August 03, 2014

Miami Republicans jostle to go up against Rep. Joe Garcia


The latest twist in the bizarre Republican race for Florida’s 26th congressional district came last week when some voters received automated phone calls from the candidate who’s supposedly no longer campaigning for the seat.

David Rivera’s recorded voice, older Hispanic voters reported, urged them to pick him and ignore “lies” in the news media.

Rivera emailed supporters last month to say he was suspending his campaign. But he never withdrew his candidacy, so his name still appears on the Aug. 26 primary ballot, along with those of Carlos Curbelo, Ed MacDougall, Joe Martinez and Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck.

That raises the odd possibility that Rivera, 48, could win after running a stealth campaign — avoiding questions about the ongoing federal criminal investigation into his alleged involvement in an illegal 2012 campaign-finance scheme.

Rivera, who has denied wrongdoing, did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

His foray into the race was fitting for the Kendall-to-Key West district, which has been fertile ground for controversy.

More here.

Primary challenger says he more liberal than Congresswoman Frederica Wilson


Even the man trying to unseat Congresswoman Frederica Wilson admits he faces no easy task.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult to defeat her,” said Michael Etienne, who is running in the Aug. 26 primary against Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat and one of South Florida’s best known politicians (She likes to wear hats.).

The 24th congressional district extends from Miramar to Brickell, including Opa-locka, Miami Shores and Little Haiti.

Two candidates — Dufirstson Julio Neree, a Republican, and Luis E. Fernandez, running without political-party affiliation — await in the November general election, though Democrats are practically assured a victory in the solidly left-leaning district.

Etienne, the 31-year-old elected North Miami city clerk, has not raised any campaign funds, spending nearly $20,000 of his own money to qualify for the ballot and pay for a smattering of advertising. Wilson has raked in more than $277,000, mostly from deep-pocketed political action committees, many of them representing labor unions.

But Etienne said his candidacy is about making a point that Wilson — despite being a dependable backer of President Barack Obama — is not, in Etienne’s view, liberal enough.

More here.

Accused ‘bag man’ testifies about alleged $1,000 payoff to suspended Miami Lakes mayor


On a mid-December day, lobbyist Richard Candia says he first looked for Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi at town hall, then at a nearby field before finally catching up with him at a local Starbuck’s.

They agreed to meet there, Candia claims, so that he could give the mayor a $1,000 cash bribe.

“I removed the envelope from my coat pocket,” Candia testified at Pizzi's federal bribery trial last week. “I put the envelope on top of the newspaper [on the table]. He put another newspaper over it and he walked away.”

The lobbyist further testified he dropped off his 14-year-old son at a nearby “comic book store” before conducting the transaction.

But Pizzi’s defense team countered the now-convicted Candia, a star witness for the prosecution who will wrap up his testmony Monday, lied about giving the money to the mayor on Dec. 14, 2012. They say he fabricated the whole tale to curry favor with prosecutors in the hope of reducing his prison sentence.

Pizzi’s lead attorney, Ed Shohat, accused Candia of making “false statements” to prosecutors, the grand jury and to the 12-person trial jury during his testimony on the alleged bribe and other key issues.

More here.

Carlos Curbelo deploys the Jeb Bush bomb in CD26 primary


No other Republican polls as well in the Florida GOP as former Gov. Jeb Bush.

And Miami-Dade School Board Member Carlos Curbelo hopes that's equally true in the crowded GOP primary in Congressional District 26, which stretches from their shared home county to Key West. This week, Republican voters in the district should be receiving a Curbelo-paid mailer featuring Bush's likeness and endorsement of the "proven education reformer and a proponent of expanding economic freedom and cutting wasteful spending."

So what's in a mailer?

Perhaps a lot.

In the recent CD13 race in the St. Petersburg area, Bush's support for David Jolly might have helped the Republican beat Democrat Alex Sink, strategists say. They say that after they started featuring Bush on TV as well as in a mailer for absentee-ballot voters, Jolly's poll numbers started to tick up just enough. If so, it's a remarkable feat because that was a general election.

This mailer is for a primary of just Republican voters. And it's in their home county. And the bilingual Bush is well-known to Anglos as well as Hispanics, who comprise a majority of the voters in the district.

As with CD13, this flier arrives just as voters are returning their absentee ballots. The election is Aug. 26 to see who challenges incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia in November.

