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May 14, 2016

Alan Grayson accuses MSNBC host of 'spreading lies' on ethics probe

@ByKristenMClark

In a combative interview this morning, Democratic Senate candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson accused MSNBC host Joy Reid of "smearing" him and "spreading lies" about him in relation to a congressional ethics investigation over a once-offshore hedge fund associated with the Orlando congressman.

Reid initially wanted to ask Grayson about his confrontation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week, but almost immediately after she started speaking, Grayson interjected.

He started talking over Joy Reid and demanded she "correct the record" in describing the status of the ethics probe.

Grayson contends the investigation is over because an investigative subcommittee wasn't formed. He notes that no sanctions have "ever" been brought without such a committee being created.

"So that's it, Joy," he said. "You and Harry Reid both need to stick to the truth."

However -- as Joy Reid attempted to clarify -- the investigation does remain open. The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the U.S. House Ethics Committee continue investigating. The probe is in limbo unless or until the committee takes further action.

More: Politifact - "U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson downplays potential for punishment in ethics investigation"

The Office of Congressional Ethics in April released its findings and flagged several potential violations of federal law and congressional rules, related to Grayson's management of the hedge fund.

After the rocky start to the MSNBC interview, Reid attempted to move the interview along with further questions about the investigation's findings, such as a marketing document that bears Grayson's name, photo and credentials.

But that only made the exchange more explosive.

"So what? If you Google my name, you'll see a lot of pictures of me," Grayson said. "That doesn't mean I created those pictures." 

"You are completely misinformed and you're spreading lies," Grayson continued, adding: "Why do you feel compelled to spread these lies?"

Reid fired back: "I feel compelled to read from a 74-page ethics report, which is, sir, about you."

Grayson's main Democratic opponent in Florida's contentious U.S. Senate race quickly pounced on the fiery interview.

The campaign for fellow U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, shared the video in an email to reporters and accused Grayson of "trying to bully" Reid.

Watch the full 8-minute interview here, via the Murphy campaign's YouTube channel:

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla had special guests at his state Senate campaign launch, too

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@ByKristenMClark

The contentious Florida Senate race for District 37 in Miami-Dade County has attracted big guns for both the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Last week, Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez had help from both U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, at his kick-off fundraiser.

But just three days later, it turns out, his Republican opponent -- current state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla -- quietly had many special guests of his own at a similar event.

Diaz de la Portilla's campaign announced Friday that it had held a kick-off party for the senator's re-election bid on May 6.

The campaign said it was held at Casa Juancho, a Spanish restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, and featured a "standing room-only crowd comprised of more than 200 friends and family."

Among the guests in attendance, the campaign said: Miami Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart; state Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami; Miami-Dade County Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Rebeca Sosa, Xavier Suarez, Javier Souto, Steve Bovo and Sally Heyman; and City of Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo.

Image3"Miguel has shown a unique ability to effectively represent our entire community. We need him in Tallahassee, fighting and delivering results for all of us," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement provided by Diaz de la Portilla's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez, both of Miami, officially launched their campaigns a couple months ago, but their fundraisers marked the start of what's expected to be a heated election season this summer and fall. The race is already starting to bring in a lot of cash, with Diaz de la Portilla holding the edge over Rodriguez, as of April 30.

Diaz de la Portilla, one of the Florida Senate's more moderate Republicans, hopes to hold on to his seat. But through Rodriguez, Democrats are eyeing District 37 as one of a few seats they could pick up in November to narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

"If you're from this diverse community, you get it: We work together for the common good," Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement Friday. "I am thankful for all the support I have received and look forward to continuing to work in Tallahassee for the entire community."

Photos courtesy of Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's re-election campaign

Bob Graham lends big name to tiny Miami Lakes campaign

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@PatriciaMazzei

The black-and-white photograph on the mailed flier harkens back to another area. The candidate for Florida governor with dark hair smiles and waves as he holds a massive thank-you sign. Longtime Miamians would recognize young Bob Graham's face anywhere.

But what's it doing on a political mailer in 2016?

Lending his big name to a tiny political campaign.

Graham is everywhere these days in Miami Lakes, the town his family helped found on land owned by his family's Graham Companies. There's mailers and door-hangers and automated telephone calls -- all paid for by the Graham Companies -- featuring the Democratic former governor and U.S. senator. He urges a "Yes" vote on a slew of changes to the town's charter.

In the campaign pieces, Graham explains his involvement -- unusual for someone of his stature -- by saying he wants one of the charter amendments in particular: the one that would require a majority vote -- and not just a plurality -- to elect the town's mayor. 

"This issue is personal to me," Graham writes in a letter printed on one of the fliers. "I finished second in the 1978 campaign for governor. Because Florida had a Majority Vote election, which required a majority of Florida voters [sic] support to be elected, there was a run off. I was then elected and had the honor to serve you for 8 years."

The town's sitting mayor, Michael Pizzi, who could be most hurt by the charter changes, called Graham's involvement unbecoming.

"I'm a great admirer of a lot of the things that Sen. Graham has done," Pizzi said. "But I just think something like this, it's a little too heavy-handed. Putting his pictures on door-knockers and robocalls, I just think it's a little bit beneath the dignity of the offices he held."

