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October 18, 2017

Trump: Frederica Wilson ‘totally fabricated’ my response to Miami Gardens soldier’s widow

SGT Johnson  La David

via @elizabethkoh @howardcohen

President Donald Trump accused a Miami-Dade Democratic congresswoman Wednesday morning of lying about his response to a fallen soldier’s widow — that “he knew what he signed up for” — and said he had proof of the conversation.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Miami Gardens, “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action,” he wrote. “Sad!”


After Trump’s tweet Wednesday morning, the congresswoman told CNN that other people in the car, including the driver, her press person, the master sergeant and the widow’s aunt and uncle had also heard the conversation.

Trump should be acting presidential “instead of calling me a liar and calling everyone else in the car a liar,” she said. “He doesn’t even know how to sympathize with people.” 

Wilson told the Herald on Tuesday that she heard a call on speakerphone from Trump to the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, the soldier and father who was killed in Niger whose body was returned home that afternoon.

Myeshia Johnson, who is pregnant and mother to Johnson’s two children, took Trump’s call at 4:45 p.m., just before Johnson’s body arrived at Miami International Airport.

As she was in a car heading to the airport with her family with Wilson, Trump told Johnson’s widow that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway,” Wilson said.

“I think it’s so insensitive. It’s crazy. Why do you need to say that?’’ Wilson asked. “You don’t say that to someone who lost family, the father, the breadwinner. You can say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. He’s a hero.’

“I’m livid. He can’t even have an open-coffin funeral because his body is so messed up,’’ Wilson said.

Johnson, who had Myeshia’s name tattooed across his chest under his U.S. Army uniform, was saluted with a ceremonial homecoming at Miami International Airport. His family, dignitaries and law enforcement officers all saluted Johnson as his casket, draped in the American flag, wheeled out of a Delta Airlines plane en route to Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home in Hollywood.

President Donald Trump earlier unleashed controversy this week when he said that his predecessors, including President Barack Obama, did not personally call families of fallen soldiers, a statement refuted by Obama officials.

Read more here.

Koch-backed group urges Bill Nelson to support Trump's tax reform effort



For months, president Donald Trump and various conservative groups have courted moderate Democrats to join in their plan to overhaul the nation's tax system, which hasn't been significantly changed since 1986. 

This week, the Senate will likely vote on a 2018 budget proposal, and Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-backed group that is pushing for tax reform, is urging Sen. Bill Nelson to vote in favor in a new digital ad released on Wednesday.

"Nelson has hinted at being willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reform the tax code to make it more fair and efficient," AFP Florida director Chris Hudson said in a statement. "This is a once in a generation opportunity that deserves his full endorsement immediately."

Passing the budget plan would enable the GOP to proceed on their tax overhaul without a 60 vote threshold in the Senate, a necessity when Republicans only control 52 seats. Some moderate Democrats like North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin have indicated a willingness to work with Republicans on taxes. 

Nelson, one of 10 sitting Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump in 2016, voted against a procedural motion to start debate on the 2018 budget on Tuesday. The motion passed on a 50-47 party line vote. 


Watch the ad here.

Panel rejects nearly all public submissions for constitutional review, promising to revive some ideas

CRC signIn a swift, 20-minute meeting, the panel charged with updating the Florida Constitution on Tuesday rejected all but a few of the 2,012 public proposals submitted to the Constitution Revision Commission, advancing only six of them, after months of encouraging the public to submit ideas.

“As we review this public input, it is clear that Floridians share many similar ideas and interests,” said CRC chair Carlos Beruff before the panel vote. “In addition to commissioners who chose to directly sponsor a public proposal, several commissioners have created their own proposals inspired by public input.”

The hundreds of rejected proposals include limiting money in politics and political committees, updating medical references to abortion, establishing religious protections for businesses, creating a state commission on sea level rise, electing the Public Service Commission, legalizing marijuana and dozens of others ideas submitted by concerned citizens, special interest activists, political gadflies and constitutional scholars. For months, the commission conducted hours of public hearings across the state, encouraging people to submit proposals to the CRC website.

A large sign posted above the panel at the Miami public hearing read: "Floridians speak. We listen." Story here. 

