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August 24, 2016

The intriguing storylines of Miami-Dade's judicial races

via @DavidOvalle305

One judicial candidate is suing his opponent over her ownership in Miami erotic motels. A prospective judge has a résumé that includes being suspended from practicing law for three years. One incumbent judge is fighting for his seat against a former Florida House representative.

Though Florida judicial elections feature normally dry campaigns, next week’s races in Miami-Dade nevertheless offer some tantalizing story lines.

In all, 10 seats — six in Miami-Dade circuit court, four in county court — are up for grabs in the Aug. 30 election. Another 18 judges earned reelection in May when no one chose to run against them.

In Florida, candidates are limited in how they campaign. They can’t make promises other than to be fair and impartial, can’t commit to positions about the law and can’t personally solicit donations.

But allegations laid out in a lawsuit have elevated the interest in the race of incumbent circuit judge Jason Bloch, who earlier this month sued his opponent, Marcia del Rey, saying discrepancies in financial disclosures and credentials should bar her from being on the ballot.

More here.

Key Florida Senate leader drops $150K into Frank Artiles effort to win Democrat-leaning seat



Democrats in Florida have been fired up heading into the fall at the prospects of picking up seats in the Florida Senate and chipping away at the Republican’s 26-14 majority. But one key Republican is betting big that the GOP is in position to be the one’s flipping at least one seat that is currently in Democratic hands.

New campaign finance reporting shows Florida Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano used a political action committee he controls called Innovate Florida to drop $150,000 into Miami’s Senate District 40, where Republican Frank Artiles is hoping to knock out whoever emerges from an increasingly nasty Democratic primary race there.

Galvano’s donation went to a political committee controlled by Artiles called Veterans for Common Sense Principles. It’s the single largest donation Artiles has collected by far and nearly doubles what that committee had raised over the last four months.

“That is a very winnable seat,” Galvano said in explaining the largest single donation Innovate Florida has made this year.

Galvano said Artiles is working hard and has a real shot to win the seat.

Despite Galvano’s optimism, newly redistricted maps show Democrats have an advantage in that district. In 2012, President Barack Obama won the area that is in the new Senate District 40 by 9 percentage points. Incument Sen. Dwight Bullard is one of three Democrats on the ballot in the Aug. 30 primary.

Clinton pitches public-health fund for Zika, other outbreaks

Campaign 2016 Clinton


In response to Miami’s rash of Zika infections, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will propose the creation of a public-health fund with money available year-round to quickly respond to disease outbreaks.

The Democratic presidential candidate cited congressional inaction on Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has spread in South Florida during lawmakers’ seven-week summer recess. Legislators left Washington in mid-July after having failed to pass President Barack Obama’s emergency-funding request to fight Zika — and won’t return until after Labor Day.

“Uncertain long-term budgets leave our public health agencies dependent on emergency appropriations — meaning that when Congress fails to step up, communities are left without the resources they need, vaccines languish in development, and more people get sick,” Clinton said in a statement that in addition to Zika referred to the Ebola virus and other diseases and public-health threats.

Clinton’s proposed “Public Health Rapid Response Fund” would be aimed at providing financial relief to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health and Human Services Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local public health departments and hospitals.

Clinton did not specify where money for such a fund would come from, or how much would be in it — other than she’d like for it to have “consistent, year-to-year budgets.”

More here.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

Miami-Dade mayoral challenger Raquel Regalado subject of state election inquiry


Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado is the subject of a state inquiry into a possible violation of election laws.

It's not known the nature of the alleged violation. The Florida Elections Commission did not release information about the underlying complaint, except to say the board voted 6 to 0 to "find probable cause" on a violation of the state statute governing contribution limits to candidates. 

Michael Montiel, Regalado's lawyer, said in a statement that the commission responded to an individual's complaint against Regalado, and that the vote followed an Aug.17 hearing where the two-term school board member could not make her case or present evidence.

"We maintain that Ms. Regalado has not violated any Florida election law, and we believe that any subsequent fact-finding hearing by the Commission will determine that there is no violation," he said.

The inquiry was included in a nine-page summary of a commission meeting posted on a state website. But it was supposed to remain confidential until after the Aug. 30 primary that could decide the mayoral race, said Amy Toman, executive director of the Florida Elections Commission. She said election staff failed to remove the notice from a summary of the commission's Aug. 16-17 meeting, and that the notice would have been public by now if not for Regalado facing an election 10 days now. 

"The actual existence of the case was intended to be confidential," Toman said. "It was just an inadvertent error." 

