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July 19, 2017

More on the shadowy money in Miami's Democratic Senate primary


The Sun-Sentinel's Dan Sweeney built Wednesday on our story Tuesday about mysterious money doings in the state Senate District 40 Democratic primary.

Sweeney writes about a $35,000 contribution to Floridians for Accountability, a political committee run by Broward consultant Amy Rose that has been attacking Annette Taddeo, who's running against Ana Rivas Logan:

The money came from another committee called the Florida Alliance for Better Government, a new committee that received its first $50,000 in June and has thus far only given $35,000 to Rose's committee. Florida Alliance for a Better Government is controlled by Screven Watson, who was executive director of the Democratic Party at the turn of the century and is now a lobbyist in Tallahassee, where his clients include U.S. Sugar and some related subsidiaries, Florida Power and Light, the firefighters union and many more. 

Last I saw him, he was appearing before the Sun Sentinel's editorial board back before the 2016 election as part of a group pushing the utility-industry-backed solar-energy amendment that went down to defeat.

The $50,000 to his committee came from Floridian's United for our Children's Future (the apostrophe is part of the title, and makes searching for the committee a little difficult. (Type "Floridians" in the search bar at the Division of Elections website, and the committee doesn't come up). And Floridian's for our Children's Future has raised more than $2 million over the years, mostly from U.S. Sugar and Florida Power and Light -- Watson's clients in Tallahassee.

More here in Sweeney's daily Power Lunch newsletter.

Protesters to Rubio: Healthcare ‘not just for the rich’

via @sydneyp1234

The Republican replacement bill for Obamacare seems dead, at least for now. Even so, protesters showed up Tuesday outside the Doral office of Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been firmly in the party’s repeal-and-replace camp.

Despite the apparent victory for the Affordable Care Act supporters, many in the group of about 40 people said they remain concerned about the uncertainty of the ACA’s future — particularly the protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Rose Williams, a 59-year-old mother, said she has lupus, and that her 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy and coverage for both illnesses would have potentially skyrocketed under GOP plans.

She and her son are currently insured under the ACA, she said, because her husband’s employer does not offer family insurance. Even with the ACA, she said, the costs are already “sky-high.” Her deductible is $14,000, which does not include prescriptions — but at least she and her son are assured coverage.

Healthcare “is not just for the rich,” said Williams, who drove 40 minutes from Fort Lauderdale while her son was at work. “We’re the people. Their job is to represent us. That’s supposed to be a democracy, right?”

More here.

July 18, 2017

Rubio signals threat of U.S. ban on Venezuela oil imports is real

Venezuela Crisis
@jimwyss @PatriciaMazzei @alextdaugherty

Venezuelan lawmakers warned Tuesday the country could be headed for a “catastrophic” meltdown if the United States limits or blocks its crude exports amid an escalating struggle over the fate of the socialist administration.

The fears come as the White House confirmed it’s considering a range of political sanctions against the South American nation if it goes ahead with plans to rewrite the constitution, including a ban on oil imports.

“All options are on the table,” a senior White House official said. “We understand that we are dealing with options that sometimes have consequences — of course, in Venezuela, but also in the United States.”

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has slapped high-ranking officials in the country with sanctions, but in recent weeks there has been increased Capitol Hill chatter about hitting Venezuela’s critical oil industry. 

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican working closely with the White House on Venezuela policy, said ending Venezuelan oil imports — once considered unthinkable — would directly target the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

“I don’t believe the Venezuelan people are enjoying the benefits of a declining oil industry,” Rubio told the Miami Herald. “It’s going entirely to enrich those who are tied to it, and to pay for debt obligations.”

If that happened it would decimate the country’s economy and send the nation into a tail-spin, said opposition congressman Angel Alvarado, who is a member of the legislative economic commission.

“The consequences for Venezuela would be catastrophic,” he said. “It would be a collapse without precedent.”

More here.

Photo credit: Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen vote against rollback of Obama's ozone standards



Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo joined Democrats in an unsuccessful effort to keep ozone regulations proposed by Barack Obama that would lower acceptable ozone levels and require oversight from the Environmental Protection Administration.

Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo were among 11 Republicans who voted against the Ozone Standards Implementation Act sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas. The bill delays the implementation of Obama's ozone rule and would require the EPA to reexamine the rule every 10 years instead of every five years. 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor, along with four Democrats and the majority of Republicans. The bill passed with by a vote of 229-199. A slew of environmental and public health organizations opposed the bill while business and manufacturing groups were in favor.

