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

IMG_AP_128168155731_2_1_VE7FNHBH_L203210596

@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

June 08, 2016

Rival called 'Haitian' wants Democratic action against state Sen. Gwen Margolis

@PatriciaMazzei

One of the rivals whom state Sen. Gwen Margolis referred to as "Haitian" earlier this week said Wednesday all five of Margolis' opponents should unite to denounce her "ugly rant."

Former state Rep. Phillip Brutus also urged rallies to protest Margolis, who apparently called her opponents "three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer." He further asked the city of North Miami to consider removing Margolis' name from a local community center.

Brutus wants Margolis to be denounced by Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The Miami-Dade County Democratic Party's executive director has asked for Margolis to apologize.

Thanks to her widespread name recognition and robust campaign fundraising, Margolis is well-positioned to hold onto her seat, despite the challenges from Brutus, state Rep. Daphne Campbell, businessman Anis Blémur, teacher Don Festge and attorney Jason Pizzo.

Margolis, who is 81, "needs to take a break and enjoy a well-deserved retirement," Brutus said in a statement.

Labor union backs Miami Republican state senator

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida labor unions don't usually go out of their way to endorse Republican candidates -- especially when they're running in contested races against Democratic challengers.

But that's what the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees did earlier this week. It backed state Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, on Monday.

Flores is seeking re-election to a newly redrawn seat that now leans Democratic. Last time Flores had a contested race, in 2010, AFSCME sat out the race. This time she's facing a well-funded Democrat, Andrew Korge. (A third candidate running without party affiliation, Sheila Lucas George, has also filed to run. Qualifying ends June 24.)

The senator attributed the endorsement to bucking the GOP on issues like Miami-Dade County's wage-theft protection ordinance, which some Republican lawmakers tried to ban in Tallahassee. "I went against party lines because it was the right thing to do," Flores said.

She'll have to try to win over independents and Democrats in a presidential-election year when more liberal-leaning voters head to the polls. The district extends from Westchester to Key West; Flores, who lives in Kendall, said she plans to move to the district.

June 07, 2016

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis refers to rivals as ‘Haitians’

IMG_A_01_4_1_JG7FPEMU_L203282730@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis apparently disparaged three of her opponents as “Haitians” and dismissed two others as “some teacher and some lawyer” at a local Democratic meeting Monday night, according to the only one of her rivals who was present.

“It’s reprehensible that three Haitians, some teacher and some lawyer think that they have the right to run against me,” Margolis said, according teacher Don Festge.

“I’ve been in office for over 40 years,” Margolis continued, according to Festge. “What does some teacher know about Tallahassee and how to run the Senate?”

Margolis went on to refer to her Haitian-American competitors — businessman Anis Blémur, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus and state Rep. Daphne Campbell — as “Haitians” four more times, Festge said. He added that Margolis later concluded: “I have unlimited funds, and I’m going to spend every penny, and I’m not going to lose to those three Haitians or some teacher or lawyer.”

The lawyer in question is Jason Pizzo. All the candidates running in the Aug. 30 primary are Democrats. About 33 percent of the district’s voters are black.

Festge — who, like Margolis and Pizzo, is white — recounted the scene to the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

“I have a lot of friends, I have students, that are of Haitian descent. For me to hear her say that right off the bat I was like, OK, this isn’t right,” said Festge, a hospitality teacher at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in North Miami. “I was hoping it just might have been once — it might have been a slip of the tongue or something like that. And then she continued.”

More here.

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

June 04, 2016

Arthenia Joyner on Muhammad Ali: He 'fought the good fight for himself, and for so many others'

Obit-Muhammad AliFlorida Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa said she first met Muhammad Ali at a National Bar Association event in the early 1970 and later saw him fight at Madison Square Garden.

“As we mourn his passing, let us celebrate that legacy of the man who never backed down, who fought the good fight, for himself, and for so many others,'' she said Saturday. Here is her full statement:

“Asked at one time how he would like to be remembered, Ali reportedly answered: ‘As a man who never sold out his people. But if that's too much, then just a good boxer.’

 “The world will remember him as both.

 “I first met “The Greatest” in the early 70’s when he spoke at the annual convention of the National Bar Association. I saw him in the ring for the first time at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 1974.  And I had the opportunity to watch his boxing prowess again the following year when he defeated Ron Lyle in Las Vegas.

 “Throughout his career, the same courageous heart that carried him to win 56 of his 61 fights reached far beyond the ring. He was a civil rights hero who stood up for what he believed at a time when civil rights were not always championed, and even though, many times, he stood alone.

“As we mourn his passing, let us celebrate that legacy of the man who never backed down, who fought the good fight, for himself, and for so many others.”