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November 21, 2016

Florida Legislature's leadership for 2016-18 includes major Miami-Dade influence

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For the next two years and potentially beyond, lawmakers representing Miami-Dade County are poised to wield extreme influence in the Florida Legislature — the likes of which they haven’t had in a decade or more.

At least seven Miami-Dade legislators — and potentially a few more yet to be announced — will hold powerful leadership positions from now through 2018 under incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

These roles should ensure Miami-Dade’s mark on everything from school choice measures and gambling regulations to which local projects get funding priority.

The 2016-18 Legislature will be sworn in Tuesday during a one-day organizational session, when Negron and Corcoran will also formally take over as chamber leaders.

Both the new Senate president and House speaker have chosen Republican women from Miami as their top lieutenants: Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, respectively.

Below them will be a slew of committee chairs from Miami-Dade, too, who will have the ability — particularly in the House — to hold sway over statewide policy and the purse strings of the state’s $82 billion budget.

Among those chairs is Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, who Corcoran named leader of the powerful House Rules and Policy Committee. Oliva is also what his Miami colleagues call the “speaker in waiting,” poised to succeed Corcoran as head of the chamber two years from now.

For local residents, these positions of influence for Miami-Dade legislators mean the senators and representatives they elected — especially the Republican ones, since that party holds the majority in both chambers — will be among the key decision-makers in Tallahassee with the ability to put the county’s needs and priorities at the forefront for possibly years to come.

“It’s access to where decisions get made,” Nuñez said. “We really are in a unique position and our citizens are the better for it.”

More here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

November 20, 2016

Reince Priebus, the Miami years


With the 1996 election approaching, the editors of Res Ipsa Loquitur, the University of Miami Law School newspaper, conducted a completely informal, wholly unscientific poll of fellow students about their favorite candidate for president. Bill Clinton topped Bob Dole “in a landslide,” the biweekly paper reported on Sept. 26, 1996.

But more interesting, in hindsight, were two other contenders who appeared further down the list: Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, drew 3 percent support, putting her in sixth place — right behind the 4 percent garnered by the fifth-place candidate, a “relative unknown” by the name of Reince Priebus.

He was, at the time, a second-year UM law student.

Two decades later, it’s Priebus — not Clinton — heading to the White House starting Jan. 20, 2017. Last week, President-elect Donald Trump picked Priebus to be his chief of staff.

Most people know Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman since 2011 and a fixture in cable and Sunday news shows, as a Wisconsin political strategist who lost a 2004 state Senate race and later successfully steered the Wisconsin Republican Party as its youngest chairman.

Few remember he obtained his law degree far from the Badger State, in sunny Coral Gables, a place that — by all accounts — he thoroughly enjoyed. Priebus did not respond to an interview request sent to the RNC.

“I went to school right down the road at the University of Miami,” Priebus said at a Sept. 16 Trump rally at the James L. Knight Center downtown. “Go Hurricanes!”

More here.

November 18, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott says change coming to his relationship with the White House thanks to Trump


TALLAHASSEE — Since taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott has had strained relations with the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington D.C.

Lawsuits and big policy confrontations, not cordial phone calls to the Oval Office, have characterized Scott's limited interactions with President Barack Obama.

But with Donald Trump's Nov. 8 election, Scott will suddenly have a White House ally who the Republican governor says will undoubtedly pay dividends for Florida.

"I think we are going to see good change," Scott told reporters Tuesday in Orlando.

Specifically, Scott said he expects the federal government to now do more to address toxic algae blooms, provide a faster and better response to disaster declarations, allocate more resources to fight Zika and end legal showdowns on a variety of issues.

"When we have a problem and need a solution, at least we have someone to talk to," Scott said of Trump.

Scott met with Trump on Thursday in New York — the fourth time he's spoken to Trump since Election Day. Compare that to the three times Scott has spoken to Obama for the entire year, even as Florida battled Zika, two hurricanes and the emotional aftermath of the Pulse nightclub killings.

Full Story Here

Fretting over Trump, pro-Cuban engagement group tentatively toasts its success

via @ngameztorres

Amid the clinking glasses of Havana Club and uplifting speeches, the smiles of the invited guests at this gala could barely conceal the underlying concerns following Donald Trump's electoral victory.

The gathering at the posh The Hamilton hotel, which drew more than 300 people, marked the 10th year anniversary of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an influential organization that has pushed hard to improve U.S. relations with Cuba.