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are part of a group of House Republicans and Democrats concerned about climate change dubbed the Climate Solutions Caucus. 

This post was updated to clarify that the Climate Solutions Caucus consists of Republicans and Democrats.  

As Trump writes new Cuba rules, anti-embargo politicians present a compromise



Jeff Flake sees an opening in Cuba.

The Republican senator from Arizona, a longtime critic of U.S. trade and travel restrictions on the island, is hopeful that the Trump administration is willing to compromise when it comes to writing out the rules that will comprise Trump’s Cuba policy directive announced in Miami last month.

“This is an area where Marco Rubio and I agree on,” Flake said. “We’ve had broad disagreements with policy on Cuba, but we want to make sure that American travel serves a purpose and that it empowers entrepreneurs. I think what we’ve all recognized no matter where we are on the policy is that over the past couple of years a lot more Cubans have enjoyed a lot more freedom because of American travel.”

Flake was on hand for an announcement on Tuesday by Engage Cuba and the Center of Democracy in the Americas outlining a number of policy recommendations as the White House figures out the nuts and bolts of the Cuba policy announced in June.

Their recommendations include allowing individual people-to-people travel, lifting restrictions on remittances and lifting limitations on bank transactions for Cubans who open U.S. bank accounts.

“Ever since the speech by President Trump we’ve seen a lot of cancellations in our reservations by American travelers. The Americans are scared to come to Cuba,” said Julio Alvarez, co-founder of a restoration garage for classic American automobiles in Havana. “It’s affecting my ability to come to the U.S. to get parts for my cars. I’m not allowed to have a bank account here. This affects my business greatly.”

The entrepreneurs also sent a letter to the departments of State, Treasury and Commerce outlining their recommendations.

“The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers frequent private lodging, restaurants and transportation services,” the letter said. “Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well as an indirect negative impact on connected enterprises.”

Flake was joined by Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, two longtime proponents of ending the Cuban embargo.

“Our government now criticizes that new opening,” Leahy said, after he warmly embraced some of the entrepreneurs on hand and showed them pictures of the view from his home in Vermont. “They say the only Cubans who benefited were Raúl Castro and the Cuban ministry. Well, the Cuban government has benefited, that’s unavoidable in any country where there’s state-owned enterprises. There’s a whole lot of countries like that; China Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, we have no restrictions on travel there.”

James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, said the recommendations announced Tuesday should appeal to politicians like Rubio who have made it clear their intention is to hurt the sprawling Cuban military apparatus and help private citizens engage in free enterprise.

“Senator Rubio since the announcement has been very active in publicly pushing... that this is not against the private sector,” Williams said. “He’s going out of his way to say how much he’s supporting it so we would hope that there should be common agreement.”

Williams added that their recommendations represent the best chance of a compromise between Cuba hardliners and anti-embargo politicians, as they do not address ending the embargo or allowing tourism on the island.

“If we can’t find agreement on this, I don’t think we can find an agreement on anything,” Williams said. “I’m sort of less optimistic about Congressman [Mario] Diaz-Balart than I am about Senator Rubio.”

Read more here.

Miami House candidate decries 'lies and fake news'


A Miami Republican candidate appears eager to adopt some of President Donald Trump's political rhetoric a week before a special Florida House primary election.

Jose Mallea released a TV ad Tuesday decrying "falsehoods" lobbed against him in the House District 116 race. His opponent is attorney Daniel Perez, whose name is unmentioned in the ad.

"Like our President Donald Trump, the special interests attack anyone not on their side with lies and fake news," Mallea says, as the ad shows a photo of Trump signing his new Cuba policy directive last month in East Little Havana.

Mallea appears to be trying to tie himself to the president while Perez, a first-time candidate, has been questioning his Republican bona fides.

Mallea ran Marco Rubio's underdog U.S. Senate campaign in 2010, but backed Jeb Bush -- his former boss -- in the 2016 presidential election. Rubio has disapproved of Mallea's featuring him in a campaign flier, a sign that the presidential race bruised their friendship.


In Miami, federal judge orders Florida not to send private voter data but allows Trump commission to proceed



A Miami federal judge ruled Monday that Florida election officials can only send public data to President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission.

U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke declined a request by the the ACLU to issue a temporary restraining order to ban the commission from meeting Tuesday, according to a press release from the ACLU.

Cooke's ruling leaves the battle over the commission essentially in status quo.

In June, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity's vice chair Kris Kobach asked states to send publicly available voter roll data by July 14th. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner initially said that he would provide data that is publicly available -- but not private information such as driver's license and social security numbers.

But Detzner never turned over the data because on July 10, the commission asked states to hold off due to litigation in Washington D.C. (The Florida litigation is separate.)

That's why Detzner has continued to hold off and not provide the data.

"The court ruled what the Department of State already said we would do weeks ago – only provide publicly available information as cited in Florida law and nothing beyond that," Detzner spokeswoman Sarah Revell said. "It is unclear why the ACLU felt the need to include the Department of State in their filing since they already agree with our position."

An attorney for the federal government went on record during the hearing that Florida should not produce any documents until a new directive is issued from the Commission, ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson said.

“We are pleased that the court acted swiftly in ensuring that Florida’s chief election official maintains the privacy of voter information, which is protected from disclosure under state law," stated ACLU legal director Nancy Abudu in a statement. “We look forward to arguing the merits of this case before the court and exposing the real motivation behind this Commission: to substantiate President Trump’s and Kris Kobach’s wild and unverified accusations of the existence of rampant voter fraud, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Cooke issued a verbal ruling -- a written ruling is expected Tuesday.

Lawyers for the federal government could not immediately be reached for comment Monday evening.



Is Miami's next Democratic congressional candidate preparing to announce?


Matt Haggman has resigned from his prominent role in Miami's Knight Foundation. Will his next move be a run for Congress?

Haggman, Knight's program director since 2011, wouldn't say Tuesday after the foundation announced his departure, which is effective Friday.

"Stay tuned," he told the Miami Herald.

But his name has been mentioned for a few months as a potential Democratic contender for retiring Republican Rep. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat -- or even as a possible challenger to Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Haggman, a Coconut Grove resident, lives in Ros-Lehtinen's 27th district, which leans more Democratic than Curbelo's neighboring 26th district.

"It's something I've been actively thinking about for a while now," Haggman said in April about maybe running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

The Democratic field in FL-27 is already crowded with hopefuls, including state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, state Rep. David Richardson and Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. Curbelo has yet to draw an opponent.

Before joining the Knight Foundation, Haggman was a Herald reporter, covering real estate and Miami-Dade County Hall.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald 

In final stretch, Democratic primary for Miami Senate seat gets heated

@PatriciaMazzei @CrossingBordas

The Democratic primary in a special Miami state Senate race has gone from cordial to contentious, with Ana Rivas Logan getting help from an outside political group going after her better-funded opponent, Annette Taddeo.

Floridians for Accountability has pounded Taddeo in mailed campaign fliers, comparing her to President Donald Trump — perhaps the biggest bogeyman in a Democratic primary — over her family’s investments.

“What do Donald Trump and Annette Taddeo have in common?” one flier reads. “Annette Taddeo’s dirty money is a family affair,” reads another.

That, in turn, has prompted Taddeo to also compare Rivas Logan, a former Republican, to the Republican president.

“It’s Republicans who are funding the attacks [against me],” Taddeo said Sunday on WPLG-ABC 10’s “This Week in South Florida.” “That in itself speaks volumes.”

The two rivals have escalated their attacks over the past week, ahead of next Tuesday’s primary. Early voting by mail and in person is already under way. The winner of the Sept. 26 general election will replace Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in April.

For much of the Senate District 40 campaign, it was the Republican primary among Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and attorney Lorenzo Palomares that drew the most headlines. Rivas Logan, a former state representative, with $10,425 in the bank as of June 8, trails far behind Taddeo’s $45,559 .

But last month, Floridians for Accountability, which had reported no political activity for two years, disclosed $147,000 in contributions — and started going after Taddeo, a translation business owner who’s lost four previous elections.

More here.

Appeals court considers lawsuit over Florida's public education system

1st dca - June 7  2016


The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools” — but is that general standard something that can be measured?

That’s what an appeals court in Tallahassee will decide in the latest round of a long-standing battle over whether the Legislature, state Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education are fulfilling their constitutional obligations for 2.8 million children in the state’s public schools.

After a five-week trial last year, a Leon County Circuit Court judge tossed out the lawsuit that was filed in 2009. While the plaintiffs — led by two advocacy organizations, Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now — argued the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty, Judge George S. Reynolds III found they hadn’t met the burden to prove that was the case.

Now the First District Court of Appeal will decide whether Reynolds erred in that ruling. Central to that decision is whether the constitutional standard — adopted by voters in the late 1990s — is one that can be definitively measured.

Focused on that theme, the three-judge appeals panel peppered attorneys for the state and for the plaintiffs with questions during an hourlong hearing Tuesday.

Read more here.