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May 19, 2017

Pair of GOP primary races in Miami fast becoming expensive


The son of a Congressman and a former Congressman are helping raise the price of running for the Florida Legislature in 2018.

Already two races for Florida House seats in 2018 have surpassed a quarter million dollars raised with promises of much more to come.

Florida Division of Election’s records show the most expensive race is shaping up to be a contest in Bradenton and part of Sarasota. James Buchanan, the son of car dealership owner and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, and Will Robinson, a real estate attorney with deep family roots in Manatee County, have already combined to amass more than $350,000 in their anticipated Republican Primary battle for House District 71.

Robinson has given his campaign $100,000, with another $100,000 raised just since March 14. James Buchanan has raised more than $155,000 with more than $16,000 of that coming from Vern Buchanan and business entities with ties to the Congressman.

That district is currently represented by State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits. The race also includes Randy Cooper, a Democrat.

In Miami, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera’s bid to return to elected office is making the race for District 105 a pricey race. Rivera has already put $200,000 of his own money into the race. Doral city council member Ana Maria Rodriguez, also a Republican, has also filed to run for the seat. She has raised more than $51,000.

Rodriguez and Rivera are looking to replace Florida House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami. That district includes parts of Miami-Dade, Broward and Collier counties.

In another Miami district, two Republicans have combined to make District 116 the third most expensive race so far. Republicans Jose Miguel Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez have both filed for District 116, currently held by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Republican who is expected to leave the House later this year.

Top 3 most expensive House Seats for 2018

$364,005 - District 71 - Republicans James Buchanan and Will Robinson, Democrat Randy Cooper  

$262,275 - District 105 - Republicans David Rivera and Ana Maria Rodriguez

$140,940 - District 116 - Republican Jose Miguel Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez

Baez thinking of dropping out of race to replace Artiles


State Rep. Daisy Baez could end her candidacy Friday for a special Florida Senate election, following a Miami Herald report that she might be in violation of the state Constitution by not living in her House district.

Baez’s campaign manager, Dan Newman, said the freshman Democrat had not yet made a decision as of early Friday.

“She’s at a breakfast right now,” he told the Miami Herald. “We’re going to talk and make a final decision later today. It’s certainly a conversation that we’re having.”

Politico Florida reported earlier Friday that Baez could bow out of Senate District 40 race as a result of the Herald’s Tuesday report noting that Baez still lives in a Coral Gables house outside her House District 114. Lawmakers are supposed to live in the districts they represent on the day they’re elected — in Baez’s case, Nov. 8 of last year.

Baez had been the Florida Democratic Party’s apparent favorite to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who resigned last month after making offensive remarks to two other senators in Tallahassee. She was the first Democrat to announce her candidacy, and quickly drew the big-name endorsements of two gubernatorial candidates, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, in what was widely seen as an attempt to clear the primary election field.

More here.

Most of public wants veto of HB 7069, Gov. Scott's office indicates



By a margin of at least 3-to-1 so far, Floridians are telling Gov. Rick Scott they want him to veto a controversial $419 million K-12 public schools bill House Republicans pushed through at the end of session, according to information requested from Scott’s office Thursday evening.

In the 10 days since lawmakers approved HB 7069, the state’s Republican governor has been inundated with roughly 10,000 emails, phone calls, letters and petition signatures urging him to either sign or reject the bill.

Both sides have been vocal, but the cries from the opposition — advocates of traditional public school — have been greater in number so far, based on tallies provided by Scott’s office.

But is that the full picture? Maybe not.

Full story here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero / EL Nuevo Herald

Florida colleges: Funding cuts to us - amid favor to universities - is 'demoralizing'

Galvano 2015@ByKristenMClark

As Senate President Joe Negron aims to make Florida’s 12 public universities “elite” destinations, state lawmakers this spring voted to give an extra $232 million next year to those institutions — while simultaneously cutting $25 million that has helped the state’s 28 state colleges serve students who are most in need.

