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January 30, 2018

Nelson and Rubio urge the U.S. Senate not to forget about disaster aid



The U.S. Senate is operating on borrowed time, with less 10 days remaining until another potential government shutdown as a debate over immigration policy consumes Washington. 

But Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio reminded their colleagues on Tuesday that the U.S. Senate hasn't passed a disaster relief bill in over three months, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said additional relief bills would come to help Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"There will be additional rounds, and we are all fully committed to meeting the needs that have arisen as a result of these devastating hurricanes," McConnell said in October. 

In back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor, Nelson and Rubio delivered a laundry list of arguments in favor of a new disaster relief bill that helps victims of Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey along with wildfires in California. 

"I hope our colleagues in the Senate will understand the urgency of this matter," Nelson said. "We can't keep pushing this off down into the future. The need to act is now." 

Nelson said Florida received only $600 million of the $7.4 billion doled out in September for long-term disaster relief through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

"What percentage is that of $7.4 billion? It's well less than 10 percent. It defies comprehension," Nelson said. 

Nelson also listed a number of other issues that must be resolved through a disaster aid package, including Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, help for Florida's citrus industry and additional funding for Florida schools dealing with a glut of new students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is also set to end food and water aid in Puerto Rico this week as grocery stores reopen, a decision Nelson blasted. 

"I am absolutely shocked that FEMA has announced that on Wednesday, it will stop distributing food and water to Puerto Rico," Nelson said. "Cutting this aid to the people of Puerto Rico, almost a third of them who still do not have electricity, it's unconscionable, and it's a travesty." 

Rubio echoed many of the arguments made by Nelson. 

"Long after the cameras leave and long after the stories aren't being written real people and real lives are disrupted, sometimes permanently," Rubio said, pointing to floating debris in the Florida Keys and its negative impacts on tourism and business.  

"I am disappointed," Rubio said. "If you had told me that we would have gotten to the last week of January and still hadn't taken up disaster relief, I would have been surprised because we had a chance to actually address this at the end of last year. The House sent over a bill that didn't go far enough, the Senate had ideas about how to make it better and then for reasons involving leverage and using it as a tool to get people to vote for...short-term spending at the end its kind of been held up." 

Rubio also highlighted Puerto Rico's needs in a disaster aid package, adding that he would like to see the U.S. territory's Medicaid program addressed, a temporary payroll tax deduction and a temporary expansion of the child tax credit in Puerto Rico. 

It's unclear when a disaster relief bill will be addressed by the U.S. Senate. A proposal could be attached to the upcoming short-term spending bill or it could be brought up on its own.

"Do not forget about disaster relief...we have to get this done," Rubio said. 

Miami Democrats, Airbnb surround Trump's State of the Union speech with TV ads



Howard Stern, the King of All Media, learned long ago that people will tune in to your program if they can't stand you -- or because they can't stand you.

And so, hoping to capitalize on Donald Trump's polarizing personality, several Miami Democrats are release commercials Tuesday to air around tonight's State of the Union speech. So far, two congressional candidates and a gubernatorial hopeful have announced ad buys on cable TV. Even Airbnb is getting in on the action.

  • Mary Barzee Flores, a candidate in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, recently announced she's running a commercial that calls on Congress to impeach Trump.
  • Philip Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor running for governor, says he's dropped an extra $70,000 to keep running an anti-oil drilling ad around tonight's speech.
  • Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, also in the Democratic primary to replace Ros-Lehtinen, says she's airing a commercial on "MSNBC, CNN and even Fox News!"
  • Airbnb, the home-sharing service, also said it's airing a commercial Tuesday pegged to Trump's alleged "shithole" comments about Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations. (Airbnb operates in the countries.)

Miami politician with hidden felony cocaine record voted illegally for two decades



Search for the nexus of a political debate over whether Florida should restore felons’ voting rights or purge its rolls and you’ll find a white, 71-year-old radiologist named Douglas Hornsby.

A sitting commissioner in the sleepy Miami-Dade coastal town of North Bay Village, Hornsby was removed from office Monday after government officials determined he was never eligible to take his post. Turns out, the septuagenarian omitted an unresolved, 25-year-old felony cocaine conviction in Tennessee from his voting registration forms after he moved to Florida in the ’90s, making him an illegal voter and an illegitimate elected official.

Hornsby, whose reason for removal was unusual even for South Florida, now finds himself at the center of a small-town political drama filled with allegations of extortion and retaliation. But given that Florida is months away from voting on a ballot question that could restore the voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million people, here’s a more pressing issue: How exactly does an ineligible voter go unnoticed for 20 years and make it into public office?

To read the rest, click here.

Where they stand: Candidates for governor and felons' rights

Most leading candidates for governor, including a non-candidate who acts like one, have staked out positions on Amendment 4, the November ballot initiative that would restore voting rights to most convicted felons in Florida.

Florida is one of three states, and by far the largest, that permanently strips convicted felons of the right to vote. Candidates up and down the ballot will be forced to take sides on the issue of whether an estimated 1.5 million people who committed felonies and did time should be given that right -- excluding murderers and sex offenders.

Republicans say no. Democrats say yes. There’s an outlier: The one who won’t take a stand is U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, who announced his candidacy Monday. When asked by The Miami Herald’s David Smiley, DeSantis said: “I haven’t looked at it yet, but I’ll look at it.”

The front-running Republican candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, does not favor Amendment 4, which supporters call “Say Yes to Second Chances.” He said he would consider automatic restoration of voting rights only in nonviolent cases.

“Nonviolent offenders ought to have an easier path to restoration of rights,” Putnam said. “Violent criminals do not deserve the same. Terrorism, manslaughter and kidnapping are treated as nonviolent crimes in this proposal, and that’s not something I can support.”

Putnam voted for a major policy shift in 2011 that requires felons to wait five years after leaving prison before they can ask the state for restoration of civil rights. It can take a decade or longer to get a hearing.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, is not an announced candidate for governor. But by launching an incendiary TV ad on immigration Monday, he has left little doubt about his plans and has created a situation unheard of in modern Florida politics: The only person running TV ads in the governor’s race is not a candidate.

Corcoran’s a no. He said the recidivism rates for offenders soon after leaving prison is a concern. “I think they also have to have some sort of re-entry into society and show us that they can be good contributing members of society,” Corcoran said in a recent interview. He said he’s not sure how long that period should be.

All four major Democratic candidates -- Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine -- support restoring voting rights to felons. Here are excerpts from all of their campaigns.

Gillum: “Everyone should vote yes on Amendment 4. Floridians who have paid their debts deserve a second chance and they should have a voice in our state’s future. Our current system for rights restoration is a relic of Jim Crow that we should end for good.”

Graham (on Twitter): “This is what democracy looks like! Rights restoration on the ballot is an amazing accomplishment by @FLRightsRestore and grassroots activists across the state. ... Floridians believe in second chances.”

King: “I have faith that most Floridians believe in second chances and will join me in enthusiastically voting for the amendment ... If you have paid your debt to society, your right to vote should be restored.” 

Levine: “With this amendment, we are one step closer to equity and justice for all in Florida ... We are a state of second chances. This is an incredible milestone.”

January 29, 2018

Rubio supports legislation that overhauls sexual harassment rules



Senator Marco Rubio said Monday he supports various efforts to overhaul the process of reporting and investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in Congress, two days after the Florida Republican fired his top staffer for what he said was evidence of inappropriate behavior with subordinates.

The U.S. Senate is likely to receive legislation from the House of Representatives this week that would mandate sexual harassment training for everyone who works in Congress along with changing the reporting process for victims and investigations conducted on Capitol Hill.

While some of his Senate Republican colleagues have said legislation isn’t necessary to force change and merely changing Senate rules would suffice, Rubio said he would support any effort that swiftly addresses wrongdoing while protecting victims.

“Senator Rubio would support any measure that requires senators to deal with harassment the way he has – swiftly, decisively and protective of the victims’ wishes to not be publicly identified,” Rubio spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement.

Perez-Cubas was referring to Rubio’s actions when informed of former chief of staff Clint Reed’s alleged misconduct.

According to a statement issued by Rubio’s office, the senator was made aware of allegations about Reed on Friday afternoon. After investigating the allegations with his general counsel, Rubio traveled from Florida to Washington on Saturday evening and fired Reed.

Rubio didn’t cosponsor a recent bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that won the support of various Democrats and Republicans, though the statement from his office indicates he would vote in favor of legislation if it reaches the Senate floor. A bill sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., is likely to pass the House of Representatives this week and the Senate can begin consideration of the proposal. Harper’s bill would update the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act and require the legislative branch to comply with workplace laws related to sexual harassment that are currently enforced in the private sector.

“The CAA Reform Act brings more transparency, accountability, and stronger protections for employees,” Harper said in a statement. “It institutes a respectful, more streamlined process for individuals to report claims and reach a resolution. Ultimately, these reforms will strengthen protections for individuals and needed accountability in the workplace.”

Read more here.

Video: Richard Corcoran's explosive ad warns anyone can get killed by undocumented immigrants

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A screen grab from the ad on Youtube

A young, red-haired woman walks through a suburban neighborhood, smiling and texting, until "an illegal immigrant" in a hoodie turns around to shoot her, as the camera pans straight down the barrel.

No, this isn’t a horror movie — it’s a new campaign ad released Monday morning by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“This could have happened to any family, anywhere,” Corcoran says in the voice-over. “Incredibly, some Tallahassee politicians want to make Florida a sanctuary state.”


The explosive ad minimizes any remaining doubt about Corcoran’s potential run for governor, something he has said he will decide after session is over in March. It also debuted on the day Ron DeSantis, the favorite for President Donald Trump and Fox News, announced a bid for governor that will shift the race for the Republican nomination to the far right, where immigration will be a red meat issue for primary voters.

Corcoran’s political action committee, Watchdog PAC, has already spent $95,560 to run the 30-second spot more than 700 times on Fox News channels this week in cities in north and central Florida, including Jacksonville, Pensacola, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, according to media tracker NCC Media. James Blair, chairman of the PAC, said that was only the first round but declined to comment further on the campaign’s ad strategy.

While intended to shore up support among the GOP’s conservative base, the ad alarmed immigration experts who said it stokes racial fears.

“It’s very interesting the actors they put in that ad, the victim is a white woman, the perpetrator is a male with dark hair, a mustache or facial hair so one could argue they’re trying to create this image of the Latino man that’s suspect,” said Elizabeth Aranda, a professor of sociology specializing in immigration at the University of South Florida. “They’re using that same stereotypical imagery in this ad, placed in a suburb, trying to send a message that everyone’s at risk here when the data doesn’t support it.”

Numerous studies have found that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens. A 2013 research study published by a University of Massachusetts-Boston professor found that crime rates are lower among first-generation immigrants than they are among the rest of the American population.

Additionally, the magazine Governing compared immigration data to crime stats and concluded communities with higher shares of undocumented immigrants were more likely to have lower violent crime rates. 

Corcoran has made a crackdown on illegal immigration a centerpiece issue of the 2018 legislative session by pushing HB 9 through the House in its opening week. The bill would prohibit any kind of “sanctuary city” policies that restrict local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration laws, and would punish officials for voting in favor of sanctuary policies with hefty fines or removal from office.

There is no legal definition of a “sanctuary city” but it generally refers to a city where the local jail does not call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about detainees they suspect to be undocumented and hold them until ICE arrives. 

The bill will face tougher opposition in the Senate but could become a major bargaining chip as Senate President Joe Negron tries to bargain for more higher education funding, among other things.

Monday’s ad provides Corcoran the narrative to justify the legislation.

In the ad, Corcoran evokes the story of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman who was allegedly shot in the back and killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco in July 2015. The immigrant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of Mexico, had been deported and reentered the U.S. multiple times. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump seized on the story as an example of what happens in sanctuary cities like San Francisco.

In the case, Garcia Zarate’s defense argued that he had accidentally shot the gun and Steinle had been killed by a ricochet. The facts are disputed but he was acquitted of homicide and was sentenced this month to the time he has already served awaiting trial.

On Monday, Corcoran said that he believed this was a responsible ad.

“What it says is that the No. 1 role of government is to protect its people and its citizens,” he said.

Corcoran has said previously that Florida has two “sanctuary cities:” St. Petersburg and Tallahassee. Both Democratic mayors of those cities, Rick Kriseman and Andrew Gillum, dispute that claim.

Gillum, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, was quick to pounce on Corcoran’s ad. Through a spokesman, he characterized the ad as “race-bating” and said that Corcoran “ought to be ashamed of himself.”

But in a display of the polar opposite dynamics in today’s GOP, neither DeSantis nor Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, another candidate for governor, spoke out against the ad’s message.

William Berry, a political science professor at Florida State University, said the ad shows Corcoran is playing his typical “hardball.”

“He knows his constituents and this is probably an appealing ad for them,” he said. “I think this is an issue that’s big for him politically, certainly in the case that there’s a Republican gubernatorial primary, he’s … moving things to the right in terms of discussion.”

Contact Emily L. Mahoney at Follow @mahoneysthename

Miami Rep. Frederica Wilson boycotting Trump's State of the Union speech

Frederica Wilson 2


U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, says she will be boycotting President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Wilson said Monday in a CNN interview that Trump "doesn't deserve to be honored at this time, after being so hateful toward black people, and then black countries, Haiti and the whole continent of Africa." But Wilson first made the announcement in North Miami on Friday as she welcomed over 40 present and past Haitian-American elected officials from across the United States to the city.

Wilson was addressing the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, who met during a weekend retreat. The officials met in North Miami for two days during which they addressed Temporary Protected Status and Trump's reported characterization of Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as "shithole countries."

"The Haitian community throughout the country has endured pain. It has been on the receiving end of unjust rhetoric and anti-immigration policies and it faces challenges of communal vitality," NHAEON said in a statement. 
With the termination of guest workers visas for Haiti, known as H2A and H2B, and the recent expiration of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 60,000 Haitians, "our community has been rocked to its core," it added.
Wilson famously feuded with Trump last year over his handling of the death of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in a Niger ambush. She said her boycott of Tuesday's State of the Union is her first since joining Congress and is in unity with the Haitian community, whose issues she has long championed. She also told the crowd that she is currently exploring how her office can sue the United Nations over its importation of cholera, the waterborne epidemic that has killed almost a million and sicked over 9,000. 
Last year, the Trump administration refused a request by the United Nations to turn over the $11 million of its unspent Haiti peacekeeping money to help fight cholera in Haiti.
Both Wilson's announcement about her boycott and cholera investigation received cheering applause from the officials. 
Miami Herald reporter David Smiley contributed to this report.

DeSantis plays the role of DC champ, Tallahassee outsider in gov campaign launch

DeSantis Boca


Donald Trump’s guy for governor traveled to Donald Trump’s slice of South Florida Monday morning to launch a bid to hold the state’s highest office, delivering a speech heavy on conservative principles but light on Florida policy.

Ron DeSantis, a three-term Palm Coast congressman and former military prosecutor who served at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, name-dropped the president and blasted sanctuary cities during a 25-minute speech inside a crowded ballroom at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. Comparing himself to term-limited Gov. Rick Scott, DeSantis promised to clean up the state capitol and cast himself as the outsider in a Republican primary that features Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and may soon include House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“We Republicans, we can’t have the insiders pick the candidate in 2018,” said DeSantis, who came to the stage holding his 14-month-old daughter, Madison. “We need someone who’s going to follow Rick Scott’s legacy and shake things up.”

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Carlos Curbelo outraises Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in latest fundraising quarter




Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo continued to outraise his chief Democratic opponent Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in latest fundraising quarter for the most Democratic-leaning seat in Congress currently represented by a Republican running for reelection in 2018. 

Curbelo's campaign said Monday he expects to file a report showing "approximately $500,000 raised" in the last quarter of 2017 which ran from September 30 to December 31. He has approximately $1.7 million on hand, according to his campaign.

"Carlos continues to receive strong support from people all across the political spectrum," campaign manager Chris Miles said in a statement. "Never has the campaign been in such a strong position at this stage of an election cycle. We are very grateful to all our supporters who believe in Carlos' ability to change Washington for the better." 

Mucarsel-Powell raised "nearly $240,000" in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to a press release issued by her campaign. They did not immediately release a cash on hand figure. 

"I am extremely grateful for the ongoing support we’ve received from the 26th district and across Florida," Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. "While I’m building grassroots momentum, Congressman Curbelo is working to hide from his Republican voting record. With our large coalition of supporters, we are poised to take back this seat for the people of Florida in November." 

Both campaigns' totals aren't finalized because the totals aren't due to the Federal Election Commission until January 31, but both Curbelo and Mucarsel-Powell reported gains over their third quarter fundraising totals. 

Curbelo is known as a strong fundraiser in Washington and Florida, but outside groups may play a large role in this campaign. Mucarsel-Powell received the endorsement of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' political arm earlier this month, a potential source of campaign cash, while outside groups aligned with the Koch Brothers are already doing grassroots work in Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district. 

In 2014, third party groups poured about $8.5 million into Curbelo's successful campaign over Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia

Multiple national election prognosticators rate Curbelo's district as a toss-up. 

January 28, 2018

Rubio fires chief of staff for improper relations with lower level employees



Senator Marco Rubio fired his chief of staff Clint Reed late Saturday night after determining that his top staffer violated office policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and subordinates along with threatening to withhold employee benefits.

“Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, I was made aware, for the first time, of allegations of improper conduct by my Chief of Staff while under the employment of my office,” Rubio said in a statement. “These allegations were reported directly to me instead of our General Counsel or the Congressional Office of Compliance. Immediately upon receiving this complaint, I along with our General Counsel, began an investigation of this matter.”

Rubio then concluded by Saturday afternoon that there was sufficient evidence that Reed “had violated office policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates. I further concluded that this led to actions which in my judgment amounted to threats to withhold employment benefits.”

He then traveled to Washington from Florida and fired Reed on Saturday evening. Reed could not be reached for comment and Rubio’s office asked for privacy, citing the wishes of those victimized by Reed’s conduct.

“We have taken steps to ensure that those impacted by this conduct have access to any services they may require now or in the future,” Rubio said in a statement. “Pursuant to the wishes of those victimized by this conduct, we will not be disclosing any further details about the incidents which occurred. We will be formally notifying the appropriate Congressional and Senate administrative offices of this matter when they return to work Monday morning.”

Reed, an Arkansas native, had worked as Rubio’s top staffer since January 2017 after managing the Florida Republican’s successful 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. He also worked on Rubio’s presidential campaign as a senior adviser and Iowa State director. He held previous posts with the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Read more here.