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April 22, 2017

Miami's March for Science: 'What do we want? Evidence-based science. When do we want it? After peer review.'

By Caitlin Randle and Alex Harris

“Mad” scientists descended on downtown Miami on Earth Day.

Instead of beakers and death rays, more than a thousand scientists and science fans carried protest signs reading “A planet is a terrible thing to waste,” “Scientists resist with evidence” and “What do we want? Evidence-based science. When do we want it? After peer review.”

The Saturday afternoon rally was one of hundreds worldwide, from Texas to Greenland. The main event, the March for Science in Washington, D.C., drew thousands of people.

The goal of the march was to show nonpartisan support for science-based policy, but plenty of the marchers arrived with politics in mind. President Donald Trump’s administration has faced criticism over the validity of information it releases and plans for sweeping cuts to federal science budgets, including a 20 percent slice of the National Institutes of Health

Terry Mitchell, who said she was there Saturday because her 14-year-old daughter planned to be a scientist one day, said she’s worried about Trump’s policies.

“They’re going to harm us in every single way,” she said. “If he were really a business guy, he would be looking at alternative energy.”

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, Miami Herald staff

Trump administration recommends sending tens of thousands of Haitians back to Haiti

Haiti matthew
via @Jacquiecharles

The Trump administration is recommending sending tens of thousands of Haitians back to their homeland because it believes conditions have significantly improved in the disaster-prone, poverty-stricken nation.

But the move comes as more than 40,000 Haitians continue to call makeshift shelters and tents homes — seven years after Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake — and as severe hunger and housing crises plague the country’s southern region six months after a deadly Hurricane Matthew wiped out roads, home and farmland.

“If they send everyone back to Haiti, they might as well be sending us to die,” said Cadeus Chaleus, 70, who after 16 years of living as an undocumented immigrant in Miami has spent the past seven years living without fear of deportation. “Despite what they say, things have not improved at home.”

James McCament, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Temporary Protected Status, the immigration relief that has allowed Haitians to live and work freely in the United States, should be terminated. The Obama administration granted the status following the earthquake, which left more than 300,000 dead, 1.5 million injured and an equal number homeless.

“Conditions in Haiti no longer support its designation for TPS,” McCament said in a memo to U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary John F. Kelly obtained by the Miami Herald.

McCament’s recommendations came as a surprise to many, including Haitian and immigration advocates who have been pushing for the extension of TPS before July 22, when it is up for renewal.

Last month, 10 members of the South Florida congressional delegation wrote to Kelly urging for renewal, and Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski asked Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo to include language on TPS in a bill he refiled that would allow individuals brought illegally as children to remain in the country.

More here.

Photo credit: Rebecca Blackwell, Associated Press

April 21, 2017

Fresen's past financial trouble


Former Miami state Rep. Erik Fresen will plead guilty next week to failing to file a tax return. That's a serious charge -- and not the only time Fresen faced financial trouble.

In 2014, after months of wrangling, Fresen agreed to pay a $1,500 fine after the Florida Ethics Commission found he had made mistakes in his filed financial reports.

And in 2011, when Fresen was vying to become Florida House speaker, his home was in foreclosure because he'd stopped paying his mortgage more than a year earlier.

Here's that story, by former Miami Herald political writer Marc Caputo, which is no longer available online:

Continue reading "Fresen's past financial trouble" »

Rubio: 'No doubt' Artiles should have resigned


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Friday he approves of fellow Republican state Sen. Frank Artiles' resignation from the Florida Legislature following a racist and sexist tirade against two lawmakers.

Rubio told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 that elected officials are -- and should be -- "held to a different standard." 

"You hold a public trust, you are a representative of those districts, and you are going to be held to a different standard, and people should know that coming in," Rubio said in an interview with "Facing South Florida" host Jim DeFede that will air Sunday. "No one forces anyone to run for office, and no one forces you to run in the state Senate."

Here are Rubio's comments in full:

Rubio: "I know Perry Thurston. I know Audrey Gibson, actually very well. She served with me in the House. We're good friends. And I'm sorry she found herself in that position, because I know that is not what she is in Tallahassee to do. She didn't seek this out. It's an unfortunate thing and an inappropriate thing, obviously, that [Artiles] said, and my understanding is that he resigned, and, in the end, what people don't realize is the legislative bodies, the Senate and the House, they are the judge of their own members' qualifications. They can remove members from their seats. And it sounds like that is where the Senate was headed. And so there is no doubt Sen. Artiles made the right choice in light of that. It had gotten in the way of, I think, the Senate being able to function in Tallahassee, and, ultimately, I think, gotten in the way of his ability to continue to serve effectively."

DeFede: "You went through a similar circumstance when you were the incoming Speaker with Ralph Arza, who was also caught using a racist term and ended up resigning. Where are we? Where do you think we are when incidents like this do come up from time to time?"

Rubio: "You know, I think it happens, and when it happens it has to be dealt with. For the most part, people need to recognize that when you are in public office, the words you use, your behavior, is held to a different standard. And in the case of a collegial body like the Senate, where you need to work with 39 other people in Tallahassee to get things done, how you comport yourself with your colleagues has a direct impact on your effectiveness. Obviously, the terminology that was used is inappropriate in any setting. I think people for the most part know that. And then when they make these horrible mistakes or decisions or say these incredible difficult or horrible things, I should say, they need to understand that they're not -- you're not going to be treated, nor should you be, like anybody in some other job. You hold a public trust, you are a representative of those districts, and you are going to be held to a different standard, and people should know that coming in. No one forces anyone to run for office, and no one forces you to run in the state Senate."

Why was there a cop outside Artiles’ Miami house Friday?


via @LDixon_3

On Friday state Sen. Frank Artiles resigned from the Florida Legislature after a scandal over his use of a flurry of racial slurs and insults to refer to fellow lawmakers at a Tallahassee bar.

Down in South Florida, a police cruiser was parked across the street from his southwest Miami-Dade home, and when a reporter went to knock on Artiles’ door, an officer emerged from his car and said the former senator wasn’t giving any interviews.

Why was there a cop outside the former senator’s home?

It turns out the police presence was the result of a watch order requested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after a previous protest at Artiles’ home, Miami-Dade police said.

Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said that anyone can request the order and it was an effort to keep the street clear and traffic moving. 

"We knew that protesters had gone to his house and media trucks had blocked the roadway," Zabaleta said.

Once Artiles officially resigned from office the police presence was called away, Zabaleta said, although one cruiser, driven by officer Orlando Fleites, remained across the street from the house at about noon Friday.

Artiles never emerged from the house, but two trucks were parked outside including one sporting a state legislator tag.


Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

Fresen to plead guilty for failing to file tax return on $270K

Florida Legislature (9)
via @jayhweaver

Erik Fresen, a former Republican state representative from Miami-Dade, plans to plead guilty on Wednesday to a federal misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return on income of $270,136 in 2011 while he was serving in the Legislature and working as a land-use consultant.

Fresen, 40, who was term-limited in 2016 after serving eight years as a legislator in a district stretching from West Miami to Cutler Bay, was charged in Miami federal court this week. That paved the way for his planned guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

Fresen could face from probation up to one year in prison.

Fresen's defense attorney, Jeffrey Neiman, said the former politician had income withheld by his employers in 2011 and has since paid a substantial portion of overdue taxes for that year.

“Erik has accepted full responsibility for not timely filing a tax return, which is a misdemeanor,” Neiman told the Miami Herald.

“He has made substantial tax payments and he has worked diligently to ensure compliance with all his tax obligations,” he said. “During the period in question, he paid significant taxes through withholding of income, and he disclosed all sources of income as a Florida elected official.”


Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

John Morgan: I was not drunk that night at Boots N Buckles


via @adamsmithtimes

More to come later, but John Morgan charmed an overflow crowd at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club today, where he was asked about that 2014 viral video of him, drink in hand, addressing a crowd at the Boots N Buckles saloon in Lakeland while campaigning to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

Good question, considering how many of the people who doubt Morgan's strength as a candidate mention booze. (Morgan was charged with driving under the influence in 1997 and 1993.)

"First of all, I was not drunk when I was on that video," said Morgan, laughing off the question and explaining that he had had two drinks at Outback before that video was filed. "I guess if I use the f-word, f-bombs, people think I'm drunk. If that's the case, I'm drunk every damn day of my life. ... When I got on my bus to go back to my beach house, I got drunk. And when I got to my beach house, I got drunker. But I was not drunk at Boots N Buckles. But I do love Boots N Buckles it will be in my heart forever."

If he runs for governor — and many people in the crowd today thought he sounded more likely to run than not — Boots N Buckles may be his unofficial campaign headquarters, Morgan said.

And as for the question about whether a Morgan candidacy could survive surprise cell phone videos that might emerge, Morgan said that does not worry him a bit. "I'm never going to not be me."

"What I would say to people who make that point is this: Let all the perfect people vote for somebody else, and let all the sinners and imperfect people vote for me. I'll win in a landslide," Morgan said to applause.

He also said he had been advised that he would have to lose a lot of weight if he ran and that a doctor told him his ideal weight would be 158 pounds.

"My head alone weighs 50 pounds," he scoffed, assuring the crowd that he will not be following the Jeb Bush weight loss model if he runs. He barely recognized the former governor when he saw a picture of Bush announcing his presidential campaign.

"He was so skinny. I actually thought it was Rick Scott with a toupee."

