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April 05, 2018

Gun-related town halls are a partisan affair in South Florida (updated)



A national group that promotes face-to-face interactions between lawmakers and constituents is working with the March for Our Lives organizers to host town hall events on preventing gun violence during the current congressional recess, and no South Florida Republicans are planning to attend. 

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who represents Parkland, held a town hall earlier this week, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a town hall on Saturday in Pembroke Pines, while Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, will host a town hall tonight in Miami Gardens. 

The three Republicans from Miami-Dade County, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, do not have any town hall events scheduled during the recess. 

A March for Our Lives-affiliated event is being held in Curbelo's district tonight, though Curbelo's office said he was not invited to the event at John A. Ferguson High School. While pro-gun control student activists from Parkland have demanded town hall events during this congressional recess, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart and Curbelo have not held any in-person town hall events since the beginning of 2017, according to the Town Hall Project. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart both hold office hours with staff at various locations throughout their districts. 

Curbelo's seat is a target for Democrats in 2018 while Ros-Lehtinen is retiring and Diaz-Balart does not have a serious Democratic challenger. 

Neither of Florida's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, have held an in-person town hall since the beginning of 2017, according to the Town Hall Project.  

UPDATE (4/6/18): A student organizer with pro gun-control group Students Demand Action said Curbelo was invited to the town hall event in his district, but he declined citing a scheduling conflict. 

William Breslin, who lives outside of Curbelo's district, said he called Curbelo's official office three times before receiving a response that Curbelo could not attend. Breslin then invited Curbelo's Democratic opponents after the congressman declined the invitation, he said. 

Information on upcoming town halls: 

Town hall with Frederica Wilson and state Rep. Shevrin Jones: 

Thursday, April 5 6:30pm

Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex Auditorium

3000 NW 199th St. 

Miami Gardens, FL 33056 

Town hall with Debbie Wasserman Schultz: 

Saturday, April 7 2pm 

301 NW 103rd Avenue

Pembroke Pines, FL 33026 

Town Hall for Our Lives West Miami-Dade

Thursday, April 5 7pm

John A. Ferguson High School 

15900 SW 56th St. 

Miami, FL 33185

Rene Garcia running for Miami-Dade County Commission -- in 2020.


We're just getting started on the 2018 races for Miami-Dade County Commission, but a prominent name has already joined the contender list for 2020.

Florida Sen. Rene Garcia, a Republican former member of the Hialeah City Council is forced to retire from the Senate this year due to term-limit rules, has filed for the 2020 election to replace Esteban "Steve" Bovo in the county district representing Hialeah. Bovo is forced to leave his District 13 seat in 2020 through Miami-Dade's own set of term-limit rules. 

Garcia filed his candidacy papers last December. He joins a few other other early birds in the 2020 elections for commission districts with odd numbers. (The even-numbered districts for the 13-member board have elections this year -- along with a special election in District 5 to replace a vacancy caused by Bruno Barreiro resigning to run for Congress.) 

Mark Coats, a private-school administrator who worked under Alex Penelas when he was county mayor, is running to replace term-limited Dennis Moss in District 9 and Temidayo Olukemi Ogedengbe, founder of a new non-profit focused on college education, is running in District 3 to replace term-limited Audrey Edmonson



Shalala raises $1M in first month on the campaign trail



Donna Shalala has been campaigning to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress for less than a month and already she’s raised more than $1 million, her campaign announced Thursday.

Her first-quarter total — an eye-popping number even for the woman who helped raised billions for the University of Miami — immediately gives her one of the fattest war chests in a crowded Democratic primary. The funds should help her capitalize on her name, which an internal campaign poll showed is well-known in the district following years of work at UM and as health and human services secretary under Bill Clinton.

“The moment she officially announced her intentions to run for this seat, contributors at all levels and across party lines eagerly stepped forward to assist the campaign with their financial support,” Fernand Amandi, a consultant for the Shalala campaign, said in a statement.

It’s unclear how much of the haul, if any of it, is self-loans, although the campaign’s release says the $1.17 million she’s reporting was in the form of contributions. Other campaigns were watching this week to see how much money Shalala would report as she came out of the gate, and whether she would invest her own money.

Shalala, 77, began advertising last month, rolling out a television commercial just two weeks into her campaign. Messaging will likely be key in the sprawling Miami-Dade District of about 750,000 people, and her opponents have shown they won’t shy away from attacking her record, age and politics.

One of those opponents, State Rep. David Richardson, raised more than $400,000 during the first quarter of the year, bringing his cash on hand to $1.1 million. He’s said that Shalala’s candidacy has emboldened a grass roots campaign, and says more than 18,000 people have donated during the three most recent fundraising quarters. The vast majority contributed $50 or less, his campaign says.

Other candidates in the race include Mary Barzee Flores, Michael Hepburn, Matt Haggman, José Javier Rodríguez, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Ken Russell. Combined, the field has raised millions, with many yet to report their first quarter totals in 2018.