The stark difference in funding priorities was received as a decisive insult to institutions like Miami Dade College and Broward College — and the tens of thousands of students they serve: That they don’t matter as much as the universities.

“That, I think, is what is the most demoralizing part of the conversation. ... we’re disinvesting in them,” MDC Executive Vice President and Provost Lenore Rodicio said in reference to the 800,000 students served by the Florida College System. “This population of students, in a sense, don’t count as much as students who are more elite, more high performing.”

Bill Galvano, a top Senate Republican who helped craft the 2017-18 higher education budget, said there’s a longer term plan to help the colleges, too, and that any inference by the colleges of a sleight is “short-sighted.”

But with Negron, R-Stuart, laser-focused this year on the universities first and foremost, administrators at state colleges feel those efforts came at their students’ expense — especially when the state banked $1 billion in reserve spending it could have tapped to, at least, keep the college system’s funding level.

“When we had record windfall of money for the state budget, we [the colleges] appear to be about the only place that got cuts,” Broward College President J. David Armstrong said. “It’s bad for Florida’s future. It sends a message to Floridians that perpetuates social and economic inequities.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. AP

May 18, 2017

U.S. sanctions Venezuelan judges over National Assembly power grab

Venezuela Crisis
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

The Trump administration sanctioned eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges Thursday, freezing their assets and banning them from travel to the U.S. as punishment for stripping the Venezuelan Congress of all powers earlier this year, a decision the court later reversed amid widespread international outcry.

The sanctions are the first unrelated to drug trafficking imposed by the Trump administration against high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government. They are intended to continue to isolate the embattled administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which has been besieged by weeks of escalating protests following an economic collapse that has left Venezuelans tired, poor and hungry.

“The United States is not going to allow those who impede democracy or violate human rights to go unpunished,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who pushed for the sanctions, told the Miami Herald. He decried some of the judges by name Wednesday on the Senate floor, calling them “puppets who do [Maduro’s] bidding.”

The court, stacked with Maduro loyalists, declared in March it would assume all legislative functions from the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which had been deemed illegitimate after being held in contempt of previous court rulings. Denounced by the opposition and international community as an undemocratic power grab, the court’s decision was undone days later by the judges themselves, under apparent pressure from Maduro.

Even if reversed, the decision was only the latest in a series of rulings that undermined the legislative branch’s authority, senior Trump administration officials told reporters Thursday. One of them referred to “the rupture of democratic norms.” 

“They have made a mockery of the separation of powers, and they have denied the Venezuelan people the right to shape their future,” the official said.


More here.

Photo credit: Fernando Llano, Associated Press

Corcoran's brother is lobbyist for marijuana grower opposing dispensary caps

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@MichaelAuslen and @NewsbySmiley

State lawmakers’ effort to put voter-passed medical marijuana into effect in Florida fell apart over a disagreement on whether to cap the number of dispensaries each cannabis grower could open. It’s an issue that could be a boon for one of the state’s largest licensed growers.

Surterra, one of Florida’s largest medical marijuana growers, is banking on opening 55 dispensaries in the next five years as part of a plan to bring in more than $138 million in sales by 2021, according to a confidential pitch deck put together by a potential investor and obtained by the Times/Herald.

But state senators in the final weeks of session were pushing to limit the number of storefronts each grower could open, finally settling at 15 apiece on the last day of session. The House, meanwhile, negotiated for no caps at all, or a cap of 100 in its final bill. The existing licensed growers — including Surterra — opposed caps, as well.

To push its agenda in Tallahassee, Surterra hired three lobbying firms this year. One of their lead lobbyists is Michael Corcoran, brother to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

This naturally raises questions. A company represented by Michael Corcoran stood to gain if there were no meaningful cap on dispensaries. And the House position on caps was advocated in part by Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran says he was never once lobbied by his brother on the marijuana bill.

Asked if he ever had a conversation with his brother about the caps, Corcoran was blunt: “No. Nope.”

