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June 07, 2018

Diaz-Balart votes against amendment that would ban federal funds for oil drilling exploration


Mario Diaz-Balart


Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted against an amendment that would ban federal funds for oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf before 2022, the only member from Florida in the House Appropriations Committee to do so. 

But Diaz-Balart said that his vote against Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree's amendment was not a signal that he favors offshore oil drilling in Florida. 

"Current law states that any offshore drilling or leasing activity is banned in Florida," Diaz-Balart spokesperson Katrina Bishop said. "Congressman Diaz-Balart worked with his colleagues to ensure this bill passed and was signed into law in 2006. In addition, Interior Secretary (Ryan) Zinke has stated on multiple occasions that Florida will be exempt from any future offshore drilling. Any assertion that Diaz-Balart’s vote today would result in offshore drilling off Florida’s shores is incorrect." 

The amendment was part of an hours-long debate on various additions to the 2019 Interior and Environment funding bill, a $35.25 billion package. The amendment failed 20-26, on a mostly party-line vote, though Florida Republican Rep. John Rutherford voted in favor of the amendment along with Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The fourth member of the Appropriations Committee from Florida, Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, did not vote.

Pingree's amendment stated that "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prepare a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program that would schedule any Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sale before 2022."

Florida currently has a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico until 2022. Sen. Bill Nelson has filed legislation to make the moratorium a permanent ban, and Zinke's announcement set off charges from the Florida Democrat that the Trump administration exempted Florida from a plan to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling to benefit Gov. Rick Scott politically as he campaigns for Nelson's Senate seat. 

"It’s outrageous that ANY member of Congress from Florida would EVER vote to allow offshore drilling," tweeted Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat who will run against Diaz-Balart in November. 

Follow the bouncing bong: Another day, another delay for smokable pot

Miami Herald bong marijuanaSecond time, same story. Two days after a Leon County circuit court judge ordered the state to allow the smoking of medical marijuana, the Florida Department of Health has persuaded an appeals court to expedite their review. 

The first District Court of Appeal on Thursday gave marijuana supporters until Friday at 3 p.m. to "show cause" why the court should not stay the ruling by Judge Karen Gievers, which lifted the stay on her previous ruling that halted the ban on medical marijuana. Until then, the First DCA says there will be an automatic stay on Gievers' ruling lifting the stay of her ruling which said that the law banning smokable marijuana is unconstitutional.

Confusing? No kidding.

Gievers gave the state until Monday, June 11, to get working on a process that makes smokable medical marijuana available to patients whose doctors authorize it. Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Health appealed that ruling, asking the court to halt it until the court handles to appeal of her ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Gievers said in her order, however, the odds are unlikely they will win. 

Judge halts Florida's attempt to stop patients from smoking medical marijuana

We'll know tomorrow. Stay tuned. 

Trump nominates first woman ever to be U.S. attorney in South Florida


Via @JayHWeaver

President Donald Trump made a bit of history Thursday by nominating the first woman ever to be the U.S. attorney in South Florida.

Ariana Fajardo Orshan, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge whose nomination for the coveted position was pushed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, once worked as a state prosecutor but has no experience in the federal justice system.

Fajardo's name rose to the top of the list of potential nominees for U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida after a handful of other candidates fell by the wayside because of political or professional reasons.

The U.S. attorney is the top law enforcement official in South Florida, overseeing more than 200 federal prosecutors in one of the busiest districts in the country. The Southern District of Florida, stretching from Key West to Fort Pierce, has a national reputation for prosecuting major drug-trafficking, fraud and terrorism cases.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Fajardo will replace Benjamin Greenberg as the U.S. attorney based in Miami. Greenberg replaced Wifredo Ferrer in March of last year when he stepped down after Trump was elected president. Ferrer had been nominated by President Barack Obama.

Fajardo, 46, who was appointed to the Miami-Dade Circuit Court bench in 2012, is a graduate of Florida International University and Nova Southeastern University law school.

Paella-gate: How the tasty dish led to a criminal campaign investigation in Miami.


Criminal investigators in Miami are hot on the trail of paella.

Over the past three weeks, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office has been sniffing out the story behind thousands of dollars in food and drinks purchased by Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo from a Little Havana restaurant. Carollo paid for the food from an office discretionary-events account and his staff hand-delivered the food last month to senior centers on the eve of a special election.

There's no mystery behind what happened to the hundreds of pounds of yellow rice, pork, plantains and corn. No doubt, the enormous helpings of arroz campesino were delicious.

But prosecutors want to know if Carollo purchased the food and drinks from Paella y Pa Ti with public money as part of a delectable scheme to covertly cater campaign events for Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a former state senator who was running at the time for county commission. If Carollo did, it would be a violation of state laws that prevent elected officials from using public money to finance political campaigns — and a problem both for the commissioner and the candidate.