With a majority-vote rule, Pizzi could lose re-election later this year. Pizzi faces several opponents in the Nov. 8 election, making it unlikely he can clear a 50 percent-plus-1 majority. Force Pizzi into a runoff, and a united opposition -- perhaps led by the deep-pocketed Graham Companies -- could make him lose. Other charter changes would limit some of the mayor's authority.

Graham, who was unavailable Friday because he was in Los Angeles to appear as a guest on the HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, told the Herald on Saturday that his support for the charter amendments has nothing to do with Pizzi.

"I have not had a conversation with the mayor on those issues, and I don't see this as a personal issue," he said. "It's in the best interest of the community."

Graham said Miami Lakes -- which he remembers from the time it was a dairy farm -- has never had a similar charter election, and his concern is for the town's long-term governance.

Pizzi is a divisive figure who beat back federal corruption charges in 2014. He has butted heads with the powerful Graham family before. He recently proposed a moratorium on any new development and voted against a project on a Graham Companies property, and he opposes a planned "mega mall" on another Graham Companies tract.

"I don't think the Graham Companies should use their power to try to overwhelm the voice of the average residents," Pizzi said, "and I think that's what they're trying to do here, and it's kind of scary."

A local political committee, Concerned Voters of Miami Lakes, has been advertising against the charter changes, and a Tallahassee-based, pro-business PAC, Save Our Constitution Now, has been pushing for them.

But it's Graham who appears to have made the biggest splash. The Graham Companies' political muscle includes The Miami Laker, a company-owned newspaper published twice a month that has prominently displayed its vote-yes stance.

"THE TRUTH behind the Special Election misinformation campaign," reads the top headline of the May 6 edition, which blasts the Concerned Voters' campaign. (Sample inside headline: "Graham Companies provides sponsorship and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity home.")

Miami Lakes resident Esperanza Reynolds , a Pizzi supporter, opposes the charter revisions because she doesn't want more power in the hands of unelected city administrators. But she called the intense campaign from both sides "strange" and Graham's interest "puzzling," even though she added, "I think the world of him."

"His family, that we look up to, telling us what we should be doing?" she said. "I'm not sure what's in it for them."

This post has been updated with Graham's comments.

May 13, 2016

Rep. Alan Grayson takes to House floor on 'The Great American Bathroom Controversy'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, used his time on the House floor Friday to give an extensive speech in favor of transgender rights -- complete with placards he used as props.

Do we need a new law on this subject, much less a stupid law, a bad law, a ridiculous law? Now you know, I understand that it's possible, even with the absence of this law, there might be some conceivable problems about this kind of situation. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I’m pretty sure if everybody acted as an adult we could get beyond them without having to litigate over it. And I’m wondering how do you even enforce a law like this? What are we going to do, have to give saliva samples every time we go to the bathroom to see what gender we were born with?

 

White House praises Marco Rubio on Zika

@PatriciaMazzei

From White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's briefing with reporters Friday:

QUESTION: ... yesterday. And on Zika -- I know you mentioned that the funding is not that -- on the current legislation that's making its way through right now.
 
Does the president expect to pass these pieces of legislation if they reach his desk? And are you championing about the effort by the Florida Senators Rubio and Nelson to give -- fully fund at $1.9 billion?
 
EARNEST: Yeah. Well, we certainly welcome the bipartisan support that our Zika proposal has received, including from Senator Rubio.
 
I think this reflects the degree to which, for all of our policy differences with Senator Rubio, when it comes to looking out for the public health and well being of the American people, there shouldn't be a partisan difference.
 
And I think Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson both understand the consequences for mothers and babies in Florida, of not doing everything possible to fight Zika.

Continue reading "White House praises Marco Rubio on Zika" »

The Miamians on the White House state dinner guest list

@PatriciaMazzei

President Obama will host a state dinner Friday for Nordic countries, and South Florida's represented on the guest list.

Per the White House, the invitees include:

Dr. Eduardo Padron, President, Miami Dade College & Chair, White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics (with Mr. Camilo Padron)

Mrs. Tracy Mourning, Founder & Board Member, Mourning Family Foundation (with Mr. Alonzo Mourning, III)

Ms. Adrienne Arsht, Founding Chairman, Foundation for the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center (with Mr. Anthony Podesta)

Mr. Marcelo Claure, President & Chief Executive Officer, Sprint Corporation (with Ms. Jordan Claure)

Mr. Andrew Jay Weinstein, Founder, The Weinstein Law Firm (with Mrs. Anne Weinstein)

What 3 U.S. Senate candidates say on the campaign trail about transgender rights

@PatriciaMazzei

Transgender-bathroom access has entered the political mainstream of 2016.

First, North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use restrooms based on the sex in their birth certificate. The U.S. Justice Department called it discriminatory. The state sued the feds. The feds sued the state.

Then, the Obama administration directed public schools to allow transgender students to use restroom facilities corresponding to their gender identity.

What this means: Candidates on the November ballot are getting questions about transgender rights. And not just presidential candidates.

At least three Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Florida have been asked about the issue on the trail, with people present recording their answers.

Here's Carlos Beruff of Sarasota telling the Brevard County Republican Party earlier this week that boys should go to boys' restrooms and girls should go to girls' restrooms. "Call me discriminatory or something," he said, dismissing the topic as less important than others facing the country. (The video, apparently shot surreptitiously, is sideways.)

 

Here's Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami telling a Charlotte County radio show that the Obama administration's actions regarding South Carolina are "just an example of how Obama and his administration have truly eroded everything that made this country unique and special in the world."

 

And here's Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach at an Orlando town hall Saturday, who tied the issue to concerns about big government:

"That same government that habitually fails at its core functions thinks that it should set the elementary school bathroom policies for all of our local schools. They need to butt out of local issues and focus on the things that are of national concern that the federal government is supposed to do. Then they would actually have a chance to maybe get some of this stuff right."

Listen to the audio: 

DeSantis audio

This post has been updated, including its headline, to include DeSantis.

Carlos Beruff supports term limits but draws ire from pro-limit group still

@JeremySWallace

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff has already said he would only serve a maximum of two 6-year terms if he were to win the seat this year. But that is not good enough for a national group advocating term limits for members of Congress.

U.S. Term Limits officials confronted Beruff at a speech in Brevard County on Wednesday night and asked him to sign their pledge to co-sponsor and vote for a bill to bar Senators from serving more than two 6-year terms and House member from serving more than three 2-year terms.

Beruff refused. He told U.S. Term Limits executive director Nick Tomboulides that he supports the Senate limits, but thinks House members should get at least 10 years.

“I don’t think six years is quite enough,” Beruff said.

Tomboulides responded saying founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin proposed 3 years. But Beruff didn’t budge. That had Tomboulides on Thursday sending out a blast email to the group’s supporters declaring that Beruff “punts on term limits pledge.”

“I twice asked Beruff to sign the U.S. Term Limits Pledge,” Tomboulides writes in the email. “He refused.”

Continue reading "Carlos Beruff supports term limits but draws ire from pro-limit group still" »

Impact of Pfizer decision to stop selling death penalty drugs unclear in Florida

@MichaelAuslen

If Florida again begins executions, the state may find itself in a tough situation.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer on Friday announced it would no longer sell its drugs for use in executions, the New York Times reported. That, the Times wrote, means there are no remaining FDA-approved sources of lethal injection drugs in the country.

Yet it is unclear how Florida might be affected.

A series of three injections are used for executions in the death chamber at Florida State Prison: Midazolam hydrochloride, which sedates the inmate; vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes; and potassium chlloride, which stops the heart.

The source of those chemicals, however, is protected under state law. Asked Friday how Pfizer's decision may affect Florida, Department of Corrections spokesman McKinley Lewis could not confirm whether or not the state receives lethal injection drugs from the company.

"The Florida Department of Corrections does not disclose the identities of our drug suppliers," Lewis said, citing state laws that block the release of information identifying "any person prescribing, preparing, compounding, dispensing, or administering a lethal injection" or that "would jeopardize a person’s safety."

Pfizer was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Right now, executions are effectively on hold in Florida while the state Supreme Court decides how to implement the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst vs. Florida. That decision threw out the state's death sentencing rules but did not make clear whether the 390 people currently on death row should still be executed.

Lawyers for some inmates have argued that those old cases should be converted to life sentences. In the meantime, the Florida Supreme Court already blocked two executions ordered by Gov. Rick Scott from going forward.

However, the sentencing rules have since been re-written by the state Legislature, and the state's first death sentences under the new law could be forthcoming.

If executions do resume, the state will need access to lethal injection drugs. All executions in Florida are done by lethal injection, unless an inmate requests the electric chair.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz challenger Tim Canova raises $1 million

Tim Canova says he has raised $1 million in his Democratic primary battle against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a sign that she faces her first election battle in more than two decades for the South Florida seat.

Canova’s campaign announced hitting that milestone on Friday.

His campaign said that he had raised $1,017,632.57 since starting about four months ago. The average contribution was $18.55, and 98 percent were from donors who gave less than $200, according to his campaign.

“We are proud that our campaign is powered by average people like teachers, nurses, small business owners, union members, students, and seniors,” Canova said in a press release. “We truly are a grassroots movement that will restore a voice in our democracy to everyday people and demand accountability from our leaders.”

Wasserman Schultz remains ahead of Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, in fundraising. She raised $1.8 million through March — her campaign won’t reveal how much she has raised since that time. Their next campaign reports are due to the Federal Election Commission July 15.

Canova’s surprisingly strong fundraising for a first-time candidate has forced Wasserman Schultz to campaign more in earnest than she has in past reelection cycles, when she easily swatted away long-shot Republican candidates in the liberal district that stretches from her Weston home into Miami-Dade.

Wasserman Schultz last faced a true election battle in 1992, when she ran in a Democratic primary for the state House and won. She easily won her first congressional race in 2004, facing only a Republican opponent. In 2011, President Barack Obama tapped her as Democratic National Committee chair.

More here.