“Why don’t you write about how Richard killed the gaming bill and his brother has a gaming client? Why don’t you write about how Richard took it to the hospitals and his brother has a hospital client?” Corcoran added. “I don’t care who lobbies me. I’m going to always do the right thing and damn the consequences.”

The people he says he talked to about medical marijuana include Tallahassee lobbyists representing growers other than Surterra, as well as John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who bankrolled the campaign on Amendment 2.

Michael Corcoran did not respond to calls from the Times/Herald for comment.

He is one of 10 lobbyists from three major firms registered with the state and in a Florida House database to represent Surterra. In addition to his firm, Corcoran and Johnston, Surterra hired Ron Book and The Rubin Group.

It is common for lobbying firms to tell the state that all of their lobbyists are working for all of their clients, which makes it difficult to discern which lobbyists were directly involved with trying to influence which areas of public policy.

For most of the session, Richard Corcoran kept an arms-length distance from the medical marijuana issue, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said. Rodrigues, who was appointed to the leadership role by Corcoran, had weekly conversations with the speaker on the issue until the final days of session, when it appeared that negotiations with the Senate were going downhill.

What’s more, Rodrigues said, he never talked to Michael Corcoran directly about medical marijuana, either.

"Until the final week of session and even the final days of session, the speaker had a hands off approach on the bill for medical marijuana," Rodrigues said.

Photo: House Speaker Richard Corcoran (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)

Here are the biggest financial backers of candidates running for governor in 2018



It’s early in the 2018 gubernatorial election cycle, but the checks are already flying in the race. Millions of dollars are amassing for a race that is already showing it will be one of the most expensive in the nation even before other big names announce whether they are running or not.

Here are the top four donors to each of the candidates that have so far announced they are running.

Since 2014, Florida Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, has been piling up money in a political committee he calls Florida Grown, which can accept donations of more than $3,000, the limit for a traditional campaign account. His top donors have been some of Florida’s biggest industries. His biggest donor has been The Voice of Florida Business, a political committee run by the Associated Industries of Florida. That committee gave him $605,000 for his committee since 2014. That is in addition to $525,000 Associated Industries gave him through another political committee they control.

Putnam’s Top 5
$605,000 - The Voice of Florida Business
$587,060 - Florida Power & Light
$550,000 - Florida Jobs PAC, a committee run by the Florida Chamber of Commerce
$525,000 - Associated Industries of Florida PAC
$465,000 - U.S. Sugar Corporation and South Central Florida Express Inc.

Orlando Businessman Chris King and his family are showing they are committed to him becoming the state’s first Democratic governor since Lawton Chiles won his last race in 1994. King and members of his family members have combined to put more than $1.2 million into the race. King himself put in over $1 million already.

King’s Top 5
$1,062,000 - Chris King
$179,000 - Paul Morgan, a principal with King-founded Elevation Financial Group
$166,000 - David King, Attorney and Chris King’s father
$47,000 - Thomas Beck, accountant from Winter Park
$25,000 - Debbie Lawton of Winter Park

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Tallahassee Democrat, started her campaign by transferring $250,000 from her former congressional campaign account into her new political committee called Our Florida.

Graham’s Top 5

$250,000 - Graham for Congress campaign account
$50,000 - James Finch, former NASCAR racing team owner and construction company owner
$50,000 - Michael Singer, founder of the Temple of the Universe, a yoga and meditation center outside of Gainesville
$50,000 - Wayne Hogan, Jacksonville attorney and 2002 candidate for Congress
$25,000 - Five donors gave this amount

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat has tapped into serious celebrity money already. Besides a $7,000 check from Jane Fonda, Gillum has picked up donations from billionaire financier George Soros and Norman Lear, a writer and producer of tv shows like All in the Family.

