June 24, 2016

Anitere Flores does have a Democratic challenger, so does Rene Garcia

Miami dade districts@ByKristenMClark

Of course, Democrats wouldn't have just let Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores coast to re-election.

After some re-shuffling this week when Flores' previous Democratic challenger qualified in a neighboring district instead, Democrats were under the gun to find a candidate to put up against Flores in District 39. The deadline for candidates to file for this year's primary and general elections is noon today.

They found one: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest, filed her candidacy for District 39 on Thursday, but it doesn't appear - as of 9 a.m. - that her qualifying papers have been processed yet by the Florida Division of Elections. (That's not uncommon; there's usually a lag between when candidates submit their papers and when their affirmed to be "qualified" in the candidate list online.)

According to Miami Herald archives and her LinkedIn page, Mucarsel-Powell was named senior vice president of development at Jackson Health Foundation in November 2014. Before that, she spent more than eight years working at Florida International University -- first as director of development from 2003-2007, then as associate vice president for advancement for FIU's Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine from 2007 to July 2011.

Mucarsel-Powell helps run her own business, D. Mucarsel-Powell & Associates, LLC -- which was registered with the state in 2012. According to state records, she and her husband, Robert Powell, are managers of the business. Mucarsel-Powell's LinkedIn page lists her as current president of the firm, also known as DMP Associates.

The District 39 seat, newly redrawn because of redistricting, leans Democratic and Hispanic. The seat spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys.

A write-in candidate, Brent Artz of Big Pine Key, also qualified Thursday. An independent candidate, Sheila Lucas George, filed previously in the race but had not yet qualified as of 9 a.m. today.

Mucarsel-Powell fills the void left by Miami Democrat Andrew Korge, who left the District 39 race on Wednesday for what he viewed as better prospects in District 40, which is in central Miami-Dade County.

Korge set up a three-way Democratic primary there between sitting Sen. Dwight Bullard and former state legislator Ana Rivas Logan.

A fourth Democrat entered that race on Thursday: Missalys Perez, of Hialeah. (Her qualifying papers have not yet been processed.)

Unless there are any more late-filing candidates today, the winner of that August primary among those four will take on Miami Republican Rep. Frank Artiles in the fall. Independent Mario Jimenez also qualified for the November election.

Korge is under fire this week -- accused of offering Bullard money to move to a different race. Rivas Logan says Korge also approached her last month about swapping races (but offered no money). Both say they declined Korge's offers. Korge denies he offered Bullard "$25,000 cash," but wouldn't say whether he, instead, might have offered campaign help or fundraising support.

Elsewhere in Miami-Dade County, Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, of Hialeah, also drew a last-minute challenger. Until yesterday, he'd been the only candidate to file for the District 36 seat -- which meant he would've been re-elected without opposition.

But Democrat Anabella Grohoski, of Miami Springs, filed her candidacy, setting up a general election campaign.

District 36 includes north-central Miami-Dade County, including Doral and Hialeah.

June 23, 2016

Trying to scare away Democratic rivals, Anitere Flores reveals more union support

@PatriciaMazzei

She's already scared away one serious Democratic rival. But just in case any others are thinking of qualifying to run by Friday's noon deadline, Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores released more labor-union endorsements Thursday.

Flores received the backing of the Teamsters Local Union 769, the Dade County Association of Fire Fighters and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) Construction and Craft Workers Local 1652.

Labor tends to support Democrats; Flores is trying to run as a moderate in a newly redrawn Southwest Miami-Dade County district that leans Democratic.

Democrat Andrew Korge decided earlier this week to switch races and no longer challenge Flores in District 39. An internal Flores poll showed her handily defeating him. Those numbers, like the union endorsements, appeared strategically publicized to pressure Korge -- and any other Democrats -- out of the race.

June 22, 2016

Andrew Korge switches Florida Senate races in Miami-Dade

@ByKristenMClark & @MaryEllenKlas

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In a major shake-up for two of Miami-Dade’s closely watched state Senate races, Democrat Andrew Korge is once again switching which public office he wants voters to elect him to in November.

