With an already narrow balance of power at stake in the Florida Senate — and the political futures of several incumbents on the line — some of Miami-Dade County’s state Senate races have turned increasingly ugly as Election Day draws closer.
In one race, a Democratic incumbent has been accused of consorting with a Middle Eastern terrorist, and in a couple of others, the candidates have sparred passionately over their policies and potential conflicts of interest.
Voters are already casting ballots in the county’s five races, four of which are competitive. Democrats hope an anti-Donald Trump wave will help boost their candidates’ prospects even further, while Republicans have poured millions of dollars into helping their contenders retain — or in one case, gain — seats.
While Democrats hope Senate seats in Tampa and central Florida could also be pick-ups for them, Miami-Dade County has the highest concentration of consequential races. They are in play this year because of redrawn Senate districts that could affect the Republicans’ 26-14 chamber majority.
Current Republican Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores and Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard all want voters to send them back to Tallahassee, but each is fighting an aggressive opponent angling to unseat them.
October 12, 2016
Prematurely describing herself as "New Senator Elect Daphne Campbell," the Miami Democratic state representative now seeking a state Senate seat accidentally sent out a fundraising invitation Wednesday afternoon on her official Florida House email account.
Campbell sent a follow-up email two hours later -- from a campaign email -- saying: "Please Ignore previous Email/Flyer which was sent by error from the State email by a Staff. See the corrected email ... Sorry for the error."
Both of Campbell's emails invited the recipient to join "the only Democratic nominee" for Senate District 38 for a fundraiser Wednesday night in Tallahassee. The event for Campbell was to be hosted by Oscar Braynon -- a Miami Gardens senator who will be the Senate Democrats' next leader.
At this point in the election cycle, all races have only one candidate from any political party. Florida's Aug. 30 primary determined party contenders for the general election.
With 31 percent of the vote, Campbell won a six-way primary to become the Democratic nominee in the District 38 race. But she's not guaranteed to be the "New Senator Elect" yet, as she called herself in the "From" line at the top of both emails.
Campbell faces former Democratic state Rep. Phillip Brutus on the Nov. 8 ballot. Brutus, of North Miami, is running as a no-party affiliated candidate in this election.
Neither candidate has raised much money this cycle, compared to other Miami-Dade state Senate races, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars. As of Sept. 30 -- the most recent reporting date -- Campbell had raised about $100,000 so far this cycle and had about $4,400 in the bank. Meanwhile, Brutus had raised $12,300 -- in addition to $12,500 he's loaned his campaign -- and he'd spent about $11,400.
The winner will replace longtime state Sen. Gwen Margolis, who is retiring. The newly redrawn coastal District 38 roughly stretches from the MacArthur Causeway to the Broward County line and from the ocean to I-95.
Photo credit: State Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, in 2015. myfloridahouse.gov
*This post has been updated to correct Brutus' fundraising figures.
October 04, 2016
A Miami Republican state representative seeking to be promoted to the Florida Senate this fall says he’s “taking a stand against tolls” — tapping into a popular consumer issue that puts him at odds with some in his own party.
Frank Artiles, who’s running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard in Miami-Dade’s District 40, says he wants to fight back against “excessive and abusive tolls” that South Florida commuters face on a daily basis.
But Bullard, of Cutler Bay, has his own plans to reduce Miami-Dade commuters’ toll bills, and he argues his plan is more feasible than the one by moderate-sounding Republicans like Artiles, whose solution Bullard said is “to just get rid of the tolls.”
Photo credit: El Nuevo Herald file photo
Both Democratic incumbent state Sen. Dwight Bullard and Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles are trying to gain the support of Hispanic voters for Miami-Dade's newly redrawn District 40 Senate seat.
With 75 percent of the district's voting age population Hispanic as of 2010, earning the favor of that voting bloc will be key to either Bullard or Artiles edging out a victory.
The Republican Party of Florida has helped Artiles -- the son of Cuban refugees -- in this effort by airing a Spanish-language ad for him recently on Miami TV. It features Artiles' mom touting how Artiles is a former Marine and is "a very good son, good husband and good father."
"Frank was raised with our Hispanic values and he shows it every day of his life," his mom says in Spanish.
Meanwhile, Bullard, who is black, said he has plans to tailor his campaign advertising to Hispanics, too. He told the Herald/Times that he'll be sending out his first mailers this week in English and in Spanish, focusing on his record of public service. And he also has plans for ads on Spanish-language radio.
The new District 40 in central Miami-Dade County is competitive ground for both candidates. It went for President Obama in 2012 with 54.8 percent of the vote.
Miami Herald political writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.
September 29, 2016
Miami Republican state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla changed the name of his political committee last month to remove mention of "conservative values" and replace it with something he said would better reflect his focus for the future.
Diaz de la Portilla updated the name of his committee on Aug. 2 to the "Foundation for Human Values" from the previous "Foundation for Conservative Values," state records show. (As of Wednesday evening, though, the website for the committee still held the original "conservative" name.)
The subtle name change comes as Diaz de la Portilla faces a contentious battle for re-election this fall in a newly redrawn, Miami-based district that leans Democratic. State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, is challenging him for what's now the District 37 seat.
Diaz de la Portilla told the Herald/Times that when he first started his fundraising committee a few years ago he wanted its name to reflect his fiscal conservatism and other similar political philosophies.
But "a lot has happened in the last 18 months," he said -- referencing terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, France, the shooting of police in Dallas, and mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando.
"I wanted to have a much broader term that really encapsulates the issues I think we should focus on," Diaz de la Portilla said. "I'm just worried about the lack of respect and human values we're seeing in our country and all over the world."
By "human values," Diaz de la Portilla said he means values like "respect, solidarity, acceptance, brotherhood, compassion (and) love."
Diaz de la Portilla, who was first elected to the Florida Senate in 2010, has gained a reputation for being one of the chamber's more moderate conservatives.
During the 2015 session, he killed a controversial, NRA-backed measure to allow concealed guns on public college and university campuses.
Then, after new Senate districts were approved in court, Diaz de la Portilla further cultivated his moderate image in the 2016 session by single-handedly killing campus-carry again and also halting another NRA-approved proposal to allow the open-carrying of firearms statewide with some exceptions.
During a meeting with the Miami Herald's editorial board on Wednesday, Rodríguez accused Diaz de la Portilla of running to the middle in order to curry favor and win the new Democratic-leaning seat.
"He has been governed by political calculation rather than political courage," Rodríguez said, pointing to the gun bills as an example.
Diaz de la Portilla, who met separately with the Herald also Wednesday, told the editorial board: "I don't make decisions on a partisan basis. ... I make decisions as a free-thinker based on the merits of the issues before me."
Independent candidate Mercedes Christian is also on the ballot in the District 37 race. The coastal district represents parts of Miami south to Cutler Bay.
August 19, 2016
It’s called a primary, but the election on Aug. 30 could be a defining moment for the Florida Legislature.
Across the state, primary races soon to be decided by a relative handful of voters may determine whether the Florida Senate stays on its moderate course or shifts to the right as new battles loom over abortion, education, guns and the environment.
The primary may decide whether Gov. Rick Scott will have more friends in the Capitol next spring, and whether deep-pocket newcomers can duplicate Scott’s success and use their personal wealth to catapult themselves to office.
From Miami to Pensacola, primary candidates and their allies are spending millions on TV spots, mailers, polls and phone calls, some of it highly personal, most of it negative, and all of it aimed at “super voters” who faithfully show up in primary elections.
“The primaries this year seem to be very intense,” said Marian Johnson, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s long-time political director. “The question is, how many people will come out?”
Photo credit: The Florida House during debate in the final week of the 2016 session. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times
July 14, 2016
Nacivre Charles is three months removed from serving probation for campaign violations related to illegal expenditures. Charles pleaded no contest last June to charges of authorizing illegal campaign expenditures when he ran the 2013 campaign of former North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau.
According to the arrest warrant, Charles approved $12,000 in withdrawals from Tondreau's campaign account days after she won her runoff election in 2013. That's well above the $500 limit.
July 12, 2016
Former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan is withdrawing from the tumultuous race for Florida Senate District 40.
In an email to supporters Tuesday, Rivas Logan said she has to take time to care for her parents. She also noted that the Democratic primary in the race changed at the last minute, when challenger Andrew Korge switched districts to run against Rivas Logan and incumbent Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay.
"Balancing the care my parents need and what will be in-the-gutter campaign tactics by some in the race, I have chosen to suspend my campaign today knowing that my future in public service is not over," Rivas Logan wrote.
The Miami-Dade County state attorney's office said earlier Tuesday it is investigating Bullard's allegation that Korge offered him a payoff to change districts -- a move that would have left the well-funded Korge running solely against Rivas Logan. Korge, a businessman, is the son of Hillary Clinton friend and fundraiser Chris Korge.
"[T]he race changed at the close of qualifying and this has a major impact on our path forward," Rivas Logan conceded. "I firmly believe that I could win this race, but unfortunately, know all too well that this race could turn to distractions rather than focus on the best ideas on how to deliver a strong education system and fighting to raise the wages for our workforce."
Rivas Logan, a former Miami-Dade school board member, served in the statehouse as a Republican before losing re-election and later switching parties.
Read Rivas Logan's full email below.
July 01, 2016
It didn't take long for someone to file a complaint against Bruce Kaplan.
Switching parties a day before the end of qualifying -- as Kaplan did -- is a no-no when it comes to running for office, and now Kaplan faces a lawsuit to get him off the ballot.
Christian Ulvert, a Democratic political consultant working for Kaplan rival Jason Pizzo, filed the lawsuit in the 11th Circuit Court of Florida on Thursday afternoon.
"On information and belief, Kaplan only changed his voter registration from Republican to Democrat in the days before filing and qualifying to run for State Senate, District 38," the suit says. "As Kaplan does not meet the requirements of 12. § 99.021 of the Florida Statutes, he can not run for State Senate as a Democrat and must be removed as a candidate."
Kaplan, 56, filed to run as a Democrat in the District 38 state senate race even though he was registered as a Republican until June 23. Election law in Florida requires candidates to switch parties one year before the start of qualifying.
"By lying on his party loyalty oath and failing to disclose that he was not a member of the Democratic Party until the day before the qualifying period ended, Bruce Kaplan has shown a clear disregard for the law and complete disrespect to all the voters in Senate District 38," Ulvert said in a statement.
Kaplan, a former Miami-Dade county commissioner, is one of seven Democrats who qualified for the heavily Democratic seat that includes Miami Beach and North Miami.
He resigned from his commission seat in 1998 after pleading no contest to charges of falsifying his financial disclosure forms in 1993 and 1994. Kaplan's wife, Janitza Kaplan, unsuccessfully ran in the special election to replace her husband.
"In order to cause as little disruption to our Supervisor of Elections as possible, I have instructed my attorney to move swiftly in order to ensure this matter is resolved before the ballots are printed and further harm is inflicted on our voters," Ulvert said.
June 30, 2016
Last Thursday, Bruce Kaplan switched his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. On Friday, he qualified to run for the Florida Senate.
The problem? Florida law requires candidates to switch parties a year before the start of qualifying.
Kaplan was 368 days too late.
Records from the Miami-Dade elections department show Kaplan, 56, was a Republican until June 23, 2016. According to state law, he would’ve had to be a Democrat since June 20, 2015.
“My understanding is that you cannot change from one party for another within that one year period prior to qualifying and still be eligible to run,” Democratic state Rep. Joe Geller, a private elections lawyer, said.
Kaplan, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner, is one of seven Democrats who qualified in District 38, which was newly redrawn to include North Miami and Miami Beach.
He may not be a candidate for much longer, at least as a Democrat.
Read more here: Democratic Florida Senate candidate was a Republican until last week