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July 10, 2017

Most Florida lawmakers have added to their personal wealth

Florida Legislature (33)

From the News Service of Florida:

Florida likely has a new richest lawmaker as the part-time Legislature prepares to return in September for committee meetings in advance of the 2018 session.

With a 22.3 percent jump in his net worth to $32.8 million, Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto dermatologist, has surpassed Sen. George Gainer in wealth, according to newly filed reports with the state Commission on Ethics.

Gainer, a Panama City Republican who owns car dealerships across Northwest Florida, saw his net worth grow by 12.6 percent to $31.46 million.

Annual financial disclosure reports were due July 3, though the state gives a grace period for filing. About one-fifth of lawmakers --- including House Education Chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, House Ways & Means Chairman Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and Senate Communications, Energy & Public Utilities Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland --- had not submitted their paperwork as of Monday morning.

The trend among the filed reports shows a majority of the 158 House and Senate members have seen upticks in their wealth over the past year. Two seats are currently vacant.

Continue reading "Most Florida lawmakers have added to their personal wealth" »

Lawmakers blast Brevard move to oppose Puerto Rican statehood

Four state House members, two Republicans and two Democrats, are fighting a symbolic effort by the Brevard County Commission to oppose statehood for Puerto Rico.

They are Republican Reps. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs and Rene "Coach" Plasencia of Orlando, and Democrats John Cortes of Kissimmee and Shevrin Jones of West Park in Broward County. In their letter to the county commission, all four identify themselves as being of Puerto Rican descent and say the county's proposal is unnecessary, improper and counter-productive. (Only Plasencia represents part of Brevard).

"Your constituents elected you to tend to county matters," their letter reads. "Not only is the issue of Puerto Rican statehood outside your jurisdiction, but it it improper for you to attempt interference in the democratic process in Puerto Rico. Ninety-seven percent of the island's voters supported statehood. You should be focusing on Brevard County issues, not attempting to thwart the will of the Puerto Rican electorate."

The resolution, to be voted on Tuesday by the county board, is sponsored by a former Republican state legislator, John Tobia of Melbourne Beach, who's one of five Brevard commissioners. His resolution says the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico faces $123 billion in debt that is "in large part a result of socializing private industry," and that making the island the nation's 51st state would shift much of that financial burden to American taxpayers. Tobia, a college professor with two degrees from the University of Florida, was a lawmaker from 2008 to 2016 who frequently voted against the GOP leadership's bills and budget items.

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have migrated in recent years to Orange and Osceola counties that border Brevard on Florida's Space Coast, and the lawmakers warn tthat "alienating them makes no sense." Many of those new Floridians identify with the Democratic Party, which ran high-profile voter registration and mobilization efforts along the I-4 corridor in the 2016 presidential election.

Former Doral council member may run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat



Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a former Doral city council member and Republican, said she is seriously considering a bid for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat in 2018.

Rodriguez Aguilera was a council member from 2012 to 2014 when she lost to former councilman Pete Cabrera. She previously worked as the city's economic development director.

Rodriguez Aguilera owns Bettinara Enterprises, a company that assists people in understanding how government works. She also created a women's leadership certificate program which she teaches at Miami Dade College.

Democrats view Ros-Lehtinen's retirement as a chance to pick up a left leaning seat. Ros-Lehtinen, who did not vote for President Donald Trump, has often disagreed with her own party including her vote against the GOP health care plan.

Rodriguez Aguilera said she voted for Trump.

"I am a Republican -- I had to look at the choices," she said. "I voted for who I believed at that point was the person that I needed to vote for but I would like to consider the issues and problems that the community has. Money and economic development do not have a Republican or Democratic stamp on it."

Asked about the GOP health care plan that narrowly passed the House in May, Rodriguez Aguilera said she is still "studying the different options." 

Other Republicans who have said they are running including former School Board Member Raquel Regalado and Miami Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Maria Peiro, who ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 primary, is also running.

On the Democratic side, the candidates include state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person.




Boston police called Alex Diaz de la Portilla 'belligerent' in 2012 misdemeanor arrest

IMG_districtelALEX_2_1_KQ5I3SGGvia @newsbysmiley

A former Miami lawmaker hoping to return to the state Senate this summer was arrested in Boston nearly five years ago after police say he and a guest ignored orders by hotel security to stop smoking cigarettes in their room and then became “belligerent” when told to pack their bags and leave.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla was charged with trespassing and taken into police custody, according to an incident report and booking form obtained by the Miami Herald. Police also arrested Tania G. Cruz, the daughter-in-law of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, on the same charge.

The Oct. 19, 2012, misdemeanor cases were dismissed prior to arraignment at the request of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, according to the Central Division of the Boston Municipal Court. Diaz de la Portilla brushes the incident aside as a non-event.

But the police description of the previously unreported incident is unflattering. And the details are coming to light just days ahead of a July 25 Republican primary election to decide whether Diaz de la Portilla, State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz or attorney Lorenzo Palomares will represent the party in the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in serving District 40.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file photo

Florida Democratic Party raises almost $3.5 million



The Florida Democratic Party announced that it raised nearly $3.5 million during the first half of the fiscal year.

The party got a big fundraising boost due to the visit by former Vice President Joe Biden who was the keynote speaker at the Leadership Blue event in Hollywood in June. 

From a press release from party chairman Stephen Bittel, Senate Democratic Leader Designate Jeff Clemens and House Democratic Leader Designate Kionne McGhee:

“Democrats are more fired up and ready to win than ever before. Having raised nearly $3.5 million this year, Florida Democrats are immensely grateful for the generous support of our donors and Democratic legislators from across the state. We are committed to supporting Democrats from schoolboard to U.S. Senate, and as we continue to build grassroots enthusiasm and raise resources, we are confident that Florida Democrats will win in 2018."



July 07, 2017

Republican House candidate sues opponent ahead of primary


Jose Mallea, a Republican running for state House in Miami-Dade County, is attempting to force his opponent to withdraw from the race for House District 116.

In a lawsuit filed Friday against fellow Republican Daniel Perez, Mallea requests that a Leon County Circuit Court rule Perez ineligible to run, citing a Miami Herald article that found Perez does not currently live at the address he listed when running for office.

The Kendall home where Perez receives his mail, is registered to vote and claims homestead exemption is under major construction, and it will be for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, Perez said he is living with his father elsewhere in the district, although he has not disclosed that address to the Miami Herald.

The Florida Constitution requires legislators to live in the district they represent by Election Day. For Perez, that’d be Sept. 26, if he defeats Mallea in a July 25 primary. Perez has said he does not know if construction will be completed by Sept. 26.

If Perez lives with his father in the district, he would not be in violation even if he doesn’t live at his listed address.

But Mallea’s lawsuit claims that Perez should be forced to withdraw his candidacy because the sworn statement to the state’s Division of Elections that he lives at his home is now false, which would be in violation of Florida statute.

“Daniel Perez’s relationship with the truth is estranged at best,” Mallea said in a statement. “To knowingly identify an uninhabitable building with no roof as his address is the latest in his pattern of lies.”

Perez could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mallea has also been accused of not living in the district, although he says he has moved into a rented apartment unit in Doral. He provided the Miami Herald copies of his Florida Power and Light bill and his updated voter registration.

Florida House responds to Broward Schools' threat of lawsuit with promotional video



Two days after the Broward County School Board decided to sue over newly enacted and controversial statewide education reforms, Florida House Republicans countered by debuting a promotional video that touts their hotly debated “Schools of Hope” plan.

The “Hope” program — a top session priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes — is one of several provisions within House Bill 7069 that attorneys for the Broward school district plan to argue is unconstitutional.

Corcoran on Wednesday said the Broward School Board’s vote earlier that day to file a lawsuit was “clueless” and “arguably heartless,” in part, because “Schools of Hope” aims to break the cycle of traditional public schools that earn failing grades year after year.

RELATED: “Broward Schools to sue over controversial new schools law”

The House’s new video advertising “Schools of Hope” is the most recent product of an aggressive digital marketing strategy implemented under Corcoran, who took over as speaker in November.