Instead of challenging Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores in District 39, Korge will now run for the District 40 seat, he told the Herald/Times, confirming rumors that have swirled in South Florida political circles for the past couple weeks.

His decision sets up a three-way Democratic primary in District 40 against former state representative Ana Rivas Logan and current state Sen. Dwight Bullard and all-but-hands Flores her re-election unless Democrats can produce a viable replacement to challenge her with two days left in the qualifying period.

Korge planned to announce his decision Wednesday afternoon, when he filed his qualifying papers in Tallahassee. Candidates have until noon Friday to qualify and thereby secure their places on the August primary or November general election ballots.

“As a third-generation Miamian, it has long been a dream of mine to serve my community as a member of the Florida Senate, to create a better future for our children, to improve public schools and protect college students, and create high-wage jobs for hard-working, middle-class families,” Korge said in a statement. “District 40, where I grew up and spent half of my life, offers the best opportunity to do that.”

More here.

June 21, 2016

Alan Grayson calls for Florida Legislature to adopt Connecticut's assault weapons ban

@ByKristenMClark

Attempting symbolic similarity to Martin Luther and his "95 Theses" to the Catholic Church, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson on Tuesday urged the Republican-led Florida Legislature to adopt stricter gun control measures in the aftermath of last week's shooting massacre at a gay nightclub near his district.

The Orlando congressman affixed to the doors of the Florida House and Senate chambers in Tallahassee a summary of the bill analysis for the law Connecticut passed a few months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in that state four years ago. Assault weapons were used in both the Orlando and Newtown tragedies.

"It's much too easy in America today to kill so many people so quickly," Grayson told reporters who captured his photo op in the Florida Capitol. "This bill ended that for people in Connecticut."

He said seven states have adopted either bans or heavy restrictions on assault weapons, and "I think that this state needs to do that."

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, didn't acknowledge Grayson's request when asked for comment by the Herald/Times, but he did slam Grayson for using the Orlando shooting for political gain.

"Last week, our first-responders bravely and selflessly ran into the Pulse nightclub to end the horrible terror attack in Orlando," Crisafulli said in a statement. "That is quite a contrast to Congressman Alan Grayson who is using the same tragedy to run in front of television cameras to gain attention for his floundering U.S. Senate campaign."

Continue reading "Alan Grayson calls for Florida Legislature to adopt Connecticut's assault weapons ban" »

June 15, 2016

After Orlando shooting, Democrats want special legislative session

@ByKristenMClark

Three Orlando-area Democrats will call this morning for Republican legislative leaders to convene a special session of the Florida Legislature, so lawmakers can consider a proposal in response to Sunday's shooting massacre at Pulse nightclub.

Expected to attend the 10 a.m. announcement in front of the Orange County Courthouse are state Sens. Darren Soto and Geraldine Thompson, both of Orlando, state Rep. John Cortes, of Kissimmee, and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.

The lawmakers and local official plan to unveil their "tactical proposal to prevent future tragedies."

But the proposal -- details of which are yet unknown -- isn't expected to go very far.

Katie Betta -- the spokeswoman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando -- told the News Service of Florida in an email Tuesday: "The president does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action. Absent those elements, the president has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since Sept. 11 as anything more than political posturing by two senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress."

Both Soto and Thompson are leaving the state Senate this year and are campaigning for seats in the U.S. House.

June 14, 2016

Anitere Flores leads Andrew Korge in internal campaign poll

@ByKristenMClark

About five months before Election Day, Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores leads Democratic newcomer Andrew Korge, according to a recent internal Republican poll of the District 39 contest.

The state Senate battle between Flores and Korge is one of the most closely watched and expensive legislative races this year.

In a survey of 302 likely general election voters three weeks ago, Flores had a 9 percentage-point advantage over Korge in a head-to-head matchup. Flores drew 40 percent support, compared to 31 percent for Korge. About 29 percent of respondents were undecided in the contest.