Photo: Members of the Constitutional Revision Commission listen to residents during a town hall meeting at Florida International University in Miami, April 6, 2017. PEDRO PORTAL

October 17, 2017

PSC delivers rare rebuke to FPL on nuke cost recovery issue

FPL lineman Enrique Flor eflor@elnuevoheraldIn a rare rebuke to Florida Power & Light, state utility regulators Tuesday rejected the company’s request to charge $49 million more for the planning of a nuclear reactor that the company cannot say will ever be built.

The 4-1 decision by the Florida Public Service Commission came Tuesday after months of hearings in which the state's largest utility urged regulators to let them charge customers in the future for costs of the postponed project — even without filing a “feasibility analysis” that would show if and when they intend to build two new nuclear reactors at their Turkey Point facility in south Miami-Dade County.

“This is a hard issue,”' said Commissioner Julie I. Brown, chair of the five-member panel, who voted to reject the request. “The whole country is watching the new fleet of nuclear deployments constructed or to be constructed around the country.” Story here. 

Marco Rubio declines Nicolas Maduro’s invite to visit Venezuela

Marco Rubio 3


Sen. Marco Rubio has a lot of reasons not to visit Venezuela.

The Florida senator successfully pushed the Trump administration to take a hard line on the Venezuelan government, managed to invite Venezuelan opposition leader Lillian Tintori to the White House, and is the target of a potential death threat from socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello.

But that didn’t stop Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from extending an invite to Rubio on Tuesday.

“We can walk the streets together,” Maduro said, according to Stephen Gibbs from the China Global Television network.

Rubio declined the offer.

“Look forward to the day I can visit a democratic Venezuela instead of one governed by dictator Nicolás Maduro or drug lord Diosdado Cabello,” Rubio tweeted.

The exchange represents the latest in an ongoing war of words between Maduro and Rubio. Rubio chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees Latin American affairs.

In August, Rubio appeared on Venezuelan independent television to voice his opposition to Maduro after the Trump administration imposed more sanctions on members of Venezuela’s socialist ruling party.

“There is no U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela,” Rubio said in Spanish. “Yet the economy of a rich nation is in shambles, because the Maduro government has given away your oil and much of your sovereignty to Cuba. For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you.”

Read more here.

Miami Forever bond campaign fueled by anonymous money



Starting Wednesday, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado will begin appearing on television screens around the city in a bilingual effort to convince voters to endorse his $400 million Miami Forever general obligation bond, about half of which will pay to brace the city against rising seas.

He says he has no clue who’s paying for the spots. And he’s perfectly OK with that.

The commercials, part of a planned $400,000 media blitz ahead of election day on Nov. 7, are paid for by the Seawall Coalition, a nonpartisan organization tied to a sea-rise advocacy group out of New York. The coalition was created as a social welfare 501c4 non-profit — so-called “dark money” entities allowed under the tax code to engage in politics without any legal obligation to disclose their donors.

How the organization spends its money on the campaign will be transparent since the coalition will operate through a political committee registered with the city clerk. But Matthew Eby, chairman of the Seawall Coalition, said there are no plans to lay out the list of contributors funding the campaign.

To read the rest, click here.

Miami Heat moves charity tournament away from Trump’s Golf Course in Doral


via @manny_navarro @andremhsports

The Miami Heat has decided to pull its charity golf tournament from President Trump’s Doral golf resort and will move it elsewhere next year, a team spokesman confirmed on Tuesday.

The Heat would not comment as to the reason for the move, but the Miami Herald learned the decision was not made by the players or anyone on the team. The Washington Post first reported the news.

The annual tournament, which benefits the Miami Heat Charitable Fund and has been administered by the Miami Foundation, has been held at Trump’s Doral golf resort every summer since at least 2014 according to the Washington Post. The team has also held the event at Doral in prior years, before Trump bought the course out of bankruptcy in 2012.

“I’m supportive of the decision and I’m supportive of this organization,” captain Udonis Haslem said Tuesday when asked by The Herald about the charity golf event being moved from Trump’s golf resort.

Read more here.

Pam Bondi not convinced that U.S. needs a 'drug czar'

Attorney General Pam Bondi said Tuesday she’s not convinced that the United States needs a federal “drug czar” to help set national drug control policy.

Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee, Bondi said: “You know, I don‘t know. I’m in D.C. a lot and I can tell you, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) is doing great ... We call it a drug czar but it’s basically the head of ONDCP, I believe.” The letters stand for Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Bondi spoke shortly after President Donald J. Trump’s nominee for drug czar, U.S. Rep. Thomas Marino of Pennsylvania, withdrew from consideration after news reports that linked him to legislation that weakened efforts to fight a national opioid epidemic.