If establishment money and endorsements are an indicator, Curbelo's the frontrunner. But ya never know in a primary. And that's doubly true when you have a sneaky, well-known former congressman running but not running -- David Rivera.

None of this means Bush is beloved by all. He promotes the Common Core educational standards, which some conservatives have demonized. And, remarkably so, the Miami-Dade GOP last year took a stand against Common Core -- a slap at Bush who helped make the once-floundering party a powerhouse in a Democratic County.

Common Core, though, hasn't really been an issue in this congressional race. After all, Common Core was created and managed by the states. A federal conservative who opposes a states' rights issue has a measure of explaining to do.

Common Core hasn't appeared to hurt Bush's standing with Florida Republican voters. In a series of Florida polls, Quinnipiac University consistently finds he's most-liked by the GOP in a presidential match-up against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who nevertheless edges him.



August 02, 2014

Billionaire Tom Steyer could spend $10m to help beat multi-millionaire Gov. Rick Scott


The billionaire is ready to take out Florida’s multi-millionaire governor.

In a nationwide push to fight Republicans who deny the existence of man-made climate change, investor-turned-activist Tom Steyer has founded a Florida political committee, seeded it with $750,000 of his own money and says he’ll spend far more to help Democrat Charlie Crist defeat Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida Democrats are buzzing about Steyer spending $10 million, which he won’t discuss. Republicans say the California Democrat is a phony environmentalist, but they nevertheless worry his financial commitment could be real in Florida.

“It’s hard to look at the map of the United States and not understand that not only is Florida Ground Zero for climate [change], it’s the third most-populous state,” Steyer said in a sit-down interview Friday with The Miami Herald.

“When you think about why this is an important state to be in, it’s because it’s actually a linchpin,” Steyer, 57, said, underscoring Florida’s standing as the nation’s biggest swing state.

Of the seven states in which Steyer plans to make waves, Florida is the most expensive in which to campaign. In the coming weeks, Steyer plans to open NextGen Climate Action Florida’s headquarters in Miami, which is one of the nation’s most at-risk cities from rising seas and hurricanes.

NextGen Climate, which has already conducted extensive polling, plans to spend big on field organization efforts to identify and motivate voters. It won’t advertise only on TV, like some elections groups.

Scott, who pumped $75.1 million of his own money into his first 2010 campaign, has spent more than $20 million on TV ads. Crist and Democrats have spent about $5 million. Scott’s political and campaign committees have an $8.1 million cash-on-hand advantage over Crist’s.

All told, spending in Florida could top $150 million, two-thirds of it for Scott.

Amid Scott’s initial unanswered ad blitz, the race tightened in June. Recent polls indicate it’s essentially a tie.

“If someone spends $10 million, it absolutely could alter the margins in the race,” said David “DJ” Johnson, a top Florida political consultant and former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida.

More here

August 01, 2014

New court records show how David Rivera is 'Co-conspirator A'


Congressional candidate and former U.S. Rep. David Rivera has a newly disclosed identity in a federal campaign-finance corruption case: “Co-conspirator A.”

The name “Co-conspirator A” appeared in a 2012 search warrant for the home office of Rivera’s friend and political operative, Ana Alliegro, who’s awaiting trial for breaking federal campaign-finance laws.

Alliegro implicitly revealed Rivera’s identity by filing a recent but failed court motion that claimed the search warrant wasn’t lawfully approved by a judge because the FBI didn’t disclose that “Co-conspirator A” served in Congress. It was the first time she had tied Rivera to the alleged campaign-finance scandal.

At the time, Alliegro worked with only one member of Congress: Rivera, a Republican whose cellphone and American Airlines travel records were also seized in the criminal case, new court documents show.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer said the job description of Alliegro’s co-conspirator didn’t matter anyway.

“Here, Alliegro cannot support her argument that the Affiant’s failure to identify Co-conspirator A as a Member of Congress was a material omission that bore on the magistrate judge’s decision to issue the warrant,” Seltzer wrote in a Tuesday ruling smacking down her multiple motions to have evidence against her suppressed.

More here

Most high-profile Miami-Dade judicial race features ex-lawmaker vs. assistant city attorney


The normally staid Miami-Dade judicial elections have so far hosted plenty of intriguing story lines: Miami ethnic politics, some familiar political faces and one candidate dogged by recent ethics probes.

In all, there are eight races — with four incumbent Miami-Dade County judges fighting to keep their jobs.

Circuit judges preside over cases ranging from felonies to juvenile and complex civil disputes. Two seats in county court, where judges preside over minor civil disputes and misdemeanor cases, are also in play.

In this election cycle, 32 circuit judges and seven county judges retained their seats when no one chose to run against them.

Perhaps the most high-profile open circuit contest pits former Miami-Dade School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla against Miami assistant city attorney Veronica Diaz.

More here.

Discord with Democrats: Sheldon says he's staying in AG race


Questions about whether the residency status of George Sheldon should disqualify him from the Attorney General's race have exposed a rift in the Florida Democratic Party.

On Friday, the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, Henry Crespo, said Sheldon should step aside in his Aug. 26 primary race against House Democratic Leader Rep. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. 

"Recent questions about his residency and bar license are overwhelming," Crespo stated in a release. "(Attorney General) Pam Bondi is our target. If we allow the Sheldon campaign to continue it will become a distraction on winning the Attorney General's Office, which for African Americans is critical with issues like 'stand your ground,' voting rights and clemency board within the scope of the attorney general's office."

Earlier in the week, Sheldon's Florida Bar license lapsed. To reinstate it, Sheldon signed an exemption that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington D.C. from 2011 to October 2013 while working in his $179,000 job at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Florida Constitution requires that candidates who run for Attorney General live in Florida the preceding seven years. If Sheldon is stating he's a nonresident with the Florida Bar, how does he qualify for AG?

When told about the conflict on Thursday, Sheldon said there's no problem. He maintained a home in Tallahassee, paying property taxes, was registered to vote in Florida, and had a Florida's driver's license. He said there's no question he was a Florida resident, but he would get a lawyer's opinion.

On Friday, he did. Democratic attorney Ron Meyer issued a three paragraph statement dismissing the issue.

"Accepting an appointment to serve our nation in Washington D.C. did not require George to give up his Florida residency," Meyer stated. "George Sheldon is qualified under Florida law to serve as Attorney General."

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Feds OK continuing Medicaid managed care, give hospitals reprieve on money issue


It was an issue that threatened the bottom lines of Florida's safety net hospitals, who are now breathing a sigh of relief.

The federal government had accused them of receiving $267 million in Medicaid payments erroneously over the past eight years and wanted to recoup the dollars immediately. Hospitals asked for a compromise that would have spread the penalty over three years to soften the blow and give them time to finalize audits and possibly dispute the charges.

The hospitals got even better news Thursday. In a letter granting a three-year renewal of the state's Medicaid managed care program, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it will slow down on the repayment issue and focus only on part of the disputed funds.

For now, the federal government will only go after hospitals for $104 million that audits show was overpaid through the Low Income Pool (LIP) fund for the first three years of the program. Hospitals will also be allowed to file appeals and challenge the amounts before any money is recouped.

The remaining $163 million is off the table for now, although HHS said it will continue to review LIP payments for the other five years of the program that have already passed to determine if additional money has been overpaid.

The difference for individual hospitals is significant. Tampa General Hospital now faces a maximum penalty of $5.2 million instead of $13.3 million. The stakes were even higher at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami that initially was told it would be out $47 million but now is only facing an $18.3 million penalty.

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Reaction to latest redistricting ruling: silence, confusion and joy

Confusion is the primary reaction to the redistricting ruling today as legislators, elections officials and others sort through the order to immediately redraw congressional maps and contemplate what impact it will have on elections this year. 

"It's like jello -- you don't know where it all stands but it certainly has explosive implications for Florida politics,'' said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida and a redistricting expert.

Responding to reporters question Friday, Gov. Rick Scott implied that he won't be getting involved in calling legislators back into special session to redraw the map but he sounded ready to put an end to the discussion.

"The Legislature is reviewing what the court decided and the Legislature has the power to make their own decision about calling special session," he said while campaigning Friday in St. Petersburg.

Ron Labasky, general counsel for the state's 67 supervisors of elections, said supervisors are trying to figure out what to do next.

"It's like a car wreck when everyone gets out of their car and wonders what happened and they're not too sure if they all had the same experience,'' he said. 

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, who were ordered by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday to produce a revised map in two weeks, reacted with silence. They are expected to comment by Monday -- maybe in the form of an appeal to the First District Court of Appeal and a request for a stay. 

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, continues to oppose any suggestion that her winding, 10-county district be revised. Lewis threw out her district on July 10,  concluding it was drawn in violation of the state's Fair District rules because it was designed to benefit Republicans.

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