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June 12, 2017

Heather Moraitis, wife of State Rep. George Moraitis, to run for Fort Lauderdale city commission


Heather Moraitis, wife of Republican State. Rep. George Moraitis, announced she will run for Fort Lauderdale City Commission in 2018.

The current commissioner, former Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Bruce Roberts, is running for mayor against former City Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom and lawyer Jim Lewis.

The current mayor, Jack Seiler, is term limited and may run for Attorney General.

Technically city races are non-partisan however political parties typically play a role in campaigns behind the scenes. Moraitis lives in northeast Fort Lauderdale in a district that has been held by Republican city commissioners for many years. 

Moraitis, who is running in her first bid for public office, currently works for the YMCA as director of capital development and previously worked at Westminster Academy, a private Christian school in the district.

Development, traffic and crime are top issues in the district. The commission has also wrestled with how to respond to a growing homeless population that lives outside the main Broward County library in downtown.

 "I was born here, and we have raised our family here, so I want to make sure the special way of life that we enjoy can continue for all residents," Moraitis said in a prepared statement. "With over $1 billion in public infrastructure needs, congestion issues that will require smart solutions, and division over development, we can either work together to make things better, or kick the can down the road. I am running to make things better."

Moraitis' name recognition and expected ability to raise money due to her long roots in the district and her husband's political connections give her a leg up in this race. Caleb Hunter, a Republican who manages a few parks for Broward County, is also running. He filed in August and has raised $5,250.

For city elections, the primary is held in February 2018 if more than two candidates are running. If only two candidates run, they face off in March. Here are all of the candidates for city races.




U2's Bono gives Rubio a shoutout at Miami concert

@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was in the audience when U2 performed in Miami Gardens on Sunday -- and it sounds like band frontman Bono knew it.

The Irish singer gave the Republican senator a shoutout in a monologue during the band's encore, thanking him for his support for programs that combat the AIDS virus.

"If you're a taxpayer here, you're an AIDS activist," Bono said. "An American story. It's heroic story, being championed by the left and the right -- by people like your Sen. Marco Rubio, who's fighting for this stuff and I want to thank him here tonight. I want to thank him.

"It's not good, to see people as I've seen them. These budget cuts by this president could undo the great work of the United States," Bono continued. "So send him a message. This country does incredible things when it works together, as one."

Bono then launched into "One," a song U2 released in the early 1990s as a single to benefit AIDS research.

Elsewhere in the concert, one attendee said, Bono made criticisms at President Donald Trump, particularly over the notion of building walls.

A CNN producer snapped a photo of Rubio at the Hard Rock Stadium after the concert. Nearby was longtime Rubio friend Bernie Navarro.

Rubio has backed PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief created in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush primarily to battle AIDS in Africa. As a GOP presidential contender last year, Rubio said he'd fully fund PEPFAR, and as senator, Rubio has written at least one op-ed and released statements since 2011 about fighting AIDS.

"You know, growing up, AIDS was a death sentence when I was a child," he said in 2012. "If someone got AIDS in the 1980s or even '90s, it meant you were going to die. Luckily, we're blessed that today that's not the case."

This post has been updated to include the audio of the show.

Janet Cruz considering county commission run in Tampa



State Rep. Janet Cruz, the Democratic leader of the Florida House, sounds like she’s going to run for Hillsborough County Commission next year.

Officially, Cruz says she’s “considering” a run. The Tampa lawmaker, who is term limited in the House next year, is waiting until later this summer to file for commission District 1, currently held by Republican Sandy Murman.

“I need to take care of the people’s work here,” she says. “(I need to) make sure that we don’t have another special session so that I can file, which will probably be in a month or two.”

Cruz sees transportation as a key issue for the county in upcoming years, as more and more people move to Tampa Bay and the need for updated transit and infrastructure gets more urgent.

She notes that she would fit in well on the commission, which includes several other former state lawmakers who made the move from Tallahassee to the county level, many after being forced out of the Legislature by term limits.