After hearing more about the two candidates, Flores' lead over Korge grew among respondents -- with 62 percent favoring her, 16 percent favoring Korge and 17 percent undecided.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Committee had the poll done May 20-22 as a $19,500 in-kind contribution to Flores' campaign, which she reported in her May campaign finance report.

Information about the poll was provided to the Herald/Times by a political consultant working with Flores' campaign and Sarah Bascom, on behalf of the FRSC. Specific questions asked of respondents and raw data of the poll results was not available.

The margin of error for the results is plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.

The poll also found that Flores -- a lawmaker who has represented parts of Miami-Dade County since 2004 -- has stronger name recognition than her opponent. Korge is a first-time candidate, whose father, Chris Korge, is a prominent Democratic fundraiser in South Florida. More than 80 percent of respondents said they didn't know who Andrew Korge was, compared to about 60 percent who didn't know Flores.

The District 39 seat, newly redrawn because of redistricting, leans Democratic and Hispanic. The seat spans western and southern Miami-Dade County and Monroe County, including the Florida Keys. The area overlaps slightly with Flores' current district, but most of it is new territory for her.

District 39 is one of three hotly contested state Senate seats in Miami-Dade County that could help determine how strong the Republican majority in the chamber is next session. Democrats want to pick up a couple seats and narrow the gap. (The Senate currently has 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats.)

The FRSC poll asked respondents in District 39 which party they would vote for if the election were held now; about 44 percent said they'd pick a Republican candidate, 39 percent said they'd support a Democrat and 18 percent were undecided.

June 13, 2016

Miami Beach lawmaker will continue re-election bid, won't seek state Senate

@ByKristenMClark

HousePhotoSized5952State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, won't jump in the race for a now-open state Senate seat representing coastal Miami-Dade County.

In a statement this morning, Richardson said he's "humbled and honored by the many calls encouraging me to consider a run in the now open Senate District 38," but he's "committed more than ever to earn my re-election in (House District) 113 and continue to serve as a member of the Florida House of Representatives."

The District 38 seat became open last week, after longtime Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis announced her political retirement. Her decision to drop her re-election campaign came a couple days after she publicly disparaged her five opponents as “three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer.”

Richardson, a two-term state House member, praised Margolis for her service.

"I commend and congratulate Senator Gwen Margolis on her leadership and service to Miami-Dade County," he said. "She is a trailblazer in her own right and someone who helped pave the way for so many others and me."

While Richardson filed for Senate early last year, redistricting affected the boundaries of Miami-Dade's various Senate districts. Richardson acknowledged that factored into his decision, saying: "The newly drawn SD38 is vastly different from the previous SD35."

"I am honored that the people of HD113 have allowed me to be their voice in Tallahassee for the past four years," Richardson said, affirming his commitment to seek re-election. "With the support of my constituents and my Democratic caucus colleagues, I hope together we can break new barriers in the upcoming years. The journey ahead can once again be history-making and I am excited by the opportunity to be a uniting force as our community and state continue to be challenged."

Photo credit: Florida House of Representatives

$1.9M raised since Feb. 1 in contested Miami-Dade Senate races

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami-Dade County is proving more and more why it's a battleground for the Florida Legislature this year.

Candidates for the four competitive Florida Senate seats in Miami-Dade have raised about $1.9 million over the past four months, an analysis of newly filed campaign finance reports showed.

Current Miami Republican Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores raised almost $600,000 between them in May alone in their bids for re-election in newly redrawn districts.

And that's not counting lucrative help that's starting to pour in from an arm of the state party, which would like to keep as many Republicans in the Senate as possible.

Because of redistricting, several Miami-Dade County seats are in play in November. Democrats see an opening to win potentially a few more seats in the Senate and narrow the Republican's 26-14 majority.

But despite fielding competitive candidates, Democrats are falling behind in the fundraising game.

From Feb. 1 -- after which time most candidates filed for their current races once the redrawn districts were set -- through May, Republican state Senate candidates together have raised three times as much as the Democrats across three of Miami-Dade's four competitive races. That's a valuable advantage because the cost to advertise on radio and TV in Miami is among the most expensive in the state.