On the eve of the Nov. 8 presidential election, CDA Executive Director Sarah Stephens said that after a period of adapting to a new U.S. president, her organization would continue to focus on “passing legislation on a bipartisan basis.” But on Sunday, with president-elect Trump heading for the White House and Republicans still in control of both chambers of Congress, her message was far more sober.

“We needed a night like this to celebrate, to celebrate what we have accomplished and to recommit to the work ahead, knowing there will be, sometimes, overwhelming obstacles, detours … but we can get through it together,” Stephens told the audience at the fundraiser.

In other remarks, Carol Browner, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told attendees it will be a “steeper” climb but added: “In these last eight years, and because of everything that you have done, working in a coalition, we have seen a tremendous progress leaving behind the Cold War.

“Fixing the policy on Cuba is joyful, important work,” she said. “The climb has become a little steeper, but I believe were are going to win, for Sarah and the CDA.”

More here.

Handicapping the impact of a Trump presidency on Florida's environment

Trump sunrise
via @jenstaletovich

At a rally in Collier County at the end of October, a day after he unveiled his “contract” with America, then-candidate Donald Trump rallied his supporters with talk of crooked Hillary, a rigged election system and the “real group of losers” running the country. Then, in the middle of 47-minute speech, he turned to a teleprompter and devoted just over a minute to Florida’s longest-running and most frustrating environmental conflict: Everglades restoration.

“A Trump administration will also work alongside you to restore and protect the beautiful Everglades, which I just flew over. I just flew over and let me tell you when you fly over the Everglades and you look at those gators and you look at those water moccasins, you say I better have a good helicopter.”

The soon-to-be 45th president of the United States went on to assure the crowd that dwindling water supplies in Florida, where he owns three golf courses, would be protected.

“Our plan will also help you upgrade water and wastewater — and you know you have a huge problem with wastewater — so that the Florida aquifer is pure and safe from pollution. We have to do it. We will also repair the Herbert Hoover dike in Lake Okeechobee, a lake I’m very familiar with.”

To weary Floridians, he was far from the first politician to make such promises. Thirty years after Lawton Chiles vowed to clean up the marshes, the Everglades remain as threatened as ever, going from too wet to too dry, the coasts repeatedly hammered by algae outbreaks and Florida Bay slammed by massive seagrass die-offs. Water quality and quantity in the state face increasing pressure from sea rise and growing demand.

But Trump is the first developer to occupy the White House. Everglades restoration, the largest environmental project ever undertaken in the nation’s history, is essentially a giant infrastructure job. And many of the solutions to climate change in South Florida come down to construction: raising roads, fortifying coastlines and updating flood controls.

Could Trump finally be the solution?

More here.

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

John Morgan's potential rivals for governor weigh in on his possible candidacy

via @adamsmithtimes

Trial lawyer John Morgan's flirtation with running for the 2018 Democratic nomination for governor could upend what already looked like a potentially strong field of Democratic contenders. The Tampa Bay Times asked their thoughts about Morgan, who is not only a potential rival but also a Democratic top money raiser with a short fuse - not someone an ambitious Democrat wants to antagonize:

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn: "I don't know John. Obviously he's been a supporter Democratic causes. He's been a loyal Democrat and he puts his money where his mouth is...Whether or not at this point in his life taking on that task is something he's interested in, I don't know. Certainly it is a different skillset required to be governor. But then again after last Tuesday's results I think the conventional rules are out the window. So ultimately the voters have to decide whether competence matters and whether experience matters."

Buckhorn said Morgan's possible candidacy has no bearing on his decision on running, which he expects to make in the first quarter of 2017. "I have the luxury of having a job that I love that gives me a platform every day...The best thing I can do if that's the route I choose to take is to keep doing my job. There's no one else in this race that has the platform that the mayor of Tampa does. I'm in the biggest media market in the state, and the ultimate swing area."

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee: "As I finish my term in Congress, my priority remains serving the people of my district. John is a good friend, and I appreciate all the work he has done for those in need. The issues he raises are important for all of us to discuss. I look forward to having more discussions with John and many others as we work together to put the people of Florida first."

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine: "I've never met him, but I only hear great things about him.  I know he's supposedly an excellent lawyer and cares about the people and did an excellent job with medical marijuana."

