not the purview of state lawmakers. Nevertheless, on Friday, after Trump's East Little Havana event, candidate Jose Mallea's campaign put out a robocall to House District 116 Republican voters touting Mallea's support for Trump's policy shift.

"Mallea is a real Republican, Cuban-American, who wants to fight for a free Cuba," the call said. "In contrast, his opponent, Daniel Perez, was a beneficiary of the Obama-Castro policy, going to Cuba on a luxury vacation to take his engagement photos."

Robocall

Cuba has been an ongoing theme in the race since the Miami Herald reported last month on Perez's wedding-engagement photo shoot earlier this year in Havana, which were posted online on two websites. The photos were subsequently taken down.  FullSizeRender (29)

Meantime, Perez's campaign was sending voters a letter, in English and Spanish, from Perez's parents, vouching for their son's Cuban roots. The family left Cuba in 1969, Guelcys and Eugenio Perez wrote in their "personal message," which also said Perez's uncle Antonio Perez "died fighting against the Castro regime."

Continue reading "Republican rivals in Miami House race are still trying to out-Cuban each other" »

The Miami Beach mystery PAC is under state investigation

Miami Beach Grieco

@NickNehamas, @joeflech and @DavidOvalle305

A public-corruption probe is underway into a controversial political group linked to Miami Beach commissioner and mayoral candidate Michael Grieco, the Miami Herald has learned.

At least one donor to the political action committee has been subpoenaed by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, according to a Miami Beach defense attorney representing the donor. The attorney asked that he and his client not be identified.

The list of donors to People for Better Leaders is stocked with Miami Beach vendors, lobbyists and developers with business before the city. The PAC raised $200,000 in 2016.

Read more.

June 15, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen backs Trump Cuba policy but won't attend Miami announcement

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen backs President Donald Trump new Cuba policy, but she won't be around for Trump's big announcement Friday.

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring next year, has been critical of Trump. But the White House invited her to attend Trump's policy event in Miami's Manuel Artime Theater. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said she has family plans that will keep her in Washington.

"I fully support President Trump's announcement on his new Cuba policy and I commend my legislative brothers, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, for playing an instrumental role in crafting this initiative which curtails cooperation with the Castro regime's military monopoly GAESA," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "However, I will not be able to travel on Air Force One nor be at the event in Miami due to family commitments in Washington, DC."

Rubio and Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will join Trump, along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Vice President Mike Pence, who was in town Thursday for a conference at Florida International University, might also attend. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is out of town, but the county will have the representation of Chairman Esteban "Steve" Bovo and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto

 
 

Inside Rubio and Diaz-Balart's Oval Office push to crack down on Cuba

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@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sat in the Oval Office last month, surrounded by two Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser and an array of top White House staff, and asked President Donald Trump to put his power behind their plans for Cuba.

The Miami Republican lawmakers had been pressing Trump for months to unwind former President Barack Obama’s policies, bringing up Cuba at every opportunity: Diaz-Balart when he and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met in private with their former House colleague, Vice President Mike Pence, in February; Rubio when he and his wife joined the president and first lady for an intimate dinner two days later, and again when the senator flew aboard Air Force One to Florida in March.

The administration had been waiting for deputies across Cabinet agencies to review existing Cuba regulations. By the May 3 Oval Office meeting, their recommendation was in: Keep Obama’s push to normalize U.S. relations with the regime of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

That’s not what Trump wanted. As a candidate, he’d promised change to South Florida’s Cuban-American hardliners, including Bay of Pigs veterans who endorsed him, a gesture that stuck with Trump and that he repeatedly mentioned as president.

“The president said, ‘Look, I want to do this,’” Rubio said.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press

Baez lists home for sale after residency questioned

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@PatriciaMazzei

State Rep. Daisy Baez listed her Coral Gables home for sale Wednesday, about a month after her compliance with a Florida constitutional requirement that she live in her district was called into question.

Realtor.com shows Baez's three-bedroom, two-bathroom Malaga Avenue house for sale for $695,000. The property is in House District 112 -- which is a problem for the freshman Democratic lawmaker because she represents District 114 and was supposed to have lived there by Election Day last November.

When the Miami Herald first reported in May that Baez was apparently still living on Malaga Avenue, Baez said she kept two residences: the house and a rental in District 114. That address was an occupied apartment owned by a pair of her campaign donors. Baez's friends later said she was renting another property in the district and planning to move out of Malaga Avenue. A "For Rent" sign went up on her yard.

Baez, who dropped out of a Florida Senate race after news of her residency problem broke, was hit with an ethics complaint over the issue earlier this month.

"I currently live in the district I represent and right now my focus is on the special session and my continued efforts to push for more responsibility and transparency when handling our tax dollars, to protect our public schools and the environment and to bring better paying jobs to the district," Baez said in a statement to the Herald at the time.

June 12, 2017

Trump has not yet read final Cuba policy proposal

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via @ngameztorres

President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce a revised policy on relations with Cuba on Friday in Miami, but a White House spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald that Trump had not yet seen the final recommendations following a lengthy review and has not made a decision.

“The president has not seen the final proposal and has not approved it. He is a very independent president in his way of thinking and it would not be the first time he throws something back to be reviewed,” White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said.

She did say that the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana is one of the places the White House has been looking at for events to be held in the city.

The Miami Herald reported Monday that the theater canceled an event on Friday from the Miami Royal Ballet apparently to make way for a White House event.

Among the changes that would be considered by the Trump administration are measures to limit business ventures between U.S. companies and Cuban entities controlled by the military, in particular, those belonging to the conglomerate known as GAESA, the economic arm of the Revolutionary Armed Forces that controls nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy. 

“The United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is expected to publish a list of Cuban entities controlled by the” Cuban military, said John Kavulich, president of U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Companies could be added to an OFAC blacklist to ban financial transactions involving these companies, he added.

Aguirre Ferré said a proposal to prohibit business with GAESA, “is one of the many possibilities discussed. It is being considered as one of the many options.

“But almost everything is being looked at.”

--NORA GAMEZ TORRES

Photo credit: Getty Images

Miami venue apparently set for Trump Cuba announcement

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@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump plans to present his new Cuba policy Friday in Miami's Manuel Artime Theater, the Miami Herald has learned.

The White House apparently picked the venue over the Bay of Pigs museum in Little Havana, which is probably too small to accommodate all of the logistics of a traveling president. The Freedom Tower downtown is unavailable because it is undergoing renovations until November.

On Monday, theater managers notified at least one group -- a ballet school -- that it would have to move its scheduled rehearsal Thursday to accommodate an "emergency meeting" Friday. The Miami Royal Ballet then informed parents the city told them "there will be a White House event at the theater."

The White House has yet to release Trump's schedule. Without confirming the Miami event, a spokeswoman said the Artime theater was one of several locations under consideration.

The Artime theater, a former church, is symbolic for Cuban exiles. Manuel Artime was an exile leader with Brigade 2506, the Bay of Pigs veterans' group that endorsed Trump last October. The community theater frequently houses grassroots events that cannot afford grander venues.

--with David Smiley and Nora Gámez Torres