Rubio blames ‘bureaucracy’ for the wait on federal Irma funding

Congress Gun Violence

via @keywestgwen 

Asked why parts of the Florida Keys remain severely damaged nearly seven months after Hurricane Irma, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had one word: Bureaucracy.

“It’s a pretty straightforward task,” Rubio said, standing in a trailer park in Marathon where a canal is still choked with debris and filth from the storm. “Get the money that we’ve already voted for down here so they can hire people to clean this up.”

People applauded.

“Don’t clap yet, we’ve got to get the money,” Rubio said. “We just voted for the money; the hard part is getting the federal government to release it. We’ll keep banging on the door. There’s nothing else they can use the money for — it’s appropriated for this.”

Rubio added, “Next time we get back here, these things will be cleaned up.”

Rubio also attended a one-hour roundtable discussion at the Marathon Government Center where he spoke with mostly elected leaders about struggles in the Keys over affordable housing.

“We’ve had a housing crisis in this community for decades,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, of Key West. “The storm exacerbated it and revealed the real depth of the problem.”

One solution, she said, is to purchase property and deed-restrict it for affordable and workforce housing.

“We don’t have the depth of resources to be able to do that,” Carruthers said.

Read more here.

April 04, 2018

This Florida politician says she trained at MIT, but there’s no evidence she attended



As a self-styled watchdog politician on public-works projects, Deede Weithorn touted an education from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during her tenure on the Miami Beach commission.

When she was first elected in 2007, she called herself an “MIT-trained engineer.” On her biography at Berkowitz Dick Pollack & Brant, an accounting firm where she was hired the following year, she listed a master of science in engineering from the Boston-area university and a master of science in accounting from Florida International University.

But Weithorn has stopped talking about graduate degrees now that she’s running for the Florida House of Representatives.

Because there’s no proof they exist.

Click here to read more.

April 03, 2018

Medical marijuana provider sues Department of Health over caps on dispensaries


Florida medical marijuana provider Trulieve is challenging a state law that caps how many dispensaries it can open and where, saying it unfairly restricts its constitutional right to open storefronts "without arbitrary and unreasonable limits."

The Gadsden County-based business filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health, dated late last week in Leon County circuit court, asking a judge to exempt Trulieve from a provision in a 2017 law that limits businesses to 25 dispensaries for medical marijuana. The company says in its complaint that it had already applied for 27 dispensaries — two more than the limit — before the law was passed and the caps put in place.

"The statutory caps – established years after Trulieve had been awarded a license to grow, cultivate, distribute and sell medical marijuana in Florida – were unfairly and wrongly added after the award and such restrictive caps were never contemplated in the application and selection process," the company said in a press release.

The complaint requests that a judge allow Trulieve to move forward with all 27 locations, in addition to the 25 dispensaries that it would be allowed under the 2017 law, for a total of 52 possible locations.

In its filing, Trulieve says its original application for a license from the Department of Health made clear “its plan to locate dispensaries throughout the state. Upon comparative review, DOH granted Trulieve’s application without any limitation on the number of dispensaries.”

Neither the 2014 law allowing low-THC cannabis nor the 2016 constitutional amendment widely legalizing medical marijuana had set caps on dispensaries. It was when state legislators passed a law implementing the constitutional amendment last year that they imposed the 25 dispensary limit.

“The right to compete statewide without restriction was an essential part of Trulieve’s business plan and a significant incentive to enter this novel business,” Trulieve's attorney David Miller continued in the complaint. “In reliance on the statutory policy to encourage statewide competition, Trulieve sought to add dispensary locations around the state, which benefits patients and the public.”

The 25-dispensary limit, which expires in April 2020, also divides the state into five regional quotas based on those areas' population. According to the lawsuit, Trulieve has already hit its quota in the northwest area of the state spanning much of the Florida Panhandle.

“The sole purpose of this statutory cap on the number and location of dispensaries is to temporarily suppress competition among [medical marijuana treatment centers]," Miller wrote in the lawsuit. The caps "will impair Trulieve’s vested rights as a dispensing organization, and diminish the value of Trulieve’s licensed business."

Thirteen of Trulieve's 27 businesses have already opened, with a 14th on the way. The remaining 13 site applications "are deemed approved … and simply need to pass a DOH compliance inspection when ready to begin operation," according to the suit.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a statement that the limits hurt patients' ability to access medical marijuana and drives up cost for them and for the business.

“The restrictions force us to use extremely expensive long-distance delivery and build dispensaries on a model based on geographic distribution, not where patients live,” River said. “This not only restricts access to patients in need, but forces higher prices.”

Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said the agency is unsure yet how the case will affect its implementation of the dispensary caps in the law, but suggested that the legal dispute might play a substantial role.

"The implementation of Amendment 2 and Senate Bill 8A [the implementing law] continues to be frequently litigated," she wrote in a statement. "While some of these lawsuits have a less direct impact on department operations, others – particularly those regarding the constitutionality of SB 8A – have significant impact on our ability to implement the law."

The agency has already been under fire for delays in implementing swaths of the medical marijuana law, and it has cited ongoing litigation as a reason for the delays. According to an update released from the agency's Office of Medical Marijuana Use last week, the Department of Health is named in eight other marijuana-related lawsuits.

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Blue Dog Democrats group accepted NRA money. Now they’re giving it back.



A political fundraising group that seeks to elect moderate Democrats to the House of Representatives is giving back a donation from the National Rifle Association after the Miami Herald questioned the transaction.

The Blue Dog PAC, which has doled out campaign cash to Florida Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist during the 2018 election cycle, said Tuesday it would return a $4,950 contribution from the National Rifle Association’s political arm in July 2017. The PAC will also not cash a $5,000 check from the National Rifle Association given to the Blue Dogs in January 2018, about two weeks before the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Murphy and Crist, who were both in favor of gun-control measures like a ban on assault-style weapons before the Parkland shooting, said they were not aware that the Blue Dogs’ PAC received NRA money during the 2018 election cycle. Murphy and Crist have both received $7,000 in direct campaign contributions from the Blue Dog PAC this election cycle, making it possible that their campaigns received NRA money.

“I am disappointed to learn that the Blue Dogs’ political arm accepted a contribution from the NRA, and I strongly urge them to return the contribution,” Murphy said in an email. “I am proud of the ‘F’ rating I've earned from the NRA. In recent weeks, we have seen historic progress and a major shift in the national conversation about how to prevent senseless gun violence, yet the NRA has continued to put the interests of corporate gun manufacturers above keeping our schools and communities safe.”

Crist echoed Murphy’s call for the PAC to return the NRA money.

“In keeping with the Blue Dog PAC's decision not to accept NRA money, it would be prudent and correct that they return any contributions received this cycle,” Crist said in an email.

Two hours after the Miami Herald asked the Blue Dog PAC to explain why they accepted political contributions from the NRA, an organization that some of its members have publicly denounced, the Blue Dog PAC said it would return the money.

The NRA’s political activity has come under increased scrutiny after the Parkland shooting on Valentine’s Day. Pro-gun control student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have hammered Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for accepting contributions from the NRA, and organized marches around the world with the intent of changing the nation’s gun laws to include policies like universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.

Read more here.

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen say it's time for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to resign

Carlos Curbelo 3


Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo says it's time for Scott Pruitt, the embattled head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to step down.

Pruitt has been under a cloud of scandal following reports that he received cheap rent on a Washington apartment linked to an energy lobbyist. The Daily Beast reported Monday that the apartment was also a locale for Republican lawmakers to raise money. Pruitt has also taken heat over expensive first-class flights and pay raises for his staff.

Pruitt is reportedly under White House review and at risk of being fired, although Trump is said to have offered his support.

Curbelo, on the other hand, thinks it's time to cut ties. The Republican lawmaker took to Twitter Tuesday to say Pruitt should resign or be fired. He was later joined by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who told the Huffington Post that "when scandals and distractions overtake a public servant’s ability to function effectively, another person should fill that role.”


Democratic polling shows a tight race for Carlos Curbelo

Carlos Curbelo 3 (1)

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

New polling from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows that Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo could face a serious challenge for his seat in November. 

The DCCC, a Washington-based organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, released polling that shows Curbelo with a five percentage point lead over likely Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. The polling also shows Curbelo losing to a generic Democrat by two percentage points. 

The poll's results, which shows Curbelo up 45 points to 40 points over Mucarsel-Powell, are based on a survey of 418 likely 2018 general election voters in Florida's 26th Congressional District and was conducted by the DCCC from March 17th to 22nd. Respondents’ information came from the voter file and the poll was conducted through all live calls, on cells and landlines, with a bilingual option. The poll's margin of error is +/- 4.9%. 

"Month-by-month, week-by-week, primaries will produce battle-tested and uniquely qualified Democratic candidates," the DCCC said in a press release. "And vulnerable House Republicans will be forced to face reality: According to a sample of newly released polling data from a wide variety of districts, Democrats are poised to take back the House."

Curbelo, who has been a target for national Democrats since winning office in 2014, will be a tough opponent despite representing a Miami-to-Key West district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16.3 percentage points in 2016. He won reelection in 2016 over Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 percentage points, and leads Mucarsel-Powell in fundraising by a significant amount. 

Curbelo's district performed an average of 6 percentage points more Democratic than the nation did as a whole between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, so Curbelo is polling ahead of the Democratic average in the district according to the DCCC's own polling. 

Graham calls Trump an 'embarrassment' in first campaign ad



Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham rolled out her first gubernatorial campaign ad Tuesday, contrasting herself with President Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Donald Trump is an example of a bully,” Graham says in the ad.

Graham's campaign says the digital ad -- a textbook piece heading into a mid-term election taking place under a president with an underwater approval rating -- will be initially targeting Palm Beach, the home of Trump's Mar-a-Lago retreat. After that, it will be aired statewide.

Graham, who is running for the Democratic nominee for governor, had raised about $6.8 million through her campaign account and Gwen Graham for Florida political committee as of early March, and spent about $2 million. She's beginning her ad campaign as Philip Levine, whom polls show is neck-and-neck with Graham in the Democratic primary, has been airing commercials for months.