Levine, who like Morgan is capable of spending millions of his own dollars on a campaign  said he has no time frame for a decision, and noted that he has three jobs - part-time mayor, the cruise ship business, and real estate. "When you're not in government you actually have a future if you don't want to run," he said.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Corcoran, Negron reveal dividing legislative lines

via @adamsmithtimes

Incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has little interest in continuing the tradition/charade of recent legislative presiding officers who acted like they were BFFs totally on the same page heading into a legislative session. Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, and incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, appeared together Thursday at the Sayfie Review's 2016 Leadership Forum in Orlando, where clear dividing lines and tensions were on display.

"I don't think the speaker-designate will get along very well with the president-elect," Democratic state Sen. Jeremy Ring said after listening to the two Republican leaders cordially talk about their priorities and philosophies for the next session.

The next House Speaker sounded adamant that he will clamp down on spending that he depicted as out of control. The next Senate President said limiting spending is important, but so is investing Florida's quality of life.

"We should be frugal, we should be reasonable, but our state does need infrastructure," said Negron, noting that Floridians have among the lowest tax burdens and that he is proud of his role helping fund a senior center in his community. "Cultural funding, museums. libraries, making sure we have places where people can meet, I do think those are important" in attracting millennials to Florida.

"That's going to be a big difference between the two chambers of the next two years," retorted Corcoran, who lamented that "every single legislator spends money like a teenager in a mall with a first time credit card."

When Negron later suggested that give and take is important between the two chambers, Corcoran neither nodded nor spoke in agreement. The next Senate President said improving Lake Okeechobee, increasing higher education funding and graduation rates and trying to provide more Floridians more access to health insurance through Medicaid are among his priorities.

Corcoran was less specific. "We're going to govern unabashedly principled and unabashedly conservative," he said. "That creates tensions, that creates internal strife."

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

November 17, 2016

Miami-Dade declares Asencio finished ahead by 53 votes, but Rivera challenges result

via @glenngarvin

The recount of the nip-and-tuck legislative race between Democrat Robert Asencio and Republican David Rivera ended Thursday with Asencio 53 votes ahead — but even before the last ballot was checked, Rivera officially contested the election, a move that will likely delay the naming of a victor for weeks or even months.

After 10 hours counting ballots, the Miami-Dade County elections department declared that Asencio finished with 31,412 votes and Rivera 31,359 — a margin 15 votes closer than when the recount began.

The race was so close it actually triggered two recounts — the first by machine, and the second a hand-examination of ballots the machines thought were marked with votes for too many candidates or too few.

And it may get even tighter. Rivera’s lawyers asked elections officials to impound about 300 disputed ballots — mostly absentee ballots on which the voter’s signature was either missing or ruled not to match signatures in elections department records.

“We’ve already got affidavits from 59 of those voters saying they legitimately voted by mail and cast their ballots for me,” said Rivera, noting that would be enough to tip the election the other way.

More here.

Dwight Bullard and Millie Herrera could compete for Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair


Millie Herrera, a former appointee of President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Labor, will run for chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, a challenge to the current chair Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay.

If Bullard wins the chair post Dec. 6th, he may run for chair of the Florida Democratic Party -- one of several candidates who are vying to replace Allison Tant who announced after Hillary Clinton's defeat that she won't run again in January.

"I want to get back to getting out the vote and the grassroots level," said Herrera, who lives in the Kendall area and is president of a marketing and public affairs firm. "I don't want to run for anything else. I'm not using it as a springboard to anything." 

Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High School, was first elected to the state house in 2008 and the state senate in 2012 and has also chaired the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. His name is well-known in county politics where both his parents previously served in the state Legislature. On Nov. 8, Bullard lost a race to State Rep. Frank Artiles, a Republican, in a heavily Hispanic district.

Herrera, who was born in Cuba and is a former chair of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, says the party needs more outreach to Cuban-American and young voters.





Scott meets president-elect inside Trump Tower


Florida Gov. Rick Scott said once again Thursday that he's not interested in serving in President-elect Donald Trump's administration, after meeting privately with Trump in New York.

"I'm staying in Florida," Scott told Neil Cavuto in a Fox News Channel interview shortly after concluding his Trump meeting. Scott, a former hospital executive, has been rumored as a contender for health and human services secretary.

Scott said he wants to help Trump be successful.

"I always believed he would win," Scott said. Of the so-far rocky transition, the governor added: "It's going to work out."