Gillum’s Top 5
$100,000 - George Soros, billionaire financier
$50,000 - Norman Lear, television producer and writer
$50,000 - Alex Soros, philanthropist
$50,000 - Tarra Pressey, Palm Beach Gardens
$45,000 - Attorney Sean Pittman, his law firm and and investment company he runs


PHOTO CREDIT: George Soros, AP

Corcoran responds to superintendents: Focus on 'building beautiful minds,' not 'beautiful buildings'

SP_410741_KEEL_16_FLGOV (1)

via @martindvassolo

Two days after Gov. Rick Scott hinted at vetoing a controversial $419 million, 278-page education bill that narrowly passed the Legislature a week ago, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran visited the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation and said he was hopeful the bill will survive Scott’s veto pen.

“I haven’t spoken to him, but I don’t know, there’s still a lot of time,” said Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, after a meeting at Florida International University on Wednesday morning. “Hopefully it’ll go well.”

The massive K-12 public schools bill, which drew sharp criticism from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents on Tuesday, is part of the 2017-18 budget. It includes a $234 million bonus package for most teachers and some top principals and a $140 million “Schools of Hope” program to help struggling traditional public schools and bring in private charter schools to give parents in these areas an alternative.

It also requires school districts to share some capital funding with charter schools, which the association said would take much-needed money away from traditional public schools.

RELATED: "In Liberty City, Corcoran praises Miami Democrat for supporting schools bill"

The association’s president called on Scott to veto the education funding bill, HB 7069, along with $23.7 billion in primary funding for K-12 schools, arguing the approved 0.34 percent increase in spending per student was not acceptable.

The bill, which passed the Senate on May 8 by a vote of 20-18 after passing the House 73-36, was a top priority for Corcoran, who called it “the most transformative, accountable, beneficial K-12 public education bill in the history of the state.”

“I know a lot of these superintendents, they’re good guys, but I wish they would focus more on not building $20- and $40 million Taj Mahal buildings,” Corcoran said. “What’s more important than beautiful buildings is beautiful minds, and this bill is about building beautiful minds.

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

White House: No imminent Cuba policy announcement

via @ngameztorres

After much anticipation that an announcement on Cuba policy changes would be made no later than Saturday, President Donald Trump — in the midst of various political crises — has not decided what to do, officials said.

The White House had considered holding an event May 20 to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban Republic, but Trump will begin an international trip on Friday and the review of the policy toward the island has not concluded, a spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

“The issue of Cuba is extremely complex, and the president does not want to rush it,” said the spokeswoman. “Besides, he won’t be here on May 20.”

The Trump administration is carrying out a review of Cuba policy that involves several federal agencies and is being coordinated by the National Security Council.

Rumors of an imminent announcement circulated around Capitol Hill and even crossed the Florida Straits to the island, although Havana seems less anxious than before, when Trump’s presidential victory and strong statements raised questions about the so-called “thaw” in diplomatic relations initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014. 

“Havana is confident that not much will happen,” said a businessman close to the Cuban government.

More here.

Photo credit: Associated Press

South Florida activists, politicians urge Trump administration to keep TPS

0165+HAITI+TPS+RALLY+051317 (1)
via @Jacquiecharles

As Haitians across the United States worry they may lose protection from deportation, supporters and activists stepped up calls Wednesday for the Trump administration to extend protection for another 18 months.

The rising urgency comes as the community faces an imminent deadline. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has until Tuesday to decide whether he will extend the Temporary Protected Status program — as a broad group of organizations have asked — for Haitians or end the program as his top immigration official recommended last month in a memo.

“Not extending TPS would be devastating to hundreds of thousands of Haitians, and it would set back recovery and rebuilding efforts [in Haiti] for years to come,” said Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton. “It’s a humanitarian decision and should not be part of some broader debate about immigration policy at this moment in time.”

Many fear that the Trump administration’s decision to extend or terminate Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Haiti will be determined more by immigration reform than considering whether the 58,000 Haitians in the program continue to need protection because conditions in Haiti remain grim.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff