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May 18, 2016

Joe Martinez running to take back his old County Commission seat from Juan Zapata



Joe Martinez gave up his District 11 County Commission seat four years ago and now he wants it back.

Martinez, who resigned to run for county mayor in 2012, has filed for the District 11 race in a bid to unseat the incumbent who replaced him, Juan C. Zapata. In filing papers Wednesday, Martinez instantly makes District 11 the most competitive among the seven commission seats up for reelection.

He held the District 11 for 12 years before, as chairman of the County Commission, he challenged Mayor Carlos Gimenez in the 2012 mayoral election. Gimenez won, and Zapata, a former state lawmaker, won Martinez's empty seat.  

Martinez is the only former county official challenging an incumbent commissioner, and only one of two who has held elected office before. (The other, former El Portal mayor Daisy Black, is running against Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.)

Zapata has already raised more than $200,000 for a race that faces its first vote in the Aug. 30 primary likely to decide most contests. (The non-partisan primary only moves to a November run-off if no candidate receives less than 50 percent of the vote.) He's also an active figure in his western suburban district, where he's been touting an economic-development plan and efforts to transform the image of West Kendall from sprawl to a more self-contained community. 

But Zapata has also drawn critics over a push to incorporate part of the district into a new city. His successful effort to rebrand West Kendall into the "West End" also sparked grumbles from long-time residents. Zapata last year also returned $30,000 in county funds he had secured to reimburse him for tuition while commuting to Harvard University for an advanced degree at Harvard University.

Martinez has two failed campaigns behind him: the 2012 mayoral campaign, and a bid for Congress in 2014, where he lost to Carlos Curbelo in the Republican primary. HIs filing for District 11 completes an odyssey of speculation and trial balloons regarding his political future over the last 12 months, when him suggesting his wife, Ana, might be the one to take on Zapata while he considered another challenge to Gimenez. 

Late Thursday, Zapata issued a statement that read:

 Our community should be moving forward not backwards. I have been very busy cleaning up the problems he left behind in our district. They will take time to resolve. Of greater disappointment, is to see the person that after 12 years in office, wants his old seat back, especially after his legacy left us with our traffic nightmare and numerous failed policies such as promoting red light cameras and the Marlins Stadium. We need new people with new voices, not failed politicians prone to lies.

In an interview, Martinez said: "I'm very happy where I'm at right now.... However, Mr. Zapata is taking the district in a direction where 95 percent of the people I speak to don't like it. And that's toward the direction of incorporation.... A lot of the people don't even know I'm not the commissioner anymore... Maybe, maybe I can get the district back on track again."

Carlos Curbelo blasts House Zika bill as 'half-hearted, short-sighted;' Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls it 'inadequate'


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Wednesday slammed a GOP-led effort to set aside far fewer emergency funds to fight Zika than what President Obama and other Florida Republicans want.

The House on Wednesday signed off on a scaled-back, $622 million funding measure that Obama has pledged to veto. The president wants $1.9 billion instead; the Senate has approved a compromise, $1.1 million package.

Only four Republicans -- Curbelo among them -- voted against the bill, which passed almost entirely along party lines. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the $622 million inadequate.

"As a Member of Congress representing the country's southernmost district -- closest to the region where this disease is currently wreaking havoc -- I am acutely aware of the impacts Zika will have if not contained and eradicated," Curbelo said in a statement. "I cannot vote for this half-hearted, short-sighted effort, and I remain in strong support of funding the Administration's $1.9 billion Zika response requests."

Democrats have criticized Curbelo, a freshman in a swing district, for not being more forceful in his support of Obama's funding request. The congressman had instead focused on passing legislation intended to make sure any Zika money -- be it $1.9 billion or some other amount -- was spent efficiently. 

The Zika question has caused a rare divide among Miami Republicans in Congress. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald he would support the House's $622 million to treat and prevent the mosquito-borne virus.

The third local Republican in the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was conspicuously silent on the issue ahead of the vote, but like Curbelo voted against the House measure Wednesday. So did a third Florida Republican, Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota. (The fourth 'No' GOP vote -- and the only one from outside Florida -- came from Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.)

With Wednesday's vote and statement, Curbelo made abundantly clear that he wants the full funding -- as does Sen. Marco Rubio, who has received abundant White House praise for his position.

"The threat posed by the Zika virus does not cease at the end of the government’s fiscal year, and rescinding funds in this bill on September 30 would provide little confidence that Congress is truly committed to fighting the disease," Curbelo said.

Florida looking for recommendations to replace Confederate general statue in U.S. Capitol


Two months after Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature agreed to remove a Confederate Army general's statue from the U.S. Capitol Building, the hunt for a replacement is officially on.

The Florida Department of State announced on Wednesday it has created an online survey to begin accepting names of Floridians who could replace the statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall. From now until June 10, the state will take names and then submit them to a committee tasked with trimming the list to 3 people. The Legislature would then decide whose statue will be made to replace Smith.

Since 1922, Smith has been one of two figures meant to represent Florida in National Statuary Hall, a regular stop for tours of Washington, D.C. by school groups and tourists.

But earlier this spring the Legislature passed a bill to remove Smith's statue. Bill sponsors argued that because he spent most of his life living outside of Florida the state should have someone more representative of Florida's past. Smith, who was born in St. Augustine, left Florida at a young age in the 1830s before Florida was even a state. Smith lived much of his adult life in Tennessee and was one of the last major commanding officers in the Confederate Army to surrender during the Civil War. Smith, a Lieutenant General fighting in Texas, did not surrender until June 2, 1865 in Galveston – nearly two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army in Virginia.

Bill sponsors, Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, insisted that they are not removing Smith because he was a Confederate general as critics have contended. They both said Florida needs someone who better represents Florida. Henry Flagler, Walt Disney and Marjory Stoneman Douglas are among the names offered during debates as potential replacements.

The state is recommending people pick only figures who have been citizens of Florida and those who have been dead for at least 10 years. 

"No recommendations of fictional characters, animals, plants, structures, or other non-human entities or beings will be considered by the committee," the Department of State warns people before submitting the survey.

Those who would rather mail proposals can submit them to:

Division of Historical Resources

ATTN: National Statuary Hall

3rd Floor, R.A. Gray Building

500 S. Bronough Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250

Florida lawmaker wants AG opinion on feds’ transgender bathroom rules; Pam Bondi declines


An outgoing conservative lawmaker in Florida who is running for Nassau County schools superintendent wants state Attorney General Pam Bondi to issue an official opinion on what she believes to be the "constitutional encroach" of the Obama administration's new guidance to public schools over transgender students' bathroom access.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the president's new policy a "clear violation" of states' rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools," Adkins said in a statement this morning.

MORE: Read Rep. Adkins' letter to Bondi

But Bondi’s office isn’t wading into the issue. Deputy Attorney General Kent J. Perez wrote in a response to Adkins on Wednesday afternoon: “We do not issue legal opinions on federal law.”

On Friday, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice sent letters of guidance to all public schools nationwide informing them that they must treat students in ways that match their gender identities -- or risk losing federal money under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs based on sex.

Republican leaders in Florida have been reluctant to comment so far on the new guidelines. But Adkins, the outgoing chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee, wants a swifter response: For the state to challenge the Obama administration's directive.

Read the full story here.

Published 10:49 a.m.; Updated 4:30 p.m.

Republicans attack 'Privileged Patrick' Murphy for affluent South Florida upbringing


What Republicans describe as the "privileged" upbringing of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy is the subject of a new online attack ad released today by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

National Republican operatives have nicknamed the Jupiter congressman as "Privileged Patrick" in an attempt to paint him as the product of an affluent family and as someone who rode into congressional office thanks to help from "Daddy Murphy."

"Born the son of a South Florida real estate tycoon, Privileged Patrick has lived his life high on the family fortune," a Robin Leach-style narrator says to begin the 2-minute ad.

Murphy's father -- Thomas Murphy Jr. -- runs a prominent construction company based in Miami, called Coastal Construction Group, which has helped build several high-profile projects in South Florida. He has been a substantial contributor to Murphy's campaigns, including his current bid for U.S. Senate.

As the ad notes, Murphy did graduate from high school at the elite Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After graduating from the University of Miami and working as an auditor for a few years at Deloitte & Touche in Miami, Murphy did get a job with Coastal as VP of a new division focused on environmental clean-up.

But the NRSC's ad revives an old, misleading attack on Murphy involving his 2003 arrest outside a Miami-area nightclub for disorderly intoxication and possessing a fake ID. The charges were later dropped, but the incident was famous fodder in Murphy's first U.S. House campaign four years ago against Republican Allen West.

Politifact previously rated as "Mostly False" a claim from West that Thomas Murphy gave the prosecutor a "huge campaign donation" after the charges against his son were dropped.

In a prepared statement, Patrick Murphy's campaign said Wednesday: "Clearly Republicans have learned nothing from the last time these misleading ads failed to persuade voters."

"Once again, Republican politicians are misleading voters and distorting Patrick’s record," the campaign said. "The truth is that Patrick first ran for office to fight the Tea Party and their destructive, my-way-or-the-highway tactics. That’s why they’re desperate to mislead the voters, because they know that in the U.S. Senate, Patrick will fight for progressive values and get things done for Floridians.”

The NRSC said its running the online ad on social media. The political group aims to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate and is expected to aggressively target Murphy, since Florida's U.S. Senate seat -- currently held by Republican Marco Rubio -- could switch parties in November and possibly decide control of the U.S. Senate in 2017.

Murphy faces fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and North Palm Beach attorney Pam Keith in the Aug. 30 primary.

Once again, Doral golf resort brings Donald Trump most dough

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Every time a golfer thwacks a ball on the courses of Donald Trump’s Miami-area resort, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee hears ka-ching.

Trump National Doral brought in more revenue for the celebrity businessman in the past 17 months than any of his nearly 150 other businesses: $131,892,107, to be exact, according to a personal financial disclosure form Trump filed Monday that the Federal Election Commission made public Wednesday. That’s more than twice as much income as the $49,444,432 Trump reported last July he had received from the property in the previous year.

Since then, despite some of Trump’s outlandish comments from the stump, his overall business revenue has grown, his campaign said. Among other things, Trump sold the Miss Universe pageant for $49,286,309. Univision, the Doral-based Spanish-language TV giant,dropped the show — held last year at Florida International University — after Trump called some Mexican immigrants “rapists.”

The campaign said Trump’s revenue grew by about $190 million, to more than $557 million — and that his net worth is “in excess of $10 billion dollars.” In its statement, the campaign said the additional income was used “among other things, for the funding of construction projects at various multi-million dollar developments, reduction of debt and the funding of the campaign.”

It’s impossible to verify Trump’s net worth from the 104-page disclosure form, which requires the disclosure of most assets, incomes and liabilities in ranges, not exact amounts.

More here.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Celeste Philip appointed Florida surgeon general after serving as interim



Dr. Celeste Philip, who has been acting surgeon general since March, was on Wednesday appointed to the permanent job running the Florida Department of Health.

Gov. Rick Scott first named Philip as the temporary replacement for Dr. John Armstrong, who the Senate refused to confirm for the job.

Since then, she has gone on a tour of health facilities across the state and announced a healthy baby initiative. She has also faced tough questions from members of Congress about changes to the state's count of new HIV cases.

"Dr. Philip has also been working diligently with county health departments and local mosquito control districts to ensure our state is ready to combat the possible spread of the Zika virus," Scott said in a statement.

The surgeon general, also the secretary of DOH, is the top public health official in the state. Philip takes over full-time control of the department at a crucial time as it faces the threat of a Zika outbreak, and questions about the initial roll-out of a medical marijuana program and the count of new HIV cases.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times last week, Philip said she was confident the HIV data, which was revised downward earlier this year, had not been manipulated.

She also said HIV remained a top priority for the department.

“We just conducted a strategic planning process over the last eight months and looking at our HIV data, we decided to continue our efforts to make sure we identify people that are HIV positive but don’t know it, and make sure we help them get into treatment,” she said.

Previously, Philip was deputy secretary for health, overseeing the Children's Medical Services program and communicable diseases such as HIV. Those programs were among those that concerned members of the Senate who did not confirm Armstrong to stay in the job.

She also was acting surgeon general when Armstrong took a leave of absence last fall to undergo treatment for colon cancer.

In a statement Thursday, Philip said she will be committed to improving public health in Florida.

"With our state and local partners, we will maintain our commitment to addressing community health needs, developing HIV reduction and prevention strategies and preparing our state to combat viruses like Zika," she said.

Philip, a family and preventative medicine doctor, also has advanced training in public health.