Two cases were listed as confidential in the meeting summary, so it's not known if any other candidate in the county mayoral race is also subject to an inquiry. 

A campaign-finance inquiry is particularly sensitive for Regalado, since she has been fined for past violations. She was fined about $3,500 in 2011 for a late report from her first school-board campaign, and in 2012 was fined $5,000 for faulty campaign-finance reports tied to her role in 2009 as campaign manager for her father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, a year before she won her school board seat.

The reelection effort for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited the 2012 fine in a recent mailer declaring Regalado was "in over her head" in seeking to run the county's $7 billion budget. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the primary vote, the election ends. If not, the top two finishers face-off in a November run-off on Election Day. 

This post was updated to include the timing of Regalado's election to the Miami-Dade School Board.

August 23, 2016

Running for mayor, and offering a Zika balm. Health officials say no treatment exists.


Santamaria zika

Miami-Dade mayoral hopeful Alfred Santamaria hit the campaign trail in Wynwood Tuesday, and had something impressive to offer: a spray he said could "neutralize" Zika effects from a mosquito bite.  

"If you put this product on the bite of a mosquito it will neutralize the effect of the Zika," Santamaria told reporters while holding a thumb-sized bottle of Zycazin. "This is a protection... So we're giving it out." 

If a spray exists to treat Zika, that would be news to the Florida Department of Health. Spokeswoman Mara Gambineri wrote in a brief statement: "According to the CDC, there is no specific medicine or treatment for Zika."

Santamaria, 36, and a one-time staffer for former Rep. David Rivera, is running his first campaign for political office. He drew a sizable media crowd for his afternoon stop in Wynwood, with aides distributing Zika protest signs to supporters as he began his remarks to the press. Wynwood remains under a travel advisory for pregnant women, following the discovery of what state authorities said was a Zika transmission area in late July. 

Cameras followed him as he and others knocked on nearby doors and passed out small packages of Zycazin. The product is distributed by a Coconut Grove firm called Axis Healthcare, which has the same address and a shared corporate officer as Good Sound, a recording studio that donated $255,000 to Santamaria's New Leadership political committee. Most of that was listed as free  production services. 

Leon Atencia, who identified himself as a biochemist for Axis Healthcare and a partner, said the product mirrors other over-the-counter antiseptic sprays already on the market. "There's nothing new," he said.

What's different, he said, is the claim that the ingredients might be useful in reducing the severity of a Zika infection. Atencia pointed to a study he said his firm conducted in Colombia, but said he could not share the results because they are confidential. Atencia said Santamaria misspoke when he said Zycazin could neutralize the effects of Zika. 

Zycazin does not mention Zika on its packaging. Its active ingredient, camphorated phenol, is used to relieve pain and itching on the skin, including from bug bites, according to The package describes Zycazin as an "antiseptic liquid" that can be used for "temporary relief of pain and itching associated with" bites, sunburn and minor cuts.

Axis Healthcare staffers joined Santamaria for his Wynwood event. The candidate's well-covered pitch for Zycazin comes as Axis is ramping up its marketing efforts of a product that Atencia said will be on Miami shelves as soon as next week.

On Aug. 6, a Leon Atencia posted a question in the comments section of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blog post about Zika protection. It read: "In several countries in Latin America, a product called Zycazin, a lineament, marketed by Axis HealthCare, a US company operating out of Miami is being used for infectious mosquito bites in pandemic regions...Why I cannot find this product in the US pharmacies?"

Atencia confirmed the post came from Axis, but not from him. "That was a comment put there by the people doing the marketing campaign," he said. "I asked them to withdraw that statement." 

Continue reading "Running for mayor, and offering a Zika balm. Health officials say no treatment exists." »

Raquel Regalado's father, Miami's mayor, slams "disgraceful" attacks against her in county mayoral race


Describing himself as a "hurt father," Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is telling radio listeners that the negative campaigning against his daughter, Miami-Dade mayoral challenger Raquel Regalado, is "disgraceful."

"I'm talking to you as a hurt father," the elder Regalado said in Spanish in a campaign ad for his daughter.  About "the disgraceful things they are saying against my daughter, Raquel."

Though Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez isn't named, the ad clearly targets the incumbent.

Gimenez's reelection effort produced a string of negative campaign mailers about Regalado, and robo-calls criticizing her are also circulating. One Gimenez mailer slammed Regalado for missing school board votes, which she said mostly involved symbolic resolutions before the regular-business segment of the meetings began.

Gimenez campaign manager Jesse Manzano-Plaza pointed to a string of negative materials against Gimenez from Regalado and her allies, and said the bulk of the incumbent's media purchases have touted his record in office since 2011. 

