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January 05, 2017

Is Florida on its way to being a red state?



Florida’s Republican Party leader says if he is re-elected next week, he will put a full court press on increasing the GOP voter registration numbers with hopes of officially giving Florida more registered Republicans than Democrats for the first time in history.

Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said it likely cannot be done in two years, but by the next presidential election, he said Florida could finally be majority Republican.

“Today, I would like to formally announce Project Majority Red - our next big aspirational goal,” Ingoglia said in an email blast to Republican activists this morning. “It will have one singular purpose, as we continue to win elections up and down the ballot, to make Florida a ‘majority red’ state by not only overtaking the Democrats in voter registrations, but keeping it that way for future elections.”

Ingoglia said he already has a promise from recently re-elected U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and other donors to help fund the aggressive voter registration push over the next two years.

Currently, Democrats have 4.9 million voters, Republicans have 4.6 million. Another 3.5 million voters are registered with neither political party.

He’s not the first RPOF chairman to have visions of overtaking Democrats in voter registrations. From 2000 to 2006, the Democrats historic advantage over Republicans dropped from 379,000 to just 276,000.

But then Democrats surged as President Barack Obama sought his first term. In November 2008, Democrats re-established a 694,000 voter registration advantage. That has decreased since, however. In 2014, the Democratic advantage dropped to 434,000 according to the Florida Division of Elections. Now it is down to 337,000.

Ingoglia’s pledge to take a more aggressive voter registration push comes just over a week before he stands before the Republican Party of Florida’s activist base seeking a second term as the party leader. Ingoglia is being challenged by Sarasota Republican Christian Ziegler and Lafayette County Republican Alan Levy at the Jan. 14 election in Orlando.

Democratic Party Voter Registration Advantage Over Republicans Since 2006

2006 - +276,000
2007 - +312,000
2008 - +694,000
2009 - +670,000
2010 - +569,000
2011 - +491,000
2012 - +558,000
2013 - +488,000
2014 - +434,000
2015 - +355,000
2016 - +337,000


Tallahassee mayor blasts gun lobby, launches campaign against special-interest 'bullies'

Andrew Gillum


In advance of oral arguments before an appeals court next week, Tallahassee's Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum is taking aim at the gun lobby -- and using that as a stepping stone to launch a "grassroots effort" to protect local governments' control on an array of high-profile issues.

Gillum is among a short-list of Democrats believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018, and an initiative of this kind could help boost his name recognition outside the state's capital city.

Gun-rights groups sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials a couple years ago when city leaders declined to repeal an ordinance prohibiting the shooting of guns in a public park. The lawsuit goes before the First District Court of Appeals on Tuesday.

In a post published Thursday on Medium, Gillum criticizes the NRA -- although Florida Carry, Inc. initiated the lawsuit -- and laments their "spending big money to take away local voices and local control, using tactics called preemption and super-preemption."

"We hope to set a precedent for challenging these 'super-preemption' overreaches," Gillum wrote. "Our partners recognize that if these threats are deployed today by the gun lobby, there’s nothing stopping special interests from coming after protections for immigrants, the LGBT community, the environment, and others. We want to stand up to these bullies everywhere they show up."

That's why Gillum says he's launching the "Campaign to Defend Local Solutions." He said the grassroots group wants to "send a message to state lawmakers" and has plans for events to address "looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices and water quality."

The campaign is using a hashtag (#DefendLocal) to promote itself on social media, and a website has been launched -- although, for now, the only information on it is a form to collect names, zip codes and email addresses of its supporters.

Besides Gillum, other Democrats said to be weighing campaigns for governor are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Orlando attorney John Morgan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

January 04, 2017

Curbelo gets seat on powerful House tax-writing committee

106 Curbelo Ryan DS

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who won reelection to one of the most competitive seats in Congress, was rewarded Wednesday with an appointment to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax law.

