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October 21, 2016

Patrick Murphy declines to release tax returns but discloses tax rate


via @learyreports

Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy will not release his tax returns though his campaign said today his tax rate over the past five years was 32 percent.

That's a departure from the 2010 Senate race, when Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio released theirs, but in line with other Senate contests in Florida.

Murphy has made Donald Trump -- and Rubio's support for the nominee -- a focus of his campaign. Trump has refused to release his returns, saying he is under audit, though there is nothing preventing him from disclosure.

"Since 2011, Patrick has been transparent with the voters, disclosing his income, assets, and liabilities every year in his congressional financial disclosures," Murphy spokeswoman Galia Slayen said. "Releasing tax returns is what presidential candidates like Marco Rubio do, and it's no surprise he's already gearing up for his next presidential run. Patrick's tax rate over the past 5 years was 32%, and he has always disclosed the details of each investment and asset he owns."

Looking for an edge in 2010, Crist releases his returns going back to 2000 and challenged Rubio to do the same. Rubio obliged and released more as a presidential candidate. His releases are summaries and not the full return, but it does provide a window into his finances.

Photo credit: AP

Trump schedules three days of Florida rallies


Donald Trump has added four public Florida events to his schedule for early next week: a Sunday evening rally in Naples, a Monday afternoon rally in St. Augustine, a Monday night rally in Tampa, and a Tuesday afternoon rally in Sanford.

The Orlando Sentinel has reported that Trump will visit the Kennedy Space Center and hold a space-industry roundtable early next week in Brevard County.

Early voting starts Monday. Hillary Clinton plans to campaign in the state Tuesday and Wednesday. Her running mate, Tim Kaine, will be in Florida right before she is, on Sunday and Monday. The week will end with an appearance by President Obama in Orlando on Friday.

This post has been updated.

Rivera plays the Rubio card

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Trying to capitalize on his most famous political friend, David Rivera sent Miami voters a new flier this week prominently featuring an old photograph with none other than Marco Rubio.

"Marco Rubio and David Rivera fighting together for a better future for our families," it reads, in Spanish. "Always by your side."

Rivera doesn't tout an explicit Rubio endorsement. But it certainly implies one.

Rubio, who is busy with his own reelection campaign to the U.S. Senate, hasn't endorsed anyone in Rivera's race. Rivera is vying to return to the state House, four years after losing his seat in Congress under a cloud of political scandal.

Ever since, Rubio has maintained a public distance from Rivera. They sold the house they jointly owned in Tallahassee last year, as Rubio embarked on his presidential candidacy. Earlier this year, Rivera quietly campaigned for Rubio in Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Rivera announced his candidacy the day after Rubio lost the Florida primary and dropped out of the race.

Rivera served as Rubio's rules chief when Rubio was Florida House speaker, and their friendship dates to long before then. The photo used in the flier shows both men when they were much younger, smiling and shaking hands in what appears to be the House floor.

This year, Rivera is embroiled in an ugly contest in House District 118 against Democrat Robert Asencio.

During the primary, Rubio's former rival, Jeb Bush, endorsed a Rivera opponent, Lynda Bell.

An earlier version of this post misstated the number of the district Rivera is seeking.

Internal poll: Amendment 2 has 74 percent support


A poll released Friday by United for Care, the group backing a constitutional amendment to expand medical marijuana in Florida, shows that 74 percent of likely voters.

It's largely in line with other polls conducted over the last several months, which suggest more than 70 percent of voters could pass Amendment 2 in November's election. It takes 60 percent to pass a constitutional amendment, and a similar measure failed with 58 percent of the vote in 2014.

Amendment 2 would allow doctors to recommend marijuana for patients who suffer from conditions such as epillepsy, cancer and glaucoma.

"Importantly, support today is 13 (percentage points) greater than internal surveys taken three weeks from the 2014 election," said Kevin Akins, pollster for Anzalone Liszt Grove, the firm that conducted the poll for United for Care, in a statement.

The phone poll, which included 800 likely Florida voters between Oct. 17 and 20, has a margin of error of 3.59 percent.

Polls often dip for constitutional amendments as Election Day approaches and opposing campaigns ramp up their efforts. That happened in 2014.

The lead group opposing medical marijuana, No on 2, has been running TV ads across the state for weeks. They have about $300,000 on hand, according to state records. United for Care has about $800,000.

Both groups have access to big donors who could drop surprise checks to fund advertising in the final weeks of the campaign.

Pam Bondi's office seeks clarity in court's death penalty ruling

This story comes from Dara Kam at the News Service of Florida:

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify a ruling last week that struck down a portion of the state's death-penalty law, arguing that failing to do so "will only generate confusion."

In a pair of opinions issued last Friday, the court found that a statute, passed in March in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."

Bondi's request for clarification came in the case of Larry Darnell Perry, who was convicted in the 2013 murder of his infant son. An appellate court had asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the law passed in March applied to cases that were already under way.

In last Friday's 5-2 decision in the Perry case, the court said that the law was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations and "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions."

The state contends that death penalty prosecutions can continue without a change in the law, so long as trial courts require unanimous jury recommendations to comply with last week's ruling.

But the Supreme Court majority did not address the issue of "severability," which would allow portions of the law that are not deficient to remain intact, Senior Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar wrote in the 11-page request filed Thursday.

"This omission unnecessarily invites continued litigation. The language leaves open the possibility that defense attorneys will assert that no valid death penalty law exists in Florida, demanding that trial judges strike notices of intent to pursue capital cases and refuse to impanel capital juries," she wrote.

However, "the state maintains that after severing the constitutional defect, current capital prosecutions should still be conducted as long as the trial courts ensure that the jury's final recommendation is unanimous," Dittmar continued.

The arguments "will no doubt be rejected by some trial courts and accepted by others," leading to more litigation in "an already overburdened system," Dittmar wrote.

"…This court's finding of a constitutional flaw will only generate confusion, absent some clarification as to trial court's authority to cure the legislative error," she argued.

But defense lawyers maintain that, a decade ago, the Supreme Court asked the Legislature to address the issue of unanimity. They say it's now the Legislature's job --- not the court's --- to fix the law.

"It's not clarification to ask the court to rewrite the statute," said Martin McClain, who has represented over 200 defendants facing the death penalty.

Like Bondi, legislative leaders and prosecutors --- who pushed for 10-2 jury recommendations in death-penalty cases over the repeated warnings of defense lawyers --- contend that the statute does not have to be changed immediately for prosecutions to move forward.

But an Ocala judge on Monday put on hold the penalty portion of a murder trial, saying the court needed direction from the Legislature before proceeding.

Arguing for the state in the request for clarification, Dittmar wrote that the flaw in the statute "is easy to fix" through "accurate jury instructions and simple interrogatories" and "does not require any substantive rewriting of the law."

But defense lawyers say that allowing trials to proceed without changing the statute could be even more problematic.

Relying on judges to craft jury instructions in different cases "is a situation that will cause havoc," said 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Mike Graves, whose office represents Kelvin Lee Coleman in the Ocala murder trial and who argued Coleman's case Monday. A jury late last week found Coleman guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

"We literally could have dozens and dozens of different procedures, different jury instructions on the issue of death in individual cases. That, I think, would cause absolutely unnecessary complication in review," Graves said. "I don't for the life of me understand what their hurry is."

The state's death penalty has been in limbo since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. Following that decision, the Florida Supreme Court indefinitely put on hold two executions, which are still pending.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is one of just three --- including Alabama and Delaware --- that have not required unanimous jury recommendations for death to be imposed. Delaware's high court has halted that state's death penalty following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in January in the Hurst case.

The Hurst ruling did not address the issue of unanimity, which became a flashpoint during this year's legislative session as Florida lawmakers sought to repair the state's death penalty sentencing process to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Defense lawyers repeatedly told lawmakers that Florida's "outlier" status regarding unanimity jeopardizes the state's death penalty because the U.S. Supreme Court considers "evolving standards of decency" when considering the issue.

A Senate proposal originally required unanimous jury recommendations, but lawmakers ultimately struck a deal --- backed by Bondi and prosecutors --- in which at least 10 jurors were required to favor death for the sentence to be imposed.

"Refusing to make a steady, reasoned review of the situation is what led to the chaos our court system is now dealing with. Lives are literally at stake. Have patience. Take a breath,” Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the 10th Judicial Circuit who is chairman of the Florida Public Defender Association's death penalty steering committee, said in a telephone interview Friday.

"If the Court attempts to fix this on their own, it could be a violation of the separation of powers recognized in our state's Constitution," Mills said. "They run the risk of misinterpreting what the Legislature will do. The Legislature might have bigger plans."

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who will take over as head of the chamber after the November elections, told The News Service of Florida this week that there was "no ambiguity" regarding the need for unanimous jury recommendations following the state Supreme Court opinions.

Negron, a lawyer, said that lawmakers could deal with the issue during next year's 60-day legislative session, which begins in March.

Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties, said he believes prosecutors can move forward because the state Supreme Court, in the decisions last week, "has established the procedures necessary if you're going to seek the death penalty."

But McCabe also said that the attorney general's concern about clarification is valid.

"We have cases pending that need to be resolved, and there is perhaps confusion over the proper mechanism over how to resolve them," he said.

McCabe said he is trying two cases in which he is seeking the death penalty that are at a critical stage.

"I think we can go ahead. Others will perhaps disagree," he said. "I can see where it might be helpful if the Supreme Court just came out and said, OK, judges here's what you do, and go ahead and do it."

For Patrick Murphy, a Haitian hotel project was a bust but helped with connections


via @learyreports

Patrick Murphy’s résumé got fresh attention in Monday night’s debate, with Marco Rubio challenging his CPA history, work on the BP oil spill and college degrees.

Overlooked in the public vetting of Murphy is a chapter that came just before his entrance into politics – one that helps illustrate the 33-year-old’s rapid climb from obscurity to where he stands today, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Murphy joined his father in a hotel venture that was an opportunity for the family construction business amid Florida’s economic downturn.

The $48 million Hotel des Artistes was to be built near the airport in Port-au-Prince on land owned by the WIN Group and the powerful Mevs family.

It failed to get financing but people involved in the project, including Clinton Foundation board member Rolando Gonzalez-Bunster, have contributed to Murphy’s political campaigns.

The money and connections underscore Murphy’s appeal to Democrats as he emerged from nowhere five years ago to become a national fundraising leader who defeated tea party hero Allen West and is now trying to dislodge Rubio.

Continue reading "For Patrick Murphy, a Haitian hotel project was a bust but helped with connections" »

Florida voters: Read this if you think the district on your ballot is wrong


Rest easy, Florida voters: Chances are your election ballot is not wrong (unless you’re missing the medical-marijuana question in Broward County, in which case, it probably is).

For several weeks, the Miami Herald has fielded calls and emails from alarmed voters — mostly from Miami-Dade County — worried that their mail-in ballots list the wrong districts for U.S. Congress or Florida Senate.

In all the cases so far, the ballots have been right.

The confusion seems to come from voters holding on to outdated registration cards — or looking up details on websites that aren’t intended to be voting tools.

One voter cited, the independent website that conveniently allows users to plug in their addresses and figure out who their elected representatives are. What GovTrack doesn’t do is reflect Florida’s latest round of redistricting. Neither does the U.S. House of Representatives site.

More here.

Small-town Florida mayor’s race: a tale of lawsuits, spies and window-peepers

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via @glenngarvin

Medley, a tiny industrial town just west of Miami International Airport, may have more warehouses than people, and its handful of residents are some of the poorest in South Florida. But that hasn’t stopped the candidates who want to be their mayor from playing hardball as the Nov. 8 election approaches.

Incumbent Mayor Roberto Martell says his only challenger, 52-year-old charity manager Lily Stefano, is a carpetbagger who hasn’t lived in the city long enough to run for office. He’s filed suit to have her thrown out of the race.

Stefano says the 55-year-old mayor is just peeved at her because she refused to let him use her foundation’s free-grocery program for Medley residents as a political tool to promote his re-election — so peeved that he canceled the city’s participation, potentially jeopardizing the hundreds of bags of free food the foundation hands out each week.

Political issues between the two? Not so many of those, unless you count the mayor’s plan to bring skyscrapers — his word — to Medley. He’s gotten the city council to lift all height restrictions and predicts a wave of cloud-kissing construction that will bring in legions of big corporate offices. Stefano is skeptical: “Really? Right next to an airport?”

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, Miami Herald file

Clean energy super PAC releases another ad for Curbelo


A clean energy super PAC has unveiled a new TV ad Miami for Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who's running for reelection against Democrat Joe Garcia.

ClearPath Action Fund's ad will air in English in Spanish throughout Miami and the Florida Keys as part of a $200,000 cable buy, according to the super PAC.

The group has said it plans to spend more than $500,000 backing Curbelo in the competitive 26th district.

Solar amendment campaign scrubs its web pages after leaked recording

The political committee behind Amendment 1 on solar energy has scrubbed from its social media platforms nearly every reference to the James Madison Institute after revelations that the group’s policy director bragged in a leaked audio recordingthat the utility industry is using the amendment to deceive the public into thinking it is a pro-solar initiative.

Consumers for Smart CSS August 12 Tweet Solar, a political committee financed primarily by the state’s largest utilities, had prominently displayed a favorable voters guide prepared by JMI on its web site, and in most of its promotional materials for the last several months.

But nearly all references were deleted after the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times reported that JMI’s policy director, Sal Nuzzo, was recorded calling the amendment “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they [pro-solar interests] would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.”

He said JMI was asked by Consumers for Smart Solar to conduct research into a rival attempt by solar advocates to end the ban on third-party leasing of solar panels because JMI represented “the adults in the room.” He described the subsequent utility-backed constitutional amendment as “political jiu jitsu” used to persuade voters to support restrictions on the expansion of solar by presenting the proposal as a pro-solar initiative.

The admission, made to a conference of conservative groups in Nashville Oct. 2, contradicted the pro-consumer message the utility-financed group has been pushing. It also confirmed to opponents that the amendment was designed to undercut attempts to allow third-party sales of rooftop solar equipment in Florida.

Consumers for Smart Solar spokesperson Sarah Bascom attempted damage control and denied the group ever coordinated with JMI to provide research to advance their position. JMI President Bob McClure told the Herald/Times on Wednesday that Nuzzo “misspoke”while speaking to an “unfamiliar, national audience.”

Consumers for Smart Solar on Thursday removed at least seven Tweets and eight Facebook posts referencing JMI, according to cached files collected by the energy watchdog group, Energy and Policy Institute and its affiliate, the Center for Media and Democracy. Story here.