The video’s message — and an accompanying tweet from Corcoran promoting it — are consistent with how Republican lawmakers have argued in defense of HB 7069: By casting critics as people opposed to helping tens of thousands of children in perpetually failing schools who might not have other public education options to turn to.

“As they prepare to sue ... we help prepare kids to soar,” Corcoran wrote Friday on Twitter, appearing to reference the Broward County School Board.

Watch the video and read our full story here.

Image credit: "Florida House of Representatives" YouTube page

UPDATED: Andrew Gillum parts with his campaign manager, finance director

Gillum logo@ByKristenMClark

The top two people in charge of Democrat Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign are out, barely four months into Gillum’s run and following weeks of relatively low fundraising totals.

With both campaign manager Phillip Thompson and deputy campaign manager and finance director Brice Barnes leaving, it’s unclear who’s now in charge of Gillum’s campaign.

A person familiar with the campaign described Barnes’ departure as an “amicable” one and told the Herald/Times Thursday evening she “remains a trusted friend and ally to both the mayor and the campaign team.”

Gillum’s campaign on Friday publicly confirmed Barnes was leaving and also announced Thompson was out the door, too.

“Both have been instrumental to our campaign’s early success, including raising $1.2 million in the first three months, earning more than two dozen endorsements around the state, and putting Mayor Gillum on the path to success,” campaign spokesman Geoff Burgan said in a statement. “We wish them both the best in their next pursuits.”

Burgan declined to comment further on why specifically Thompson was leaving and who would replace him to manage the campaign.


It’s not uncommon for political campaigns to shake up their staff from time to time, but the simultaneous loss of Thompson and Barnes — who was in charge of raising money for the campaign — is striking and comes at a critical juncture.

Full story here.

*originally posted 10:26 a.m.

Lawsuit alleges Florida's colleges, universities owed $1B from state

Gator2Gator08 gator dade jv

via @harrisalexc

In the 1970s, Florida joined a wave of states that encouraged private philanthropy to public universities by matching donations. Following the housing market crash and economic downturn, the Legislature put the matching rules on hold “temporarily” in 2011.

Temporarily has turned into six years. Now, a state lawsuit has been filed against lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to pay out the money — all $1 billion of it. That’s $600 million in backlogged matches and the rest in estimated potential donations if the automatic match is reinstated.

Grace Mead, a Miami attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit under the name of two recent University of Florida graduates, argues that the Legislature’s continued hold on donations matches violates Florida’s constitution and harms students’ education. The two students named as lead plaintiffs are Alexis Geffin, a Wisconsin sports reporter, and her brother Ryan Geffin, an incoming medical student at Florida International University.

“We’re not seeking damages,” Mead said, “we’re seeking allocation of funds.”


Full story here.

July 06, 2017

New TV ad attacks GOP Miami house candidate over residency



A new TV ad accuses a Miami house candidate of lying about where he lives because he identified his residence as a home under construction.

The ad by Jose Mallea attacks Daniel Perez, his Republican rival competing in the House District 116 primary.

"He said his opponent Jose Mallea didn't live in the district," the ad narrator says. "Lie. It's actually Perez who doesn't live in the district -- unless he lives in a house with no roof."

The Kendall home where Perez says he lives has no roof and is under construction, the Miami Herald reported. Perez listed the home on campaign documents and his voter registration and gets a homestead exemption on the property.

Perez previously told the Herald that while the home is under construction he is staying in an apartment with his father in the district but wouldn't provide the address.

Florida requires legislators to live in the districts they represent by Election Day. If Perez wins the July 25 primary, he would then advance to the Sept. 26 general election. Perez previously told the Herald he's unsure if construction on his new home will be finished by Sept. 26.

Perez previously debuted a TV ad attacking Mallea for not living in the district -- though Mallea says he moved into a Doral rental apartment within district boundaries on June 15.

The ad, which starts running on TV Friday, also attacks Perez for a trip he took to Cuba

Perez, a lawyer, and Mallea, a former aide to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, are competing in the district being vacated by Jose Felix Diaz who is running for state senate.