"This new position will allow me to advocate for many issues of importance to my constituents and our South Florida community, such as strengthening Social Security and Medicare by reducing fraud and making these programs sustainable for all generations of Americans and also the promotion of free and fair trade -- a major economic driver in our community," Curbelo said in a statement.

"The Committee will also debate and advance solutions to bring our nation's tax code into the 21st century and address flaws in our healthcare system in an effort to build a healthy economy that benefits every American family and ensures that the most vulnerable citizens can find their path to success."

Curbelo, a sophomore in Congress, specifically thanked House Speaker Paul Ryan -- who campaigned for Curbelo in his Westchester-to-Key West district -- and Committee Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas "for their trust and confidence."

"I look forward to working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues on the Committee to advance bipartisan solutions that will better the lives of those in my district and across the country."

In a statement released by Curbelo's office, Ryan noted Ways and Means' "broad jurisdiction over many issues Carlos has made a priority in Congress, including tax policy, free and fair trade, healthcare, and entitlement reform."

"Carlos' appointment makes him the only South Florida Republican on the Committee," Ryan added, praising Curbelo's "proven work ethic and diligence in finding common sense solutions to some of the most serious issues facing our country."

Two other House members -- Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona and Jackie Walorski of Indiana -- also won committee seats.

Curbelo isn't the only Miami Republican moving up in the committee ranks after winning contested reelection races. Sen. Marco Rubio will now sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Photo credit: David Santiago, el Nuevo Herald

Florida Gov. Rick Scott to host inaugural ball in D.C.



Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his wife, Ann, will host an inaugural ball to be held in Washington D.C. two days before Donald Trump is sworn in as president.

Save-the-date invitations to the gala went out over the past few days. Though state political parties often organize inaugural balls, this one is being put together by Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work.

The ball will take place at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. Some Republicans who plan to attend the Friday inauguration have already booked flights for Thursday, which means they might miss the Wednesday night party.

Ex-diplomats ask Trump to undo Obama Cuba policy

0177 TRUMP BAY OF PIGS 102616 (1)
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

Five former U.S. diplomats with extensive experience in Latin America sent President-elect Donald Trump a letter this week urging him to rescind the executive actions signed by President Barack Obama relaxing sanctions against Cuba and to stop cooperating with Cuban state security.

In the letter, the diplomats — including Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason, who once headed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana — ask Trump, in his first 100 days in office, to undo Obama’s “ill-conceived and unlawful executive orders lifting restrictions on doing business with the Castro regime.”

Furthermore, they write, Trump should withdraw, “as soon as possible after being sworn in,” Obama’s order to share intelligence with Cuban officials — a directive criticized by Republican members of Congress and which Cason called “ludicrous” in a Tuesday interview with the Miami Herald.

“We want him to take a fresh look” at Cuba policy, Cason said of Trump. “We gave away too much. Go back, rethink it — not break the entire relations, but certainly don’t give anything [more].”

Trump has pledged to “terminate” the U.S.-Cuba thaw pursued for two years by Obama unless Raúl Castro’s government makes unspecified concessions. Advocates of more Obama-style engagement have said they’re concerned about how Trump might handle Cuba, especially if he feels beholden to exiles who helped win him Florida.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Ambassador Trujillo? Trump is recruiting Miami state legislator for foreign post

Trujillo and Trump CM GuerreroWhen few Miami Republicans were willing to embrace Donald Trump, state Rep. Carlos Trujillo emerged early and at his side and stayed with him as a top Hispanic surrogate throughout the presidential campaign.

Trujillo, 33, the son of Cuban immigrants, is now being recruited by the Trump administration to serve as ambassador to a Latin American country somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the details of which are still being negotiated.

"It's a great opportunity to serve your country,'' Trujillo told the Herald/Times. "It's humbling. But it has to be the right country and the right time."

Trujillo, who is a member of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's inner circle, was recently named to the powerful post of House Appropriations Committee chairman. He expects an announcement from the Trump administration in early February and, if it happens. he will remain in office long enough to serve through this legislative session because of the lengthy vetting and Senate confirmation process.

