November 21, 2016

Oscar Braynon, Lauren Book named Florida Senate Democrats' top leaders

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@ByKristenMClark

A longtime legislator from Miami Gardens will lead the Democrats of the Florida Senate for the next two years.

Sen. Oscar Braynon’s ascension to Senate minority leader was made official Monday evening in advance of Tuesday’s organizational session for the 2016-18 Legislature. He’s now in charge of a 15-member Democratic caucus, of which 11 are newly elected senators.

“I’m happy to be taking on that role,” Braynon said. “We’re going to have a bunch of blank slates when it comes to what happens in the Senate. There’s a lot of potential there.”

One of those newcomers is freshman Broward County Sen. Lauren Book, whom the Democratic caucus also unanimously elected as Braynon’s No. 2 in the role of Senate Democratic leader pro tempore.

Book, of Plantation, is a prominent advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and the founder and CEO of Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids. She is also the daughter of powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book, whom she called “her best friend, rock and mentor.”

Although the Republican majority in the Senate will drive the agenda, Braynon said his goal as minority leader is to continue pushing for Democratic priorities, such as equal pay for women and raising the minimum wage, protecting the environment, improving access to health care and strengthening public education.

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

New Florida Senate chamber gets its long-awaited debut

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@ByKristenMClark

After eight months and nearly 50,000 hours of construction work, Florida legislative leaders got their first official look at a brand new Senate chamber on Monday.

The $6 million renovation was the first major overhaul to the room since the current Capitol was built in the late 1970s, and the result is a brighter and modernized — yet classically styled — chamber where the Florida Senate will continue to conduct its business.

“They did a phenomenal job, and it’s long overdue,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “It brings a level of respect to the process to have the chamber looking so stately as it does now.”

Read more.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

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

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@ByKristenMClark

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 15, 2016

66 new Florida lawmakers arrive in Tallahassee for training

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@ByKristenMClark

A week after Florida voters elected them, 66 new state lawmakers -- who make up 40 percent of the entire Legislature -- will be in Tallahassee on Tuesday for training and orientation.

More than a third of the 120-member House and half of the 40-member Senate are new to their legislative seats for 2017. Many have held elected office before (even within the Legislature itself), but for several, this is their first foray into public service.

Over the next two days, freshmen House members will learn the basics of legislating and the essentials for navigating the Capitol itself. Sessions range from "Introduction to State Government" and lessons in ethics, open meetings and public records to "How to Fill Out your Committee Preference Form" and "What to Expect in Your First Term."

Incoming senators will have similar training, too, although they're only in town for one day.

Among the 46 freshmen House members, there are expected to be 24 Republicans and 22 Democrats -- the second-largest freshman class in the Florida House's history. (There were 63 new members in 2000.) The final partisan breakdown depends on the outcome of a recount for a Miami-Dade House seat, in which Democrat Robert Acensio led Republican David Rivera by 68 votes in initial Election Day results.

Two of the freshmen House members are recently experienced in the Legislature having moved from the Senate back to the House with Tuesday's election: Palm Beach County Democrat Joe Abruzzo and Rockledge Republican Thad Altman.

In the Senate, 20 are freshmen -- the largest freshmen class in the chamber's history, with 11 Democrats and nine Republicans. At least a dozen are recently former representatives promoted by voters last week to the Legislature's upper chamber.

All 160 lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next week for the organizational session on Nov. 22, during which they'll be sworn in to their new terms in office.

Times/Herald co-bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

November 10, 2016

Anitere Flores named to Florida Senate leadership post

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

Newly re-elected Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been named the Florida Senate's President Pro Tempore for the 2017 session.

Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced Flores' appointment as his No. 2 on Thursday, heralding Flores as a "loyal friend and trusted ally."

"The role of Senate President Pro Tempore is a significant position of trust and authority," Negron said in a statement, adding that Flores has "longstanding relationships with many new and returning senators. She has a proven ability to work in a bipartisan manner without compromising her own unwavering principles. I have complete confidence in her ability to represent the Senate in this important leadership position."

Flores was re-elected to the Senate on Tuesday with 54 percent of the vote after a competitive battle with Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for the newly redrawn District 39. The district includes portions of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County. Flores has been in the Florida Senate since 2010.

Flores' appointment will become effective Nov. 22, when the Senate convenes in Organization Session. The President Pro Tempore is formally nominated and elected by the full Senate during the Organization Session.

Flores joins a growing list of Miami lawmakers who will hold influential positions in Tallahassee next session. On Wednesday, several Miami-Dade County representatives were also named to the leadership team in the Florida House under incoming Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

Photo credit: AP

November 03, 2016

Legislative candidates who don't live in district they're seeking can't vote for themselves

Ap_flores2@ByKristenMClark

When she votes this fall, veteran Miami Republican lawmaker Anitere Flores might not be able to vote for herself.

Because if she votes in her current precinct, the ballot she receives will have neither her name nor her District 39 Florida Senate race on it. It will list the District 40 race instead.

The same goes for House District 103 candidate Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich, a Doral Democrat in her first bid for public office. Rather than seeing her own name on a ballot for the first time, she’ll see candidates for House District 116 if she votes in the precinct she’s assigned to now.

That’s because Flores and Gonzalez Petkovich — along with five other legislative candidates in Miami-Dade — don’t currently live in and aren’t registered to vote in the district that they’re seeking to represent.

The Herald/Times identified the seven candidates — one Republican (Flores) and six Democrats — through an analysis of current voter registration records. These candidates make up 20 percent of the 34 candidates competing for Miami-Dade legislative seats this fall.

More here.