"There's not a shred of truth to it," said Diaz de la Portilla, who came in third out of four candidates in the May 22 election.

An only-in-Miami caper mixing traditional Cuban cuisine, campaigning and conspiracy, "paellagate" began as Carollo's office hosted events at comedores in Little Havana ahead of the general election in Miami-Dade County's fifth commission district. The probe has led to a political food fight, and rumors that it was someone in Carollo's own office who dished on him.

Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state attorney's office, declined to comment, citing an office policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of ongoing investigations.

But Carollo's office records — requested two weeks ago and provided to the Miami Herald on Monday — show he spent $3,702.72 on 525 servings of "Farmer's paella," salad, drinks, plates and utensils to cater gatherings planned the following week over three consecutive days at Myers Senior Center, Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center and Metropolitan Senior Center.

To read the rest, click here.

Florida's $19 million in new election security money arrives

The check arrived. Florida got its $19.2 million share of a pot of new election security money Thursday.

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, now must get the Legislature's OK to distribute the money to 67 county elections supervisors, with the start of voting by mail for the primary less than two months away.

That will likely require a vote by the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

"The department has received the federal funds and we will work quickly with the Florida Legislature to provide funding to supervisors of elections as well as bolster state efforts to enhance the security and integrity of our elections," said Detzner's spokeswoman, Sarah Revell.

How the state sought and got the money is a circuitous tale, chronicled by the Times/Herald, that required the intervention of Scott and included Sen. Marco Rubio, the federal Election Assistance Commission and county supervisors.

On May 17, counties pleaded with the state to apply for the money. On May 23, at a statewide elections conference, Detzner said the money would not be available this election, which prompted Scott to insist that the state quickly seek the money, which it did.

The state filed its application two months after the money was available, and the request was approved in one day.

The feds say that to date, 26 states have requested 55 percent of the total money available of $380 million.

Florida, the nation's largest swing state, is viewed as a likely target of cyber attacks by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and by state political leaders. Within two years, the state must provide a 5 percent match of the federal money, an amount slightly less than $1 million.

Detzner's agency also will hire five new cyber-security specialists for the upcoming election. Scott authorized the positions after the Legislature rejected his request that they be included in the next state budget.

Former Congressman Patrick Murphy to endorse Gwen Graham for governor

Former Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham

Former Congressman Patrick Murphy's flirtation with a run for governor is ending, with the Democrat expected to endorse his former Washington colleague, Gwen Graham, today.

The announcement is expected at a 2 p.m. press conference today in Pembroke Pines. The endorsement was first reported by Politico.

For the last few months, Murphy has been toying with the idea of running for governor with Republican Congressman David Jolly, with the two even making campaign appearances on national television together.

The Murphy campaign reportedly made the decision Wednesday, based at least in part on the lack of fundraising clout Murphy and Jolly had this late in the game. Many of the major donors have already "committed" to other candidates. The two campaigns then spoke about it either last night or this morning.

Graham and Murphy served in Congress together, where they were both centrist Democrats. Murphy was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2016, losing to Republican Marco Rubio.

With Murphy's endorsement, the Democratic field for governor appears set. Graham is running against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, Orlando entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Gillum's campaign used the endorsement to take a swipe at Graham, referencing her mention last month that she would consider Jolly, a staunchly anti-Trump Republican, as her running mate. Graham later said she would only choose a Democrat as her running mate.

"Does it come with David Jolly's endorsement too?" Gillum's communications manager, Geoff Burgan, wrote in a statement to the news media.

Herald/Times staff writer Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.

Parkland parent resigns from state commission to investigate Stoneman Douglas shooting


Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, quietly resigned last month from a state commission created to investigate the shooting in order to pursue his own probe.

Pollack, among the more outspoken Parkland parents, submitted a resignation letter following the commission's first meeting in April, announcing that he was leaving. Pollack wrote in the letter — dated May 4 and read Thursday morning into the record by commission chairman Sheriff Bob Gualtieri — that he wants to focus on the upcoming Broward School Board elections and on an independent investigation in which he's involved.

"It is my intention to get individuals elected to our school board who will take preventative measures to keep our schools safe.," Pollack wrote. "I will also be spending my time and resources on an independent investigation that will get to the bottom of who is responsible for the atrocities that occurred in our school on Valentine's Day 2018, the last Valentine's Day I will ever spend with my daughter."

Two Parkland parents, including Ryan Petty, a member of the state's Parkland commission, are running to win seats on the Broward school board. Pollack said he would support Petty, fellow parent Loria Alhadeff and the lesser-known Richard Mendelson, a professor at Kaiser University Graduate School.

Click here to read the rest.

A Miami Democrat promotes his platform — by running as the anti-Shalala


As a forensic accountant, David Richardson spent decades breaking down financial documents and finding their flaws.

