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June 13, 2017

As Cabinet races heat up, money flows to ag commissioner candidates

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The end of session last month brought the first chance for some of the highest-power candidates for the Florida Cabinet to raise funds.

With all three Cabinet seats open in the 2018 election, would-be attorneys general, commissioners of agriculture and chief financial officers posted May fundraising numbers meant to intimidate.

Though the full field of candidates are still forming, here’s a rundown of May numbers for those who have declared.

Commissioner of agriculture

Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley raised $71,390 last month to her campaign and her political committee, Saving Florida's Heartland. That brings her total since the November election to $876,795.

That includes a $20,000 transfer from her old campaign account. Grimsley’s top donors are:

* Associated Industries of Florida, through various political committees: $80,000

* Florida Leadership Committee, the political committee run by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala: $53,000

* Innovate Florida, the political committee run by future Senate President Joe Negron: $50,000

* Florida Chamber of Commerce: $26,000

* U.S. Sugar: $25,000

Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell brought in $111,915 last month between his campaign and a political committee called Friends of Matt Caldwell to bring his total to $822,764 since his reelection to the Florida House last November.

That includes a $170,000 donation from fellow Rep. Jason Brodeur’s political committee in February that looks to have been funded by a separate transfer from an older Caldwell account. Ignoring the Brodeur contribution, Caldwell’s top donors since November are:

* Associated Industries of Florida, through various committees: $101,000

* Florida Jobs PAC, run by the Florida Chamber of Commerce: $40,000

* U.S. Sugar: $25,000

* Six Ls Packing Company: $25,000

* Free Markets for Florida, a political committee run by state Reps. Ray Rodrigues, Travis Cummings and Manny Diaz: $23,000

Former Republican state Rep. Baxter Troutman just filed to run Monday, so he has not reported any donations yet. But he did say he plans to kickstart his campaign with a $2.5 million contribution from his own deep pockets.

Michael Christine, a University of Miami law student and newcomer to Democratic Party politics, raised $3,183 last month, bringing his total since declaring in April to $3,559. His top donors are all individuals and all donated to his campaign, capping them at $3,000. 

Onetime Orlando mayoral candidate and businessman Paul Paulson, a Republican, raised $273,023 last month. But nearly all of that — $250,080 was a loan from the candidate himself. He also lent $120,000 to his campaign in April.

Attorney general

Republican state Rep. Jay Fant raised $88,575 last month between his campaign and a political committee, Pledge This Day. Since essentially being reelected to the House last June, he has raised 173,475. Fant’s top donors — excluding $5,000 from himself:

* JB Coxwell Contracting: $9,000

* Petropac, an oilfield services company: $6,000

* U.S. Sugar: $5,000

* Quintin Kendall, an executive at CSX Transportation: $5,000

* Committee of Florida Agents, a real estate group: $5,000

Fellow Republican Ashley Moody, a former judge in Hillsborough County, announced in June and has not had to publish campaign finance.

Ryan Torrens, a Democrat and Tampa foreclosure lawyer, raised $3,618 in May, all from individuals.

Chief financial officer

The lone declared candidate, former Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring declared at the very end of May but raised $18,500 last month in a political committee, Florida Action Fund PC. Since 2015, that committee has raised $289,871. His top donors:

* Law firm Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart and Shipley: $25,000

* Private equity investor Jeff Roschman: $25,000

* Tech executive Alvaro Monserrat: $25,000

* Florida Chamber of Commerce: $25,000

* Florida Fire PAC, an arm of the Florida Professional Firefighters: $15,000

Note: This post has been updated to correct numbers reported for Sen. Denise Grimsley.

Digital ad campaign from Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity targets Bill Nelson



Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political group financed by the industrialist Koch brothers, is launching a new, six-figure digital ad campaign targeting Florida Sen. Bill Nelson on tax reform.

AFP wants Nelson, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, to follow its principles for comprehensive tax reform. It's an unlikely request, given that Nelson is a Democrat.

Nelson is also running for reelection next year, and is expected to face a serious challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

AFP has been pushing Republican lawmakers to oppose a border-adjustment tax, which the group says would act as a tax on consumers.

June 12, 2017

Trump has not yet read final Cuba policy proposal

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via @ngameztorres

President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce a revised policy on relations with Cuba on Friday in Miami, but a White House spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald that Trump had not yet seen the final recommendations following a lengthy review and has not made a decision.

“The president has not seen the final proposal and has not approved it. He is a very independent president in his way of thinking and it would not be the first time he throws something back to be reviewed,” White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said.

She did say that the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana is one of the places the White House has been looking at for events to be held in the city.

The Miami Herald reported Monday that the theater canceled an event on Friday from the Miami Royal Ballet apparently to make way for a White House event.

Among the changes that would be considered by the Trump administration are measures to limit business ventures between U.S. companies and Cuban entities controlled by the military, in particular, those belonging to the conglomerate known as GAESA, the economic arm of the Revolutionary Armed Forces that controls nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy. 

