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August 01, 2017

Special election dates set for Hillsborough state House seat



With Plant City Republican state Rep. Dan Raulerson stepping down this month, Gov. Rick Scott has decided voters in Hillsborough County should select their next state representative in time for he or she to take office before the 2018 session begins in January.

Scott signed an executive order Tuesday that sets the special election dates for Raulerson's District 58 seat. The special primary election will be held Oct. 10, with the special general election happening Dec. 19.

The 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 9.

Raulerson announced last week that he'll resign effective Aug. 15, telling the Tampa Bay Times he needed "to focus on my health and my business." Raulerson, who has spinal stenosis, plans to have back surgery soon.

Some Republicans are already considering bids for his seat in the red-leaning district.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Patronis names former Senate President John McKay to Citizens Board

John McKayChief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has named Bradenton businessman and former Senate President John McKay to the board of governors at Citizens Property Insurance. 

McKay, 68, president of The Riverside Real Estate Company, will succeed former board member, Juan Cocuy, for a three-year term ending July 31, 2020. The eight-member board oversees the plan of operation of the state-run insurance of last resort. Florida's governor, Senate president, House speaker and CFO each appoint two members to the Board.

McKay, a Republican, was Senate president from 2000-2002 and was first elected to the Florida Senate in 1990. He has had a 35-year career in real estate and property management. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, served as board chairman for the Manatee Rural Health Foundation and the McKay Academy. McKay is a former board chairman for the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and Ringling Museum of Art.

The appointment comes after House Speaker Richard Corcoran tried and failed to appoint another former senator, Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano to the Citizens board. More on that here: Corcoran's choice of friend Fasano for a key post goes badly awry

Mark Silva, longtime newsman in Tallahassee and D.C., dies at age 63

Mark Silva

Mark Silva, longtime Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald who went on to cover the White House for the Chicago Tribune, died early Tuesday at his home in Alexandria, Virginia. He was 63 and recently diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Silva led the Herald’s capital bureau from the mid-1980s through the 1990s and became the paper’s political editor through the 2000 presidential election, a contest decided only after a pivotal Florida recount that brought the state global fame.

He joined the Orlando Sentinel as political editor in 2001, moving to Washington three years later to cover the George W. Bush White House. Later, he was an editor with Bloomberg News and most recently an editor with U.S. News & World Report, where he led a team examining politics and policies in the 50 states at the organization’s Best States project.

Silva leaves his wife of 33-years, Nina, and two children, Dylan and Lisa and a grandson, Noah.

Silva was a force in Tallahassee during a newspaper heyday when Florida dailies maintained robust capital bureaus that competed fiercely over every inch of political, legislative and policy territory. Silva was rarely beaten — and he often beat others.

With a relentless work ethic and a passion for collecting news tips from lobbyists drinking “see-through” at Clydes, Silva could power out a steady stream of dailies and weekenders. He also could turn a phrase.

One of the first reporters to carry a bulky, brick cellphone at the Capitol, Silva was around long enough for cellphones to shrink in size but expand in capability. Noting the change, Silva once wrote for the Herald that “cellphones were one of the few things male lobbyists bragged about who had the smallest.”

Few knew more than Silva about Florida’s politics and the personalities it attracted. As a political reporter, he scoured the state, clocking miles as a tireless traveler from his Tallahassee base, always willing to share a tale or offer advice to younger reporters.

Working for the Orlando Sentinel 16 years ago, Silva was assigned early morning media “pool duty” during a President Bush visit to a second-grade classroom in Sarasota. On that Sept. 11 morning, Silva was a witness to the president reading “The Pet Goat” to school children, then being told that terrorist-commandeered aircraft had struck New York’s World Trade Center.

When he moved to Washington, Silva was among the first to write a well-regarded must-read political blog. He traveled the globe with the president and first lady Laura Bush, including a four-country Africa trip that crossed the equator twice and more than 40 countries logged in his passport.

Along the way, he made friends and earned admirers, even among those he covered with a relentless search for truth.

“He was always straight, fair and even-tempered,’’ said Jim Scott, former Florida Senate president from Fort Lauderdale. “He was a great guy.”

Silva described himself in his Twitter account, @NewsmanSilva, as a “Wayward Floridian, Devout Bluesman.” He had a passion for guitar, a talent for writing, a devotion to his family and a determination to see all things clearly.

He was the author of two books, “When We’re 64: Reflections on the Real World,” a memoir that he described as “a collection of essays about rediscovering the natural world after a life devoted to the working world,” and “McCain: The Essential Guide to the Republican Nominee,” with the Tribune staff.

James Warren of the Poynter Institute included the news in his morning newsletter on Tuesday.