He's retired now. But he hopes the same skills will help him build a new career in Congress.

Ever since the Democratic primary ballot was set last month for Florida's 27th congressional district, the 60-year-old state lawmaker has been sifting through the details of his opponents' records and pulling at loose ends. He's focused on former University of Miami president Donna Shalala, whom he's labeled a "double-dealing corporate Democrat" and attacked for joining corporate boards after stepping down as Health and Human Services secretary in 2001.

Negativity can backfire, and Richardson's own record isn't immune to scrutiny. But by running a campaign that is nearly as anti-Shalala as it is pro-Richardson, he hopes to contrast and promote his progressive platform with the Democratic stalwart's long and complicated political history.

“What I’m doing is exposing the truth about her record," says Richardson. "She has a duty to respond, not to me, but to the voters.

Click here to read the rest.

'It's like the last two minutes of a football game' Miami Republicans push for a DACA solution

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


House Republicans are nearing the point of no return on immigration. 

A petition that would force a slew of immigration votes is three signatures away from success, while Speaker Paul Ryan continues to negotiate with petition ringleader Rep. Carlos Curbelo and conservative Republicans. 

Curbelo said a Thursday morning meeting with the entire Republican caucus went well.

"Wrapping up meeting," Curbelo tweeted. "I don’t think it could have gone any better. Some questions but a lot of consensus. Our country deserves meaningful action on now. For too long politicians have used this issue for personal political gain. Enough." 

But conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, who leads a group that is opposed to Curbelo's discharge petition, said a deal that satisfies the various factions of House Republicans was not reached on Thursday morning. Marc Short, President Donald Trump's liaison on Capitol Hill, said Curbelo's petition would cede the House floor to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. He wants to see the House agree to an immigration plan that looks like the president's proposal from earlier this year, though that proposal failed to gain support in the U.S. Senate in February. 

Other Republicans who have not signed Curbelo's petition did not agree with Short's assessment, and said the petition gives Ryan the latitude to craft a bill that satisfies 218 Republicans. 

"Some of us are really frustrated to not be able to have a vote," petition signer Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. "Miami, South Florida in general is ground zero for Dreamers so we want a permanent legislative fix, we want them to have a pathway to citizenship, but we realize for some that's really tough." 

Ros-Lehtinen said Ryan and Republican leaders aren't cajoling Republicans not to sign the petition, at least not in front of other members, but that getting three more people to sign on will be a major challenge. 

"In the conference they weren't telling people 'Don't sign the petition,'" Ros-Lehtinen said. "We're three signatures away but it's like the last two minutes of a football game, it just goes on forever." 

There's a limited window for immigration votes if Curbelo's petition succeeds. If Curbelo can get enough support in the next week or so, the House could vote on four immigration bills on June 25. 

Republicans like Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo, who both represent Miami-area districts with thousands of immigrations, are demanding a legislative solution that provides a path to citizenship for 700,000 young people who came to the United States years ago. 

Timing of Scott's latest Puerto Rico announcement raises questions

Florida is donating 25 used Dodge Charger police cars to Puerto Rico to help the storm-battered island.

That piece of news came from Gov. Rick Scott's office Wednesday afternoon, about 45 minutes after Scott's campaign launched a digital ad that claims he's "the one public official who's actually helping" Puerto Rico recover from the effects of Hurricane Maria.

The timing of the messaging sure looked curious.

Asked about the juxtaposition of the two announcements, Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said: "This isn't about politics. This is about helping Puerto Rico during its time of need. The distribution of news releases to the media is done at the sole discretion of the communications office."

The official press release about the cars quotes Scott saying: "I have visited the island six times to offer guidance, assistance and support."

The text of the online political ad says: "Governor Scott has been to Puerto Rico six times since Hurricane Maria."

Most of the 60-second spot accuses Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of politicizing the relief of Puerto Rico. The ad falsely said Nelson has been in Washington for a half century. It's actually 30 years — 12 years in Congress and 18 in the Senate.

As for those police cars, they are all Florida Highway Patrol cruisers between the years 2006 and 2012, FHP said, and have mileage between 82,186 and 213,638. The cruisers were taken off the road in December 2017 and January 2018, under rules that allow cars to be taken off the road after reaching 80,000 miles.

Scott's office said the transfer took months to accomplish among state and federal agencies and that the shipment is being paid by FEMA.

The Florida Department of Corrections has long struggled with a need for replacement vehicles. The prison system relies on big, specially equipped transport vans capable of moving multiple inmates at one time.

In the past two fiscal years (this year and last), the Legislature has under-funded the agency's requests for new vehicles. Last year, Scott requested $4.2 million for vehicles and the Legislature appropriated $1 million.

With reporting by Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau