May 26, 2017

Miami GOP snags Kellyanne Conway to keynote Lincoln Day dinner

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Kellyanne Conway will headline the Miami-Dade Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day fundraising dinner, the party announced to its members Friday.

Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump and his former campaign manager, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner, which will be held June 27 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport and Convention Center, according to the "save the date" email Republican Executive Committee members received.

"We're extremely excited to host the architect of Donald Trump's victorious presidential campaign," Nelson Diaz, the local GOP chairman, subsequently told the Miami Herald. "Her courage and tenacity are second to none."

The star of last year's dinner -- held in October to rally Republicans ahead of the election -- was Mike Pence, then the vice-presidential nominee.

Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

May 24, 2017

At town hall meeting, Miami-Dade Schools urge parents to oppose HB 7069

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Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had a dire message for parents and teachers at a town hall meeting Tuesday night: If Gov. Rick Scott approves the state budget and a controversial education bill, the school district faces serious financial trouble.

"This is a man-made crisis," Carvalho said, speaking to a packed auditorium at John A. Ferguson Senior High in West Kendall. "If something doesn't change, a crisis it will be."

The town hall at Ferguson High was the third of six meetings organized by the school district this week to urge teachers and parents to contact the governor and ask him to veto a mammoth education bill (HB 7069) and the line-item in the budget for per-pupil education spending.

The $82.4 billion budget passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this month increases school funding by 0.34 percent or $24.49 per student, which Carvalho and other Florida superintendents say is not enough to meet public education needs. At the town hall meeting, Carvalho told residents that after the district's mandatory contribution to the Florida retirement system, the increase amounts to just 50 cents for each of the district's nearly 350,000 students. 

"What can you get for 50 cents these days? Can anybody tell me, please?" Carvalho asked the audience at Ferguson High.

The Miami-Dade school district is also concerned that a provision in HB 7069 — which would compel districts to share millions of dollars in local tax revenue earmarked for capital projects with charter schools — would force Miami-Dade to put maintenance projects on hold and impact the district's credit rating, Carvalho said.

Many in the audience said they shared the school district's concerns and planned to contact the governor. Maria Prospero, the mother of a student at Olympia Heights Elementary School, said she had decided to attend the town hall meeting "for my daughter's rights." Prospero said she was concerned that her daughter's school could lose after-school activities and language programs if the district doesn't get enough state funding. She said she planned to share information about the budget with her friends on Facebook and send an e-mail to Scott. 

Meanwhile, supporters of the education bill are organizing their own events to urge the governor to sign HB 7069 into law. They have planned three rallies this week at the same locations as the school district's town hall meetings. A pro-HB 7069 rally will be held at Miami Senior High School on Thursday at 5 p.m. before the school district's 6 p.m. town hall meeting. Supporters of the bill are also holding a rally on Friday at 3 p.m. outside the School Board Administration Building downtown. A school district sponsored town hall will be held at that location at 4 p.m.  

Regalado casts herself as Ros-Lehtinen's political heir


As she mulled a run for Congress, Raquel Regalado was nagged by a question she said was posed to her again and again that might not usually be asked of male candidate.

"The first question that I was asked was, 'How are you going to be a mother and a congresswoman?'" Regalado said Tuesday at a women-centered Miami Young Republicans event where she kicked off her candidacy. "I think it's sad that we're in a place where people still ask those questions."

With that, Regalado, a former Miami-Dade County School Board member, portrayed herself as the political heir to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the retiring GOP congresswoman Regalado is hoping to replace.

Regalado didn't explicitly draw the line between her nascent candidacy and Ros-Lehtinen's trailblazing political career. But it was clear that, as the most prominent Republican woman who's filed for the Democratic-leaning 27th district, Regalado plans to campaign as a politician cast in Ros-Lehtinen's centrist mold.

Ros-Lehtinen has been a frequent GOP critic of President Donald Trump. Regalado didn't endorse him last year, and preemptively dismissed the suggestion that Republican voters -- especially in blue Miami-Dade -- want candidates to echo the president. (Her biggest opponent so far, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, appeared as a Trump surrogate at South Florida rallies.)

"This is not about a particular person," Regalado said, referring to Trump. "This is about having a party that represents its residents.... The party, to be successful, has to have different voices." 

Regalado's answer to how she'd juggle motherhood and Congress, by the way, was that her children were born into a political family and are used to the balance. Her father is Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

"They don't know any better," Raquel Regalado said, citing her school board experience as positive for her two children, since they benefited from her focus on policies to help kids on the autistic spectrum, as they are.

"I told them, 'Going to Congress would be the best thing that could happen to my family,'" she said.


Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

May 23, 2017

Miami talk-radio station WIOD drops vocal Trump-critic host


Citing "cost-cutting measures," Miami talk-radio station WIOD-AM has dropped from its lineup local host Fernand Amandi, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, Amandi said late Tuesday.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Amandi thanked his editorial team -- and the listeners and callers who had tuned in to "Amandi On Air," the daily weekday show he began guest-hosting in late 2014. His last show was Friday.

"With your support, we succeeded in hosting one of the last forums of its kind on South Florida talk radio, spotlighting important local and national issues with a stellar line up of artists, authors, experts, journalists and newsmakers while steadfastly welcoming all callers and all perspectives against the backdrop of the most engaging and tumultuous political era in recent memory," Amandi said.

He declined to comment beyond the statement. WIOD management could not be immediately reached late Tuesday.

Amandi, a Democratic pollster with the firm Bendixen & Amandi, was the most liberal host on WIOD's lineup, which includes nationally syndicated shows by conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Amandi, who hosted weekly roundtables with local reporters, including from the Miami Herald, opened his phone lines to callers to discuss national, state and local politics, a rarity in English-language radio. In contrast, the call-in format dominates local talk radio in Spanish.

The last "Amandi On Air" show was Friday. It featured Herald opinion columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. and Republican political strategist Rick Wilson of Tallahassee, among other guests. After the show concluded, according to Amandi, he was informed by iHeart Media, WIOD's owner, of his dismissal.

Photo credit: Max Reed, Miami Herald file

On House floor, lawmakers urge 'decisive' U.S. steps on Venezuela


Five members of Congress from both political parties took to the House floor Tuesday evening to deliver a series of related speeches denouncing the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro.

The lawmakers, two of them from Florida, urged further U.S. sanctions. Last week, the Trump administration penalized eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges, citing their short-lived decision earlier this year to strip legislative power from the elected National Assembly.

"The situation in Venezuela is becoming more desperate by the day: the humanitarian situation is worsening, the Maduro regime continues its flagrant human rights abuses, and despite the latest round of sanctions issued by the Treasury Department, the United States needs to take more decisive steps in support of the Venezuelan people," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who led the effort.

Also speaking were Reps. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina.

May 22, 2017

Gathered outside her house, protesters ask for Baez's resignation


Protesters greeted state Rep. Daisy Baez outside her Coral Gables home Monday morning, asking for her resignation because she doesn't live in her House district as required by Florida law.

"Resign now!" the protesters chanted. "Liar liar liar," one of the signs read.

About 18 people held signs on the sidewalk in front of Baez's house on Malaga Avenue at around 8:30 a.m. The house is in House District 112, but Baez, a Democrat, represents neighboring House District 114, as the Miami Herald reported last week.

Three days later, Baez dropped out of a special Florida Senate election where she had been the Democratic Party favorite.

Several protesters said they had seen Baez leave the house a little earlier Monday morning.

"She read my sign and sped off in a white Mercedes," said Mercedes Plasencia, a West Miami retiree. No cars were parked in front of the house by the time a Herald reporter arrived.

Mauricio Pons, 20, criticized Baez for failing to live in her district, despite a Florida constitutional requirement that she do so.

"That's like if the mayor of Miami lived in Coral Gables," said Pons, who described himself as a conservative. Neither he nor Plasencia would say which political group organized the protest.

A Herald reader said she received a robocall early Monday afternoon “alerting” her about Baez’s residency issues.

Baez is registered to vote in District 112. She told the Herald last week that she keeps two residences, including a rented apartment on Anderson Road in District 114. She changed her voter registration to that address six days before Election Day last November.

But the apartment is occupied by its owner, who wouldn't explain what sort of arrangement she has with Baez. And a neighbor said Baez doesn't live in the boutique building.

Local blogger Elaine de Valle reported over the weekend that Baez acknowledged she sleeps in her Malaga Avenue house, outside the district. Baez told de Valle she made an offer Saturday on a property within District 114 boundaries.

Spotted outside of Baez's Malaga Avenue house Monday morning: a new "For Rent" sign.



Diaz to resign Florida House seat so he can run for Senate

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To run in a special Florida Senate election, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz will resign from the House later this year, according to a letter he filed late last week with the state division of elections.

Diaz's resignation will be effective Sept. 26, the day Gov. Rick Scott set for the special Senate District 40 election.

The Miami Republican submitted his resignation last Thursday. Florida law requires candidates in state office to resign to run for another state seat. The deadline to do so was Saturday.

Diaz is running to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned last month from his competitive Southwest Miami-Dade County seat. Other Republicans in the race include former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck.

Candidates have until next Wednesday to qualify for the ballot. Diaz's resignation will require a special election to replace him.

View Diaz's letter here.

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, Associated Press

May 19, 2017

Asencio says no to running for Florida Senate



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


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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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