Bondi, a former Tampa prosecutor, was mentioned as a possible drug czar appointee in the first few months of Trump’s term.

Former Florida Gov. and Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez was drug czar in the early 1990s, and offered Bondi some advice about the position soon after Trump won last November.

Bondi now is a presidential appointee to a bipartisan task force on the deepening opioid crisis and said she will return to Washington for another meeting Friday. Bondi referred to traffickers of fentanyl as “murderers,” but stopped short of saying Florida would file lawsuits against large drug companies.

“Are you kidding? Have I considered it. Of course,” Bondi said. “We‘re doing it the right way, though, right now. We didn’t just run out and hire (law) firms.”

Bondi said she’s working with former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, a panel member and a Democrat, who has dealt first-hand with substance abuse issues.

Rubio cosponsored bill that weakened federal opioid regulations

Trump Russia Probe

via @learyreports

Millions of TV viewers on Sunday learned of a successful attempt by the drug industry to weaken federal regulations just as the opioid crisis was reaching its peak – and two Florida Republicans played a supporting role.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and were among a handful of co-sponsors of the legislation, which sailed through Congress last year and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

“The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market,” the Washington Post reported in conjunction with 60 Minutes.

Bilirakis was one of six co-sponsors for the House version by Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the country’s drug czar. Marino withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday.

Rubio was one of four co-sponsors for the Senate version, which is the one signed into law and was overseen by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act passed by unanimous consent.

We asked Bilirakis and Rubio for the reasons behind their support for the legislation and as of Monday evening, only Bilirakis had responded.

“Congressman Bilirakis hoped that this legislation would bring stakeholders at all levels together to discuss ways they could work together to prevent abuse while allowing really sick people like cancer patients, seniors, Veterans, and others with significant pain to get the relief they need with a legitimate prescription,” spokesman Summer Robertson wrote in an email.

“Gus had not been made aware by any current DEA official that the agency feels they do not currently have adequate authority to take action against any party that might be contributing to the proliferation of the opioid epidemic …

“Gus intends to reaffirm this understanding with the agency, as he is committed to ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to go after bad actors,” he wrote. “Sometimes there are unintended consequences to good legislation. Not sure that’s the case here, but it would be helpful to hear from DEA if its ability to get bad guys is hampered.”

Robertson noted that “the bill was bipartisan and approved unanimously in both the House and Senate, and signed into law by President Obama.” He also noted Bilirakis’ support of other measures to combat opioid abuse.

Rubio, too, has called attention to the issue this year.

His office did not immediately respond to questions about sponsorship of the bill.

The drug industry is a major political donor and almost all lawmakers get some money. Rubio in the 2016 election cycle received $289,000 from the pharmaceutical/health products industry, according to, putting him near the top of all senators in a year he also ran for president.

October 16, 2017

Republicans trail Democrats in the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

Ileana 2


Over a dozen hopefuls have filed paperwork to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope to flip in 2018. 

But six months after Ros-Lehtinen retired, the declared Democrats are soundly beating the Republicans in the money race. 

Five Democrats have raised well over six figures in the latest fundraising quarter and a sixth has hauled in over $200,000 since the spring.

But zero Republicans have raised anything close to $100,000 in the latest quarter spanning July 1 to September 30.

Three Republicans have posted fundraising results that were publicly available on the Federal Election Commission's website on Sunday. Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro hauled in $41,950, former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado raised $15,050 and former Doral council member Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said that aliens took her on a spaceship, raised $4,990. 

Regalado said in a statement posted to her Facebook page that she suspended her campaign just before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. Irma made landfall on September 10, about six weeks after Regalado officially announced her bid. 

"I made this decision knowing full well that all of the other candidates in this 2018 race would continue raising funds despite the challenges that we, our neighbors and fellow Floridians faced," Regalado said. "Rather than call and email my supporters for funds I decided to ask them to set this race aside and help our community recover." Regalado told the Miami Herald that she is fundraising this quarter.  

"The issue is that I officially became a candidate a week before the hurricane hit and during the hurricane all i did was help people," Rodriguez Aguilera said. "I didn’t think that was the moment to really fundraise." Rodriguez Aguilera announced her candidacy about 10 days before Irma made landfall. 