Photo credit: CHARLIE KAIJO / Tampa Bay Times

Frank Artiles' political committee paid Hooters and Playboy models as political consultants

TaylorMLockwood Key West@MaryEllenKlas

Just months before his resignation Friday, Sen. Frank Artiles scored a coup in November when he unseated Democrat Dwight Bullard with an aggressive $1 million campaign in a district that favored Democrats.

But the long list of expenditures filed with the Florida Division of Elections by Artiles’ political committee, Veterans for Conservative Principles, also raised some questions. Why did the committee hire a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as “consultants?” Were the payments related to a trip to the Kentucky Derby or a fishing tournament in Key West? What was the more than $51,000 in reimbursements to Artiles for?

Heather Thomas, a former Hooters calendar girl and waitress at 101, a restaurant and bar in Tallahassee, was paid $2,000 between March and June of last year. The expense report lists the purpose as “consultant.” Her friend, Brittney Singletary, is a waitress at Stetsons on the Moon in Tallahassee. She was paid $1,500 with three checks covering three of the same dates and listing the same purpose. 

Artiles’ political consultant David Custin refused to comment on why they listed the expenditures as “consultants.”

“You don’t have a leg to stand on to be asking these questions. There’s nothing there,” he said. He referred questions to the committee’s treasurer, Tallahassee lobbyist Dave Ramba, who did not respond to requests for comment. He noted that Artiles, the chair of the political committee, would not be commenting.

Artiles, a Republican and a Marine Corps veteran, entered the race for the southwest Miami-Dade County district after it was redrawn last year following a bitter redistricting battle. His race became the second most expensive legislative campaign in the state. 

It was a brief victory. More here. 

Photo: Before departing Tallahassee for a fundraising fishing trip to Key West, Taylor M. Lockwood posted this. ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Heading to Key West in style,’ she wrote. ‘#thanksfrank.’ via Instagram

Replacing Artiles: Who's in and who's out (so far)

@PatriciaMazzei @ByKristenMClark @MichaelAuslen

Miami politics went into overdrive Friday following state Sen. Frank Artiles' resignation, as elected officials and their political consultants scrambled to figure out who might run in a yet-to-be-scheduled special election to replace the freshman Miami Republican.

Political insiders in Miami and Tallahassee had begun whispering about Artiles' potential successor even before he stepped down. District 40 in Southwest Miami-Dade County is a competitive, Democratic-leaning and overwhelmingly Hispanic seat.

Here's what potential candidates had to say Friday.


Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck (R): "I will be announcing my campaign."


State Rep. Robert Asencio (D):"I ran for office because we deserve better. I want to make sure that the best person gets elected to that seat, and whereas I will consider it, I need to be very realistic and ask myself, 'Do I think I am the right person for that seat?'"

Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard (D): "I have a lot of folks that were supporters that would like to see me back in the Legislature, but at the same time you have a lot of considerations. I'm a pragmatist in the sense that sometimes you need new energy, new ideas."

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R)

Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla (R): "In light of today's resignation, I am considering running for the Senate seat." 

Marisel Losa (D), president and chief executive of the Health Council of South Florida

Raul Martinez Jr. (D): "My priority is providing for my family and do what's best for them. My  kids are young; I want to spend time with them. I don't know. It sounds like a good opportunity. I think this is a Democratic seat. I live in the district. Call it a maybe. No decision."

State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez (R): "I'm focusing on finishing out the next few weeks of session and doing the job my constituents elected me to do. There will be plenty of time to make decisions afterwards on political scenarios that may or may not pan out."

Former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan (D): "My phone's been ringing off the hook. I need to see the timeline. The job that pays my bills is the school.... I retire this October, so I was going to, you know, make a move next year. But if things happen quicker, they happen quicker. It all depends on that timeline." 

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R)

Annette Taddeo (D): "I am getting lots of calls, but I will tell you that I believe that after the disrespect that especially the African-American community has gotten in this whole incident, I think they should have a say more than anybody as to who should be the person that the Democrats put up."

Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata (R): "My phone has been pretty hectic this morning. I'll think about it. It's an area that I know very well, that I've represented in both the Legislature and in the County Commission. I've always lived in that district. I'm interested. I'll take a look at it. We'll see how things shake out." 


Andrew Korge (D): "No. My focus right now is on my family, my career and serving my community in other ways. While I won't be running, I look forward to supporting a Democrat who can actually win and deliver for our community."

Former state Rep. Erik Fresen (R): (Responding to, "Do you have any interest?") "Zero."

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D): "I'm going to continue to be politically active and speak truth to power and bring issues to light so that people are informed, but right now, I'm not thinking about that seat at all."

State Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R): "Nope. I'll be a retired politician in 12 months."

--with Mary Ellen Klas

This post has been updated.

Politicians react to Frank Artiles' resignation over racist, profane remarks



Since embattled Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigned earlier today, Florida politicians have begun to react on social media.

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon, of Miami Gardens 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando

Chris King, a Democratic candidate for governor

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for governor

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times