September 21, 2017

Annette Taddeo nabs late campaign endorsement from Joe Biden

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@ByKristenMClark

Just how important is a win next week for Florida Democrats in the competitive special election for a state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County?

Important enough that former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a campaign call for Annette Taddeo in an effort to give a late boost to the Democrat’s candidacy against Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz.

Taddeo’s campaign announced Biden’s endorsement — and the phone call he recorded for her — on Thursday afternoon, five days before the District 40 election will be decided on Tuesday. Voting early in person and by mail has already started.

“I wanted to call to remind you that voting is underway for a very important special election in your community,” Biden says in the 50-second recording to voters, which is a political ad paid for by Taddeo’s campaign.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

September 18, 2017

As state Senate election nears, Diaz, Taddeo debate 'lessons learned' from Hurricane Irma

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@ByKristenMClark

The impacts and recovery efforts that followed Hurricane Irma have presented fresh fodder for political debate between the two main candidates who are seeking voters’ support in a bitter battle that will be decided next week for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County.

On WPLG Local 10 News’ “This Week in South Florida” on Sunday, Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Democrat Annette Taddeo sparred about the “lessons learned” from the storm.

They also used the 10-minute televised debate to trade attacks over which of them caters more to special interest groups and industries that came to the forefront during and after the hurricane, such as utilities and nursing home care.

“What we have learned is that industry has a great impact at the [Public Service Commission], at the Legislature. They have killed certain legislation so it could have prevented the lives that we lost at the nursing home,” Taddeo said on the Sunday morning show, referencing the eight elderly people who died last week in a Broward County facility that lacked air conditioning after the hurricane.

Whether it was the elder care industry or utilities, like Florida Power & Light, Taddeo said: “We need to make sure we have representatives that represent us — not the special interests. And that’s not what we have right now; we have had this problem in Florida for decades.”

Diaz — who’s served in the Florida House for seven years — countered that “it’s unfortunate that my opponent would try to paint me off as someone who’s beholden to special interests.”

“The only special interest that matters to me is the people of my community. Nobody’s worked harder during and after this storm than me,” Diaz said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, left, and Democrat Annette Taddeo, right, debate during Sunday’s episode of “This Week in South Florida” on WPLG Local 10 News in Miami. Diaz and Taddeo are candidates for the open Senate District 40 seat in Miami-Dade County. [WPLG]

Lawmakers have favored relaxing school building codes. Will Irma change that trend?

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by @WLRN's @jessicabakeman

As Hurricane Irma bore down on South Florida, Kevin Youngman and his family sought shelter at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston. There, he found himself in enemy territory.

“I think it’s weird for us because we all went to the rival middle school, Tequesta Trace,” said Youngman, 25, as he relaxed on an air mattress in the school gym.

“We’re kind of backstabbing our roots a little bit,” he joked, as he and his mother laughed. “But I guess Tequesta is backstabbing us, because they didn’t open up a shelter there — so I guess it’s their fault, not ours.”

Youngman was right about his alma mater: Tequesta Trace didn’t open as one of Broward County’s 21 shelters during Hurricane  Irma. That’s because the school wasn’t built to withstand the most dangerous storms. Alternatively, Falcon Cove is what emergency officials call an “Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area,” one of the state’s most fortified shelters.

Most public schools are constructed specifically for the purpose they served during Irma: to house people during emergencies. But that could change over time, as the Republican-led state Legislature has begun relaxing the more stringent building codes that apply to public schools. At the same time, lawmakers have promoted the growth of privately run charter schools, which aren’t required to comply with the same high construction standards.

Local leaders worry: If more schools are built without hurricane protections, there could be fewer places for people like Youngman and his family to go during storms.

More here.

WLRN is a news partner of the Miami Herald.

Photo credit: People from different part of the city gets ready to spend the night at the South Miami Senior High School shelter as South Florida prepares for the coming hurricane Irma in South Florida on September 08, 2017. Pedro Portal / Miami Herald

September 06, 2017

UPDATED: Taddeo, Diaz temporarily suspending Senate campaigns for Hurricane Irma

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida Legislature (34)The two candidates in a fierce battle for an open state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County have temporarily suspended their campaigns due to Hurricane Irma and say they have redirected their efforts to help with preparations for the massive storm.

Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo announced Wednesday morning she was putting a pause on her campaign and she called on her opponent -- Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz -- to do the same "to ensure our teams and their families can prepare for the storm."

“Our community’s safety must be our singular focus right now," Taddeo said in a statement. "Therefore, I have instructed my team to move to immediately suspend campaign activities and have asked that we pause any advertising from airing as soon as possible."

In a statement to the Herald/Times, Diaz indicated he had quietly already taken similar steps earlier this week.

"My main priority right now is to make sure that the residents of our community are safe and prepared," Diaz said. "Until Hurricane Irma clears, my state Senate campaign has refocused to emergency preparations mode."

Diaz said he's been in contact with state and local authorities in the past couple days and has also visited community centers and spoken with senior citizens to emphasize preparation. He said, "as of yesterday [Tuesday], all our radio ads were switched to hurricane preparedness messages."

"Needless to say, my efforts are focused on making sure that our community is safe, strong, and ready for the potential impacts of Hurricane Irma," Diaz said.

Taddeo also had urged Miami-Dade residents to heed weather warnings.

The general election for the District 40 seat in southwest Miami-Dade is on Sept. 26.

Photo credit: Annette Taddeo [top], Miami Herald file. Jose Felix Diaz [right], AP.

*This post was updated at 12:50 p.m.

August 30, 2017

Florida Democrats urge state lawmakers to remove Confederate statue in U.S. Capitol

Confederate Statue Florida

@alextdaugherty 

 

The entire Florida Democratic congressional delegation wants Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to remove a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Scott, State House speaker Richard Corcoran and State Senate president Joe Negron urging the trio to call a one-day special session to replace the statue in September.

“No family visiting our nation's Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression,” the letter said.

Last year, the state legislature agreed to remove Smith's statue but it remains in National Statuary Hall in Washington, where daily tours are conducted in the Capitol, because lawmakers couldn't agree on a replacement.

But with the recent violent protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere over the legacy of Confederate statues, and debates about streets named after Confederate generals in Florida, Democrats around the country are pushing to remove statues in public places.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, asked state lawmakers to make the change.

“It's time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Now, Wasserman Schultz is joined by her Democratic colleagues in Washington, including Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Scott and Corcoran ruled out the possibility of a special session two weeks ago.

“Like most politicians in Washington, the Congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran said on Twitter. “We've already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The Congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Read more here. 

July 10, 2017

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

July 05, 2017

After death threat, Miami Republican agrees to diversion program for suspect

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@martindvassolo

After receiving a death threat last week, a Miami Republican has agreed to allow the suspect to enter a diversion program, where he would receive mental health treatment and perhaps a lesser sentence.

Florida Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who last week received a death threat on his Facebook page, told the Miami Herald's editorial board on Wednesday that he "expressed a desire" to help suspect Steve St. Felix enter into a diversion program as opposed to an immediate criminal sentence.

In Miami-Dade County, the victims of minor felonies must consent to allow suspects enter into year-long diversion programs, said Jacqueline Woodward, St. Felix's attorney. Afterward, a judge would decide on a charge.

"I on my own did contact the judiciary and I've spoken with the judges that are in charge of these mental health issues and I expressed a desire to work with the gentleman that threatened me to work on a diversion plan for him," said Diaz, who is running for state Senate. "I don't want him to go to jail for the rest of his life."

St. Felix, a former member of the Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committee, was arrested Monday and charged with making written threats with intent to do bodily injury.

"I'll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting," the 34-year-old wrote, a reference to the local Republican party, according to his arrest report. A registered Republican living in Miami Gardens, St. Felix told police he didn't intend to harm Diaz, a current member of the REC. Police said St. Felix had not taken his medications when he made the threat, but it is not known what condition he suffers from.

Steve StfelizHe remains in jail on a $500,000 bond, according to jail records.

"I would be very happy to hear Mr. Diaz is understanding of the situation and realizes that Steve needs mental health help," Woodward said.

During the editorial board meeting, Diaz was joined by fellow Republican candidate Lorenzo Palomares, a local attorney who on Friday offered to represent St. Felix pro-bono after saying Diaz had used the incident to earn free airtime.

While he said the issue should have been dealt within the Republican Executive Committee, which St. Felix resigned from several months ago, Palomares said he was "pleased" with the idea of a diversion program.

"I'm glad that perhaps my input into it made the changes that are coming in respect to that case," Palomares said,to which Diaz shook his head. "But I stand by what I said. I believe a conditional threat is no threat at all."

Diaz said St. Felix had previously posted about harming himself, police and that he was armed, which signaled to him that the threat, while not in person, warranted a call to police.

He called Palomares' offer "disgusting" and out of "third-world politics."

"My goal, not only for his safety but for my family's safety is that he gets the proper treatment he needs," Diaz said. "And if he spirals out of control when he's off his medications, I want to ensure that he's on a program that's monitoring him and making sure that he's taking his medications. Because, you know, today it may be a threat against me but tomorrow it could be against Mr. Palomares."

June 30, 2017

Rival candidate offers to represent man who threatened to 'kill' Miami Republican lawmaker

Steve Stfeliz@martindvassolo

A Miami attorney and Republican candidate for the state Senate offered Friday to represent a man who was arrested after he threatened to "kill" Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, one of the attorney's rivals.

Lorenzo Palomares said Friday he's willing to represent Steve St. Felix, who was charged Monday after he left a threatening comment on Diaz's Facebook page.

“It will be an honor to represent him pro bono,” said Palomares, who like Diaz is running in the July 25 primary for Senate District 40.

Police say St. Felix was “fed up” with the Republican Party and that he was not taking his medication when he threatened Diaz. It is unknown what condition St. Felix might suffer.

“I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting,” St. Felix wrote on Facebook, referring to the Republican Executive Committee, the local party's formal name.

St. Felix was an REC member until he resigned "several months ago," said REC Chairman Nelson Diaz, no relation to the state representative. A St. Felix friend said he sometimes called him "Mr. Republican."

Rep. Diaz, Palomares and the third Republican in the primary race, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, remain REC members, according to the party.

Rep. Diaz reported the threat to police, who then arrested the 34-year-old and charged him with written threats with intent to do bodily injury. St. Felix told police he was sorry for making the threat, and that he did not intend to harm Diaz. He remains in jail on a $500,000 bond.

During a court hearing Thursday, St. Felix invoked the names of other Miami Republicans, including party Chairman Diaz, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“I want Marco Rubio, Nelson Diaz, Manny Diaz, Manny Diaz Jr., Carlos Gimenez...go eat a Cuban sandwich boy,” he said, according to court footage from WTVJ-NBC 6.

Following St. Felix's arrest, Rep. Diaz said it was disheartening to be threatened over politics.

“It is sad to see that our national political discourse has led us to a place where someone threatens the life of a stranger based solely on their party affiliation,” he said in a written statement.

Palomares accused Rep. Diaz of using the incident to score free publicity ahead of a July 25 primary.

“He is certainly the one who caused this issue to happen," Palomares said of the St. Felix incident. "This man is not a violent man. I’ve seen him. I’ve dealt with him."

Palomares called St. Felix's half-a-million-dollar bond "ridiculous" and said Rep. Diaz overreacted.

The night after St. Felix's arrest, Rep. Diaz grabbed a microphone at the end of the local GOP's annual fundraiser and told the crowd gathered to listen to a speech by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway that he “was told not to come here because if I came here, somebody was gonna try to kill me.”

“I don’t care. I’m here because I want to be here with you tonight,” he said, to raucous applause.

Party Chairman Diaz said St. Felix "never displayed any signs of mental health problems” while at the REC, but clearly he was grappling with a psychological condition.

“Steven is upset in the manner and means by which the party is being managed by Nelson Diaz," Palomares said. "He didn’t take his pills, but they overreacted to it.”

St. Felix has made controversial comments online before, especially when not on his medication, said high school friend Frantz Jean, a 35-year-old living in Lauderhill. The two played varsity football at North Miami Beach Senior High before St. Felix went on the Florida A&M University to play college ball, Jean said. At the time, he was a “typical teenager.”

“It’s after high school that we started noticing the change in his behavior from time to time,” he said, adding that St. Felix was obsessive about his Republican affiliation.

“That’s the number one thing he always says, 'I’m a Republican. He’s always been a proud Republican. That’s why we always call him ‘Mr. Republican,’” he said.

He said St. Felix would often take to social media to vent about his life, sometimes rattling off posts until early in the morning.

“When I saw him on the news, it broke my heart,” Jean said. “This is the first time that it's actually gone this far to him being incarcerated.”

Jean said he and his friends will try to make sure St. Felix has access to his medications and maintains a strict regimen.

“When he’s under his medication, he’s a perfectly fine citizen,” he said.

Photo: Miami-Dade Corrections

June 26, 2017

In bitter Miami Senate primary, Republican attacks Republican in first TV ad

Unnamed

@martindvassolo

The bitter state Senate primary between Republicans Jose Felix Diaz and Alex Diaz de la Portilla has spilled onto the television screens of Miami's District 40 voters, with a new Spanish-language ad funded by Rep. Diaz criticizing Diaz de la Portilla’s legislative and personal history.

Diaz de la Portilla, a former lawmaker of more than two decades, is “bad for constituents,” the narrator says to begin the 30-second attack ad, the first in the race.

The ad, which claims Diaz de la Portilla is facing foreclosure and that he supported tax increases and new taxes while in office, is part of a quarter-million-dollar TV campaign paid for by Rebuild Florida, Diaz's political committee, POLITICO Florida first reported. The committee shelled out $260,000 in the past two weeks to a consulting firm run by Diaz's political consultant David Custin, according to the committee's most recent expenditure filings.

“At the expense of middle-class families, he voted to impose more than $2 million in new taxes and rates,” the ad says. “He supported the implementation of higher property taxes and raised taxes on small businesses. We can’t count on [Diaz] de la Portilla.”

According to Diaz's campaign, the ad refers to five Senate and House bills Diaz de la Portilla voted “yes” on, which increased license taxes for saltwater products dealers, fees for some certificates of titles and fees for some resident and non-resident hunting and fishing licenses, among other provisions.

Custin said the tax and fee increases added up to about $2 million. Diaz de la Portilla called the accusations “outright lies" in a text message.

Diaz de la Portilla claimed he cut taxes by $20.3 billion during his time in the legislature, citing data from the Florida Office of Demographic Research, which releases annual revenue reports, and state budgets he said he supported. He did not specify how he came up with that figure, nor did he provide specific tax-cutting legislation he backed, saying he didn’t “have time to respond to dirty campaigns.”

The Miami-Dade elections department will begin sending mail-in ballots Tuesday, which is why candidates are ramping up their media campaigns. Diaz de la Portilla, however, said he would not run any television ads, citing financial restraints. Diaz de la Portilla reported having $72,500 on hand in his most recent campaign-finance report. Diaz reported $279,182. Rebuild Florida also has $825,654 in its coffers.

Attacking Diaz de la Portilla with his first ad suggests Diaz has ground to make up in the race. Previous polls conducted for the well-known Diaz de la Portilla show him in the lead, although Diaz said his poll numbers are "healthier than Alex would ever want to admit." Diaz said he chose to go after his rival because, according to Diaz, Diaz de la Portilla is less conservative than he claims.

The third Republican candidate is attorney Lorenzo Palomares.

A special election was called to fill the vacant District 40 seat following the resignation of former Sen. Frank Artiles. The primary will take place July 25, followed by a general election on Sept. 26.

June 22, 2017

Florida lawmakers will return to Tallahassee in less than 3 months

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@ByKristenMClark

Not even two weeks removed from a special session to close out this year's legislative agenda, Florida lawmakers are already looking ahead to 2018.

Because that's an even-numbered (i.e. election) year, the 60-day session will run from January through early March -- which means pre-session committee weeks will start this fall.

In less than three months, to be exact.

Mark your calendars -- here are the House's and Senate's schedule, released Thursday afternoon:

-- Week of Sept. 11, with meetings starting no earlier than 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12
-- Week of Oct. 9
-- Week of Oct. 23
-- Week of Nov. 6 (finishing before the Veterans Day Holiday that Friday)
-- Week of Nov. 13
-- Week of Dec. 4

The 2018 regular session starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Photo credit: Florida Senate during the 2017 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times