Barreiro, the only Republican who fundraised in the previous quarter, has just over $187,000 on hand for his campaign as of October 15. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A host of other Democrats and Republicans in South Florida suspended fundraising efforts due to Hurricane Irma, including Democrats running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

Seven Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman. All of them except Hepburn have raised over $100,000. 

In contrast to the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, sitting Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who also represents a Democratic-leaning district in South Florida, raised $431,580 during the latest quarter. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents a more conservative district without a big-name Democratic challenger, raised $199,766 in the latest quarter. 



Scott declares emergency in Alachua County before Spencer's UF visit

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in Alachua County three days ahead of a scheduled speech at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville by the white nationalist Richard Spencer.

“I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent,” Scott said in a seven-page executive order. Scott placed Wes Maul, the recently-promoted 29-year-old interim state emergency management director, as the state coordinating officer “for the duration of this emergency,” including giving Maul the authority to deploy law enforcement officers and to suspend state laws if necessary.

Maul had been chief of staff at DEM to Bryan Koon, who resigned Oct. 1 for a job in the private sector.

The governor’s order, Number 17-264, gives all state agencies the power to suspend rules and regulations, including for purchasing, travel and personnel actions. Scott also activated his authority as governor to spend surplus money as he deems necessary.

In a statement, Scott said: “We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion. However, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority. I have been in constant contact with Sheriff Darnell who has requested this Executive Order to ensure that county and local law enforcement have every needed resource. This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”

The order activates Florida’s Mutual Aid Plan to allow the state and the sheriff’s office to “quickly coordinate resources from other state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies,” Scott’s office said.

The governor's order designates the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) as the lead agency for crisis management. FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen reports to Scott and the three elected Cabinet members.

Scott’s order noted that prior speeches by Spencer in Virginia, Alabama, California and Texas “have sparked protests and counter-protests resulting in episodes of violence, civil unrest and multiple arrests.”

Mike and Karen Pence set sights on Florida


via @adamsmithtimes

Florida will be seeing a lot of the Pences in coming weeks. Second Lady Karen Pence is scheduled to visit FSU to talk about her art therapy initiative. Then on Nov. 2 Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to headline the Republican Party of Florida’s 2017 Statesman Dinner, an annual fundraising event to be held at Disney World.

“The RPOF is excited to welcome Vice President Mike Pence back as our keynote speaker for this year’s Statesman’s Dinner,” said RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. “Florida was crucial in winning the 2016 election and Vice President Pence was instrumental in rallying the base of our great State. We look forward to yet another enthusiastic message from our VP touting our President’s agenda of prosperity, while catapulting us to victory in 2018!”

The party’s news release said “Pence will deliver the headlining remarks of the night echoing President Trump’s vision for a stronger, bolder nation, and rally attendees for a successful 2018 midterm elections.”

Tickets for non-Republican Executive Committee members cost $200, and the dinner will be at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando. More information here.

Carlos Curbelo outraises Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Miami congressional race

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Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo outraised his main Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the latest federal fundraising quarter. 

Curbelo raised $431,580 from July 1 to September 30 while Mucarsel-Powell raised $177,048, according to Federal Election Commission records. The latest quarter is Mucarsel-Powell's first fundraising total since announcing her bid for Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West seat in August.

Curbelo's fundraising numbers were down this quarter, as many South Florida politicians chose to suspend fundraising for weeks due to Hurricane Irma. Last quarter, Curbelo raised $705,026. His campaign has raised over $1.7 million in the 2018 cycle so far, putting him 21st nationally among all House incumbents and challengers. 

The Miami-to-Key West district is one of the most Democratic-leaning in the country currently represented by a Republican in Congress, but Curbelo, a second-term Republican, has garnered financial support from some local Democrats and is one of his party's leading voices on climate change. 

Mucarsel-Powell has $161,762 cash on hand while Curbelo has $1.3 million. 

In a statement, Mucarsel-Powell blasted Curbelo's vote for legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare. 

"This race comes down to a choice: Carlos Curbelo and Washington Republicans have spent years trying to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare coverage," Mucarsel-Powell said. "I've spent my career working to expand access to those who need it the most in our communities, I know we must improve on what is working and fix what is broken not abandon those who need health care access the most."

Three other Democrats have filed to run for Curbelo's seat, though none of them have reported any fundraising totals as of October 16. Curbelo does not have any announced primary challengers.

Miami politician says aliens took her on a spaceship. Now she’s running for Congress.

EWE01 Enmienda News rk (1)

Florida has a U.S. senator who once flew aboard the Space Shuttle.

A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she’s been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials.

Three blond, big-bodied beings — two females, one male — visited her when she was 7 years old and have communicated telepathically with her several times in her life, she says. (Sen. Bill Nelson served as payload officer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. All seven people aboard were from Earth. As far as is known.)

Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview.

She described “going up” inside the spaceship — though whether it went into space or just hovered around town was left unclear

“I went in. There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

In two separate videos posted to YouTube years ago, one by local Spanish-language station America TeVe and another by a political critic with the user name DoralGirl26, Rodriguez Aguilera spoke on television in detail about her extraterrestrial experiences. She said the alien beings reminded her of the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, with arms outstretched.

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

The Miami Herald asked Rodriguez Aguilera about her experiences Friday. She responded with a statement that waxed astronomical but failed to mention close encounters of any kind.

“For years people, including Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and astronauts have publicly claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects and scientists like Stephen Hawking and institutions like the Vatican have stated that there are billions of galaxies in the universe and we are probably not alone,” she said. “I personally am a Christian and have a strong belief in God, I join the majority of Americans who believe that there must be intelligent life in the billions of planets and galaxies in the universe.”

Read more here.

October 15, 2017

Nelson says he'll encourage Puerto Ricans newly arrived in Florida to register to vote


SAN  JUAN -- Sen. Bill Nelson doesn't know how many Puerto Ricans have made their way to Florida since Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island on Sept. 20. And he doesn't know how many plan to stay on the mainland as their home slowly recovers.

But if they plan to stick around the Sunshine State, the Florida Democrat wants them to go to the polls in 2018, when he's up for reelection.

"If they will register to vote, which I'm certainly going to encourage, because I can tell you among the Puerto Rican community in the greater Orlando area, they have been very embracing of my public service," he said at a San Juan news conference after  Puerto Rican reporter asked him about the post-storm migration. "The question is how many will want to register, and how many will want to return."

Standing next to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Nelson took pains to say he wasn't encouraging Puerto Ricans to depart forever. Puerto Ricans worry an exodus of working professionals -- on the heels of years of emigration during the island's financial crisis -- will only make it more difficult for the economy to get going again.

"It could be a while coming before things get back," Nelson said, referring in particular to the island's destroyed power grid. "I will certainly encourage our fellow citizens to return home."

The question of how a wave of Puerto Ricans,, who tend to vote Democratic, could reshape Florida politics is perhaps more urgent for Nelson than for any other statewide politician. He faces a potential challenge next year from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration has set up relief centers for Puerto Rican arrivals at Orlando and Miami airports and seaports to assist them with schooling, housing and employment.

Also advocating on Puerto Ricans' behalf: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the first mainland politicians to trek to the island after the storm. At the time, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, referred to Rubio as the closest thing the island had to a senator of its own.

"I have zero concern" of what an influx of Puerto Ricans might do to Florida politically, Rubio told the Miami Herald in a recent intervew. "What's the difference between that and people moving here from New York, New Jersey or Carlifornia?

"It's not a problem," he added. "It's a problem for Puerto Rico. It's not a problem for Florida." 

Nelson said he wanted to visit Puerto Rico earlier. But a planned trip last weekend was canceled. So he hopped on a JetBlue flight to San Juan early Saturday morning.

He didn't just want to get the politician tour, he said. He wanted to go inland, to the hard-hit central mountains still struggling to get aid.

So Nelson boarded a helicopter with Rosselló and flew to Utuado, a town that has become a symbol of just how badly Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico.

"The main river there, it's washed out a number of the bridges," Nelson said. "But the people are very ingenious. They have strung a line with a pulley system" to get supplies across, using a supermarket cart over the water.

Without naming names, Nelson criticized fellow mainland lawmakers who have remarked after flying over Puerto Rico that the devastation doesn't look so bad because the island's homes weren't flattened.

"Well, they don't know what's happening inside that concrete structure that is wet, and now the mold and mildew is building up," Nelson said. "This is the story that I will tell tomorrow afternoon on the floor of the United States Senate, because a lot of the reports that have come back have not told about the extent of the damage."