“Mark Silva was as smart, decent and collegial a reporter-editor as you’ll ever find,’’ he wrote. “Out of the blue, he was diagnosed recently with several bad brain tumors, fought valiantly and passed away at 3:30 a.m. at home in Virginia with his family. They don’t come any better.”

-- Mary Ellen Klas with John Kennedy

Photo above: Mark Silva, outside the Miami Herald's former building. Courtesy of Mark Silva.

Photo below: At Silva's farewell from Tallahassee party at Clydes. Courtesy of Steve BousquetSilva farewell at Clydes

Rubio delivers speech in Spanish on independent Venezuelan TV station



In an unusual move possible only for a bilingual U.S. senator, Florida Republican Marco Rubio got to make a speech late Monday night on an independent Venezuelan TV news channel in which he expressed solidarity for opponents of President Nicolás Maduro, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration Monday as a "dictator."

"There is no U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela. Yet the economy of a rich nation is in shambles, because the Maduro government has given away your oil and much of your sovereignty to Cuba," said Rubio, who is fluent in Spanish. "For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you."

The address, taped in Washington, aired on Globovisión, which is expected to continue playing the speech Tuesday.

"While the people of Venezuela struggle each day to feed their families, have you noticed how many of your leaders have gained weight?" Rubio said, pointing to periodic food shortages that have plagued the oil-rich South American nation.

Hours after the speech's initial airing, Venezuelan state security agents took two political prisoners who were under house arrest into custody. On Sunday, Maduro's government carried out a violent-marred election widely seen as fraudulent for a new all-powerful constituent assembly.

"Go ahead," Maduro said in a televised speech Monday evening. "Bring on your sanctions, Donald Trump."

Rubio noted in a Tuesday statement that Vice President Mike Pence had spoken to one of the prisoners, high-profile opposition leader Leopoldo López, by phone Friday. The other prisoner is former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

 “There should be no doubt that his arrest is a direct challenge to President Trump," Rubio said.

Rubio brought Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the Oval Office to meet Trump in February. Last week, López posted an online video urging Venezuelans to boycott Sunday’s constituent assembly vote and remain in the streets protesting. The terms of his house arrest prohibited him from speaking to reporters.

Curbelo draws Democratic challenger in swing Florida district


@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty

Months after Democrats began calling him a top national target, Carlos Curbelo has drawn a serious 2018 challenger.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ran a stronger-than-expected state Senate campaign in 2016, will run for Congress. She plans to hold a news conference announcing her candidacy Wednesday.

“It’s shocking that the people in Washington are trying to strip healthcare from millions of Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Miami Herald in an interview Monday, taking a jab at Curbelo. “The person that I’m running against voted for Trumpcare.”

She claimed Curbelo “has voted more than 86 percent of the time with Trump,” but also insisted: “I don’t want to focus my entire energy on what’s happening with the president.”

The bilingual Mucarsel-Powell, 46, was born in Ecuador, where she lived until she was 14. That’s when she and her single mother and three sisters moved to southern California. Mucarsel-Powell followed a sister to South Florida in 1996.

Now married with a stepdaughter, a daughter and a son, Mucarsel-Powell lives in Pinecrest, which is outside the 26th congressional district, a stretch of Westchester to Key West. She rents property in the Florida Keys, she said. Curbelo lives about a mile from the district’s boundaries in West Kendall.

After years of working in various nonprofit organizations, at ZooMiami and for Florida International University, Mucarsel-Powell opened a consulting firm on strategic planning.

“I’ve spent my entire life in nonprofits trying to bring change, positive change,” she said. “People are really charged. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They want change.”

For months, national Democrats have labeled Curbelo a top target, citing his district’s Democratic-leaning makeup. It favors Democrats by 6 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, making Curbelo’s district the most Democratic in the country currently held by a Republican. Last year, Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the district by 16 points.

But Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points, a 28-point swing showing Curbelo’s crossover appeal among Democrats and independents. He’s also a prolific fundraiser who had $1.1 million in his campaign account as of June 30 and consistently posts among the highest fundraising hauls of House members in both parties. Mucarsel-Powell said she expects to have to raise at least $4 million to compete.

Curbelo’s support in May for the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, was political manna for Democratic Party leaders, who see the vote as one of Curbelo’s biggest electoral weaknesses in a district where 92,500 people get health insurance through Obamacare — one of the highest rates in the country. Republicans have already vowed to spend millions of dollars defending Curbelo and other Republicans in competitive districts who backed the legislation.

Read more here.

Seventh Democrat enters race to replace Republican Ros-Lehtinen


@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

Matt Haggman, the former program director of Miami’s Knight Foundation, will run for Congress as a Democrat to seek retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.

“Our biggest challenges continue to go unmet,” he told the Miami Herald on Monday. “We’re not building for the future. Sea-level rise is being ignored. Many of the jobs today will be dramatically different in a very, very short time. We’re doing very little on that — and that has to change.”

Haggman has invited backers to a Tuesday event dubbed “Building a Better Miami,” where he will announce his candidacy. He signaled his impending run when he resigned earlier this month from Knight, where he had worked since 2011. He plans to be a full-time candidate and cast himself as a political newcomer with the sort of civic experience that might appeal to pragmatic progressive voters. 

Haggman, 46, said he’s been contemplating a run since President Donald Trump won the presidency last November — and before Ros-Lehtinen stunned the local political establishment by announcing her retirement in April. He has never been a candidate before, though Democrats have tried to recruit him in the past for local office.

Trump’s victory — and how Republican leaders in Congress have handled him — nudged him to run, Haggman said. 

“With the election of Donald Trump, who I stand firmly and strongly and adamantly against, many of our bedrock values are under threat: the values of welcoming immigrants with open arms, of a free press guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

Haggman, a Boston native and Coconut Grove resident, is married to Danet Linares, vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. Before joining Knight, Haggman was a Herald reporter, covering real estate and Miami-Dade County Hall; he had previously worked for the Daily Business Review. Though he holds a law degree from the University of Vermont, Haggman never practiced as an attorney.

Accustomed to awarding Knight’s grants, Haggman will now have to get used to asking political donors for campaign cash. He’s hired Washington firm SKDKnickerbocker as his political consultant and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research as his pollster.

Mostly unknown outside of the tight-knit technology, media and arts community supported by Knight, Haggman will face the challenge of raising his public profile in a Democratic primary field rife with candidates, most of them with past ballot experience.

Read more here.

Corcoran's choice of friend Fasano for a key post goes badly awry

For weeks, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, planned to shake things up at Florida's state-run property insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Then Citizens got wind of Corcoran's plan and it all fell apart.

As speaker, Corcoran gets two plum appointments to Citizens' nine-member board that decides insurance rates for homeowners in much of Florida. His choice for one of them was his friend Fasano_11263263_8col Mike Fasano (pictured), the Pasco tax collector, who as a Republican lawmaker was a persistent thorn in the insurance industry's well-heeled side.

Corcoran wanted Fasano to take the place of Chris Gardner, an Orlando insurance executive and ally of Citizens chief executive Barry Gilway, whose term expired Monday. Fasano was sure to make life miserable for Gilway.

But before Corcoran could appoint Fasano, two Gilway advisers raised a red flag, that because Fasano is an elected constitutional officer, his membership on Citizens' board might violate Florida's ban on dual officeholding by public officials, who can't simultaneously hold two positions with sovereign political power.

"They raised a question of whether that would be an issue," Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said of Citizens' top lawyer and legislative affairs director. "They said, 'There may be issues here that you may want to take a look at.'"

Peltier said Citizens board members have power to approve assessments -- in effect, taxes -- on most lines of insurance if Citizens' cash surplus is drained after a major storm. But the question is whether a Citizens board membership constitutes an "office," with sovereign power, under the state Constitution.

This issue should have been checked out long ago, but apparently wasn't. A Times/Herald request for a legal opinion turned up nothing Monday. But if Corcoran insisted on appointing Fasano and a court later found that it violated the dual officeholding ban, Fasano could lose his $144,000-a-year tax collector's job. That's too big a risk, but Fasano also doesn't want Citizens blocking him by raising speculative questions.

The obvious solution: ask Attorney General Pam Bondi for an advisory legal opinion. In 2013, Bondi ruled that an elected Aventura city official could also serve on the special district board that runs Tri-Rail, the commuter train in South Florida. Florida's dual officeholding prohibition is nebulous and subject to interpretation and officials often are guided by the Supreme Court's rulings on it.  

Corcoran could not be reached Monday. The speaker's office declined to comment. Fasano called the episode "absurd" and said: "Nobody in Tallahassee is challenging Citizens. Nothing has changed. The special interests are still in charge."

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

July 31, 2017

Carlos Curbelo wanted to repeal Obamacare. Now he wants to work with Democrats.

Carlos Curbelo 3


Last week, Carlos Curbelo ventured across the Capitol to see his hero, Arizona Sen. John McCain, speak about the need for compromise in Congress.

The moderate from Miami listened intently as the maverick from Arizona. who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, chided colleagues from both parties on the Senate floor about the dangers of naked partisanship.

“Just had the special privilege of being in the Senate Chamber to welcome John McCain back to D.C.,” Curbelo tweeted. “He's a national hero & one of my heroes.”

But less than 72 hours later, McCain cast the crucial vote against a narrowly tailored Obamacare repeal bill — a vote that will likely give headaches to moderate House Republicans like Curbelo ahead of the 2018 elections.

Curbelo and others like him took a politically tough House vote in May to replace Obamacare. But that bill is now dead. The political ads are yet to come.

In the wake of the legislative failure, Curbelo, whose Miami-to-Key West district is the most Democratic-leaning in the country currently held by a Republican, is now talking bipartisanship.

“It's critical to our democracy for Members of Congress to put politics aside and come together to find solutions to the issues affecting our constituents,” Curbelo, who declined an interview request, said in a statement. “Our healthcare system needs reform and I've been committed to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find market-based solutions that would result in increased coverage and lower costs.”

Curbelo is part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 43 House Republicans and Democrats who released a bipartisan health care plan on Monday.

Among other things, the plan calls for creating a stability fund that states can use to reduce health insurance premiums, requiring that businesses with more than 500 employees provide health insurance — instead of the current 50 employees — repealing the medical device tax and providing guidelines for states that want flexibility in the existing exchanges.

But hours before McCain’s vote, Curbelo said he was ready to proceed with the repeal of Obamacare if the Senate passed it.

Most Republican senators did not support the so-called “skinny repeal.” They viewed it as a way to start negotiations between House and Senate leaders to come up with a better plan.

Curbelo was unconvinced that any more negotiations among Republicans would work, and was ready to vote for a scaled-down repeal of Obamacare that pleased few within the GOP.

Though Curbelo doesn’t have any legislative victories to show for his Obamacare vote, the Republican Party is ready to support a potentially vulnerable incumbent who voted in favor of one of the party’s biggest priorities.

“For Curbelo’s part, he has always been consistent in his messaging for healthcare,” said National Republican Campaign Committee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson. “His vote in the House was a way to keep the debate and the conversation going forward. He was aware that he thought it needed work.”

Obamacare figures to be a huge campaign issue in 2018 for Curbelo and whoever challenges him for his seat, as 92,500 people in his district are enrolled in Obamacare, the second-highest figure for any congressional district in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Read more here.

South Florida water managers select Ernie Marks as their third director in three years

Ernie marksvia @JenStaletovich

The South Florida Water Management District chose its deputy director as the agency’s new chief, replacing a combative insider close to the governor with a career environmental regulator who has spent more than a decade working on Everglades restoration.

Ernie Marks, who joined the district in March 2016, becomes the third director in three years.

Marks served as the South Florida regional director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for two years and before that oversaw ecosystem projects for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a decade. He has a degree in environmental economics and natural resource management from the University of Rhode Island.

Marks was the only person nominated for the position during the board’s 31-minute meeting, largely spent praising the work of outgoing director, Pete Antonacci, the former general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott who earlier this month was named new chief of Enterprise Florida.

“Pete was the right guy at the right time,” said board chairman Dan O’Keefe. “My advice to Enterprise Florida: Brace yourselves and fasten your seat belts.”

During his two years at the helm, Antonacci repeatedly took on federal regulators and environmental groups. He accused the Everglades Foundation of cooking numbers on a study that looked at the need for a southern reservoir and threatened to end a longstanding partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, incurring the wrath of longtime Everglades advocate Nathaniel Reed. Earlier this month, he ordered district scientists not to participate in the National Academies of Sciences’ annual review of Everglades Restoration in West Palm Beach this week. More here.

Blaming ‘mudslinging,’ Michael Grieco drops bid for Miami Beach mayor

Grieco+01+EKM@joeflech & @NickNehamas

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco held a news conference Monday to confirm what many top backers already knew: He has abandoned his embattled bid for mayor.

“This year’s proven to be exceptionally challenging for me, my family and the community, forcing all of us to deal with distractions and political attacks that have no purpose but to cloud my service to the people of Miami Beach,” Grieco said.

He read a prepared statement flanked by his family and about 30 supporters in a public park around the corner from his South Beach home. The crowd cheered as he approached through a light rain.

Grieco will continue campaigning, however: He’s now running for a second term as commissioner.

Last week, Grieco began calling supporters to let them know he would drop out of a competitive mayoral race against former state Sen. Dan Gelber. Word spread quickly around the Beach over the weekend, with many wondering how this would impact an already-crowded race for his commission seat, in which four other candidates were also in the running.

One candidate, attorney Joshua Levy, immediately suspended his campaign following Grieco’s announcement.

Read more.