"Carlos Trujillo was one of the top Hispanic surrogates in the country for the Trump campaign. He was somebody who risked a lot -- because he was in a very swing district,'' said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, a close friend of Trujillo's and another member of the Corcoran inner circle.

"It would be a real shame for the Dade delegation to lose Carlos Trujillo but it would be a great opportunity for our state to have an up-and-coming leader to represent us,'' Diaz said. "He would be impactful for decades to come. I'd hate to see him leave but I'd also hate to see him stay and forgo a good opportunity for him and his family."

Trujillo was born on Long Island, New York, and moved to Florida just short of his fifth birthday in 1988. He attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where he majored in International Business and was the vice president of the Student Government Association. He received his law degree from Florida State University College of Law in 2007 and served as an assistant state attorney for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. He started his own law firm, Trujillo Vargas Ortiz Gonzalez LLP.

Trujillo is married to Carmen Maria Mir and they have four children: Carlos Manuel, Isabella Alba, Juan Pablo, and Felipe Andres.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump receives a classic linen guayabera from Miami state Rep. Carlos Trujillo.C.M. GUERRERO. EL NUEVO HERALD


Florida Democratic Party chair candidate Stephen Bittel subject of eligibility complaint




A group of Miami-Dade Democrats filed a grievance Tuesday alleging that the county party violated rules when it elected Stephen Bittel as state committeeman, a prerequisite for him to run for chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

The grievance, signed by 13 Democrats, relates to various procedures used at two meetings leading up to Bittel winning the state committeeman spot.

On Dec. 6th, Bret Berlin won the state committeeman post but them quickly stepped down to make way for Bittel to run on Dec. 20th. 

Bittel, a wealthy donor and Coconut Grove developer, is one of five candidates running for Florida Democratic Party chair. The other candidates are activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County's Lisa King and Oscela chair Leah Carius.

The race to replace Allison Tant as chair has been filled with drama -- and the latest grievance filed by the state party is no exception. It includes allegations about an "invalid midnight motion" and "stuffing the ballot box" and conflicts of interest.  

Most of the allegations relate to procedural issues such as whether a quorum was met. The letter alleges that some Democrats who traveled hundreds of miles were "physically barred" from entering the room.

The grievance also alleges that Juan Cuba, the newly elected county chair and former executive director, has unfairly favored Bittel because "Bittel has been funding Cuba's salary." Bittel has given thousands to the county and state party. Cuba was paid through the county party when he was a consultant in the past and was paid through the state party when he was the executive director. 

"Because of the rules violations outlined below, we strongly believe that this election must be immediately overturned," wrote the Democrats who signed the letter including Zenia Perez, who was the interim rules chair, and Erika Grohoski, outreach chair. "We do not raise these concerns out of malice or to discourage inclusiveness. We simply want to enforce our rules to ensure fair play, and to build a party that earns and respects the trust of our voters."

Cuba has said the county party followed the rules at the meetings.

"Everyone had an opportunity to be heard," he said. "Despite efforts to disrupt the meeting, an election was held and the membership overwhelmingly voted for Stephen Bittel to be the next state committeemen. We had an election attorney at the meeting to ensure bylaws and procedures were not violated."

Bruce Jacobs, a lawyer and rules committee member at the DNC who represents Bullard, sent a similar letter of complaint to the state party. 

The state party rules committee is expected to act on the challenges to eligibility on Jan. 13th, one day before the chair vote in Orlando. The committee will also examine a complaint about the  Clendenin's residency. After Clendenin lost a state committeeman election in Hillsborough County he moved into a rented trailer in Bradford County and won a similar spot there.

Bullard made a similar maneuver: after he lost a state committeeman race to Bittel in Miami-Dade he moved to Gadsden County. 

Bullard's voter registration form initially showed he moved to 36 Lanier Lane in Gretna. When the Miami Herald pointed out to the elections office that the address didn't exist in property records, an elections official later said the address is actually 32 Lanier Lane.