Photo credit: AP

November 01, 2016

Misleading slate card purports to show Democrats -- but recommends some Republicans

Democratic action pac mailer@ByKristenMClark

A suspicious slate card recently mailed to some Miami households deceptively represents itself as recommending Democrats but actually encourages voters to support some Republicans, including two incumbents for state Senate: Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores — both of whom are fighting for re-election in newly redrawn, Democratic-leaning districts.

The true source of the mailer is dubious. The political action committee listed on the disclaimer doesn’t exist anymore, never operated in Florida and its treasurers — one of whom has past ties to Diaz de la Portilla — say they have no knowledge of it.

Both Diaz de la Portilla and Flores also said they had no involvement in it and that the first they had heard of the slate card was when a Herald/Times reporter asked for comment Monday.

“I have nothing to do with it; I don’t know it,” Diaz de la Portilla said emphatically.

This isn’t the only deceptive slate card that has surfaced in Miami-Dade County in recent weeks. Another one that was distributed at early voting sites in North Miami-Dade and North Miami also appeared to be pro-Democrat but urged people to vote for Amendment 1, which Democrats oppose, and to support Raquel Regalado for Miami-Dade mayor, one of two Republicans on the ballot.

MORE: Mysterious Democratic slate card says vote yes on Amendment 1 and for Regalado

This new slate card — which was purportedly “paid for and approved by Democratic Action PAC” — was mailed to voters, rather than handed out at polling sites.

Full story here.

October 31, 2016

Annette Taddeo records radio ad to support Dwight Bullard

Bullard_ap@ByKristenMClark

A Florida labor union is spending $45,000 on a new Spanish-language radio ad in Miami so that Florida Democratic Party vice chairwoman and former gubernatorial and congressional candidate Annette Taddeo can promote incumbent state Sen. Dwight Bullard in the final days before Election Day.

Bullard, D-Miami, is in a competitive race for re-election against Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles, who has vastly outspent Bullard in the bitter District 40 contest in central Miami-Dade County.

1199SEIU Florida, which represents 25,000 health care workers, is paying for the ad. The group said in a press release that Taddeo felt compelled to record the ad for Bullard "because of what she described as lies being spread against Bullard’s character in a deceitful Spanish-language ad."

Artiles recently aired a misleading ad on Miami TV, in which Artiles falsely said Bullard "voted to release violent criminals and sexual delinquents in our community." More here on why Artiles' claim isn't accurate.

"Artiles is trying smear him with a campaign of lies in an attempt to deceive voters. But it’s not going to to work," Roxey Nelson, political director for 1199SEIU Florida, said in a statement. "Dwight shows up. He is fighting for us, and hundreds of volunteers have been out in force knocking on doors and fighting for him."

In the 60-second radio ad, Taddeo touts Bullard's work as "an educator for twenty years, fighting to raise the minimum wage, to expand Medicaid and enable immigrants to go to college."

Taddeo describes Artiles as "an extremist who voted to take away $1.3 billion from our schools while trying to put guns in our classrooms." She also mentions Artiles' support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"Artiles and Trump — the same. That’s why I ask for your vote for Dwight Bullard. He deserves our support for State Senate," Taddeo says in the ad.

Artiles' campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom declined to comment on the ad but said Taddeo's "support will have no effect on the outcome of this race."

LISTEN TO THE AD HERE

Photo credit: AP

October 29, 2016

Doral College, Flores accuse her challenger of 'untrue, malicious statements'

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@ByKristenMClark

Miami Republican incumbent state Sen. Anitere Flores and her previous employer, Doral College, allege that Flores' opponent has made "untrue and malicious" statements that are "damaging" the college's reputation.

Doral College sent a letter to the Florida Democratic Party recently demanding that the party stop publishing and correct TV ads and direct-mail pieces that the college says contain "false" statements.

The state party is supporting Democrat and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest, who's aiming to unseat Flores for Miami-Dade's District 39 Senate seat. The newly redrawn district is heavily Hispanic and leans Democratic.

Doral College in its letter -- which Flores' campaign provided to the Herald/Times -- accused the Democratic Party of repeating two falsehoods: "that Doral College is a for-profit college and the degrees obtained by its students are worthless."

"These claims are objectively false and warrant immediate correction," wrote Ryan Kairalla, the college's general counsel. Here's an example of a direct-mail piece containing the claims Flores and Doral College took issue with.

Kairalla is correct that the Democratic Party erred in referring to Doral College as a "for-profit" college. It is a not-for-profit institution -- although the company that it's associated with is for-profit -- but whether the college's degrees are "worthless" is a matter of continued dispute in the political battle between supporters of charter school programs and those who favor more traditional educational options.

Mucarsel-Powell said Flores' and Doral College's complaints were "yet another desperate attempt by Anitere Flores to distract from her shameful 12-year record in Tallahassee."

Continue reading "Doral College, Flores accuse her challenger of 'untrue, malicious statements'" »

October 24, 2016

Frank Artiles manipulates facts in misleading attack ad on Dwight Bullard

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@ByKristenMClark

Through a new Spanish-language TV ad and other campaign materials, state Senate candidate and Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles is falsely telling central Miami-Dade County voters his opponent “voted to release violent criminals and sexual delinquents in our community.”

Artiles’ TV ad claims Cutler Bay Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard “was the only senator who voted against keeping our communities safe — the only one,” and that Artiles would be the one who would protect the communities of Senate District 40. He echoed the attack in an image he posted on Twitter, too, in which Artiles claimed he “led the way to keep sexual predators off the streets” while Bullard “voted in favor of releasing violent criminals.”

But Artiles’ assertions manipulate facts.

Bullard called the ad "disgusting" and another example of "gutter-level politics" from Artiles.

More here.