Continue reading "$1.9M raised since Feb. 1 in contested Miami-Dade Senate races" »

June 10, 2016

DLP vs. JJR contest in Miami-Dade begins as a tie, Democratic poll says

@ByKristenMClark

A competitive Miami-Dade state Senate seat is a toss-up with almost a third of potential voters undecided about five months ahead of the general election, according to an internal Democratic poll obtained by the Herald/Times.

In the race for the newly redrawn District 37 seat, Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla is up two percentage points on Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez -- a statistical tie, since it's within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The two candidates, both of whom live in Miami, officially launched their campaigns in May, though they filed for the race several months ago.

About 37 percent of those surveyed said they preferred Diaz de la Portilla, 35 percent supported Rodriguez and 29 percent were undecided, according to the polling memo. Raw data from the poll, including a list of specific questions asked, was requested but not provided.

From June 1-6, Tampa-based SEA Polling & Strategic Design surveyed 540 district voters expected to vote in the legislative contest. The poll was paid for by the Florida Democratic Party as an in-kind contribution to Rodriguez's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

It's one of a few Miami-Dade state Senate seats that Florida Democrats hope to win in November, which would help them narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

But it'll be a rough battle between Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez.

Heading into May, Diaz de la Portilla had considerably stronger fundraising numbers than Rodriguez. (The campaigns' reports for May are due today and not available yet.)

And the sitting senator also picked up a valuable endorsement this week from the Florida chapter of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It's rare for labor unions to endorse Republican candidates. (AFSCME Florida also endorsed Miami Republican state Sen. Anitere Flores this week in her close contest against Democrat Andrew Korge for District 39.)

The Democratic poll for District 37 showed potential voters' party preference leans in Democrats' favor. In general, 39 percent of respondents said they would support a Democratic candidate, 35 percent said they would support a Republican candidate, 22 percent had no preference and 4 percent said they didn't know.

"We know that Miami-Dade continues to change and the poll confirms what we’ve known all along," Christian Ulvert, a campaign adviser to Rodriguez, said in a statement. "Despite almost 30 years of a Diaz de la Portilla in office in Miami-Dade, Jose Javier Rodriguez starts the race tied with Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. The residents in SD37 are very much aligned with the values and principles of Jose Javier Rodriguez and he is well-positioned to carry the district with their support."

Diaz de la Portilla found optimism in the poll, too, and was critical of his opponent.

"The reason Mr. Rodriguez can't even win in his own paid push poll is the same reason why he won't win this election: People here know he parachuted into our community a few short years ago to run for office," Diaz de la Portilla said in a text message. "My constituents will ask themselves: If he doesn't know us and doesn't share our values, how can he represent us?"

June 09, 2016

State Sen. Gwen Margolis drops out of re-election race after disparaging rivals

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@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis will no longer seek re-election and instead retire in November after four decades in politics, the Democrat announced Thursday, three days after she publicly disparaged her five opponents as “three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer.”

“My passion has been to serve the people of Florida and my commitment from day one was to make our community a better place for all,” Margolis said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I look back at 40 years of public service with great humility and joy as I reflect on all the work we accomplished to empower people’s lives. It has been a remarkable journey and one that has allowed me to see how our county, state and nation evolved on so many issues.”

The Herald reported Tuesday that Margolis derided her rivals at a Monday night meeting of the Sunny Isles Beach Democratic Club. The executive director of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, Juan Cuba, called on Margolis to apologize.

She didn’t — which on Wednesday prompted one of her competitors, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus, who is Haitian-American, to urge other Democratic leaders to denounce Margolis’ remarks. He also asked his fellow candidates to consider a “unity” news conference against Margolis.

Thursday morning, Margolis bowed out of the race with a retirement announcement that included praise from Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens. Margolis, 81 and the longest-serving senator currently in the Florida Legislature, because the first female Senate president in 1990.

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press