"They've spent more money attacking us," he said. "At least, more time. We're running a positive campaign, talking about the mayor's accomplishments."

A new mailer from the political committee that Gimenez raises money for, Miami-Dade Residents First, cites Regalado's lack of executive experience and a campaign violation from 2012 tied  to her role as her father's campaign manager, which resulted in a $4,000 fine.

The headline says "Raquelita Regalado Is In Over Her Head," using a nickname the 42-year-old acquired during childhood when her late mother, a popular radio host also named Raquel Regalado,  would refer to her on the air. The nickname hasn't gone away. Until she officially qualified for the Aug. 30 primary in June, Regalado hosted her own radio show and some listeners continue to address her as "Raquelita."

In a statement, Regalado called the use of the nickname part of Gimenez's "condescending and sexist negative campaign against me" that highlights an effort to make the campaign "about my gender instead of about the issues that face our residents."

Manzano-Plaza said the use of "Raquelita" instead of "Raquel" was not meant to diminish her.

"It's a way people refer to her," he said. "Some people call her that."





Emily's List flexes muscle in favor of Annette Taddeo--and against Joe Garcia

Taddeo Garcia


A national political organization that helps progressive women win elections is throwing some weight around in a Miami congressional race, spending thousands on mailers for Democratic candidate Annette Taddeo -- and against her primary rival, former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia

A political action committee dubbed Women Vote!, which receives support from Emily's List, spent $11,163 on mailers against Garcia while spending about half that amount -- $5,751 -- on mailers supporting Taddeo. Both of the expenditures occurred on Aug. 18, Federal Elections Commission records show.

The anti-Garcia mailer hits the former representative over his votes on student loan rates and and connections to for-profit colleges. A stock photo of a student is placed next to an unattributed quote that reads "Joe Garcia took thousands of dollars from a for-profit college interest that scammed students, then voted to raise student loan interest rates. He had his chance and let us down." 

"I guess their campaign couldn’t find any actual South Florida students to falsely attack Joe," said Garcia spokesman Javier Hernandez in a statement. "Not a surprise, Joe has worked hard to make college affordable for all families."

The mailer also says Garcia "took thousands of dollars from a for-profit college interest that scammed students, then voted to raise student loan interest rates" and goes on to state that Taddeo will work towards making college more affordable and protecting women's health, policy positions that Emily's List supports.

The pro-Taddeo mailer highlights her background, saying she "put herself through college and started a small business while raising a family." 

Garcia and Taddeo will face off on Aug. 30 for the right to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Here is the anti-Garcia mailer: 


Here is the pro-Taddeo mailer: 

PAC pours in big bucks to help Debbie Wasserman Schultz



A Democratic Super PAC has spent big bucks in an effort to re-elect U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Patriot Majority PAC has spent about $600,000 on mailers, radio and digital ads in addition to money on polling in the Broward/Miami-Dade district for the Aug. 30th primary.

The mailers we have seen make no mention of her primary rival Tim Canova and focus on her record fighting for gun safety reform, equal pay for women and support for abortion rights and align her with President Barack Obama.

Wasserman Schultz had raised about $3.1 million through Aug. 10th while Canova raised $3.3 million so combined with the PAC her side is ahead in the race for dollars.

Patriot Majority PAC’s campaign finance report through Aug. 10 shows the following large donors:

Donald Sussman of Maine and Fort Lauderdale: $250,000. He is the CEO of Paloma Partners hedge fund which is a major contributor to Democratic and liberal groups including those working on behalf of Hillary Clinton. (Sussman bought a home for $27.5 million in Fort Lauderdale in January plus an $8.2 million property next door a few months after he announced he was getting divorced from U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.)

Joseph Blount: $133,000. The businessman and frequent Democratic donor lives in Miami Beach.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC: $125,000

Florida Crystals Corp: $25,000.

Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen: $20,000

Canova attacked Wasserman Schultz for being supported by a PAC that takes money from Big Sugar. He wrote in a press release that Sussman’s hedge fund has “over $100 million dollars in energy and fossil fuel investments.” wrote in April that less than 4 percent of the hedge fund’s portfolio is invested in energy companies.

“Donald Sussman is one of the most progressive individuals in America and has a long history of supporting progressive candidates and progressive causes, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz and many other candidates supported by Emily’s List,” said Craig Varoga, treasurer of Patriot Majority PAC.

It’s unclear if the PAC still plans to advertise on TV. The PAC had reserved at least $393,000 in TV ad time by early August, reported MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that researches data on campaign fundraising. But Varoga did not respond to questions from the Miami Herald about current advertising plans.

This is the first time Wasserman Schultz of Weston has faced a primary challenger since 1992 when she first ran for the state Legislature. Canova, who lives in Hollywood, is a first-time candidate and Nova Southeastern University law professor. He got a boost in fundraising due to the endorsement by Bernie Sanders and publicity about Wasserman Schultz stepping down as Democratic National Committee party chair.

This post was updated after the PAC filed an amendment to its FEC report to change Sussman's address from Maine to Fort Lauderdale.

Florida politicians respond to Zika's spread in Tampa Bay


After Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Tuesday morning that someone became infected by Zika in Pinellas County, Florida politicians weighed in, largely calling on Congress to pass additional emergency money to fight the virus.

"For this virus endangering Floridians to now spread unabated to Pinellas County is inexcusable. Lives are in danger, particularly expectant mothers, children, and women planning to have children. We need clear solutions to this serious problem. First, Speaker Ryan must bring Congress back to Washington to do their job and pass a clean funding bill. Then, Florida must expand Medicaid to cover the 200,000 women in the coverage gap without access to affordable healthcare and who are at risk." --Former Gov. Charlie Crist

"Florida is at risk and Washington is tone deaf. Today’s news of a locally transmitted case of Zika in Pinellas County is another alarm that should prompt leadership to call members back to DC to address this public health issue. As a representative of a frontline state dealing with the Zika outbreak, I fully understand the serious public health risk this virus presents. But we must address this issue now, responsibly and without playing politics. This is a public health issue, not a political issue." --U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores

“The time for warnings and discussions about a potential public health crisis due to Zika is long past – the Congress must act.  President Obama called on Congress six months ago to pass an emergency response package. Instead, House Republicans blocked meaningful action and then adjourned for the summer. My neighbors in Pinellas County and all Floridians need every tool to keep them safe as the Zika virus spreads. I urge House Republicans and Speaker Paul Ryan to reconvene the Congress immediately to pass an emergency Zika response package that can expedite necessary vaccines, diagnostic tests and development of the registry to track pregnant women who contract the Zika virus." --U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa

“Every day Congress remains in recess is a day wasted in the fight to protect Florida families from Zika. I have consistently fought for President Obama’s $1.9 billion emergency funding request and have demanded that Congress immediately return from recess to pass this funding. But on this global health crisis that directly impacts our state, Marco Rubio didn’t care until it was too late, and it’s not clear that he cares now." --U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter

“Local transmission of the Zika virus in Pinellas County underscores that this public health crisis is a statewide issue with statewide implications, which is why federal assistance and funding are so critical. We don’t know where or how this could pop up next, so the Obama Administration should reallocate more existing funds to efforts to eradicate Zika, and Congress should come together and pass the funding our health officials and experts need to get the job done.” --U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

Pam Keith launches 'road warrior' tour in U.S. Senate primary's final week



Undeterred by her status as an underdog, Miami Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Pam Keith is making a final push to sway primary voters ahead of next Tuesday's election.

For what she's dubbed "Pam's Road Warrior Whistlestop Tour," Keith has planned a busy schedule of public appearances in almost every corner of the Sunshine State in the days remaining before the Aug. 30 primary.

She'll be at a community event in Tallahassee tonight, and then she's in Jacksonville tomorrow. Thursday, she has events in Ocala and St. Petersburg. From Friday through Tuesday, she'll wind her way from the Space and Treasure coasts to southwest Florida and then back over to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Keith's candidacy has gotten more visibility this summer, while the Democratic front-runners -- U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson -- have each faced controversy. (Murphy was found to have embellished his academic and professional credentials, while Grayson's former wife last month accused him of prior domestic abuse, which he disputes.)

MORE: "Florida, meet your U.S. Senate candidates"

Keith, a labor attorney and former naval officer, has been campaigning for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat longer than any candidate from either major party this cycle.

But her gradually-increasing momentum hasn't translated into standout political or financial support -- the likes of which ignited Murphy's campaign in particular, after the national Democratic establishment rallied around him. Keith has been outspoken about the party's embrace of Murphy. She hasn't actively sought endorsements for herself, but she did get the backing of a couple prominent national women's groups and she counts South Florida state Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, as among her supporters.

Keith's latest FEC filing shows she raised about $21,400 in the five-and-a-half weeks between July 1 and Aug. 10, bring her total raised to date up to $133,100. Her campaign was also loaned $92,200 this cycle; more than 90 percent came from Keith herself. She reported $8,600 in cash on hand, as of Aug. 10.