“The United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is expected to publish a list of Cuban entities controlled by the” Cuban military, said John Kavulich, president of U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Companies could be added to an OFAC blacklist to ban financial transactions involving these companies, he added.

Aguirre Ferré said a proposal to prohibit business with GAESA, “is one of the many possibilities discussed. It is being considered as one of the many options.

“But almost everything is being looked at.”


Photo credit: Getty Images

Putnam touts Florida's increased access to concealed weapons on anniversary of Pulse massacre

via @adamsmithtimes

Republican gubernatoirial candidate Adam Putnam has long touted Florida's status as the number one state for concealed weapons permits and his efforts to make that system more efficient for consumers. But doing so the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the worst mass shooting in America's history, may raise some eyebrows.

"You can run government like a business and save money and deliver value to the people who make government possible through your hard-earned tax dollars," Putnam said in Bradenton today, as seen on this video the Democratic group American Bridge found on Putnam's Facebook page. "And we've proven that. And Florida is number one in concealed weapons license holders - people lawfully exercising their Second Amendment rights."


--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Namesake of Miami’s new science museum is a man-made climate change skeptic



The namesake and single largest booster of Miami’s brand new $305 million science museum believes that man’s effect on climate change remains unproven and wants to cut through what he sees an “almost religious” fervor around the topic.

Phillip Frost, during a wide-ranging interview that aired Monday on WLRN’sThe Sunshine Economy,” said the Earth's climate is clearly changing. But he said it’s not yet proven that carbon emissions are accelerating the rate at which seas and temperatures are rising.

Though a broad consensus of scientists believe man-made climate change is real and consequential, Frost said “a lot of people make a living saying that.”

“It’s gotten to the point that to question that is heresy. So I don’t question that the climate is changing," he said. "The real question is what role have humans played? The climate has been changing at a time when there were no humans and ever since. I think a real scientific approach has to take that into real account.”

Continue reading "Namesake of Miami’s new science museum is a man-made climate change skeptic" »

Florida political figures mark one-year anniversary of Pulse tragedy

via @learyreports

Political figures offered remembrances on the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, and Democrats renewed calls for gun control.

“Despite the public outcry, protests, and even a Congressional sit-in, the largest mass shooting in the history of our nation could not shake Republicans to break with the extreme voices in their party. No new laws have been enacted and nothing has changed. This to me is absolutely shameful!” said Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar.

"On this solemn anniversary, I call on my colleagues in Congress, with particular regard to those who have stood in the way of common sense gun reform in the past, to join me and other Democrats in advocating for smart gun control policies that will save American lives. I honor the memories of those who were killed, and rededicate myself to advocating for the survivors of this horrific mass shooting."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said: “The people who lost their lives that day had families and futures. We owe it to all of them to challenge our colleagues in Congress to do something meaningful and definitive to end the epidemic of gun violence. One way we can help prevent such massive loss of life from happening again: keep weapons of war off our streets. In Orlando and across Florida and the nation, let's pledge to always stand up for love, and never forget those we lost.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott issued a proclamation marking Pulse Remembrance Day and called for a moment of silence at 9 a.m. He also ordered all state flags at half-staff.

Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said: “Today, we stand in solidarity with families, friends and surviving victims in remembering all who lost their lives to the heinous act of hatred on June 12, 2016 at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub. It is painful to remember the loss of 49 innocent victims at the hands of an evil ideology; however, we should also never forget the countless lives touched by this tragedy. The RPOF grieves alongside all who seek to honor the lives of those who perished, and joins the Orlando community in dedicating Orlando United Day."

The 49 people who died in the shooting: Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; Stanley Almodovar III, 23; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; Luis S. Vielma, 22; Kimberly Morris, 37; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29; Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35; Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50; Amanda Alvear, 25; Martin Benitez Torres, 33; Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37; Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26; Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35; Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25; Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31; Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26; Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25; Miguel Angel Honorato, 30; Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40; Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32; Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19; Cory James Connell, 21; Luis Daniel Conde, 39; Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33; Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25; Jerald Arthur Wright, 31; Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25; Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25; Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24; Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27; Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33; Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49; Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24; Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32; Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28; Frank Hernandez, 27; Paul Terrell Henry, 41; Antonio Davon Brown, 29; Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24; Akyra Monet Murray, 18; and Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25.

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman files for agriculture commissioner



Citrus grower and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman is joining the growing field vying for commissioner of agriculture.

The Winter Haven Republican served in the House from 2002 to 2010. He opened his campaign account Monday with a $2.5 million personal contribution, his campaign said.

"Every corner of this great state feels the practical and economic impact of agriculture, and we simply cannot afford someone in this important leadership position who doesn’t understand how to make it work for taxpayers," Troutman said in a statement.

Troutman is the grandson of citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin.

He joins Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers and Orlando businessman Paul Paulson in the Republican primary. University of Miami law student Michael Christine is the lone Democrat who has filed.

Current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is term-limited in 2018 and running for governor.

Photo: Then-Rep. Baxter Troutman cracks a cattle whip on the House floor in 2007. (SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times)

Mystery attack mailers turn up heat in special Miami Senate race

Alex DLP attack ads


The latest flashpoint in the Republican primary for the state Senate District 40 seat arrived in the mailboxes of district voters, in campaign fliers labeling former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla a sham conservative who has raised taxes and “wrecked” the Florida economy.

The ads were funded by Making a Better Tomorrow, a political action committee chaired by veteran campaign backer Eric Robinson and based in Venice, Florida. The PAC has raised $116,881 since last year, according to state records. Robinson could not be reached for comment.

Diaz de la Portilla called the allegations — including that he’s a “tax and spend liberal” who grew the size of the government by $20 billion per year since 1995 — untrue and said his opponent, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, is behind them, which Diaz denied.

“I am responsible for ads by my campaign and [political committee],” Diaz wrote in a text message. “All other ads should be judged by the facts, not by Alex’s spin.”

“He hides behind other people,” Diaz de la Portilla said. “He’s fully aware of all these groups.”

While defending himself, Diaz de la Portilla also stumbled over his facts, falsely accusing his opponent of having been a Democrat before switching parties.

“When he was a Democrat, I was cutting taxes,” Diaz de la Portilla said.

In fact, Diaz was registered without party affiliation from 1998 to 2007. Later that year, he switched to Republican and has remained with the party since, according to voting records.

Diaz said Diaz de la Portilla was attempting to mislead voters.

“I have never been a Democrat and, unlike Alex, I have never voted like one either," Diaz wrote in a text message. "His votes to raise taxes are contrary to the Republican Party and contrary to my record of fiscal conservatism which is why he is trying to confuse voters.”

Diaz de la Portilla acknowledged he was wrong and walked back his claim, maintaining it was odd the PAC would attack his Republican credentials when Diaz spent “half his adulthood” outside the party.

“And he is questioning my Republican values? Laughable,” he wrote in a text message.

The two are among the six candidates — three Republicans, two Democrats and an independent — contending to fill former Sen. Frank Artiles’ Southwest Miami-Dade seat. Artiles, a Republican, resigned in April after using the n-word in conversation with two African-American senators and hiring a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience as “consultants.”

The special primary will be held July 25, followed by a special general election on Sept. 26.

Miami venue apparently set for Trump Cuba announcement


President Donald Trump plans to present his new Cuba policy Friday in Miami's Manuel Artime Theater, the Miami Herald has learned.

The White House apparently picked the venue over the Bay of Pigs museum in Little Havana, which is probably too small to accommodate all of the logistics of a traveling president. The Freedom Tower downtown is unavailable because it is undergoing renovations until November.

On Monday, theater managers notified at least one group -- a ballet school -- that it would have to move its scheduled rehearsal Thursday to accommodate an "emergency meeting" Friday. The Miami Royal Ballet then informed parents the city told them "there will be a White House event at the theater."

The White House has yet to release Trump's schedule. Without confirming the Miami event, a spokeswoman said the Artime theater was one of several locations under consideration.

The Artime theater, a former church, is symbolic for Cuban exiles. Manuel Artime was an exile leader with Brigade 2506, the Bay of Pigs veterans' group that endorsed Trump last October. The community theater frequently houses grassroots events that cannot afford grander venues.

--with David Smiley and Nora Gámez Torres

Heather Moraitis, wife of State Rep. George Moraitis, to run for Fort Lauderdale city commission


Heather Moraitis, wife of Republican State. Rep. George Moraitis, announced she will run for Fort Lauderdale City Commission in 2018.

The current commissioner, former Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Bruce Roberts, is running for mayor against former City Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom and lawyer Jim Lewis.

The current mayor, Jack Seiler, is term limited and may run for Attorney General.

Technically city races are non-partisan however political parties typically play a role in campaigns behind the scenes. Moraitis lives in northeast Fort Lauderdale in a district that has been held by Republican city commissioners for many years. 

Moraitis, who is running in her first bid for public office, currently works for the YMCA as director of capital development and previously worked at Westminster Academy, a private Christian school in the district.

Development, traffic and crime are top issues in the district. The commission has also wrestled with how to respond to a growing homeless population that lives outside the main Broward County library in downtown.

 "I was born here, and we have raised our family here, so I want to make sure the special way of life that we enjoy can continue for all residents," Moraitis said in a prepared statement. "With over $1 billion in public infrastructure needs, congestion issues that will require smart solutions, and division over development, we can either work together to make things better, or kick the can down the road. I am running to make things better."

Moraitis' name recognition and expected ability to raise money due to her long roots in the district and her husband's political connections give her a leg up in this race. Caleb Hunter, a Republican who manages a few parks for Broward County, is also running. He filed in August and has raised $5,250.

For city elections, the primary is held in February 2018 if more than two candidates are running. If only two candidates run, they face off in March. Here are all of the candidates for city races.