“I think it’s a good transition from the state House and state funding to county funding,” she said.

Photo: House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa. (SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times)

June 10, 2017

John Morgan’s next target: Swaying the Trump administration on pot


Morgan-stoneOrlando trial lawyer John Morgan scored a big win this week as state lawmakers passed a medical marijuana bill, which Gov. Rick Scott plans to sign.

Morgan bankrolled two political campaigns to legalize medical pot, finally succeeding in 2016. And though he plans to sue the state over a smoking ban in the law, he moved the needle on marijuana in the conservative Florida Legislature.

But what’s he up to next?

Morgan is contemplating a run for governor. And he’s keeping tight-lipped about whether he’ll actually jump into a crowded field.

Whether he runs or not, Morgan has started building relationships within the White House’s inner circle. He spent Saturday with conservative strategist and Trump ally Roger Stone talking about federal marijuana policy. Morgan’s fashioning himself as a Florida pot ambassador of sorts.

“Roger Stone speaks to President Trump on a regular basis,” Morgan tells the Times/Herald. “I am urging him to urge the president to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. The president would gain the respect of many on this issue.”

Decriminalizing marijuana is one of the policy ideas Morgan has suggested as a priority if he does run for office. As is raising the minimum wage, which he has also considered pushing as a constitutional amendment.

Right now, though, he says he’s watching to see who else gets in the race.

“To me it is like dating,” he said Saturday. “You have a feeling when someone wants to go out on a date with you. I will know when the time is right. If Florida wants a fighter for them.”

Photo: Roger Stone and John Morgan. (via @RogerJStoneJr on Twitter)

Miami Beach PAC will be shut. Chairman says Grieco was attorney, not beneficiary

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 1.22.42 PM

@NickNehamas & @joeflech

An enigmatic political committee raising money from Miami Beach special interests will shut down and return its money to donors after being linked to Commissioner Michael Grieco, the group’s chairman, Brian Abraham, announced late Friday.

Since January, Grieco, a candidate for Beach mayor, has offered shifting stories to explain his connection to People for Better Leaders, a political action committee that raised $200,000 from Beach vendors, lobbyists and developers.

Read more.

June 09, 2017

Scott signs 'Stand Your Ground' change, religious expression in school, 14 other new laws


Among 16 measures Gov. Rick Scott signed into law on Friday, he endorsed two high-profile bills that were linked by a late-session compromise: one that makes a significant change to Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law and another that fortifies the right to religious expression in public K-12 schools.

Effective immediately under SB 128, state attorneys will now bear the burden to prove in “Stand Your Ground” cases why a criminal defendant can’t claim immunity from prosecution.

The highly controversial legislation — two years in the making — was supported by the National Rifle Association, which argued it clarifies the intent of the “Stand Your Ground” law enacted 12 years ago.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP

Trump's coming to Miami next Friday to announce Cuba policy

0220 TRUMP BAY OF PIGS 102616 (1)@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump will travel to Miami next Friday to announce his administration’s changes to U.S.-Cuba policy, a source with knowledge of the president’s plans told the Miami Herald.

The location for the event is still in the works. But scheduling the trip indicates the Cuba policy, which has been undergoing drafts for several weeks, will be imminently finalized. And deciding to unveil the policy in Miami suggests it will please the hardline Cuban exiles whose support Trump considered significant to winning Florida, and the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to attend. He will already be in town for a Central America conference to be held next Thursday and Friday at Florida International University. Three Cabinet secretaries — Rex Tillerson of State, John Kelly of Homeland Security and Steven Mnuchin of Treasury — will take part in the conference, but it’s not clear that they’ll take part in the Cuba policy event.

Several local venues have symbolism for Cuban Americans, including the Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana and the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.

A mid-June Trump visit has been rumored since Memorial Day, when word of the Cuba policy rewrite began trickling from alarmed backers of former President Barack Obama’s reengagement approach toward the communist island. Trump is preparing to tighten at least some of Obama’s changes, including restricting business with the Cuban military and U.S. travel that resembles tourism.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

GOP lawmakers from outside Florida urge Trump to keep Obama Cuba policy

@ngameztorres @PatriciaMazzei

Seven Republican members of Congress who favor closer U.S. ties to Cuba sent President Donald Trump a letter Thursday urging him to reconsider revising the reengagement policy set by former President Barack Obama. A Trump policy is expected soon.

The congressmen -- none of them from Florida -- argued the U.S. has a national security interest in maintaining a foothold in Cuba. They represents districts that in some cases see serious agricultural, industrial or commercial opportunities in Cuba.

"For instance, Russia is already strengthening its ties with Cuba, supporting infrastructure investment and resuming oil shipments for the first time this century," they wrote. "China is also expanding its footprint in Cuba as well. China is now Cuba's largest trading partner and heavily invested in providing telecommunications services, among other investments, on the island."

"Reversing course would incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China," they continued. "Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the United States. Alternatively, we can counter the growing threat of foreign influence in our region by engaging with our island neighbor."

Signing the letter were Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Ted Poe of Texas, Darin LaHood of Illinois, Roger Marshall of Kansas, James Comer of Kentucky and Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Read the congressmen's letter here. 

On Thursday, three Republican senators with similar views also National Security Adviser Henry McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laying out their own case for sticking to the Obama policy.

Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and John Boozman of Arkansas wrote that increasing U.S. travel and business ties to Cuba helped improve the lives of Cubans and expand the island's private sector. Like the congressmen, they argued the Obama policy benefited American interests -- and undoing them would be detrimental.

"To conclude, there are those who suggest that any changes in U.S.-Cuba policy are concessions that must be met by some definitive action by the Cubans," the senators wrote, without naming Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others who have made that argument. "Instead, we view recent reforms to U.S.-Cuba policy as providing critical strategic advances that have already benefited everyday Cubans and provided direct benefits to Americans by enhancing U.S. national security and boosting the U.S. economy. We strongly urge you to weigh carefully any rollback of policies that would endanger these benefits."

Read the senators' letter here.

This post has been updated.

Fact-checking Trump's lawyer after Comey's testimony


@miriamvalverde @jonzgreenberg

President Donald Trump says that fired FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on June 8 absolved him and exposed Comey as "a leaker."

"Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication...and WOW, Comey is a leaker!" Trump tweeted June 9.

After Comey’s under oath testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz disputed several of Comey’s statements. But there was a lot of spin in Kasowitz’s comments. 

Here we’ll go over the televised June 8 statement from Trump’s attorney and sort out the facts.

Keep reading PolitiFact's report about Kasowitz's statements. (Also check out 6 big moments from the June 8th hearing and three times James Comey's testimony contradicted Donald Trump.)

Photo by the AP

Dems on K-12 funding: 'The increase is helpful but more is needed'

Florida Legislature (14)


Some House Democrats on Friday criticized a new K-12 schools budget for 2017-18 that would boost spending by $100 per student over this school year — calling the additional dollars a “hollow victory” and “not enough” to truly address public education.

“I believe the increase is helpful but more is needed,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “Florida is the third largest state in the nation, yet our per-pupil funding is still $3,000 below the national average.”

“We’re underfunding public education,” agreed Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura. “That’s a mistake. That sells short the future of our state.”

“Public education has been the great leveler in this country; it’s been the main means of advancement for people of modest means,” Geller added, before making reference to a $419 million, charter school-friendly bill (HB 7069) lawmakers passed last month: “We’re putting way too much money into non-public education at the expense of public education.”

RELATED FROM POLITIFACT: “Florida House speaker touts record education spending, but there’s more to grade”

The increased funding — addressed in a contentious three-day special session this week — was a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House and Senate leaders after Scott a week ago vetoed the Legislature’s initial K-12 budget, deeming it insufficient.

In calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee, Scott asked for $215 million more in state money for K-12 in order to raise the per-pupil level by $100, an increase of 1.4 percent.

Full details here.

Photo credit: AP