Bullard told the Miami Herald today that he is renting in Gretna and if he wins the chair job he will quit his Miami-Dade school teaching job and may move to Gretna or maintain both residences.

Bullard said Democrats in northern Florida reached out and encouraged him to run in Gadsden.

"They were really disappointed in the shenanigans around the Miami-Dade election," he said. "They granted me another opportunity and I decided to take it."

 This post has been updated to include comments from Bullard. Photo of Bittel on the left and Bullard on the right.

For Miami mayoral candidate, a new law firm and a long donor list invited to mingle


Fresh in his new digs at Gray Robinson, Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez is holding a networking event in the firm's Miami office and tapping his campaign's fund-raiser to beef up the guest list. 

Brian Goldmeier, who helped Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez raise a record-breaking $7 million in 2016 and now is signed on with Suarez for the 2017 city mayoral race, recently sent out an invitation to his donor list for a Gray Robinson "Business After Hours" networking event that Suarez is hosting.

"As you may already know, Commissioner Francis Suarez has joined the law firm of Gray Robinson P.A.," Goldmeier wrote in the email to his vast mailing list of donors and would-be donors. "He asked that I send you an invite to a business networking event that he is hosting on Thursday, January 26th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"This is not a fundraiser," Goldmeier wrote, "he would just like to bring our friends from the business community together for an event at his new law firm." 

Goldmeier has already helped Suarez, a city commissioner, raise more than $1 million for the 2017 race to succeed outgoing Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who is barred by city rules from seeking another term. In an interview, Goldmeier said he issued the invite as a favor to Suarez. 

"He asked for me to send it out to my contacts," Goldmeier said. "He's my friend. And, yes, I'm doing the fundraising for his campaign. One has nothing to do with the other." 

Suarez came to Gray Robinson's Miami office in May after focusing on real estate and corporate law at Alvarez & Barbara LLP, according to a firm press release. In an interview, Suarez said the Gray Robinson reception isn't political, and that he tapped Goldmeier to promote it as a way to get the word out to people Suarez knows.

"I think it's very typical when someone joins a firm to have an even to say they're here," Suarez said. "It's just a business event. [Goldmeier] has access to my network of business contacts. It's something he's doing as a favor to me." 

Supreme Court rescinds order blocking death sentences in Florida


Just hours after declaring that the state can't prosecute death penalty cases, the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday rescinded the order, saying it was "prematurely issued."

At 1 p.m., the court took an unusual step in rescinding an order that said Florida's death sentencing laws, ruled unconstitutional in October because they did not require a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty, could not be used to prosecute cases. The court also deleted the earlier order from its website.

The Wednesday morning ruling was vacated because of a "clerical error," said Craig Waters, a spokesman for the court.

EARLIER: Supreme Court: There's no death penalty in Florida right now.

It's not clear what that error is.

However, Public Defender Rex Dimmig, who serves Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, said the court referenced the wrong statute in its earlier ruling. He does not know for certain why the court rescinded its order, but he says he has one idea:

Instead of writing that death penalty laws in section 921.141 of Florida Statutes was unconstitutional, the court identified section 941.141 -- a statute which does not exist.

"It may have simply been a scrivener's error and they wanted to rescind the order to correct the scrivener’s error," Dimmig said. "It could be that simple it could be something more complicated."

Flanked by Miami congressman, Obama brings healthcare fight to Capitol

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was at President Obama's side Wednesday morning as he arrived on Capitol Hill to strategize with Democrats how to protect the Affordable Care Act.

More Floridians have enrolled in Obamacare than any other state and South Florida is a big driver of that.

But that hasn't stopped criticism of the cost and Donald Trump won the state in November, vowing to "repeal and replace" the law. Gov. Rick Scott has said he wants to play a role in the dismantling, serving as a bridge between Washington and the states.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also on the Hill Wednesday to talk with Republicans, who Democrats are counting on struggling to produce an alternative health care delivery system.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times