Rosselló called Nelson a longtime "champion for Puerto Rico, and a great friend," and alluded to the help the island will need to get an aid package through Congress soon.

"Now more than ever we're going to need him and his colleagues to continue championing our efforts here," Rosselló said.

October 14, 2017

Miami commissioner Ken Russell joins race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

Russell (1)


Congress could get its first professional yo-yo player if Ken Russell makes it to Washington.

The current Miami city commissioner, who once traveled around the world to showcase his yo-yo skills, told the Miami Herald that he is officially joining the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I love my job as city commissioner and once Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement it started a new conversation,” Russell said. “It’s almost serendipity that [her retirement] is coinciding with what’s going on with the federal government. Instantly, I felt inside this is something I want to do.”


Russell set up an exploratory committee in May to gauge his electoral prospects and begin fundraising. After conducting internal polling, Russell concluded that there was a path to victory, even though other Democrats jumped in the race.

The 44-year-old, who won a Miami city commission seat in 2015, is now the eighth Democrat who has declared a candidacy for a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope they can flip in 2018. The district is among the most Democratic-leaning in the country that is currently represented by a Republican.

“There’s a lot of good people running, we’re all very different,” Russell said. We come from different backgrounds, we appeal to different backgrounds, we all have different visions.”

Seven others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Mark Anthony Person and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman.

Russell, who said his interest in politics started when the park across the street from his house was fenced off because of environmental neglect, plans to highlight the need for infrastructure development to offset sea level rise during his campaign.

“In Miami it’s more prevalent than anywhere else in the country, we cannot expel the water from our streets,” Russell said, adding that the Trump presidency will dominate a lot of the conversation during a Democratic primary but that the electorate will be attracted to a candidate “who is looking beyond the Trump years and has a vision.”

Read more here.

Jack Latvala wins state FOP endorsement in governor's race

The state Fraternal Order of Police lodge on Saturday threw its endorsement to Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater in the race for governor.

“It‘s a big boost,” said Latvala, who joined union leaders for the announcement in downtown Jacksonville, where the FOP is holding a statewide conference.

FOP President Robert Jenkins, a Miami Beach police officer, called Latvala a “tireless advocate” for law enforcement in the Legislature.

He cited the lawmaker‘s support of police pay raises and opposition to changes to officers’ pension plans in the Florida Retirement System.

The FOP claims 22,000 members in 104 chapters across the state. Most work for city and county law enforcement agencies. “A lot of people. A lot of votes,” said Latvala, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

A separate union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), represents state law enforcement personnel.

Latvala’s chief rival for the GOP nomination for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has been endorsed by the Associated Builders and Contractors and by a group of firefighters in Palm Beach County. Latvala has endorsements from firefighters’ groups in at least seven cities, including Miami, Orlando and St. Petersburg.

The FOP issued an early endorsement of former Attorney General Bill McCollum in the 2010 GOP primary for governor, a race won by Rick Scott.

October 13, 2017

David Rivera has evaded U.S. marshals since July

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Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera avoided criminal charges in an unlawful campaign-finance scheme he was suspected of masterminding. Now he’s evading the feds again — this time, U.S. marshals trying to serve him with a civil lawsuit.

Since July, marshals have attempted to formally notify Rivera in person, by phone, by overnight mail and via email that the Federal Election Commission sued him, seeking $486,000 in penalties for at least $69,000 in unreported campaign cash Rivera funneled to a ringer candidate in 2012

Each time, Rivera, a 2018 candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, has eluded them.

His unknown whereabouts — and a delay of service attempts due to Hurricane Irma — prompted FEC attorney Greg J. Mueller to ask U.S. District Judge Robert Scola on Thursday for 60 more days to serve Rivera. Scola granted the request Friday, giving the feds until Dec. 11 to serve the lawsuit.

“The Commission’s diligent efforts to serve Rivera have been thwarted so far by Rivera’s apparent evasion of service,” Mueller wrote in his request to Scola. “Rivera is almost certainly aware of this lawsuit.” 

Four times, marshals tried to serve Rivera in person. On the first occasion, three days after the FEC sued on July 17, a deputy marshal visited Rivera’s townhouse, inside a Doral gated community.

“The Deputy Marshal then encountered an individual in the driveway at that address who ‘refused to answer questions’ regarding Rivera,” Mueller wrote.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio has 'serious doubts' Iran deal can be redrawn

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio has “serious doubts” whether the Iran deal can be refashioned and said Friday it should be killed outright.

President Donald Trump said Friday he would withdraw certification of the deal but keep it in place, effectively asking Congress to come up with new provisions.

“President Trump made the right decision to decertify the Obama Administration’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran (JCPOA). He is correct in finding that this deal is not in our national interest,” Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a statement.

“I know the White House has been working hard to craft a new law to fix the Iran deal, and I appreciate them and Chairman Corker seeking my input. I will reserve judgment until actual legislation is presented. But I have serious doubts about whether it is even possible to fix such a dangerously flawed agreement.

“Ultimately, leaving the nuclear deal, reimposing suspended sanctions, and having the president impose additional sanctions would serve our national interest better than a decertified deal that leaves sanctions suspended or a new law that leaves major flaws in that agreement in place.”

Democrats blasted the move. Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, who voted against the Iran deal in 2015, said Trump’s actions Friday were “reckless.”

Her statement:

In 2015, I opposed the Iran nuclear agreement because I felt it would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program after 15 years and give Iran access to billions of dollars without a commitment to cease its terrorist activity. These concerns remain. Moreover, since the adoption of the agreement, Iran has increased its destabilizing activities in the region, including ballistic missile testing, sponsorship of terrorism, propping up the Assad regime in Syria, and arming Hezbollah.

With that said, Iran has already received billions of dollars in previously frozen assets as a result of the JCPOA and there is no credible evidence that it is in violation of its requirements. The International Atomic Energy Agency has continuously confirmed Iranian technical compliance with the agreement. Our European allies agree. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that if the U.S. were to pull out of the deal, it would give Tehran a pretext to resume its race to a nuclear capability. The President’s own national security team has urged him not to withdraw.

Donald Trump is wrong to believe that we have leverage to bring the parties back to the table to negotiate a better deal. Instead, by turning our backs on a multilateral agreement, we send a chilling message about the United States’ willingness to honor its commitments, throwing into question our reliability. We can’t afford such a dangerous gamble, especially when tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea are at an all-time high. Today’s action undermines the possibility, however unlikely, for a diplomatic approach to this ongoing crisis.

Mr. Trump’s reckless decision leaves Congress to decide whether the U.S. will reimpose JCPOA-related sanctions on Iran. If Congress were to take such action, the deal would likely collapse. Iran would walk away with the upper hand, leaving them an unobstructed path to race toward nuclear weapons. The consequences for peace and security in the Middle East would be catastrophic, and would put our greatest ally Israel at grave risk. We would lose the mantle of leadership in the international community.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Prosecutors questioned Miami lawmaker in criminal investigation over her residency

@DavidOvalle305 @PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County prosecutors recently questioned state Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, as part of a criminal investigation into her legal residency, a source close to the case confirmed Friday to the Miami Herald.

The investigation has taken a back seat to proceedings under way at the Republican-controlled Florida House, where a special bipartisan committee found probable cause earlier this week to move forward with an inquiry that could result in Baez's possible expulsion from the chamber.

Baez's meeting with prosecutors was first reported by Politico. The investigations into her residency began after the Herald questioned in May whether Baez lived in her House district, as required by the Florida Constitution. Baez and her attorneys -- Mark Herron in Tallahassee and Ben Kuehne in Miami -- have said she has complied with the requirement that she, as a legislator, be "an elector and resident of the district from which elected." 

But the House panel found Tuesday that Baez likely violated the residency law by living in her Coral Gables home in District 112 -- even after having gotten elected last November to represent neighboring District 114.

In  May, Baez told the Herald she kept her home -- the one listed on her driver's license and where she had a homestead exemption -- but also rented an apartment in District 114. But the apartment's owners also lived there, and maintained a homestead exemption. After the Herald report, Baez obtained a lease for a second apartment in District 114, House investigators found.

Kuehne told Politico the House -- and not Democratic State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle -- has jurisdiction over Baez's residency.

"The fact that the state House has initiated action is certainly a good indication that the state House is the one that should be handling this matter," he said. "This should not be anything that any governmental agency other than the legislative body looks into."

In June, a spokesman for the state attorney's office declined to comment to the Herald on whether they'd opened an investigation into Baez, based on whether she had unlawfully maintained her homestead exemption. At the time, it appeared Baez's 2016 exemption was proper, and she still had time to file or make changes to her 2017 exemption.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times