Her appointment is effective immediately, but she must be confirmed by the Florida Senate by the 2018 legislative session.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart pushes back on White House over Zika funding


Count Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart among the Florida Republican members of Congress skeptical of President Obama's request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat Zika.

"I believe we need to provide and spend every dollar needed for Zika prevention, treatment, and response programs, and not one penny less," Diaz-Balart said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a compromise measure setting aside $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne virus, with both Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, reluctantly voting in favor. The two men want the full $1.9 billion.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is considering a $622 million funding measure the White House has threatened to veto as inadequate. Obama's press secretary, Josh Earnest, specifically called out Florida Republicans in the House on Tuesday for failing to push for more money.

Diaz-Balart stressed that the $622 million proposed in the House is in addition to the $590 million already set aside this budget year for Zika efforts (from money that had been allocated to fighting Ebola).

"This will total almost $1.3 billion to combat Zika this fiscal year alone," he said in his statement. "Congress has a responsibility to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively, unlike the fiasco that happened with the 'shovel-ready' projects. Once the Obama administration provides full details as to how they will spend these funds, we can then determine what if any additional resources are required."

Diaz-Balart's fellow Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo told the Herald last week he supports Obama's request, though he hasn't taken a lead in pushing for it. The third local GOP member of Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, did not respond to requests for comment.

Broward death row inmate Pablo Ibar wins long fight for new trial

After 16 years on Florida's death row in connection with a triple murder in Broward County, Pablo Ibar has won his fight to have his sentence vacated and will receive a new trial.

IbarIbar, 44, a former Hollywood resident, was convicted of killing three people in a home invasion robbery in Miramar in 1994 in what became known as the "Casey's Nickelodeon" murders. One of the murder victims, Casey Kucharski, operated a bar in Pembroke Park by that name and the killings took place in his home. The other two victims were Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered Ibar's death sentence vacated in February, but the state asked for a hearing, and the court sealed Ibar's legal victory Monday by denying that request in a 6-1 decision, with Justice Charles Canady the lone dissenter.

In siding with Ibar's attorney, Benjamin Waxman of Miami, the Supreme Court cited numerous deficiencies by Ibar's attorney and expressed serious doubt about Ibar's guilt.

"In this case, there was a lack of physical evidence connecting Ibar to the triple murders," the court wrote in February. "Ibar's DNA was not found on a blue T-shirt recovered from the crime scene which was allegedly to partially cover the face of the perpetrator whom the state claimed to have been Ibar. Ibar never confessed to the crime as he steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, presented an alibi as to his whereabouts, and has always maintained his innocence."

A surveillance videotape figured prominently in Ibar's case. The court also noted that a key prosecution witness, Raymond Evans, a facial identification expert, testified that based on the video images, it was not possible to say "with certainty" that Ibar and the perpetrator were the same person.

Ibar's first trial ended in a hung jury. His co-defendant, Seth Penalver, was acquitted at a retrial 20 years after the murders took place.


Rival polls show Joe Garcia leading Democratic primary for swing Miami congressional seat



The Democratic race for Florida’s most competitive congressional district looks like former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia’s to lose.

Garcia holds a 25-point lead over rival Annette Taddeo, according to a new internal poll by Garcia’s campaign. That’s 15 percentage points higher than it was in January, when Garcia’s team surveyed the match-up before he launched his candidacy for the 26th congressional district.

“This poll reflects the strong support this community has for Joe Garcia,” campaign spokesman Javier Hernandez said in a statement released with a two-page summary of the latest results. “The people of this district know that when they choose Joe Garcia, their voices will be heard in Washington.”

Garcia bests Taddeo by 53-28 percent, with 19 percent of likely Democratic primary voters undecided , according to the poll conducted by the campaign’s pollster, Pete Brodnitz of Expedition Strategies. The January poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, an outside firm, pegged Garcia’s lead at 34-24 percent, with 42 percent undecided.

The new lead jibes with an internal poll by Taddeo’s campaign shared in its entirety with the Miami Herald. That survey had Garcia ahead 48-27 percent — by 21 points — with 25 percent undecided.

But Taddeo’s poll also showed her doing far better than Garcia once voters learned about Taddeo’s personal background as the Colombian immigrant daughter of a Colombian mother and an American father, and about her positions on issues important to progressives.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald